Scotland Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:50 pm on 29th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Dunlop Lord Dunlop The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland 8:50 pm, 29th February 2016

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 56K, 56L, 71AB and 71AC which are tabled in my name. Amendments 71B and 71C have been replaced by Amendments 71AB and 71AC.

Amendments 56K and 71AB set out clearly, consistent with the existing legal framework, new borrowing powers for the Scottish Government. In line with the Smith agreement, the fiscal framework sets out agreement to change the powers available to the Scottish Government for both resource and capital borrowing.

For resource borrowing, a new power will be granted in this amendment to enable the Scottish Government to borrow should their tax revenues decline as a result of an economic shock which adversely or solely affects Scotland. The Scottish Government will be able to borrow up to £600 million per year. To ensure sustainable public finances, the total aggregate amount of resource borrowing debt will be set at £1.75 billion. In addition, the administrative limit on borrowing for forecast error will be increased to £300 million to reflect the volatility of the taxes as well as the welfare responsibilities that are being devolved.

For capital borrowing, we have agreed an increase in the maximum capital borrowing that Scottish Ministers can make. The limit will be increased to £3 billion. Additionally, the annual limit will also be increased. Scottish Ministers will be able to borrow up to 15% of the maximum limit—that is, £450 million a year.

Taken together, the borrowing powers that are increased by this amendment will boost the capacity of the Scottish Government to manage the additional risks to their budget from devolution and to expand their capacity to invest in Scotland.

Amendments 56L and 71AC address independent fiscal scrutiny in Scotland and the UK. Section 96 of the Scotland Act 1998 requires Scottish Ministers to provide information to the Treasury on the forecast when requested. However, since 2010, the OBR produces the UK’s official economic and fiscal forecasts. To produce comprehensive and detailed economic and fiscal forecasts for the UK, the OBR needs to produce forecasts for the taxes and spending measures devolved to Scotland. Access to Scottish government information is necessary to produce the Scottish forecasts that feed into the wider UK forecasts.

To date, the OBR has worked closely with the Scotland Office and the Scottish Fiscal Commission to ensure that all relevant information is brought to bear in producing its forecasts for devolved taxes. However, the OECD recommends that independent fiscal institutions have a legislative guarantee that they will be able to access all government information relevant to their forecasts. Adhering to this principle contributes to the institution being able to remain fully independent from Governments.

The recent Ramsden review of the OBR responded to this by recommending that the Government should use opportunities to amend relevant devolving legislation to ensure that the OBR has appropriate access to information, explanation and assistance to carry out its functions. The passage of the Scotland Bill provides an excellent opportunity to amend the Scotland Act 1998 and secure in statute the mutually beneficial information-sharing relationship between the Scottish Government, public bodies and the OBR.

Clause 13 contains the provisions extending further income tax powers to the Scottish Parliament and those relating to the manner and timing of the commencement of those powers. As currently drafted, the Bill allows for the commencement of the powers by way of a Treasury order but does not, as would be usual and was the case in the 2012 Act, stipulate that the order itself must be made by way of a statutory instrument. Amendment 56A adds the stipulation that the order be made by way of a statutory instrument. Making the order by way of such an instrument ensures that the order is a public document, numbered, printed and published by the Treasury Solicitor’s Department and laid before Parliament in a manner that facilitates anyone who is interested being able to find it relatively easily.

It was never the Government’s intention that the order be made other than by way of a statutory instrument. The Government have tried wherever possible to use the 2012 Act as a template for the current Bill. The clause draws on the wording of the 2012 Act income tax clause. However, while the 2012 Act included a general provision stipulating that all orders be made by way of a statutory instrument, the current Bill does not, so it has been identified that this specific provision is required. The oversight was brought to parliamentary counsel’s attention by the House of Lords Delegated Powers Committee, and the committee’s report and our response to it set that out in more detail. Both are available to noble Lords. I beg to move.