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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 21st 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) 5:15 pm, 21st March 2012

My Lords, I cannot accept that last comment, but I can now see where my noble friend is coming from. I welcome anyone who wishes to express the case for going further. Of course, he is well aware that what has been presented to Parliament here is something that was worked on over a long period of time during which a consensus was achieved. There was never likely to be a consensus in favour of devolution of the whole tax base, as opposed to the tax rate.

My noble friend is basically saying that it should never be the case that a change in the tax base-for example, the increase in personal allowances-should benefit taxpayers in Scotland. He is saying that if the UK Government, who are still responsible for a substantial level of services in Scotland, take tax from the Scottish people, the Scottish people should never be allowed to take the kind of benefit that I believe they should-and I think that he once wrote a pamphlet on the benefit of raising the personal threshold-and the Scottish Parliament should raise its rate of tax to account for that. That is not accountability; that is a decision taken by the UK Government to bring benefits right throughout the United Kingdom.

It would seriously undermine the United Kingdom if Scottish taxpayers were not allowed to receive the benefit of a change to the UK tax base. It could mean that the tax change would reduce the amount of money available to the Scottish Government, so that budgetary considerations and calculations that had been put forward and might well have been voted through by Parliament would no longer be sustainable because of a decision taken by a body other than the Scottish Parliament. That is the essence of the no-detriment rule, and something that lies at the heart of the statement of funding policy.

I will read out the statement of funding policy, because the noble Lord, Lord Browne, might find that it echoes the passage from the Holtham commission that he read out. It says:

"Where decisions taken by any of the devolved administrations ... have financial implications for departments or agencies of the United Kingdom Government or, alternatively, decisions of United Kingdom departments or agencies lead to additional costs for any of the devolved administrations ... the body whose decision leads to the additional cost will meet that cost".

That is where accountability properly lies.

This is not something new that has suddenly been dreamt up. There are probably people in the House who were involved at the beginning of devolution and this principle has been in the statement of funding policy since then. I believe that it is fair that Governments -be it a UK Government or a Scottish Government-should be accountable for the decisions that they make, but they should not be able to export some of the implications of their decisions on to another Government, who should not be held accountable for the decision of another Government.