Scotland Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 29th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord McFall of Alcluith Lord McFall of Alcluith Labour 8:00 pm, 29th February 2016

My Lords, even if one were dozing during this debate, there would be no doubt how the House felt on the issue. I note the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that the debate on the Barnett formula is lost. We must realise that situation. I shared a flat near Joel Barnett for many years. Joel never tired of telling me that the Barnett formula was introduced in 1978 to settle a relatively minor dispute in devolution so that he would get “them” off his back. He used a profane word that I will not use in this House. However, since 1978 that formula has stuck.

When I was in the other place, the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, manfully defended the Treasury but still was very generous with the Barnett formula. The noble Lords, Lord Lang and Lord Forsyth, as Secretaries of State for Scotland, skilfully manoeuvred the Barnett formula in Scotland. I had to sit on the Opposition Benches and admire their chutzpah on that particular issue. That is the politics of the situation now. Sadly, in many ways the political bandwagon has moved on but the analytical one is behind it.

At the end of last week, the First Minister said that there was not a penny of detriment to Scotland. She spat that out but every Scottish party in the Scottish Parliament agreed with her. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, mentioned in adulatory terms Professor Jim Gallagher. I looked at Jim Gallagher’s blog at the weekend. I mentioned that every Scottish party was involved but he said that, in the event, with the fiscal framework,

“the politicians have come to a compromise: one suggested first, publicly at least, by the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson”.

She proposed this, and then the Chancellor, George Osborne, intervened and offered the Scottish Government a safety net for the first five years. That effectively delivers what the SNP Ministers asked for: namely, protection for their tax income in the event that Scottish population declines. That is the reality, so perhaps I am not being ungenerous in saying that maybe the right hand of the Conservative Party does not know what the left hand of the Conservative Party is doing.