With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 58, page 16, line 17, at end insert—
Amendment 59, line 17, at end insert—
‘(d) Chapter 6 provides for an Order in Council to specify, as an additional devolved tax, a tax relating to air travel,’.
Amendment 60, line 17, at end insert—
‘(e) Chapter 7 provides for an Order in Council to specify, as an additional devolved tax, a tax charged on the profits of companies,’.
New clause 8—Duty on fuel
‘In Part 4A (as inserted by section 24), after Chapter 4 insert—
Duty on Fuel
80O Duty on fuel
The Secretary of State shall, within one month of the coming into force of section 80B of this Act, lay in accordance with Type A procedure as set out in Schedule 7 to this Act a draft Order in Council which specifies as an additional devolved tax a duty on fuel.”.’.
New clause 15—Scottish tax on quarrying or mining
‘In Part 4A of the 1998 Act (as inserted by section 24), after Chapter 4 (inserted by section 30) insert—
Tax on quarrying or mining
80L Tax on quarrying or mining
The Secretary of State shall, within one month of the coming into force of section 80B of this Act, lay in accordance with Type A procedure as set out in Schedule 7 to this Act, a draft Order in Council which specifies as an additional devolved tax a tax charged on quarrying or mining.”.’.
New clause 16—Scottish tax on air travel
‘In Part 4A of the 1998 Act (as inserted by section 24), after Chapter 4 (inserted by section 30) insert—
Tax on air travel
80M Tax on air travel
The Secretary of State shall, within one month of the coming into force of section 80B of this Act, lay in accordance with Type
A procedure as set out in Schedule 7 to this Act, a draft Order in Council which specifies as an additional devolved tax a tax charged on air travel.”.’.
New clause 17—Scottish corporation tax
‘In Part 4A of the 1998 Act (as inserted by section 24), after Chapter 4 (inserted by section 30) insert—
Tax on profits of companies
80N Tax on profits of companies
The Secretary of State shall, within one month of the coming into force of section 80B of this Act, lay in accordance with Type A procedure as set out in Schedule 7 to this Act, a draft Order in Council which specifies as an additional devolved tax a tax charged on the profits of companies.”.’.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship on this second Committee day, Mr Evans. I look forward to what I hope will be a detailed and constructive debate. Given that a Treasury Minister is present, we may receive some intelligent, enlightening and instructive answers from the Government. I am intrigued to see the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, along with the Secretary of State and a junior Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Obviously the Government decided to bring in the big guns to do the difficult stuff. I am sure that that will help over the next two days.
There are four taxes that we wish to be devolved: corporation tax, fuel duty, the aggregates levy and air passenger duty. I shall touch on the first two briefly, and say a little more about the aggregates levy and air passenger duty later.
The Bill has been considered by the Committee in the Scottish Parliament. As Ministers know, there was much agreement on many matters, but there was disagreement on a number of others, including corporation tax. I think it useful for this Committee to understand the minority view of the Scottish Committee, which said:
“A major failing of the Scotland Bill is that it does not devolve control over corporation tax, one of the most important economic levers available to a Government pursuing economic growth. In many countries corporation tax has been the key component of a strategy to increase competitiveness and improve growth. Without this power, however, Scotland is missing out on the opportunity to give itself a competitive edge… This situation could soon be worsened by the UK Treasury's consideration of devolving corporation tax to Northern Ireland. The CBI Northern Ireland has stated that cutting corporation tax in Northern Ireland would have a ‘transformational’ impact on the Northern Irish economy—giving an immediate boost to the profits of businesses and generating 90,000 jobs. With control over corporation tax Scotland would be in a position” to do much the same. The very fact that the United Kingdom Government were taking a similar approach to corporation tax would justify that position, the Committee said.
As Scottish and other Members will know, a significant body of business opinion backs the devolution of corporation tax—
I did not want to take up too much time by listing all the business people in annexe A of the Committee’s minority report, but I shall be happy to do so if the hon. Gentleman wishes.
It is not simply the business community that has backed the devolution of corporation tax. A man who is hugely respected across the political divide in Scotland is Campbell Christie, the former leader of the Scottish Trades Union Congress. He has said:
“Higher growth will create jobs and generate more tax revenues to protect frontline public services, as well as repaying the high level of debt. To achieve this, Scotland's government need greater economic powers. But the Calman legislation does not meet this need.”
I did say that there was significant support in the business community, and I stand by that. The one thing I will not do in the next two days is engage in the politics of the Committee report. I want to consider its recommendations, and indeed identify proposals to which there was opposition. There is certainly significant business support for the devolution of corporation tax, which will enable the right decisions to be made to engender economic growth.
Not at the moment.
Campbell Christie also said:
“I firmly believe a Scottish government equipped to vary all taxes—including corporation tax… would be able to tackle the serious difficulties we face.
I do not want a tax regime to be imposed on Scotland that is utterly unfair and inadequate to meet the challenges we face. I hope Scotland’s politicians will join me in opposing these unfair proposals.”
I hope that Members throughout the House will note carefully what Campbell Christie said about the devolution of that tax.
The hon. Gentleman says these proposals would be unfair, but one of the fairest things a Government can do when working with the business community is ensure that businesses have time to prepare for change. At present, when there is such a great priority on the economic strengthening of the nation, we need to work in a relationship of trust with the business community. Therefore, is it not unfair to suggest the introduction of this tax at this time?
No, it is not, and if the hon. Lady looks at later amendments she will find that an entire series of them is related to the commencement powers, precisely to ensure that the right things are done at the right time, with the agreement of everybody involved. We will consider that, and I hope the hon. Lady is still present in the Chamber when we do so.
Two specific corporation tax issues relate directly to the Bill’s provisions. Existing provisions allow assigned revenue from a share of income tax—one large tax and a chunk from that, and lots of small measures. It would be much better if there was a balanced basket of taxes, so there was not an over-dependence on, and therefore a potential volatility from, having such a large amount of assigned revenue from a single tax. It would also be preferable if there was a personal tax and business taxes, so that they could be offset. It would also, of course, be preferable to remove the perverse disincentive under the Bill in respect of any future Scottish Government reducing income tax. Let us imagine that a Government decided that, for whatever reason, such a measure might be sensible to stimulate growth, but the Scottish Government took the hit in reduced revenue yield from income tax while the UK Government took the benefit of increased corporation tax. The effect of having only a large personal tax, and not a significant business tax, is that it unfairly and unnecessarily removes the number of economic or fiscal levers open to the Scottish Government. That is an important point.
I had experience of the shipyards in the ’60s and ’70s, and we came upon something called transfer price fixing, whereby companies in Scotland—and elsewhere—would fiddle with the prices, such as those charged for gear boxes at Linwood. How would we overcome that in practice, because I can foresee exactly the same dangers arising under corporation tax?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting point, which relates to what the Government say. They believe in tax competition, as do I, but we must avoid unnecessary tax or regulatory arbitrage not just within the UK but between the UK and other countries. There is a balance to be struck between proper tax competition, which is legitimate and fair and proper to stimulate growth, and unnecessary changes simply to get a quick short-term fix in terms of the arbitrage, which would be unhelpful. That highlights the analogy with price fixing that the hon. Gentleman drew, and he is right to be conscious of that.
We rehearsed the arguments about fuel duty at some length in our debate on the Supply day motion a few weeks ago, so I do not intend to go into that in considerable detail, but I will go into it in some detail.
That is the sort of analogy a crofter from Barra would want to draw. When in opposition, the Liberal part of this Tory-led coalition promised a rural fuel derogation and the Conservative part promised a fuel duty regulator, and instead of being foxes round a chicken coop I would rather they both kept their promises and delivered on their pre-election commitments.
Not at the moment, because I want to make a couple more points.
As we have said in previous debates, this issue is important because in Stornoway, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, fuel routinely costs £6.50 a gallon; in the
Chief Secretary’s constituency diesel routinely costs £6.30 a gallon; in the major cities fuel costs more than £1.33 a litre—more than £6 a gallon; and I am told that Orkney recently had the £7 gallon. Hon. Members will know from the testimonials from the road haulage industry, the Freight Transport Association, FairFuelUK, taxi drivers, the Federation of Small Businesses and many others that businesses and communities are struggling with the inflationary effects of high fuel costs.
Tomorrow, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor will complain about the price of fuel, but is not the point that for years and years as the price of fuel rose they said not a cheep? They were utterly blind to the troubles we had in the Western Isles when they were in government, but all of a sudden they want to say something .
It was not that they were simply blind to it; members of the Labour party have said—I believe that their leader recently said this—that Labour found it difficult to implement a fuel duty regulator when they were in power. It was not so much that Labour found it difficult as it actively opposed every attempt to do it.
Not at the moment.
Before I get too distracted, let me return to the Bill. The whole point about this amendment and our seeking the devolution of fuel duty powers is that we are not doing this for its own sake. Everyone understands the difficulty, as we have raised it many times, so this is about action. If the UK Government will not act, it is perfectly reasonable for the powers to be devolved so that a Scottish Government can act.
The two significant taxes dealt with in this first group are the aggregates levy and air passenger duty. In written evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee, Professor Iain McLean said:
“I am not persuaded by the UK Government’s reasons for rejecting Calman’s other two tax devolution proposals, namely Aggregates Levy and Air Passenger Duty. As Scottish Ministers have correctly pointed out, the litigation which is given as a reason for rejecting the transfer of Aggregates Levy was already in progress when Calman reported. If Scotland is willing to take any revenue risk arising from that litigation, it should be allowed to.”
Likewise, the fact that the UK government intends to convert air passenger duty into a ‘per plane’ duty argues for, not against, devolving it. The principle of subsidiarity implies that the Scottish Government, not the UK Government, should decide how to tax flights originating at small Highland or island airports. Airports don’t move. They are a very suitable devolved tax base.”
On aggregates duty, Professor McLean said:
“The shape of landfill tax is obviously complementary to that of (any successor to) Aggregates Levy.”
Landfill tax is being devolved, so the approach being taken here is rather illogical. It is also a key recommendation of the Scottish Parliament’s Committee that aggregates tax is devolved. The final Calman commission report said:
“The Commission has recommended that a number of “green taxes” (Air Passenger Duty, Landfill Tax and the Aggregates Levy) be devolved. As well as helping to increase the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament, control of these taxes will provide important policy levers in relation to environmental issues, allowing the Scottish Parliament and Government further options in determining policy.”
That makes perfect sense. Excluding two of the three taxes in that “green taxes” category not only makes a mockery of the Calman report, but, more importantly, decreases financial accountability and removes what Calman called “important policy levers”.
I have campaigned on this issue for some time, as has the aviation group within the House. We have asked for this tax to be looked at because it is just ridiculous, given what is happening in Europe. If the tax were to have been devolved, the Government’s position was that it should be devolved, and there was to be a variant—one would presume that that is why the hon. Gentleman is asking for the tax—where would the money come from for any downward variation?
I shall answer that when I come to air passenger duty, because it is a perfectly valid question. In general terms, if any Government chose to increase a tax they would see an increase in yield or behavioural change. Likewise, if they chose to decrease a tax they would either see a reduction in yield or behavioural change. In the case of corporation tax, all the evidence in country after country shows that when business taxes have come down, business tax yield has increased. Those judgments would need to be made depending on the tax, the decision and the part of the economic cycle.
Let me carry on with aggregates tax before I get back to air passenger duty. Calman went on to describe the aggregates levy as
“a tax on the commercial extraction in the UK of rock, sand and gravel. Anyone who is responsible for commercially exploiting aggregate in the UK is liable, and the levy is based on weight”— somewhere under £2 a tonne, and it
“came into effect in 2002, and was introduced to address, by taxation, the environmental costs associated with quarrying operations (noise, dust, visual intrusion”— and so on. He went on:
“It is also intended to reduce demand for aggregate and encourage the use of alternative materials where possible.”
Those were sensible policy objectives. Calman said:
“The levy is usually applied to quarry operators, but it can be shifted to customers or users of the aggregate—the key distinction being where it is commercially exploited. The Aggregates Levy also applies to aggregates drawn from the seabed in UK territorial waters and to imports.
At the time of its introduction, it was envisaged that the Aggregates Levy would not represent a gain to the UK Exchequer because it would be offset by a 0.1% reduction to employer NICs and payments to devolved Aggregates Levy Sustainability Funds.”
A number of concessions to the levy already apply in Northern Ireland, so it could sensibly be argued that it already operates differently within different parts of the UK, which makes it much more bizarre that it is not being devolved at this time. Like landfill tax, the aggregates levy clearly accesses what is known as an immobile tax base—quarries tend not to move—hence the commission believed that it would be suitable for devolution. The SNP agrees and that is a firm recommendation of the Scottish Parliament Committee that considered this matter.
Calman described air passenger duty in a similar manner. He said that it was
“an excise duty which is charged on the carriage, from a UK airport, of chargeable passengers on chargeable aircraft. It is paid by the aircraft operator…Presently, there are four rates of duty, depending on the destination of the flight and the class of travel” starting at £10. He went on:
“The 2008 Pre-Budget Report announced reforms…from a two-distance band regime to a four-distance band regime, set at 2,000 mile intervals from London” to the capitals of other countries. It
“is not payable on flights departing from airports in the Scottish Highlands and Islands”,
which of course means that it is already functioning differently in one part of the UK from the rest, just like the aggregates levy, but:
“Flights from other areas of the UK to airports in this region are liable.”
In 2006-07, that brought in about £94 million—quite a limited amount. Calman went on:
“Assuming the devolution, and thus the potential application of different rates in Scotland than elsewhere…did not conflict with EU law, we think the devolution of APD would not be associated with administrative or economic inefficiencies and is therefore potentially achievable.”
The SNP agrees entirely. The argument against that is that the Government have APD under review and would not devolve it at the present time, and the Scottish Parliament Committee broadly shares that view and has recommended that it is devolved after the Government have completed their review. On the Scottish National party Benches, we prefer the opinion of Professor McLean, who said that
“the fact that the UK government intends to convert air passenger duty into a ‘per plane’ duty argues for, not against, devolving it.”
Our amendments and the new clauses associated with them lay out the mechanism to complete that devolution. They are very simple amendments and follow the process set out in schedule 7 to the Scotland Act 1998—
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I shall address the Scottish National party Members’ amendments in a moment, but first let me make an observation about this part of the Bill, particularly clause 24. I strongly support the proposal to devolve substantial tax powers to the Scottish Parliament, making it responsible for raising approximately a third of its revenue. I shall not repeat the arguments I made on Second Reading, but the principle of the Scottish Parliament raising a good part of its revenue is vital. If that does not happen, the threat to the Union will be very real. To underline that point, let me quote from an e-mail that I received last night from a constituent, Mr Haig. It is worth repeating a couple of the points he expressed.
Not that Mr Hague—this one is spelt Haig. I think the Foreign Secretary is rather preoccupied with matters elsewhere in the world.
“What is it the Scots go without that we the English enjoy? More and more people I speak to are seething with this unfairness, especially in the current financial climate. How is it the Scots can afford this, and the English cannot? They even have an extra layer of government, and are able to afford that as well. Mr Stewart, English nationalism is going to rise slowly but surely over this. Your government cannot ignore this, otherwise you are going to create a fracture in the union, and the SNP’s most ardent supporters for independence are going to be the English.”
I agree. I am a Unionist and I want the Union to survive. The hon. Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) and for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) might support our doing nothing to increase support for their ultimate aim, but I do not.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman responds to his constituent by making him fully aware of what the Scottish block grant is. If the Administration in Edinburgh decide to spend money in one fashion, there is no extra funding for it north of the border. In paying for one thing, we are sacrificing something else. Could that be a starting point for the hon. Gentleman?
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but if the Scottish Parliament were responsible for raising more of its revenue, such arguments would diminish. I think it is right to give it the flexibility to raise additional revenue, if it so wishes, to fund extra programmes in Scotland from which my constituents south of the border may not benefit.
I agree with the incremental steps proposed in clause 24. We are for the first time starting to disaggregate the unitary tax system in the United Kingdom. That will have many consequences, some of which will be unforeseen, so we need to proceed with great care and attention to detail. I strongly welcome the proposal that we should not rush to set up a completely new system in one go. In particular, proposed new section 80B, which clause 24 introduces, contains a provision to allow the subsequent devolution of additional tax powers. That is the right way to go, rather than trying to devolve too much at this stage.
The hon. Member for Dundee East raised perfectly valid points about devolving other taxes, including air passenger duty, fuel duty and corporation tax, and we might well come around to doing that in the fullness of time. The Scottish Parliament’s response to the Bill noted that
“international experience does show some scope for differentiation of corporation tax,” and we may get to that point. However, there are huge difficulties and intricacies that we must first consider about the operation of corporation tax. A later clause goes into some detail in defining a Scottish taxpayer for the purposes of the Bill and we would have to do something very similar for corporation tax. If a company were primarily located in Scotland but had its tax headquarters elsewhere, we would have to work out exactly which components of its income were liable for corporation tax.
I have heard the hon. Gentleman make that argument before. He is being reasonable, and is making a reasoned case, but I disagree with him. However, does he accept the principle, in relation to the last point that he made, that tax liability would follow economic activity?
There will be huge consequences, some foreseen, but others unforeseen. We would need to undertake a huge amount of research to work out how to begin to disaggregate what has been a unitary UK tax system. I am not saying that it is impossible, or that it is something that we should not look at in future, but for the purposes of the Bill, I do not think that it is necessary, because clause 24 makes provision to look at devolving additional tax powers in future.
I am not going to say anything more at this point, because I want to deal in detail with other measures when we come on to the relevant clauses. Scottish National party Members have made a point about air passenger duty and landfill tax. I am perfectly content that measures are being negotiated at European level and elsewhere. Until they are resolved, it would be premature to include the devolution of those taxes in the Bill. I accept that the Calman view was that those matters should be devolved in the fullness of time, and I support that, but it is not necessary to include it at this point. I am therefore afraid that I cannot support the amendments if they are pressed to a vote.
What a difference a week makes, as we continue our scrutiny of the Bill after our sitting last Monday. On Thursday, we witnessed a plenary debate in the Chamber at Holyrood on the recommendations in the report on the legislative consent motion. At the conclusion of the debate, there was a vote, and we witnessed a remarkable about-turn, as the Scottish National party supported the motion recommended in the majority report. After two years of sniping on the sidelines, it has joined the three other major parties in Scotland to support the Bill, and I genuinely welcome that.
Who is surprised at the pattern that has emerged yet again? This is a party that did not join the constitutional convention, but supported the devolution referendum. It came into power four years ago, promising that its top aim above all others was a referendum on independence, which was then dropped. The interesting allegations in Wikipedia about the First Minister’s comments on the party’s real aims, rather than all-out independence, add to the mix the overwhelming conclusion that it can talk about independence as much as it wants, but the SNP has never been on the true side of the people of Scotland, which is why it constantly has to play catch-up.
We have had an interesting debate about fiscal decentralisation.
I am intrigued by the hon. Lady’s introductory remarks. They bear no relation to the amendments, but that should not surprise us.
There is indeed a very serious matter at stake. We have tabled an amendment to devolve the aggregates levy, which is a recommendation by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and by Calman, and will make the Bill better. If we can divide the Committees, will Labour join us?
We certainly support the principle of devolving the aggregates levy, but I wish to make sure that when we scrutinise the Bill we do so in the interests of the people of Scotland. There is genuine concern about court proceedings—interestingly, the hon. Gentleman failed to mention the comments by the British Aggregates Association in the report on the legislative consent motion, which said that it was sure that it was going to win the court case. Well, we will just have to see when that case comes to court. However, I would not want a Scottish Administration to be responsible for the risks that may result from a loss in that case, because that would not be in the interests of the Scottish taxpayer.
The report by the Holyrood Committee offers an exceptional exposition of the contentious remarks made over a number of years by the Scottish Government about why fiscal decentralisation would be to the benefit of the Scottish economy. We support the measures in the Bill, because we believe that they will make the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament more accountable to the taxpayer. They already benefit from uniquely broad spending powers, and the Bill rightly makes that power more accountable to the electorate. However, as the Committee knows, the Scottish Government argued prior to the establishment of the Committee at Holyrood that full fiscal decentralisation would grow the Scottish economy by an extra 1% per year. I refer hon. Members to paragraph 37 of that report, which states that
“the First Minister’s claim—of an additional 1% growth per year —is an exaggerated version of what Professors Hughes Hallett and Scott have stated in their research.”
The Committee concluded that the evidential base for the statements made by Professors Hughes Hallett and Scott was, in its words, “remarkably weak” and that claims did not stand up to scrutiny. The Scottish Government did not provide any detail in the legislative consent motion.
It is interesting that the Scottish National party is proposing two further taxes, fuel duty and corporation tax, and spent, on my reckoning, just under 20 minutes presenting what is apparently a full case explaining why those should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. That, again, follows a pattern. There are no costings, no specification, and no material explaining the practical implications for taxpayers, employers and Scotland’s financial sector, or the collection plans.
Is my hon. Friend aware that when the Scottish Affairs Committee played good cop to the Holyrood Bill Committee’s bad cop, Professors Hughes Hallett and Scott went as far as to say that there was no real link between fiscal autonomy and economic growth, and that it is what is done with the powers that achieves growth?
My hon. Friend raises a pertinent point and one which even those who have argued for fiscal decentralisation admitted in Committee, including Ben Thomson from Reform Scotland, who had been a firm advocate of that policy. It was stated that all the evidence showed that it is the powers that are available and how they are used, and factors that are not purely fiscal, such as technological progress, investment in human capital and policies on education, that largely determine economic growth. Many of those powers are already with the Scottish Government.
The hon. Lady asserted that no information had been provided. The Scottish Government provided an extraordinary amount of information, much of it at the request of the Scottish Affairs Committee, and all of which, I understand, is in the annex to the full report that it published, so that assertion was wrong.
The hon. Gentleman did not refer to any of that evidence in support of his amendments. He also did not refer—why would he; it would be too embarrassing—to the purpose of the national conversation, which the Scottish Government instructed, and the many position papers that civil servants were struggling to produce and make sense of, at considerable cost to the Scottish taxpayer at a time when the resources could have been much better used.
The hon. Gentleman provided us with no independent evidence or statistics showing how, if fuel duty is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, it will result in a benefit to the taxpayer. The matter is urgent and we require immediate action. That is why we have called on the Chancellor to reverse the Tory-led Government’s VAT rise immediately and to suspend the fuel duty rise due in April. That would provide immediate relief to taxpayers and to drivers right across Scotland. That is the best way we can help people with motoring costs now.
The Calman commission recommended that the power on aggregates be devolved. We support that principle. The Government have indicated their intention to devolve it, presumably on the assumption that the court case will be decided in the Government’s favour. I would welcome the Minister’s comments when he replies, to confirm that that is still the Government’s intention.
It would be helpful to the Committee to understand what progress has been made on the Government’s review of air passenger duty, when they think that review will be complete, when they expect to be able to devolve the tax and whether they still wish to maintain the scheduled date of 2015.
New clause 17 relates to corporation tax, which the Scottish Government have been talking about for a considerable time. The pertinent questions that we all must consider carefully are what exactly does the SNP wish to do with the proposed power, where does it see the revenue gain coming from, and on what evidence is that based. Do we follow the Irish example of having a super-low rate, or do we follow the view of the SNP in Edinburgh and have retail business levy proposals, which were very badly thought out and arbitrarily proposed without consultation? Are we a high-tax or low-tax nation? Do we believe in high-quality, good value public services, or do we want to have a lower public expenditure base?
Some people believe that Ireland is an exact example for Scotland, but I argue that it certainly is not. Sadly, we no longer have the arc of prosperity argument from the Scottish Government. Nevertheless, it is important to note that when Ireland introduced its policy it was in a very weak economic position and the loss of revenue was relatively small, but that would not be the case for Scotland, which has a well-developed economy. If corporation tax is devolved, EU state rules require that the devolved Administration must not be protected from the revenue consequences of their decision.
It is clear that cutting corporation tax rates will cut revenue, at a minimum for some years, as suggested in the Exchequer evidence to the Holyrood Committee:
“A 10% cut in corporation tax in Scotland might cost about £600 million per year for an indeterminate period.”
Stewart Hosie has not specified what figure his party proposes for corporation tax, what loss to the Exchequer will result and when his party believes it will recoup the loss. No one in Scotland will want us to vote on the issue until we have the pertinent answers.
The CBI and other business organisations have firmly stated that they are against differential rates within the UK. Many of the experts who gave evidence to the Committee in Holyrood noted that it would create economic distortions—the brass-plating of booking profits through Scotland by manipulating transfer pricing. I refer Members to paragraph 54 of the Holyrood Committee’s report, which states:
“The Committee does not believe that Scotland should seek to maximise its tax income by becoming a tax haven for companies operating elsewhere in the UK.”
I entirely agree with that approach.
Some evidence was given regarding the example of Switzerland, which has a highly federalised and separate tax system in its various cantons, but the Swiss example points out that that would tend to lead to lower public expenditure. Is this what the SNP proposes for Scotland? The people of Scotland need to know whether the answer is yes or no. Paragraph 494 of the Committee’s report states that Professor Anton Muscatelli noted that the Swiss example is one where there has been
“a shift from corporate taxation to personal income taxation.”
He also pointed out that that is a volatile tax.
Hon. Members will be aware of that volatility, which occurred after the 2007 fiscal crisis. The major payers of corporation tax in this country are our banks and financial institutions. They took a huge hit in 2007-08 and onwards. The cost for the Scottish public amounted to £10,000 for every man, women and child in Scotland. Where would those funds have come from if the Scottish Government had had to bear the entire cost? Is the SNP willing to allow Scottish public finances to take that level of risk? Is it saying that it wishes to see a cut in taxes on banks? Yes or no? We have had no answer to that either. Labour has argued that the banks are not paying an appropriate share towards deficit reduction in this country and has again called today for the bank levy to be increased in the Budget.
In paragraph 505 of the Holyrood report, Professor Iain McLean, whom the hon. Member for Dundee East quoted, points out that the Northern Ireland experience between 1920 and 1972, when corporation tax was devolved, was marked by widespread tax avoidance.
Many similar questions need to be asked, but at the end of the day the SNP has failed to say what it wants to do with the tax, what kind of tax regime it wants in
Scotland and what it proposes in relation to bank taxes: is it for lower or higher taxes? Today, there has been the sound of deafening silence.
I have a number of questions to ask the Government about clause 24 itself. They have still to respond in detail to the Holyrood Committee’s report, and given the timing of next week’s Budget I am sure the Exchequer Secretary has many other things in his basket. Does he not agree that, given the considerable number of points that the report raises, we can anticipate at least some substantive amendments from the Government? If so, does he agree that, to ensure the maximum amount of democratic scrutiny, they should be tabled prior to Report, not simply left until the Bill arrives in the House of Lords?
Last week, the Government announced a consultation on the so-called Cadder clauses, which, as the Exchequer Secretary is aware, were not part of the original Calman commission. That consultation will continue until mid-May. Does he not agree again that it would be better to postpone Report until it is complete in order to allow us properly to scrutinise in the Commons this important legislative and constitutional reform?
On the issue of section 57(2) of the 1998 Act and the new clause or amendment that we will table to it, the hon. Lady is aware and has rightly highlighted that we are undertaking a consultation. I am happy to say to her in public what I have said privately: she and members of other parties are very welcome to have discussions with officials to ensure that Members are aware of how that thinking is developed. Just to reassure her, anything that is introduced in another place will come back here for proper and thorough scrutiny in due course.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his remarks, but I would prefer to have the earliest possible scrutiny in the House of Commons, and I certainly hope that the House will be allowed at the very minimum a proper period in which to scrutinise properly any amendments or new clauses that are introduced in the House of Lords, because this is an important constitutional issue. It is technical, but it is important that this House has the time to debate and scrutinise it properly, and that the public and the electorate know that we have scrutinised it appropriately.
Do the Government agree with the Chartered Institute of Taxation that a mechanism might be required to ensure that any future Scottish provisions do not conflict, and to consider how future UK treaties and EU rules might affect the powers that we provide to Scotland in the Bill?
Proposed new section 80B of the 1998 Act appears to include the possibility of devolving aggregates levy and air passenger duty in future. Will the Government confirm that the Scottish Parliament has a formal standing in consenting to the Orders in Council referred to in that section? Air passenger duty might be considerably altered by the time the review is complete, and that could be of significance to the revenue that can be anticipated from Scotland. Air travel in Scotland has its own distinct features, particularly within Scotland itself and to the north and isles areas, so it is important that there is a full and proper discussion not only here in the Houses of Parliament, but in the Scottish Parliament, should there be any difference in the levy’s impact on the Exchequer.
On the calculation of the block grant, will the Government consider the Holyrood Committee’s proposals that the reduction in grant might be indexed to changes in the income tax base for the rest of the UK? Will they consider also the principle of a formal review of the grant reduction mechanism after 10 years, as the report recommends? If Ministers were able to give us an indication of the Government’s view, that would be helpful. What consideration have the Government given to the Holyrood Committee’s recommendation that the transition period for the income tax powers and the calculation of the block grant reduction be reduced or done away with in its entirety if, for example, the measures on the tax base are implemented? Finally, what consideration have the Government given to the recommendation that while a flat-rate structure should be adopted initially, this decision must be carefully evaluated as experience is gained of operating it? That simply follows from the experience of other devolved Administrations in dealing with income tax.
I did not intend to speak on the amendments tabled by Stewart Hosie, but I feel that some issues need to be addressed, and I want to put to him one or two questions about fuel duty that I hope he will answer when he responds to the debate.
I am sure that no one in the Chamber does not recognise how difficult this issue has become for motorists in any part of the UK—particularly, I recognise, for those in the northern and western isles. However, when I look at the whole concept of devolving this additional tax on fuel duty, I wonder, in all honesty, whether the proposal would have been before us if fuel prices at the pumps were not so expensive. The hon. Gentleman has not given the slightest indication how this additional income would be used. More importantly, does he have even a ballpark figure on how much would be raised in additional taxation going to the Scottish Parliament? In a previous debate, he and I discussed the fuel duty stabiliser, of which he has been a great advocate. As I pointed out to him, his advocacy has not always been consistent, as there was one year when the SNP dropped the proposal. If he had his way and managed to get the amendment through, and the fuel duty charge became a devolved issue, would he totally abandon the whole concept of a fuel duty stabiliser?
I am not in favour of a fuel duty stabiliser, as I have made clear to constituents who have corresponded with me over recent weeks. I need only point to the campaign run by FairFuelUK, which has not given the slightest indication of what it thinks is a reasonable price for fuel and a reasonable level of duty. The wider public might think that this is a tremendous idea, but I warn the Committee, as I have warned my constituents, to be very careful. With the current fluctuating price of fuel—crude oil—and the way that the marketplace is at the moment, if a fuel duty stabiliser were suddenly introduced, we would end up with fuel pegged at a price that is unsustainable. People filling up their cars are already baulking at the whole concept of what they have to pay, and it is completely wrong to peg pump prices at a level that is unsustainable.
I will also briefly mention the rural fuel derogation, about which Mr MacNeil, who is not with us, might have some idea. I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee East will indicate the average mileage of someone living in the northern or the western isles. I recognise how painful it must be for people living in those localities to pay 10p or 15p per litre more than people on the mainland. However, the pain that such people suffer if they do 5,000 or 8,000 miles a year is comparable to that suffered by people in areas such as mine who have to do 15,000 or 20,000 miles a year, or more. Fuel prices are only one element of motoring costs. People in some places pay an astronomical price because of the miles that they have to cover. On an annual basis, people on the islands might not pay more; they might even pay less if they have a low mileage.
The hon. Gentleman should not denigrate the fuel duty derogation in the way that he has. On large islands such as Mull and Islay, people do a significant mileage. The use of fuel is not just about the number of miles one drives; if one drives on single track roads and has to stop and start all the time, one uses a lot more fuel. The important thing is to get the derogation established on the islands and to make it workable. It can then be extended to remote parts of the mainland.
The hon. Gentleman, like so many people, has merely used the terminology of significant mileage. We need clarification. Will somebody in this Committee please put figures on this? To a person on the islands, significant mileage may mean 5,000 or 6,000 miles. I appreciate how difficult it is for people living in remote, rural localities. However, we are talking about finance—something that I am not an expert on, as I am sure hon. Members know. We need to be clear in our minds about what we are doing here.
Perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman an indication of the distances involved. The distance from Fionnphort on Mull to the largest town on the island, Tobermory, is 50 miles. Somebody driving from Fionnphort to the largest town on the island and back therefore travels 100 miles.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s clarification of the distances that people travel. I believe that that will be important in the case that the Government are trying to make for a rural fuel derogation. I am not demeaning anyone, but saying that we need to be clear when discussing finance what the situation will be.
Those are the brief points that I wanted to make, and I hope that we can get clarification before we vote on these issues this evening.
You may not have been present the last time I spoke on the Scotland Bill, Mr Walker, but it was my birthday. Every time I speak about the Scotland Bill, it feels like my birthday.
In contrast to the amendments tabled by Stewart Hosie, the Bill offers real progress for Scotland and a recognition of all that has been achieved at Holyrood. At the same time, it offers the stability of remaining as part of the Union, which protects Scotland against some risks. The hon. Gentleman seemed to be disappointed by what he called the politics in the report of the Scottish Parliament’s Scotland Bill Committee. Perhaps, however, we should look at the history of how we have come to this point.
We had the Scottish constitutional convention and the Calman commission, both of which the hon. Gentleman’s party declined to be part of. Those things stand in sharp contrast to the SNP’s own record, because the national conversation, which my hon. Friend Ann McKechin spoke about at some length, has delivered nothing for the people of Scotland or the Scottish Parliament. That contrasts with what is on offer before the Committee today. Of course there is detail in the Bill that we need the Government to iron out, but even the Bill Committee in the Scottish Parliament—I believe it is the first time that a Committee of that type has been established, to give the Bill the scrutiny that it deserves and merits—has acknowledged that there is time to work on some of the details.
We could fair see how all puffed up with pride the hon. Gentleman was about all the amendments that he had brought before us, but I have to say that I found his arguments unconvincing. The SNP had all the time that Calman was discussing a way forward to come up with some detailed proposals, and it had some weeks of the Scotland Bill Committee’s work in Holyrood, yet what do we see? A single piece of paper containing its proposals for lasting change and progress in Scotland. I am afraid that is the sum total of its contribution.
This is very confusing. I am not puffed up with pride; I am simply doing my job. We have tabled amendments on capital borrowing, revenue borrowing, corporation tax, fuel duty, air passenger duty, aggregates duty and previously on air weapons, road safety, the coastguard and other matters. I believe Labour’s substantive amendment would re-reserve some food labelling powers. That is not a hugely impressive record.
I will withdraw my remark, then, and acknowledge the humility that we have now heard from the hon. Gentleman. Up until
Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why we do not need to table copious amendments is that we took part in the deliberations of the Calman commission and in all the consultation related to it?
I absolutely agree. The whole process has been about consultation, and at some point the SNP has to admit that perhaps the reason why it has been outside the process, and why it had to file a minority report, is that it is just plain wrong on this issue. I genuinely appeal to SNP Members to pause and consider whether Unionist parties would really advance legislation that would put Scotland and the Union at risk.
I am tempted to think that spring has come to the House, because what we have heard today is not the sound of chickens but the sound of constitutional cuckoos. That is what SNP Members are. They allow others to do the work and build the nest, then they come and try to throw our eggs out.
We are hearing some interesting analogies. Far from throwing the eggs or the chicks out of the nest, we are bringing to the table today the aggregates levy amendment recommended by the Committee in the Scottish Parliament and by Calman. We hope to divide the Committee on it today. Will the hon. Lady join us in backing it?
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North has answered that question. If the hon. Gentleman was not listening, or if he was not able to follow it, I am afraid I cannot take responsibility for that.
I will press on and talk about the SNP’s corporation tax proposals.
I am trying to understand Labour’s position on our amendments. They are what the Scottish Bill Committee and Calman agreed on, and we are providing an opportunity to put them to the vote today. Is she honestly saying that she will not take the opportunity to support her own case?
This may not be something that the hon. Gentleman is used to hearing, but I am going to tell him, “Not yet”. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North said, until we have a ruling and clarification, there is a risk to the Scottish Government. That does not mean withholding those powers for ever, but it is about protecting Scotland and looking out for its interests.
On corporation tax, the hon. Member for Dundee East spoke about how he was in favour of tax competition. It appears that the only trend available to the Scottish National party is a downward one—a race to the bottom. We must therefore ask how they will make up the shortfall in revenue. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North spoke of an £600 million annual loss to the Scottish economy for an indeterminate period. What will the SNP cut to make up for that? Will it cut apprenticeships, health care or education? That question has not been answered.
We are also rather short on consultation, which is unsurprising given the SNP’s absence from the consultative process throughout the history of devolution. I will be interested to hear the hon. Member for Dundee East—that is not an invitation to intervene—address the question of exactly whom the SNP consulted in drawing up its proposals and how that took place. Consultation has been the Labour party’s approach, but I suspect that it has not been the SNP approach.
The Committee today has a clear choice on whether to adopt a set of proposals that offer progress and development for the Scottish Parliament and Government. I very much hope that after
If the amendment is pressed to a Division, I hope the Committee makes the right decision and recognises the achievements of the Bill, and that it rejects the SNP’s minority report and fantastical proposals.
Just before the Minister starts, can he explain why a Treasury Minister is replying to the debate when the Bill was presented by the Scotland Office? I know there are plans to do away with the useless Scotland Office, with which the SNP agrees, but does this situation just add flames to that particular fire?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has read the Command Paper, which was signed off by both the Secretary of State for Scotland and I. The debate relates to taxation, so it seems perfectly appropriate for a Treasury Minister to respond. Indeed, I warmly welcome the kind response I got from the hon. Gentleman’s colleague, Stewart Hosie. It is very unusual for me to be described as a “big gun” but I am none the less grateful for those words. The Scotland Office and the Treasury have worked closely on the Bill, and in particular on the provisions that we are debating, and I am pleased to continue that co-ordination.
State for Scotland and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I am sure the Minister’s name is in there somewhere, but it would be good if he could tell us where.
I only wish I could have signed it off—such is my enthusiasm for the Command Paper. I work closely with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, however, and the point I made was that the Treasury signed off the Command Paper. We work happily as one Government, so I am pleased to be able to respond to the amendments—assuming I now have the chance to do so.
The Government’s proposals in the Bill facilitate the largest transfer of power from the United Kingdom to Scotland since the creation of the UK. By devolving stamp duty land tax and the power to set a Scottish rate of income tax, the Scottish Parliament will be able to raise approximately one third of its own budget, thereby significantly improving its financial accountability. Only last Thursday, the Scottish Parliament voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Bill—121 in favour, three against and one abstention. To devolve additional taxes now, as the hon. Member for Dundee East argues, without the consent of the Scottish Parliament would be thoroughly inappropriate. There has been a long consultative process that both the UK Government and the Scottish Government and Parliament have been through, so to include the devolution of additional taxes now, on a whim, would not be the right course of action.
As well as those general points, there are some specific reasons why these taxes should not be devolved now in the Bill. I shall deal with those in a little detail. First, on amendment 37 and new clause 8, the Calman commission did not recommend that fuel duty be devolved. It concluded that different fuel duty rates would make artificial opportunities for cross-border shopping, creating economic distortions. More significantly, however, it highlighted the EU energy products directive that sets a principle of one rate of fuel duty per member state. Devolving fuel duty to the Scottish Parliament would require the EU to grant the UK a derogation from this directive, and the Calman commission acknowledged that it would be unlikely to be granted. A contrast can be drawn with the rural fuel discount derogation that the Government are pursuing.
Amendment 58 and new clause 15 relate to quarrying and mining. Although the Calman commission recommended devolving the aggregates levy, a tax on quarrying and mining is much wider and has not been endorsed by the Scottish Parliament. Even if the scope of the amendment was narrowed to devolve only aggregates extracted from the land, as Calman recommended, I would not accept it at this point. The aggregates levy is currently under legal challenge in the EU courts, and it would be reckless to devolve it while the challenge remains. I will not devolve a tax to the Scottish Parliament where there is any risk that it could subsequently be deemed to be illegal. That would be a substantial risk for the Scottish Parliament, which was the point made by Ann McKechin.
The risk is this: should it be found subsequently that the aggregates levy, as currently constituted, is not legal, the loss of that revenue would be immediate and significant for the Scottish Government. The hon. Member for Dundee East referred to the special rates of aggregates levy in Northern Ireland, and asked why they could not therefore be applied in Scotland. I make the point, however, that the Northern Ireland credit scheme was suspended on
The confirmation sought by the hon. Member for Glasgow North is set out in the Command Paper accompanying the Bill: once the aggregates levy has overcome the legal challenge, we will devolve it to Scotland. Clause 24 enables that to happen.
I am genuinely unclear about the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. I fail to see how the Scottish Government lose if the action results in the aggregates levy being ruled illegal. They do not have an aggregates levy at the moment. If it is transferred to them and then abolished, they will not have it either. Not losing something that they do not have already is not a deficiency. Would any additional risk result from the transfer of the aggregates levy?
The point is that there would be a reduction in the block grant, because the revenues from the aggregates levy would be going to the Scottish Government. If it was subsequently found that the aggregates levy in its current form was not legal, either we would have to readjust the block grant or the Scottish Government would have to bear the shortfall.
I shall move on to amendment 57 and new clause 16. The Calman commission recommended the devolution of the UK’s air passenger duty, not a general power to tax air travel, which is what the amendment seeks. The UK Government are exploring changes to their aviation tax system, as stated in last year’s June Budget, and will look at devolution of this tax base in that future work. However, it is not appropriate to devolve aviation tax until these changes have been explored, with any major changes subject to consultation, and a decision on the future of UK aviation tax made. To do otherwise would mean that the Scottish Parliament would have to plan the future of their new tax without the context of the UK version. I would also like to answer the point about the process of a new tax. Clause 24(6) provides that any new tax would need to be approved by the Scottish Parliament, under section 80B of the Scotland Act 1998. That would clearly apply in these circumstances.
I turn to amendment 60 and new clause 17. The Calman commission recommended that corporation tax not be devolved. The Scottish Parliament has endorsed this, although it wants to stay engaged in any future discussions on corporation tax devolution. Both the Calman commission and the Scottish Parliament recognised very good reasons why not to devolve the tax. First, the Calman commission concluded that if comparable levels of public services were to be maintained, the scope for substantive reductions in the rate of corporation tax in Scotland was limited, unless the Scottish Government are able to increase revenues from other sources. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North said, under European law there will have to be a reduction in the block grant commensurate with the value of the reduction in the corporation tax rate.
Secondly, the commission also believed that the potential administrative impacts of such a move were significant. The creation of compliance costs to businesses operating on either side of the border, as well as the increased collection costs to the Government, would be undesirable in the present economic climate.
The Exchequer Secretary might be aware that the Conservative economics commission in Wales has advocated the setting of corporation tax at a regional level. What does he say to that?
We will consider that. At the moment, however, we are concerned with Scotland and Wales in particular. There is a slightly different issue with Northern Ireland, where the Government have not yet made a decision on the devolution of corporation tax. Clearly, however, the circumstances in Northern Ireland are different: it does not have a land border with the rest of the UK, but does have one with a country that has a substantially lower rate of corporation tax.
There are a number of detailed questions about how some of these tax matters will be addressed. Various points arose from last week’s Scottish Parliament report, and we will respond to those in due course. However, I am keen that the joint exchequer committee—that is the title suggested by the Scottish Parliament, and it is one we are happy to take onboard—which will consider these matters in some detail, meets as soon as possible after the Scottish elections and the formation of a Scottish Government. We can then discuss some of these matters and provide further details in the future.
It would be fair to point out that the Calman commission took into account some of those issues, because—to take the examples of corporation tax or fuel duty—there could be significant issues with full devolution, and we will of course take into account the interests of all parts of the country.
Perhaps the Minister could answer the question—a question that Ann McKechin also raised—about the process in which we are now involved. When are we likely to see amendments that reflect the will of the Scottish Parliament’s Committee? Will they be introduced in the House of Lords? Like the hon. Lady, I would find that unacceptable: such amendments have to be debated in this place. When will we be able to debate them in this House?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland addressed many of those issues earlier, but let me make this point about the devolution of tax. It is important to have the consent of the Scottish Parliament, which is why we are proceeding as we are, which is not the approach of the Scottish National party. Neither this Government nor, I believe, the vast majority of hon. Members would seriously consider making amendments that affected the powers of the Scottish Parliament without its consent. However, as has been said, devolution is a process, not an event. This is an enabling Bill. The Scottish Parliament can ask for additional tax powers over the course of time and have them duly considered. Clause 24 gives the power to add new devolved taxes. The Command Paper accompanying this Bill sets out the process for taking forward the devolution of the aggregates levy and air passenger duty, but any future devolution must happen with the wholehearted consent of the Scottish Parliament, not just following the proposals of a minority of Members of this House. Given that, I ask the hon. Member for Dundee East to withdraw his amendment.
Let me respond briefly to some of the key points raised. Mr Brown talked about a fuel duty regulator, as he has done on a number of occasions. He knows very well the difficulties faced by hauliers and others in the south-west of Scotland. He asked whether I would give up on the proposal in this place if it were delivered in Scotland. I said in my speech that if the UK Government would not deliver it, the powers should be devolved, so that the Scottish Government could act. I simply want fair play on fuel. It is important that the power should be devolved, so that the Scottish Government can act if the UK Government will not.
Fiona O'Donnell made an interesting speech, as she always does. She valiantly tried to defend the lack of Labour attempts to strengthen the Bill. She spoke in favour of Calman, but rejected one of the key Calman recommendations, which was the aggregates levy proposal. Ann McKechin also made an interesting speech. She raised the notion of—I think—a £600 million loss every year if there was a 10p cut in corporation tax. No one has ever suggested an immediate 10p cut in corporation tax. That was a straw man, set up to be knocked down, and bears no relation to the policy of any party in this House.
I would like it cut over a number of years, taking the benefit of the announcement effect and taking advantage of the experience of other countries, where, with modest changes on a downward spiral in corporation tax, the business tax yield has increased. That is very sensible and is, I think, what the current Government have in mind.
Let me turn briefly to what the Minister said. He said that the proposal would provide around one third of Scotland’s budget. That is similar to the figure of 35% proposed by the Calman commission, but that included all the revenue proposed by Calman, much of which is not in the Scotland Bill. That figure was also calculated on a baseline that excluded capital expenditure from the Scottish budget. The Minister will find that the actual percentage share is considerably lower. He said that the Government would never seek to devolve taxes on a whim. Let me assure him that we would certainly not want to do that either. We would want to devolve taxes only to provide balance and a basket of taxes to mitigate any volatility, which may well arise when the bulk of our assigned revenue comes from a single, personal tax.
I am not convinced by many of the arguments I have heard. There is a very strong case indeed for trying to push forward with the Calman proposals, particularly on the aggregates levy, so I intend to divide the Committee on amendment 58, but for now I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: 58, page 16, line 17, at end insert—