Scotland Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 29th February 2016.

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Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Crossbench 7:30 pm, 29th February 2016

My Lords, I want to come in on a similar theme and echo the earlier words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. At roughly one o’clock last Monday my email system received a helpful letter from the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop. I thank both Ministers, who have been unfailingly courteous and very helpful in these extraordinary circumstances. That was said earlier and I wish to say it as well. The letter I received at one o’clock on 22 February was extremely complimentary about the negotiating position of the Government. It enclosed a letter to Pete Wishart. Paragraph 3 of that letter said:

The UK government agrees with the Committee that the Indexed Per Capita … model would ‘breach the second no detriment principle, that of taxpayer fairness’. This model would see Scotland benefitting from an ever-increasing share of income tax from the rest of UK, irrespective of the Scottish Government’s policy decisions or relative economic performance”.

That is clear.

The following day—less than 24 hours later—we were told that the fiscal framework had been agreed. Paragraph 17 of that states:

“For a transitional period covering the next Scottish Parliament, the Governments have agreed that the block grant adjustment for tax should be effected by using the Comparable Model (Scotland’s share)”— that sounds okay—

“whilst achieving the outcome delivered by the Indexed Per Capita … method for tax and welfare. This will ensure that the Scottish Government’s overall level of funding will be unaffected if Scotland’s population grows differently from the rest of the UK”.

I know this point has already been put to the Minister but I put it forcefully again and ask whether those two paragraphs can be reconciled clearly for the House so that we can understand what happened. I suspect that, quite simply, the white flag was run up to conclude negotiations for political expediency.

I now turn to the review clause and to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. Paragraph 23 states:

“The two governments will jointly agree the method as part of the review. The method adopted will deliver results consistent with the Smith commission’s recommendations, including the principles of no detriment, taxpayer fairness and economic responsibility”.

That means essentially that all one has managed to do is to kick the hand grenade six years down the line. It will blow up and there will be a terrible constitutional crisis in Britain. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, and other noble Lords that we need to head this off at the pass. I urge the Minister and the Government to do something about this issue before the Bill goes on to the statute book.