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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 5:30 pm, 21st March 2012

Indeed, and I understand that, but I am talking about the politics of it in the context of there perhaps being a higher rate of tax in Scotland. I would not like to be the Minister who had to explain why it was necessary. For example-thank goodness the Chancellor did not do it-let us suppose he had abolished tax relief on higher-income pension contributions. That would create exactly the kind of situation under this odd regime in which the Scottish Government would have to send a cheque to England. My noble and learned friend looks quizzical and perhaps I am wrong, but if the tax relief were removed there would be a windfall benefit for the Scottish Government. The product of a 10p income tax would be less, or are we saying that this would apply only to direct changes to allowances in respect of income tax? If that is the case, surely it would be sensible to allow the Scottish Government to make changes to tax allowances rather than compensate them for the effect of changes. There is an idea that they would be caught midway through a Budget by a sudden change-perhaps the £100 million example given by my noble friend-but, as we have seen today in the reduction in the top rate of tax or the increases in allowances, these are normally planned well in advance. Provision is also made in the Bill for the Scottish Parliament to borrow money and to have access to funds where there are changes.

My noble and learned friend has not dealt with the argument. The simple way to deal with this is as follows. If a change is made to the allowances, the revenue consequences will be that the product of the 10p tax instead of being £4.2 billion or £4.5 billion will be £4.2 billion or £4.4 billion. That £100 million shortfall could easily be recovered by increasing the rate of tax. The Scottish Parliament would not be disadvantaged by that because it would simply have to increase the rate of tax. There might be a problem of timing, but there is a provision for borrowing to deal with it, and that would give direct accountability. I agree that it is messy, but for the life of me I do not understand why we are going on with this exercise where my noble and learned friend will not concede that, rather than have a very complicated provision for tax, it would be better to provide that the Scottish Government are able to change the allowances as well as the rate if the UK Government see this as a great administrative difficulty for them.

My noble and learned friend did not deal in his response with the problems that arise from welfare. As I understand it and as his letter points out, eligibility for benefits will depend on net income. That means that if Scotland, as I suspect it will, becomes the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom, net incomes will be lower and therefore it will be necessary for benefits to be increased. Perhaps my noble and learned friend will help me with this. If, for example, the Scottish rate of income tax was higher and the effect was to reduce net incomes and therefore more would need to be paid in benefits, would the Scottish Government have to send a cheque to the UK Exchequer to deal with the consequences of the fact that in Scotland more people were dependent on benefits? Politically, I think that that, too, would be extremely difficult.

As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, has pointed out, the no-detriment principle is basically just trying to replicate the block grant and dress it up as income tax. The consequences will be that everyone in Scotland will end up paying higher income tax than people in England in order to finance a vehicle which does not do what it says on the tin.