Committee (4th Day)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 15th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 5:30 pm, 15th March 2012

It may seem simple to my noble friend and it may have been discussed for 15 months, but I have to tell him that I am not a supporter of this Bill. I thought I made clear at Second Reading why I am not. I am somewhat surprised at the argument that my noble friend has put. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, put it quite clearly. I do not disagree about the impact of the policy but what is being said is that, if there is a change in the tax regime that results in the tax base being made narrower and from which people in Scotland will benefit, in addition people will benefit in Scotland by the cost of that change being added to the block grant. To me, that is double benefit and I do not see how that has anything to do with the accountability of the Scottish Parliament.

It arises because the Scottish Parliament is not solely responsible for tax policy, which would be an argument for fiscal autonomy that no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, will put to us. However, the scheme in this Bill is a kind of charade whereby the Scottish block is always topped up regardless of the benefits that accrue to Scotland from the changes in the tax base, which cannot be right. I defy my noble friend to explain why, say, the Scots would get the benefit. Let us say that thresholds were raised to £10,000 so that no one earning less than that would pay income tax. That would have a dramatic effect on the Scottish block. I guess that it would be many hundreds of millions of pounds-perhaps £600 million or something of that order. My noble friend is saying that the Scottish Government would be compensated by being given that money, but the people living in Scotland would have benefited from the fact that they are not paying tax on the first £10,000. That cannot be right.

When my noble friend says, "Well, we have all known this for 15 months", I had not appreciated that the situation was as stark as this. I thought that it might be a one-off thing at the start, but the idea that this should be a continuing matter is not about accountability; it is about giving people a guaranteed budget.