Committee (4th Day)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 1:45 pm on 15th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 1:45 pm, 15th March 2012

I venture to suggest that I cannot think of any way in which any politician of any party, with the setup as it is in respect of the taxation powers and the way that the block grant will be calculated-subject to later review, but even assuming that Barnett survives-and given the levels of public expenditure and the position we are in, would be able honestly to do other than to tell the voters that income tax will have to go up. The numbers simply do not add up.

Let us just take the promises being made by the First Minister. On the whole, if you promise people free health care, free prescriptions, free bus travel, free nursery care and free this, that and the other and you do not have the money to pay for it, whoever comes in will find it very difficult to reverse that. Those are all very expensive requirements. If a Chancellor of the Exchequer gives the First Minister in an election year a bisque so that he does not have to cut public expenditure to meet the budget deficit requirements and the cuts have to be made in the subsequent year, you are building up very substantial gaps. I said that the gap on the budget deficit was about £3 billion. A tax-varying power where one penny on income tax raises merely £400 million will not get you very far in that respect. It is a delusion. If anyone in this House believes that the power will be used to reduce taxation, I think they are misguided.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord that we must be careful to focus on the issue of independence. He is absolutely right about that. Where I believe that the Bill is playing into the hands of the nationalists is that they are saying: "Look, you cannot play golf with one club. You cannot run an economy simply by having limited tax-varying powers that relate to one part of the income tax yield. You need corporation tax powers so that you can get growth so that the yield goes up". That argument has a certain degree of logic to it-if not, altogether, a degree of fantasy.

Some of us remember that the First Minister interrupted my noble friend Lord Lawson's Budget, scandalised the House of Commons and was thrown out of the House. We are told now by the nats that that was done to protest about the poll tax. Of course, he interrupted to say, "That is an absolute outrage" when the Chancellor, my noble friend Lord Lawson, announced a reduction in corporation tax and income tax to the same rate of 25 per cent. So there is a fantasy here. We should be absolutely clear what we are doing here. We are committing Scotland to a position where it will have a higher rate of income tax. I am prepared to challenge anybody. Once these powers are in place and are being used-after 2015-I will be astonished if I am wrong about that, in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, was wrong when he said that the Scotland Act would kill nationalism stone dead.