Committee (4th Day)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 1:30 pm on 15th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), Lords Spokesperson (Wales Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office) 1:30 pm, 15th March 2012

My Lords, the amendments we are discussing relate to whether there should be a referendum on the provisions contained within the Bill's specific reference to the changes to income tax and Scottish income tax. There will, of course, be opportunities at the next sitting of the Committee to debate amendments relating to an independence referendum. Indeed, later today there will be an opportunity to consider the details of the income tax proposals. I have no doubt that my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Lyell will contribute to that, and my noble friend Lord Sassoon will be very pleased to respond.

I should make a point of clarification to my noble friend Lord Lyell, who raised a question about the Income Tax Act 2007. I can advise him that that Act sets out, as part of the tax law rewrite programme, how an individual's income should be taxed and the distinction between savings and non-savings income. It is right that the Bill follows that approach.

The Government have a clear mandate to implement the Calman commission's conclusions, as we seek to do in the Bill. There were pledges to do that in not only the manifestos of the two coalition parties but in the manifesto of the Official Opposition, the Labour Party. It is fair to say that these proposals were worked out after consultation by the Calman commission. I do not think that anyone can fault the level of consultation. There was considerable public discussion after the publication of that commission's report. There was a White Paper by the previous Labour Government. There was a Command Paper by this Administration. These matters have been pretty well aired and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said that these are powers that people want. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2010 showed that 57 per cent of people wanted the Scottish Parliament to have powers of taxation and, significantly, only 37 per cent wanted Westminster to have tax powers. There has been considerable discussion of this, and I am not aware, with some respectable and respected noble exceptions, of any great clamour to have a referendum on these matters.

The proposal would be to have a referendum prior to the implementation of the finance provisions. These provisions will give the Scottish Parliament increased powers to take decisions on how to raise money as well as how to spend it. The crucial point was the final one made by the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill-the Bill will give the Parliament increased accountability and fiscal responsibility. While these reforms are significant and substantial new powers, they fall very much within the framework of the original Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, reminded us that the question on tax powers was answered overwhelmingly in the affirmative in the 1997 referendum. In it, the Scottish electorate endorsed the establishment of a Parliament with the ability to exercise tax-varying powers, and therefore have a degree of financial accountability for taxation and spending decisions. As has been pointed out, these powers have not been used, but it is clear that there is demand for increased financial accountability, and that call was regularly made to the Calman commission-the Parliament should be not only responsible for how it spends money but have some greater accountability and responsibility for how it raises money. That has widespread support. It was also within the existing framework of the Scotland Act to vary the powers of the Scottish Parliament and its Ministers by order-making powers, such as those in Sections 30 and 63 of that Act. Here, of course, we are doing that by primary legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred to the Constitution Committee report on referendums. I declare an interest because I was a member of that committee when that report was produced. I could not say what its view would have been of this proposal, but I agree with the noble Lord's analysis that when we looked at past referendums they were very much matters of political judgment. I may have misheard what my noble friend said in his concluding remarks-that the referendum was supported by all parties in 1997. However, if he casts his mind back, he was a busy Secretary of State at the time, and when the Labour Party in opposition proposed a referendum in spring 1996, a considerable furore greeted it.