Committee (4th Day)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 15th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 1:00 pm, 15th March 2012

My Lords, this is an important amendment, which provides for a referendum, if the sections of the Bill that introduce for the first time a Scottish income tax are enacted by the Scottish Parliament in such a way that Scottish taxpayers end up paying a higher rate of income tax than people in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I should point out that the order of consideration of amendments that has been circulated to the Members of the House is not actually the order that I have in front of me now. I do not know whether it is possible for further documentation to be provided so that we are all on the same page, as my amendments are now grouped with those from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.

The original provisions in the Scotland Act, which provided for a Scottish variable rate of income tax, gave the Scottish Parliament the power to raise income tax by 3p in the £1 on the basic rate alone. It did not apply to either of the other rates of income tax and was limited to 3p. As Secretary of State I well remember campaigning long and hard on the tartan tax, which is a much better name than the Scottish variable rate. The Bill seeks to abolish the 3p variable rate, although it was something that the Scottish Parliament voted for in a referendum. It was something that people campaigned for and against; it was subject to argument.

It seems extraordinary to get rid of something done by referendum without having a referendum to endorse that. I am no fan of the Scottish variable rate; I thought that having the power to set a higher rate of income tax in Scotland would result in great disadvantage to Scotland if it was ever used-and I am delighted to say that it never was used. Many people enjoy jobs and prosperity they would not otherwise have enjoyed had those powers been used, so I welcome the fact that the Bill abolishes the tartan tax and gets rid of the variable rate. This is great progress, but unfortunately it goes on to create a new power for the Scottish Parliament not just to set the basic rate of tax within a limit of 3p but to set any rate of tax that it chooses that will affect the basic and higher rates of income tax. That is a huge change, way beyond anything that was set out in the Scotland Act and way beyond what was put to the Scottish people in a referendum.

The amendment would give the Scottish people the right to decide whether these sweeping powers, which will inevitably make Scotland the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom, are appropriate and desirable. In our consideration of the Bill at earlier stages, it has become apparent that in respect of many of the tax powers there is perhaps not widespread knowledge of this in this House or the other place. The extent to which people in Scotland are aware of the potential impact of the power is limited. I cite as no other evidence the recent discussions in Scotland about more powers for the Scottish Parliament, which clearly show that many people advocating those powers do not realise that they are already in the Bill and, in some respects, beyond what they desire.

It is important, too, that this provision should be subject to a referendum not just on the principle that the previous Labour Administration who took office in 1997 thought it appropriate to have a referendum but because so many of the details about the operation and implementation of the tax, and its extent and the scope, are not actually provided in the Bill. For example, as the Bill stands, people with income from savings or dividends will not pay the Scottish income tax, but people with income from pensions will. Why is that? How is that going to distort the relative desirability of pension and savings investments of a more conventional kind? The Bill does not give the Scottish Parliament the ability to change the thresholds for income tax purposes or the ability to increase the rates by differential amounts, so it would be impossible for the Scottish Parliament to set a higher rate of tax while keeping the basic rate at the same level. Why is that? Should those matters not be subject to debate and consideration?

The effect of implementing this power in the Bill would be that any higher income tax in Scotland would be a disproportionately heavy burden on the lowest paid compared with the highest paid, which strikes me as a rather extraordinary thing to do. Of course, in the nature of the Bill the amount of grant that is being reduced is the equivalent to 10p on income tax, which is a curious position. Why not have all the revenue from the income tax? Why have the 10p? These matters are being debated in Scotland now.

I hesitate to mention the late lamented poll tax, or community charge, but one of the problems with the poll tax was that it raised a relatively small part of local government revenue. The same was true of the rates, and therefore in order to make an increase in expenditure that fell for its burden upon the poll tax or the rates, you required a disproportionately large increase in the amount. One of the issues here is how this income tax power would operate. The Minister gave figures earlier in our deliberations and, as I understand them, 1p on income tax would raise £420 million. That is a relatively small sum when one thinks that the Scottish Parliament is having to reduce its funding by £3 billion to meet the deficit reduction requirements. Allowing for a reduction in yield, that is the equivalent of allowing for 8p on the basic rate of income tax. On my calculations, that is a 40 per cent increase, whereas 8p on the 50p rate of income tax would be a very much smaller percentage increase.

A number of issues about the operation of this income tax, both in its scope and in the limitations on the powers of the Scottish Parliament, have not been debated or considered at all in Scotland but ought to be, and almost certainly would be debated or considered if there was a requirement to have a referendum before these powers could be implemented. The most important thing about taxation-the very nature of the other place-is in ensuring that taxes are not levied without consent, and that those raising the taxes are subject to the accountability of the people. This is a huge change. It is not one that I welcome but I acknowledge that I am in a minority, in this House and in the other place, in forming that view.

The people of Scotland should have an opportunity to have an explanation of what is being suggested, and the chance to give their verdict on it. This amendment attempts to do that, and in doing so it merely reflects the view of all parties when they campaigned for devolution in the first place, which was that there should be a referendum on the tax-raising powers.