Scotland Bill - Report (2nd Day)

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

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Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Crossbench 9:00 pm, 29th February 2016

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 57ZA, which is purely a probing amendment that would have appeared in Committee if we had had the fiscal framework. It is designed to allow a bit more discussion about one or two issues.

The borrowing framework within the fiscal framework will of course be precedential and will be a template, no doubt, for other deals with other devolved bits of the United Kingdom. I put it to the Minister that there are great prizes here to be had for clarity and for going into quite exhaustive detail in what can be a difficult area. I should say that before I drafted my wording, which is purely indicative, I had of course not read Amendments 56K and 56L. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in that regard. I had to read the fiscal framework on a mobile phone, which is not ideal, at Bristol airport.

I want to discuss two points, the first of which is, can we go into a bit more detail, and where is the extra detail contained? Is it in a memorandum of understanding; has it yet to be decided upon? Such details cannot be simply brushed aside; otherwise, you simply store up arguments and problems for later on.

One issue that occurs to me is how you tot up the level of outstandings. In the capital markets, it is quite normal that the issue price of something is quite different from the principal amount. For a zero-coupon bond, it will be a heck of a lot less. What would one record in those circumstances against the limits, and where is that recorded? I have referred to the multicurrency issue. There is some help on multicurrency review— I did not pick that up on my mobile phone in Bristol airport—but it would be helpful to understand what the deal is on multicurrencies.

I have to say that I found some things a bit confusing. This issue is not dealt with in my amendment, but I refer the Minister to paragraph 68 of the document, which states, rather teasingly:

“The Governments agreed that the Scottish Government should have the option of refinancing, on the same terms, any debt due to be repaid in a year of a Scotland-specific economic shock”.

It seems to me that refinancing should be on similar terms, having regard to whatever interest rates are. I would love to have some help there, because almost certainly, the terms would not be the same when it comes to refinancing.

Also, paragraph 70 states:

“On request from the Scottish Government, the resource borrowing limits may be temporarily increased”.

There is no real help on the quantum of such an increase, on what “temporarily” means, or on whether the UK Government have a veto over that. It would be very helpful if the Minister commented on those issues.

The big issue, for me, is whether or not the UK is guaranteeing Scottish debt. With a 300-plus year record of repaying every one of its obligations in full and on time, the UK, as a united kingdom, has a unique opportunity to access capital markets at very favourable rates. I do not think that that would apply to an independent Scotland—certainly not in the early years. I would have thought it would be very helpful to Scotland if there was an express guarantee of some sort from the UK; I expressed it in the American format of “full faith and credit”. That would help Scotland. It is a free gift of the UK, given that the rating agencies will count Scottish debt straight into their view of how much indebtedness we have. I would very much like to hear from the Minister on that issue.