Scotland Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 22nd February 2016.

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Photo of Lord McCluskey Lord McCluskey Crossbench 3:15 pm, 22nd February 2016

My Lords, I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I can be brief because he has covered many of the arguments. I wish to make it clear that in my view and, I think, the view of many, the important thing is that this Bill does not concern simply Scotland but the United Kingdom, and in particular the taxpayers in Great Britain. That is why the noble Lord mentioned Wales and, of course, the north of England.

The general view is that Scotland has for many years been subsidised by taxpayers in the rest of Great Britain. That view is inconvertible and I think that the Treasury strongly supports that opinion. Whether that subsidy has been justified is a different question that I will not go into at this stage. The underlying issue is not the interpretation of a word such as “detriment”, which does not mean too much, although, if you ask the people of Wales, they will tell you that they recognise it when they see it arising from this Bill. The real underlying issue is whether taxpayers in the rest of the United Kingdom, and certainly in the rest of Great Britain, should continue to subsidise the Scots and, if so, at what level and on what basis. The issue underlying that is whether it is time for this House to face up to the weaknesses of the Barnett formula and begin to ask whether it is proper to make need the sound basis for supplying tax money to different regions of the United Kingdom.

We have waited for the fiscal framework since May 2015, when the Bill was introduced in the House of Commons. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that we cannot do our job without the fiscal framework. However, my one reservation about the amendment is that I fear it would let the SNP off the hook because the truth of the matter is that it cannot live with devo-max on any basis other than an improved subsidy; and, if it cannot live with devo-max, it certainly cannot live with independence. Therefore, the argument on this matter is very important because it reveals the basic weakness of the Scottish National Party’s position. I hesitate to give it an excuse for blaming us and condemning us in the usual terms as being unelected et cetera. Therefore, I invite your Lordships to support this measure but I hope that, ultimately, the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.