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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 4:15 pm, 21st March 2012

My Lords, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, seeks by very specific provision to restrict the operation of Section 28 of the Act. We on these Benches are broadly content with the Act, but the noble and learned Lord who speaks for the Government on these matters will, I hope, remember that we moved an amendment seeking to put into the Bill at least a mechanism, which would lead further into secondary legislation, to have some reflection of the criteria that need to be satisfied before either a new or an existing tax could be considered appropriate to be devolved. In response to that amendment, the Government's position was that those criteria were already set out in a White Paper predating the publication of the Bill.

Our position on these Benches is still similar to that of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. It would be better if there were some restriction in the operation of Section 28-or, at least, some shape to how it would operate-by reflecting through primary legislation into secondary legislation the criteria that need to be satisfied, since it appears that the Government have a clear and advanced view of what those criteria will be. This is an issue that we intended to return to on Report, having looked at the drafting of an appropriate amendment. I gave notice at the conclusion of the debate in Committee on Clause 28 that that is what we intended to do. To that extent, we are in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and I think also with the mood of the House when we debated this provision.

Reflecting on the specific terms of the agreement with the Scottish Government, it appears that the Government's position on the aggregates levy is now that it will be devolved, as I understand it, not if but when the issues which are preventing its devolution are resolved. Up until now, I had thought that the conditionality in relation to the devolution of the aggregates levy was in the control of the European court. It now appears, though, that the Government's confidence that these issues can be resolved is such that they were able to agree with the Scottish Government that the aggregates levy will be devolved when that resolution takes place and these issues are resolved.

If that is the case then I agree, with regard to that tax, that it would be more appropriate to have in the Bill a provision that could be activated and brought into force at that point, and that this House and the other place would have an opportunity to consider the implications otherwise for the devolution of the aggregates levy in detail. When we debated that issue, if I remember correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, proposed a detailed amendment covering the aggregates levy, and the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, told him that technically it was broadly correct. I may be misquoting his exact words, but he said that the noble Lord had made a good job of it and that it was fit for purpose. If that is right, at least the Government are in a position where most of the work has been done. That may need to be tweaked, and I dare say that the Government would not want to accept someone else's amendment wholesale and may want to change it slightly, but we could be in a position on Report to have a debate that would do two things: satisfy this House's desire to have a debate about the detail of that tax and its devolutionary implications, and immediately show good faith to the Scottish Government because this would put a provision in the Bill that could be activated to devolve the tax.

I turn to the amendment. One of the coincidences of this amendment coming forward, or it may be not entirely a coincidence, is that this House has been exercised by the issue of financial privilege in some detail in committees, briefings, debates and discussion since the House of Commons recently claimed financial privilege in respect of Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill. When I saw the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, I was not clear exactly what he was getting at, but there was no shortage of briefing available to me about financial privilege.