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 Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 4:15 pm, 21st March 2016

My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, I thought that the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, in replying to the last amendment, when he thanked everybody, were more suitable for the Bill do now pass debate. However, although I did not take part in that discussion, I would not wish in any way to lessen the appreciation I express on behalf of my colleagues to those who have helped to get the Bill to its present state, not least the Bill team, with some of whom I have worked in the past and know of their exceptional quality and hard work. I particularly thank the Minister, who with his customary courtesy has gone out of his way to meet us, engage with us and discuss issues with us—regrettably, not always to any effect from my point of view, but no doubt from his point of view it has been very effective. That is very much appreciated.

Aspects of this process have not been at all satisfactory. The short period that we had in which to look at the fiscal framework was not satisfactory. The Bill could be in a better state than it is and perhaps more favourably reflect the spirit of the Smith commission. The House has not done much to respect, or even give proper consideration to, the points made by the Scottish Parliament’s committee that looked at the Bill. Those are matters of regret and do not augur well for having mutual respect and trying to improve the relationships between the institutions of the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments. But that is where we are.

This amendment addresses the Barnett formula. The Minister referred to the vow in his wind-up speech. I happen to believe that the referendum was won in spite of rather than because of it. However, it is important that we celebrate the fact that we won the referendum and are not facing independence day on Thursday of this week, with one dreads to think what consequences.

I note that, when I stood where the Minister stands now, the most difficult question I ever had to answer in one of these debates came from the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, who referred to the vow. It says:

“We agree that the UK exists to ensure opportunity and security for all by sharing our resources equitably across all four nations to secure the defence, prosperity and welfare of every citizen”.

It goes on to refer to the,

“continuation of the Barnett allocation for resources”.

I was asked how I could square the equitable sharing of resources with the continuation of the Barnett formula. I struggled to find an answer. I will allow the Minister to find his.