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 Dunlop Lord Dunlop The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland 8:00 pm, 29th February 2016

My Lords, it is fair to say that this has been a very wide-ranging debate and I thank all those who have taken part. I recall that on Second Reading my noble friend Lord Forsyth said that he looked forward to giving me a Glasgow handshake. As the House knows, he always makes good on his promises.

Before I address the substance of the amendments, I will try to address as many of the points that have been raised as possible, although there have been so many that I cannot guarantee to cover absolutely all of them. My noble friend mentioned Professor Jim Gallagher. Professor Gallagher, who is well known to many of us, also wrote a long article in the Daily Record, in which he described the Government’s comparable model as an ingenious compromise solution. While it is certainly the case that for a transitional period the UK Government are bearing population risk, I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, that, on the spending side, the population share will not be frozen at the point of devolution. However, this is a transitional period. Even my noble friend Lord Forsyth would prefer to move from the Barnett formula to a needs-based formula. Even in his thinking there is provision for transitional arrangements. Even in the transitional period that is part of this agreement, the Scottish Government bear economic risks. That means that if Scotland’s tax per head grows more slowly than in the UK as a whole, that is a risk the Scottish Government will have to manage even within the transitional period.

How much the Scottish Government will have to pay going forward with this substantial act of fiscal devolution will depend ultimately on the decisions that are taken by them and how well the powers that they will get are used. So if there are fewer people in employment or productivity grows more slowly, or the composition of Scotland’s population changes and there is a higher proportion of retired people, those are all risks that the Scottish Government will have to manage.

My noble friend referred to a premise that has been mentioned that, had the comparable model been in operation since 1999, it would have delivered additional funding to Scotland. That is true because Scotland’s relative economic performance during that period was strong. Tax per head was rising faster than in the UK as a whole. I ask the House to consider that, if we had not reached an agreement, I am sure I would have been hauled over the coals and the consequences of that would have been crawled over in great detail by this House. What is the counterfactual here? If we had not obtained an agreement, the financial outcome for the rest of the UK would have been no better than under the deal that we have negotiated. A figure of £350 million has been mentioned. It is not a figure that the Government recognise. Therefore, we would not have obtained an agreement that was financially better for the rest of the UK but we would have lost something quite significant—the transfer of these powers and the greater fiscal responsibility sent to the Scottish Parliament. One can only imagine what would happen after the Holyrood election. The whole debate about more powers would be reopened. That would not be in the interests of the UK as a whole or of the stability of the union.

There has been much mention of the Barnett formula and the need to replace it with a needs-based formula.