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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 4:45 pm, 21st March 2012

My Lords, this is the amendment that I was speaking to previously. It is a device that provides for a referendum in England on Scottish income tax powers. I tabled the amendment in order to discuss the letter that my noble friend Lord Sassoon circulated, following our debate on the Bill on 15 March.

I suggest that the English should have a say on this because of the extraordinary revelation in Committee on the position of the Scottish Parliament if a change in taxation policy were to be introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer-as has happened today, for example, when he raised to just over £9,000 the allowance before people pay income tax. The no-detriment principle is not in the Bill but has, as I understand it, been agreed between the Government and the Scottish Government, or has been proposed as part of the arrangements. I see that in the Written Statement today concerning the negotiations on legislative consent-which we can debate at a later stage-those arrangements go even further.

The idea is that Scotland would benefit from the reduction in income tax that people paid as a result of the increase in allowances, but that England would send a cheque to compensate for the reduction in the tax revenues in addition. The argument for having the 10p tax is that it will affect only a small proportion-by the way, Ministers keep saying that it is 30 per cent; I think we were told today the precise figure by the Office for Budget Responsibility. Hitherto, the assumption has been that about £4.5 billion would be raised by the 10p rate of income tax and that if the Scottish Parliament wanted to spend more it could put that income tax up. The proposition that, because the 10p rate does not raise £4.5 billion any more because people in Scotland are paying less tax, people in England should have to pay more tax to send an addition to the Barnett formula-determined part of the block seems to me to drive a coach and horses through the whole argument of accountability.

If my amendment were accepted and the proposition was put to people in England by a referendum that the Scottish tax powers should operate in that way, I think that there would be an overwhelming rejection, because it is completely unfair and unworkable and will create great difficulty.

In his letter to me, which has been circulated to Members of the Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, goes on to deal with another issue, which is benefits. If, as has happened today, the Chancellor raises the thresholds at which people pay tax, that means that there will be a change in their entitlement to benefit. There is a requirement here for changes in people's eligibility for benefit and the effect that that has in Scotland to be compensated for by taxpayers in England. In his letter, my noble friend says that I should not be too worried about that because the costs are likely to be low. I hope that this letter will be put in the Library or in a form which people outside the House can access.

In the annexe to the letter, my noble friend sets out a little flowchart, which starts with the Scottish budget being £28 billion and Scottish income tax receipts being £4.8 billion. Then, the Scottish block is adjusted downwards by £4.8 billion to create headroom for the Scottish rate of income tax, which means that the Scottish budget is £28 billion, and the block grant is £23 billion because the Scottish income tax receipts would be £4.8 billion. The UK Government raise the personal allowance UK-wide, estimated by the OBR at £3.5 billion. The OBR forecast of the impact on Scottish income tax receipts is a reduction of £100 million. Therefore, receipts from the Scottish income tax are expected to be reduced to £4.7 billion. Therefore, the Treasury adds £100 million to the Scottish budget to offset the impact of what is called UK policy change and the outcome is that the Scottish Government's budget remains the same.

This is "Heads you win, tails you win" economics. It is completely unfair. It is just reinstating the block grant. I am no advocate of this policy, but if the Government want to go down this track the sensible thing to do would be to give the Scottish Parliament control over the allowances and the rates. This is nonsense. It also applies to changes in the benefit position, because people's entitlement to benefit will be altered by their net income. If the Scottish Parliament were to put up tax, which it will certainly have to do, and Scotland becomes the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom, as it certainly will, that means that people's entitlement to benefit will increase. The cost of that will fall on the English taxpayer. I raise this because, if my noble friend accepts my amendment, which is to give the people in England a referendum on this scheme, I do not think these proposals will stand the test of time. If, as I suspect, he will not accept my amendment, then I urge him to abandon this ridiculous no-detriment principle. The no-detriment principle is a no-accountability principle. It drives a coach and horses through the whole philosophy and thinking of the Bill. I have no idea where it came from. If he is going to maintain this no-detriment principle, then it ought to be written on the face of the Bill. It should not be the product of a quiet deal that no one knows anything about, which flies in the face of what was said in the manifestos of those parties that committed themselves to introducing the Calman proposals. I beg to move.