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, the noble Lord tells us nothing new. I looked at that issue as well. I think I made the point in the last debate here that the two no-detriment principles are irreconcilable. We must try to work out the politics of that at a later date but there is absolutely no doubt of that. Professor David Bell in his submission and the work he did for the Economic Affairs Committee illustrated that very much. In fact, I sat for about three hours looking at that report from the IMF with David Bell and I thought I was back at university. After those three hours, I understood maybe 15% of the whole issue. It is hugely complex—we all agree on that.

I mentioned the issue of the safety net. This is a good deal from Her Majesty’s Treasury but after the five years there will be the review. What will the Treasury do at that time? That will depend on how the population looks then and what other political and economic factors are going on. I agree with individuals who say that this is a five-year or six-year proposal. At the end of the day, negotiations must start again. One thing I am interested in here is to see that we develop a narrative as a result of this fiscal framework which will ensure that the grievance mentality is abandoned. Some would say it will not be but there is a possibility of that happening. I will mention that later on in my speech.

For clarity’s sake, we see that the Scottish Parliament is supported by, as we said, shared UK resources from Barnett, its own tax revenues levied in Scotland, and a cash supplement from UK resources. That could possibly force all the parties in Scotland to go into what they are offering the Scottish electorate in terms of tax and spend. We have seen it already; today I read it in the Scotsman as I was coming down in the plane. For the first time, in many ways, we are getting on to the reality of devolution and have moved on from the process. Sadly, the Labour Party was very much involved there because it was mentioned that devolution was a process rather than an event. That got it wrong. As my old friend Tam Dalyell said, it was like a motorway without exits. Let us try to build the exits as a result of this fiscal framework.

We can go on indefinitely in asking who won the fiscal framework battle. Yes, the Treasury model is being used. We call it levels reduction. Yes, the UK is reimbursing Scotland for any money it would have received under the indexed per capita deduction in place. In effect, one side is happy saying, “The Treasury model is being used”. The other side is happy saying, “Yes, it is being used but we ain’t going to be disadvantaged because at the end of the day the per capita will be involved”. How far has that taken us? It has taken us five years down the road in terms of politics. We will have to come back and see how far it takes us down the road in terms of finance.

There is a big picture here as well, which nobody has mentioned. This will be the biggest ever transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament. In fact, it will have as much autonomy as it had in 1707. It has demanded both good will and compromise to reach that position.

On that particular point, I commend the Government for their work in this area. However, in terms of the reporting of the fiscal framework, it could be helpful if the Government teased this issue out. The fiscal framework states that the Government will be required to produce reports on the implementation and operation of new powers in line with those produced under the Scotland Act 2010. Will this be done on an annual basis? If not, when will such reports be published? If we are to have an independent review, it should be set up very quickly and should not wait until the last minute, as we had to do with the fiscal framework now, where eight weeks of Smith translated itself into a secret cabal deciding it and then presenting it to us. We should have that transparency so that that independent commission can report to Parliament on an annual basis. By doing so, there will be transparency and individuals can look at it from the two no-detriment principles—particularly the second, of fairness to UK taxpayers.

This is a solution. Is it a neat solution? We can argue about that until the end of the day but there is a political momentum on this issue with the political parties in Scotland. The Government have responded to that. We wish them well in the negotiations.