Scotland Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 29th February 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 9:00 pm, 29th February 2016

I welcome Amendment 56K, which covers borrowing, on which I have tabled Amendment 57. I think that Amendment 56K is a great deal better than my amendment and I congratulate the Government on producing it. For me, it was important that we had on the statute book a clear indication that there would be additional borrowing powers—that seems to be a necessary concomitant of tax devolution—that all borrowing would be in accordance with Treasury rules and that it would be subject to ceilings. All three elements are well met in the Government’s amendment.

It seems clear that the UK will be standing behind borrowing in the markets by the Scottish Government—that is, borrowing in line with the statutory requirements of being within the limits and in accordance with the Treasury rules. That has to be clear, otherwise borrowing in the markets will be more expensive for the Scottish Government and therefore for all of us, since it will be part of the UK borrowing programme. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could confirm that my reading of that is correct.

The borrowing section of the fiscal framework document all seems to make sense and the increased limits seem appropriate, except possibly the biggest single increase. There are two elements that cause me a little bit of concern and I would be grateful for the Minister’s views. One is the annual limit of £600 million for borrowing in response to a Scotland-specific economic shock. Paragraph 66 of the framework document says:

“A Scotland-specific economic shock is triggered when onshore Scottish GDP”—

I think that it means GDP growth—

“is below 1% in absolute terms on a rolling 4 quarter basis, and 1 percentage point below UK GDP growth over the same period”.

I pause on the word “onshore”. I am not quite clear when the added value of the North Sea comes into GDP. Is it when it comes onshore? Can the noble Lord elucidate? Would an oil price shock, such as the one that we have just seen, be regarded as a Scotland-specific shock? If not, I see a possibility of debate and dissent down the line.

Secondly, the document tells us that when a Scotland-specific shock is triggered, it may be triggered from outturn data or from forecasts. It says:

“In the event that forecast data shows an economic shock but outturn data does not, no retrospective revisions will be applied to borrowing powers”.

I agree with that sentence.

I slightly worry about this. It is odd to define a Scotland-specific shock by its effect on GDP rather than by its own characteristics. If you do that, given that GDP is always subject to revision for a number of years—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Darling, in our Committee stage debate on borrowing—it seems that, again, you have the possibility of some debate. That is dealt with in a way by using a rolling four-quarter basis for calculating whether Scottish GDP is growing at less than 1% in absolute terms and 1% below UK GDP. Even so, is the Minister quite sure that the best way of defining a Scotland-specific shock is by its subsequent observed effect on GDP rather than by some intrinsic characteristic?