Scotland Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 29th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP 7:00 pm, 29th February 2016

My Lords, I said earlier that I considered the terms of the Smith commission to be effectively a treaty. Nothing I have heard last week or this week has changed my mind on that.

Can the Minister clarify a couple of things? A borrowing power for revenue shortfall is included in the framework. Certainly in Northern Ireland, if we had money left over, we used to be able to roll it over, but that was severely restricted, down to one year. On the point that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, made, about the spillovers and the behavioural changes, is that borrowing power designed to deal with the unintended, and perhaps unforeseeable, consequences of behavioural change; for instance, on welfare, which may not have been anticipated—some of it could have been weather-related or there could have been other sorts of issues—and is that borrowing power designed effectively to operate as an insurance policy to keep the wheels going until a review can take place, or are the spillover arrangements effectively an insurance policy against mistakes that are made so that the Scottish Government will not run out of money? What will the borrowing limit be, both for revenue and capital expenditure? Will it be tolerable for capital moneys to be converted and used for revenue? All these things are important, because it has already happened. I understood that there used to be a complete ban on that happening but it has happened, and I wonder where this process is going.

I understand that all the devolved Administrations are now able to borrow from the Treasury through the loans fund. Are there limits on this? The borrowing that occurs in Northern Ireland is becoming very substantial. By the end of the next financial year or maybe the year after it could go up to £3 billion, and £700 million of that is to pay off 20,000 workers because they did not take any precautions and start four years ago to gradually run down the number of civil servants that they knew they did not have money for. Their budgets were provided for them by the Treasury in 2010 and they knew about it four years in advance. Now they are borrowing £700 million to make 20,000 people redundant. I understood that the Treasury was very protective of the national cash limits, but it seems to have lost the plot and is now permitting devolved Administrations to borrow, and there do not seem to be any limits.