Scotland Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 22nd February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 4:15 pm, 22nd February 2016

My Lords, was that it? We have had a splendid debate with a lot of suggestions. I think there was a consensus that we could not put this Bill on to the statute book without having discussed the fiscal framework. It is interesting that former judges such as the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope, Lord McCluskey and Lord Mackay of Clashfern, are advising us on the politics of the situation in Scotland and I am arguing about the constitutional implications. I feel that my expertise is more limited than theirs on both counts.

Of course, I understand why the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, feels that if we were to delay consideration of the Bill, the SNP would complain that unelected Peers were interfering in the democratic decisions of the Scottish people and the Prime Minister’s vow—which, incidentally, was the Daily Record’s vow—had not been delivered. The noble Lord questioned my motives and said that I wanted to kill the Bill. I understand that the Bill will go on to the statute book; that will happen. But I want a stable, lasting framework that will end this business of the nationalists pretending that Scotland gets a bad deal out of the union and, at the same time, the other parts of the United Kingdom to feel that they are treated fairly. That is the objective, and the fiscal framework goes to the heart of that. Far be it from me to give advice to the Labour Party, but perhaps it should stop running away in Scotland and confront the nationalists for what they are and on what they say.

My noble friend said that the fiscal framework may be agreed before Report. The noble Lord, Lord Darling, for whom I have considerable admiration and respect, suggested that perhaps we might consider it on Report, but Report is the day after tomorrow is it not? Is the fiscal framework going to be agreed tomorrow? If so, perhaps it might have been sensible to delay Committee until Wednesday and then we could have had Committee with the fiscal framework. If my noble friend is right that the fiscal framework is imminent, clearly, it would be silly to delay Committee today and to accept my amendment—I am still speaking in favour of it, by the way—I can see that.

However, it was then suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, and others, that perhaps we could change the rules. It is perfectly open to me or any other Member of the House to bring forward a Motion on Report to say that we should recommit the Bill to Committee. Therefore, there is no reason for me to press my amendment today if, indeed, we are going to get the fiscal framework on Report. If we are not, and if the view of the House is that the Bill ought not to reach the statute book without an opportunity for the House of Commons particularly, as well as ourselves, to consider the fiscal framework, then it is open to my noble friend to accept an amendment in Committee today. There are several amendments—I have one of them—stating that there should be a sunrise clause whereby the Bill will not come into effect until the fiscal framework has been agreed by both Houses of Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, thinks that that would provoke hysteria in Scotland. I do not see why. The Bill will get on the statute book and they will get what they want. If it does not get on the statute book, it will be because of the intransigence of the SNP in agreeing the fiscal framework. One of the most important speeches was made by the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, who talked about the importance of transparency. We have also had speeches from a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, a former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, a former Cabinet Secretary—they are both the same person—and all have advocated that we look at this issue.

I have to say to my noble friend—my father used to sell second-hand cars so this is no aspersion on second-hand car salesmen—that trying to approve the Bill without the fiscal framework is like buying a shiny car and not being allowed to look at or start the engine. It simply will not do. My noble friend heard voices from every quarter of the House—from those who are ardently pro-devolution, those who are against devolution or have been, those who predicted we would get into this mess, and others who thought it might not end like this—and the general view is that the House should not be asked to send the Bill for Royal Assent unless the fiscal framework has been debated and agreed. I hope the Government will give further consideration to this matter and take account not just of the widely expressed views in the House, but of the detailed reports from both committees. I beg leave to withdrawn my amendment to the Motion.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.

Motion agreed.

Clauses 13 to 18 agreed.

Schedule 1 agreed.

House resumed.