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 MacGregor of Pulham Market Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market Conservative 7:00 pm, 29th February 2016

My Lords, I can speak fairly briefly on this occasion because my noble friend Lord Forsyth put the whole case brilliantly and compulsively. I have sympathy with my noble friend the Minister because he has been put in the almost impossible position of having to defend what is, frankly, the indefensible. That is not his fault. I also understand why it has taken so long to reach an agreement on the fiscal framework. It was obviously comprised of many difficult matters, which is precisely why we ought to look at it in much greater detail than we are going to be able to do.

The framework covers a whole range of important matters, which both Houses should be able to look at in detail, yet the other place was not able to do so and we are having the most minimal consideration of it, which is fairly disgraceful. We are not going to be able to go into any detail tonight because we have only just seen the fiscal framework. We were told that we would be able to have a briefing on Friday, but it was postponed until today. We had a briefing at lunchtime today on a whole range of matters, with a lot of criticism and concern being expressed, and those concerns ought to be looked at in both Houses. I stress that, as others have said, this will affect not only Scotland; there are huge implications for the rest of the United Kingdom, which I shall mention briefly in a moment.

One point that I want to take up is the Barnett formula. I know that there is a slight difference between my noble friend Lord Lang and me on that but I think that we have come to the same conclusion in the consideration of this Bill, as he explained very clearly. I have always been very unhappy about the Barnett formula. I was on the Finance Bill Committee in the House of Commons when the Barnett formula was first created. I remember it well. It was at the time when the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, made a sudden departure one lunchtime to beg for loans from the IMF. Poor Lord Barnett had to deal with all that as well as a very long and difficult Finance Bill, which included various things such as the capital transfer tax. In sheer desperation he invented the Barnett formula to get himself out of some real difficulties.

We all know that the late Lord Barnett felt that the formula should have gone long ago. It should have been replaced by a formula based on need, as Select Committees from both Houses have recommended in the past, and that seems to be the fair way to go. I heard what my noble friend said but, whichever way you try to demonstrate that the Barnett formula is based on need, it is not, yet it remains an integral part of the fiscal framework and, as I said, it has substantial implications for the rest of the UK—so obviously the north-east of England but many others parts, as well as Wales. It has implications for East Anglia, where I was an MP for 27 years. I remember that there was considerable concern about some of the implications of the Barnett formula for East Anglia. Many MPs now will have very serious concerns about the way in which the framework has been drawn up and how it affects them.

The concerns over the fiscal framework relate not only to the Barnett formula. I was very grateful to my noble friend and the Chief Secretary, who offered a briefing on the fiscal framework today, but the result of that was that many of us had even more concerns and misgivings than we had had when we went into the room. The borrowing powers aspect of the framework has to be debated in this House, and there are many other examples that we could give.

I understand why the Government want to get the Bill on to the statute book before the Scottish election, and my noble friend Lord Lang referred to some of the political aspects, but it is not our fault that this key part of the Bill has come so late in the proceedings. From my long experience in both Houses—as Leader of the House in the Commons, I was responsible for the legislative programme at one stage—I cannot recall any occasion when one of the most critical parts of a Bill has received only the most cursory examination in this House and none in the other place. I support Amendment 56ZA because I think that it would enable us to carry out that examination.