Scotland Bill — Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 21st March 2016.

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Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Conservative 4:15 pm, 21st March 2016

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, says that he has been involved in these matters for some 40 years. I have been involved, at one end of the building or the other, for 50—33 at the other end and 18 or so at this end—dealing to a large extent with financial and Treasury matters, but I have to say that I cannot recall any financial issue, in either House, that has been dealt with in such an inadequate way as the legislation that we have in front of us. The fiscal framework, which is at the heart of the Bill, has still not been debated at all in the House of Commons. We had a very truncated debate in Committee, with no debate on the fiscal framework, and very limited debate thereafter.

The Minister referred, in the debate on the previous group, to the promises made in the course of the referendum campaign. He described them as joint promises, but they were made, of course, with absolutely no consultation. The so-called vow was made during the referendum campaign and the statement by the Prime Minister was made the morning after the referendum took place. The deal that has been struck perpetuates a grossly unfair balance for those paying taxes and involved with financial matters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and perpetuates the very substantial subsidy that is given to Scotland. Members of Parliament have not had any opportunity whatever to debate this. One must hope that their constituents will hold them to account when the details begin to sink in to the consciousness of the public at large in the parts of the United Kingdom other than Scotland.

The noble and learned Lord’s amendment is very much to be commended. We are stuck with the Barnett formula, which we all know the late Lord Barnett himself decided was obsolete long before his lamented departure. The reality is that we are now going to go on doing this with virtually no prospect of the matter being changed again in five years’ time or beyond. That is a dreadful situation as far as taxpayers in the rest of the United Kingdom are concerned. I certainly support the noble and learned Lord’s suggestion that we at least ought to know the details of what has been agreed.