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Scottish Assembly (Taxation Powers)

Volume 940: debated on Wednesday 30 November 1977

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland from which individuals or organisations he has received representations that the Scottish Assembly should not have powers to levy taxes.

In their comments to my right hon. Friend following the November 1975 White Paper, the Scottish Office of the CBI, the Chambers of Commerce of Dundee and Tayside and Glasgow, the Law Society of Scotland and two members of the public opposed in principle the granting of tax powers to the Scottish Assembly. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the National Farmers' Union of Scotland opposed tax powers supplementary to a block fund intended to meet Scottish needs in full.

Does the Minister agree that this suggests that few people support the Government's position on this matter? Should not the Government look at this again, with a view to giving powers to the Assembly to levy taxes, thus making devolution more real and the Assembly more responsible?

The hon. Gentleman has failed to realise that in the White Paper of November 1975 there were proposals for raising revenue on the margin. However, there is no popular way of raising taxes, and the House should recognise that. The proposals were related to a surcharge on the rates and the Government dropped them because the public were not in favour. One of the problems in giving tax powers to the Assembly is the danger that people see arising for industry, and their fears that there might be higher taxes in Scotland than in England. All these problems must be considered by a responsible Government, such as this one.

Is it not true that had such tax powers existed that could have been worked out practically, conscientious civil servants and able Ministers would have thought of them?

In Cmnd. Paper No. 6890 we defined a portfolio of taxes that we had considered, and my right hon. Friend invited suggestions for taxes. We have said that if the Assembly could come up with a tax formula, and would be prepared to meet the cost of raising revenue, we should be prepared to consider it.

Does the Minister agree that a solution would be the establishment of a Scottish Treasury, that it should be the repository of all taxes raised in Scotland, including revenues from oil, and that it should pay the Treasury in Great George Street those moneys required for non-devolved matters?

I never take the hon. Gentleman's simple solutions seriously. I am even more deterred when I realise that at one time he was economic adviser to the Conservative Party.

The Minister's last remark was completely untrue. Will he continue to listen to the views of industrialists in Scotland—the men who make jobs available, who are opposed to any economic differences, whether of tax or any other kind, between Scotland and England— rather than the views of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford)?

As I have said, the Government are prepared to consider views on the question of revenue-raising powers for the Assembly, and no doubt the debate will go on.