Scotland Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 29th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord McAvoy Lord McAvoy Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords) 9:15 pm, 29th February 2016

I shall speak to Amendment 57A which seeks to create a new clause to ensure that the process leading to the annual settlement between the Treasury and Scottish Ministers of the block grant to the Scottish Consolidated Fund is both transparent and accountable. It could have related to some of the earlier amendments which sought more transparency.

After eight months of negotiations behind closed doors of the Joint Exchequer Committee, the Scottish and UK Governments have now reached agreement on the revised fiscal framework. We gave the Scottish Government our full support in their efforts to get a fair deal for Scotland and we are glad that an agreement has been reached, albeit belatedly. It may not be perfect and the timing may not be perfect but it is essential that this Bill meets the requirements of the Scottish Parliament in terms of consideration, in terms of the calling of the election and in terms of leaving this House. We wanted an agreement on the fiscal framework and both the UK and Scottish Governments have done their best to achieve one.

However, we now need clarity on when the new powers will be available and what the SNP Government and the other major parties in Scotland plan to do with them. The Secretary of State for Scotland has said that the new powers over income tax will be available by April 2017. We want as many new powers as possible, including those over airport duty, 50% of VAT revenues and social security, to be available by the same date in time for the first budget of the new Scottish Parliament.

The Labour Party moved this amendment in the House of Commons and since that time it has continued to advocate that a more open and transparent means of communication should have taken place. Documents have not been disclosed because we were told that this would constitute providing a running commentary. We understand that of necessity the process had to be carried out to achieve success, but it was marred on some occasions by negotiating positions being leaked to the press.

The amendment has taken on new significance since the publication of the fiscal framework, which suggests that the calculation of the block grant adjustment will take place on a transitional basis over the next five years and that at the end of the transitional period an independent review will take place. We believe in the discipline of transparency. Making the discussions and results of meetings transparent will help the Scottish and UK Governments. There is nothing like the discipline of public opinion and it will help both Governments to come to satisfactory conclusions.