Scotland Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 29th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Dunlop Lord Dunlop The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland 8:15 pm, 29th February 2016

I am coming to that point. The idea that it would be easy or straightforward to replace the Barnett formula with a needs-based one—or seek to do so—does not stand up to scrutiny. I have read, with great interest, the report of the House of Lords committee on the Barnett formula, published in 2009. John Swinney, now Deputy First Minister of Scotland, gave evidence to that committee’s review and made it absolutely clear that he did not support the move to a needs-based formula. There has been lots of talk about a veto. Another way of putting that is that if you do not have a veto then the UK Government unilaterally imposes something on Scotland. In that situation, we would have to proceed as we have done in this fiscal framework agreement—by negotiation and agreement.

The no-detriment principles have been raised several times in this debate. I have talked directly to people who sat on the Smith commission including the noble Lord, Lord Smith, himself. The commission recognised that these were high-level principles. It was always accepted that the two Governments would have to sit down and decide how those principles were applied in practice. It is not surprising that there is a greater level of detail and a lot of talk about the direct effects, which we want to capture mechanically in the agreement. However, the indirect, spillover effects are very difficult to capture, because of the causality. It is the direct effects which we are seeking to capture in this agreement. Although there is a backstop power to deal with the spillover effects, it will be used rarely. One needs to draw a distinction between the review, where we need to proceed and get an agreement, and the dispute resolution mechanism, which is very much attached to specific issues regarding how spillover effects actually work.

I turn to the review itself. It is obvious and self-evident that this is five years away. The details of the review have still to be determined. I am not going to stand here today and say otherwise, because noble Lords would not accept it. The Government would positively welcome the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee feeding in its views about how the review should be structured. That would inform the deliberations we will have with the Scottish Government about constructing that review.