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Scotland Bill

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 28 February 2012

Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)

Relevant documents: 17th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 17th Report from the Constitution Committee.

Debate on whether Clause 29 should stand part of the Bill.

As your Lordships will see from the Marshalled List, I gave notice of my attention to oppose the Question that Clause 29 stand part of the Bill. When I gave that notice, there was at least one good reason for doing so. There are now at least three good reasons for doing so—perhaps more. I shall refer to only two.

The first has emerged from the debate that we just had. Is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, going to reply to this? Oh no, it is the poor noble Lord, Lord Sassoon. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, will recall that many weeks ago I raised a question about the wisdom of proceeding not just with Clause 29 but with every clause, given what was happening elsewhere—given that the Bill and Calman had been overtaken by events. As I said in an intervention on the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, earlier, we now know that the Scottish Parliament will not be discussing either the majority or minority report from its committee until we have decided. The indication from the majority of the committee—contrary to what was said from the Front Bench opposite earlier—is that it did not support the provisions of the Bill but wanted it to go further. The minority supported it, but the majority wanted it to go further. It seems daft to press ahead with the Bill, including Clause 29, until we have some indication that, if we pass it, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government will accept all its provisions. I hope that that point can be dealt with.

My second point is one of which I gave the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, some intimation. The clause mentions,

“amendments relating to the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs”.

The noble Lord will be aware of the unfortunate situation regarding Rangers Football Club, which is in administration in Scotland, where Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is owed a substantial amount because of an arrangement that Rangers Football Club entered into to avoid paying tax. It set up a scheme so that when its players received payment, it was paid not to them as salary but to a company set up for their advantage. As the noble Lord will be aware, as a result, there is a major dispute between Rangers Football Club and the Revenue and Customs about whether that money is due to the Revenue.

There have also been suggestions that the Scottish Government might help Rangers Football Club in its difficulties. I make no comment about why that has arisen, who is to blame or whether the Scottish Government would be wise under any circumstances to make any payments to help the club. All I am asking is: do any of the provisions in Clause 29 or elsewhere in the Bill change the arrangements in which Rangers currently finds itself, or would the circumstances be exactly the same after the Bill’s passage? Those are the only two points that I want to raise. Foolishly, we are pressing ahead with the Bill, but I take this opportunity to ask that question and, I hope, to get an answer in relation to Rangers Football Club.

My Lords, I declare an interest as honorary patron of another Titan of the Scottish football game, which I call “Athletico Forfar”—Forfar Athletic. I get a trifle worried when I hear outpourings in the media in Scotland along the lines that something must be done to help Rangers Football Club. A great football club it may be, but I wonder how it got into that condition. The answer to that can wait, but perhaps my noble friend could write to me with an answer to the following question. Why in the winding up of a football club such as this—perhaps under Scottish insolvency law; I am not sure—is Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs not a preferred creditor? South of the border, HMRC is an ordinary creditor. However, I had understood that north of the border HMRC was a preferred creditor and would therefore get the first bite in relation to the sums owing. If my noble friend could write to me on that at some stage, I should be most grateful. I thank him for his patience.

My Lords, for all the reasons that I set out in my first contribution to this Committee when it convened some time ago to consider the Bill, I want to see this Bill passed. Consequently, I support the devolution of the tax powers to the Scottish Parliament and I want to see Clause 29 stand part of the Bill because, without that mechanism, the amendments relating to the commissioners for Revenue and Customs will not be able to work. I do not intend to delay the Committee with any debate or argument about what I think is genuinely a technical part of the Bill in terms of the mechanism for the implementation of its provisions.

My second point is by way of a bit of advice to the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, whom I welcomed to the Committee earlier. He had an interesting baptism in the Committee. I am sure that he enjoyed the hour that he was at the Dispatch Box engaging, as he did, with my noble and learned friends and noble Lords around the Chamber. If he thought that that had a distinct quality about it, then he ain’t seen nothing yet if he succumbs to the invitation to engage in a discussion about the position of Scottish football clubs. We have already had a reference to behaviour on the internet with cyberattacks and so on, but the nature of the comments that will be unleashed on the internet if he is unwise enough to be attracted into debate and discussion about the health or welfare of any Scottish football club will be worse than he has ever seen.

Does my noble friend agree that perhaps that is why Mr Alex Salmond has decided that he is switching his loyalties to rugby?

Taking my own advice, I am utterly reluctant to express any opinion that is even marginally related to any football club in Scotland. Most people in Scotland know where my allegiances lie, and engaging in this debate would make it even worse for me. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Foulkes, who has been engaged in Scottish football. His support for Heart of Midlothian Football Club is well known and he has made an important contribution to Scottish football over the years. However, I think that he probably has more scars on his back from that time than he has from any political confrontations in Scotland. I just give the Minister a bit of gratuitous advice: he would be wise to take these matters away and perhaps write some very carefully worded letters to my noble friend and his noble friend if he thinks that these questions need answering.

I want to raise a point that I mentioned in my contribution to the debate on the previous group of amendments. I do this by reference to my contribution to the Second Reading of this Bill, which took place on 6 September 2011. During my contribution to that debate, I asked about the progress of the high-level implementation group and the joint Exchequer committee, which are complementary elements. The joint Exchequer committee, led by Ministers, and the high-level group of civil servants—from both the Civil Service that supports the Scottish Executive and the UK Civil Service—are to work out the process and deal with the challenges and issues in preparation for the implementation of the provisions that we have been debating when this Bill becomes an Act, as I hope it will.

I raise this because I have a suspicion—and I put it no higher than that as I share my motivation with the Committee—that perhaps from the Scotland side of this process of engagement there is less willingness to engage, and less capacity to engage, in the preparation for these issues than we will need if we are to meet the expectations that we all share that these devolved powers will be available to be used for the benefit of the Scottish people, broadly by about 2015. I do not expect the Minister to make any comments at the Dispatch Box about willingness, but I would be able to deduce from the detail of his answers whether there has been that willingness.

I raise this issue for one very good reason. There is an impression in Scotland that the Scottish Government are anxious to get their hands on these additional powers. In fact, they want more. It is not sufficient to say to the Scottish people that you want these powers; you have to explain to them what you are going to do with them when you get them and you have to convince the Scottish people that you are preparing yourself for these powers and for the use of them. I went on at some length at the beginning of this Committee about what I thought was happening in Scotland, and there was convincing evidence that the Scottish Government were falling down in all of those respects.

Therefore, can the Minister tell the Committee not just how many times the high-level implementation group has met but what progress is actually being made? Even if it has to be described generically, I will be satisfied by that, but I will keep pressing as long as this Bill is before this House to get more detail. What progress is being made to prepare the structure in Scotland to receive these powers or any powers that relate to the raising of taxation?

I apologise to the Committee that I was not present through the earlier parts of the discussion of Clause 29, but my noble friend is making one of the most critical and crucial points in relation to these tax-raising powers. I would be interested if, when the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, replies to him, he could put some figures on to the costs of implementation. He will know well that one of the essential ingredients of analysing the effectiveness of any taxation is the cost of collection. In this case, it is not just the cost of collection that we need to know about; it is also the cost of disaggregation of HM Revenue and Customs and the cost to the overall UK taxpayer, not just the Scottish taxpayer. If the noble Lord does not have those figures available at the moment, I would be grateful if he could give them to us in due course.

My noble friend Lady Liddell—through me as a conduit—raises some very interesting questions for the noble Lord. I expect that, because of the nature of the amendments in further groups, we may get an opportunity to explore in more detail the issue of the cost of implementation of these provisions and of who should bear that cost. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response to my noble friend’s very pertinent question.

I have dealt with the high-level implementation group. I am interested not only in how often it meets but in what it does and in whether we are making genuine progress toward creating the infrastructure that will be necessary for Scotland to receive these powers. I have said before that almost all members of the Scottish Government voted in the Scottish Parliament for these tax-raising powers. Therefore, I expect them to be at least beginning the process of consultation with the people of Scotland on how they intend to use them. If they are to be ready to use them by about 2015, and if they are to give the people of Scotland a level of consultation that devolution has conditioned them to expect, they should be beginning to draft the documentation to put before the Scottish people that explains how they intend to use the powers.

It does not matter whether this is devo-plus or devo-max. Whatever powers the Scottish Government have in relation to tax, they should be getting ready to implement them. As I said earlier, there is an extraordinarily interesting debate and discussion to be had in Scotland about how stamp duty land tax could be used to help to inject energy into the economy in different parts of Scotland. I am not an expert in these areas, but I know from representing for many years a constituency in Scotland that using taxation revenue in a more localised way at least has the potential to generate economic activity. I would like this explored further. If the debate and discussion reveal that it cannot be used in this way, at least that would be a conclusion.

There are two aspects to this. First, there is the engagement between the UK and Scottish Governments and their respective civil servants on planning for this. Secondly, there is the question of fitness and preparation, and the condition that the Scottish Government are putting themselves in to exercise any devolved taxation powers. I see no evidence of any of this in Scotland.

I turn to the joint Exchequer committee, about which the noble Lord and I have already had an exchange. I asked about the committee at Second Reading and was told that it was anticipated that it would meet for the first time on 27 September. My earlier intervention implied that I thought that that was a bit late when one considered how long the process had been in gestation and how long the Bill spent in the other place and here—but I had to live with that. The committee met on 27 September. The noble Lord implied that when it met it made progress on some issues that were aired in the debate on the previous group of amendments, which dealt with some of the challenges that people had identified.

My information, which was provided very graciously by the Scotland Office, is that the committee met and there appeared to be some agreement on a set of principles on the block grant adjustment mechanism. Apparently, three principles were agreed that will apply to the mechanism for the adjustment. The first is fairness. It is not defined, but we all know what it means. The second is resilience in different fiscal circumstances. The third is the avoidance of unintended consequences, including the transfer of resources one way or another. It may be my fault, but the principles do not tell me very much about the nature of the agreement. They smack a little of motherhood and apple pie and do not seem to engage with some of the difficult and challenging issues that the devolution of tax powers to Scotland will inevitably generate, some of which we have already debated.

Certainly, if the committee is not to meet again for another six months, unless the high-level implementation group is drilling down into some of these difficult issues and starting to display a level of competence and ability in dealing with the infrastructure that is necessary for implementing this, these meetings of the joint Exchequer committee are not going to make very much progress. Before this House gives its approval to this Bill and it becomes an Act—I fervently hope that it will and I will do everything in my power to achieve that—I ask of the Minister that at least we spend some time getting some sense and some idea of whether Scotland, its Government and its Civil Service will be in any shape to actually use these powers if and when we pass them.

My Lords, this is proving to be an education, not least because we have another debate in which there are some points on which I can see the direct relevance to the clause we are discussing and a number of other points on which I am struggling a bit. They are all important points; I am just not quite clear what the connection is with a clause that has to do with the powers of HMRC.

Of course, the football question is directly relevant, and we must deal with football. I declare an interest here as a season ticket-holder of Arsenal Football Club —things are looking very good.

The noble Lord might be aware that Mr Ally McCoist, the manager of Rangers, was complaining bitterly because one of the things the new owner of Rangers had done was to sell the shares in Arsenal Football Club which apparently Rangers had held for a very long time.

There is another thing I have learnt this evening. I am very grateful to the noble Lord.

I appreciate that this is very dangerous territory. The important point about the football is that this is a clause about the powers and duties of HMRC in relation to Scottish affairs. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, was trying to set a trap for me by getting me drawn into the tax affairs of an individual taxpayer, because of course the powers we are talking about here define, among other things, where information can be shared and what the limits are. If he was setting me a trap, I am doing my best not to walk into it—he was not setting me a trap, good. He will understand that I cannot possibly comment on the tax affairs of any individual taxpayer. I will simply say that there is nothing in the Bill that would change the circumstances of an individual—or a company—who is overdue in paying taxes to HMRC.

My noble friend Lord Lyell asked whether there was a difference between preferred creditor and ordinary creditor status between Scotland and the rest of the UK. I must confess that it is not an issue I have in the front of my mind, and I will write to him. I am sure it is a very important question, not only for football clubs.

I think that probably deals with all the football questions, and with probably just about everything else that was directly relevant to this clause. I will try to deal with some of the other things.

We came back to the big picture question of the legislative consent Motion. It is of course for the Scottish Parliament to choose to bring forward the Motion at any time; it is in its discretion. It must be in the Scottish Parliament’s interest to bring forward an LCM before the last amending stage in this House to allow the House and the Government to reflect on the LCM, and if it wanted to it could choose to pass the legislative consent Motion tomorrow.

Would the Minister like to speculate on why it is not doing that? Why is it deliberately delaying it? My speculation would be that it is playing a cat and mouse game with us, and that it wants to see us move ahead without having to reveal its hand fully. Maybe a better analogy would be a game of poker. This is not something that should be the subject of a gamble. It is a very serious matter. Would he not join me in encouraging the Scottish Parliament to consider the legislative consent Motion at a very early opportunity?

My Lords, I will certainly not be drawn into speculation. I have already said that it must be in the Scottish Parliament’s interest to pass the legislative consent Motion in time for the Government and this House to consider possible amendments in response to anything it comes forward with, and, as I said, it could pass the Motion any day. However, beyond that there is nothing more useful that I can add.

On the point of legislative consent, could my noble friend help me by explaining why we are proceeding with a Bill in the absence of a legislative consent Motion? If the Scottish Parliament decided not to pass it, we would all have been wasting our time.

We have a Bill; it is important that we press on, and the legislative consent Motion could come at any time. This is idle speculation. It is important that the Motion gets passed, and we look forward to it, but it is in the hands of the Scottish Parliament. There is really nothing more I can usefully say. I certainly do not believe for one minute that we are wasting our time considering the important provisions in this Bill.

Let me move on to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke, about the cost of all of this. The major cost will be to the systems that would support the tax changes and the possible new tax rate in Scotland. It is all set out in the impact assessment that is published alongside the Bill. However, for the Scottish rate of income tax, HMRC’s initial estimate is of £40 million to £45 million over a period of years up to the introduction in 2016-17. Clearly the final cost will be dependent on a number of decisions to be made at the implementation stage; and HMRC, HM Treasury, the Scotland Office, with the Scottish Government, will continue to work to determine the optimal implementation approach. The costs may vary in some way as those decisions are taken, but the indicative estimate at the moment is £40 million to £45 million.

I thank the noble Lord for giving us that figure. Does that figure include the 31,000 civil servants in reserve departments who operate in Scotland, and the impact of the HMRC element of those 31,000? Will they continue to be in Scotland? Could he also perhaps give an indication of where that cost will be levied? Will Scottish taxpayers or UK-wide taxpayers take up the cost of disaggregation?

My Lords, on the first point, this will be the cost in isolation of the changes necessary to enable the introduction of the Scottish income tax provision. Of course, for fully devolved taxes, the cost will depend on decisions taken by Scottish Parliaments on the design of those taxes, and of course who should administer them. It is therefore a cost estimate that relates essentially to income tax. It assumes that nothing changes in the deployment of other people. It is the necessary cost related to the introduction of the new Scottish income tax regime. As the noble Baroness will know, it is a principle of devolution that costs that are to the benefit of the devolved Administration fall on the devolved Administration, so that is where these costs will fall.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, asked important questions relating to the Scottish Government’s readiness for implementation, the high-level implementation group and the joint Exchequer committee. I very much agree with him that these are important issues about the capacity of all sides, particularly the Scottish Government, to carry out what is necessary. I have already addressed the mechanics of the processes. We have the high-level implementation group, as the noble Lord has set out, and below that the technical groups established by HMRC to work out the detail.

The Scottish Government have focused on pressing for further powers in the Bill. Of course, while one respects their different views on other matters that they might want in the Bill, we would welcome greater attention on implementation from them. I appreciate the point that the noble Lord is making. Close attention has been shown to issues, such as the block grant adjustment mechanism. There is work to do and we should like to see the Scottish Government set out how they will use the powers provided to them in the Bill. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday called for clarification in particular of the stamp duty land tax, and I very much agree with him on that point.

The high-level implementation group was established by the UK Government. It is chaired jointly by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury. It has met four times since July 2010 and the role of the group is to oversee the implementation of the financial provisions of the Bill. As I have just said, the technical groups established by HMRC report to the high-level implementation group, and they provide detailed consideration and advice to inform implementation.

On the progress that has been made, the high-level implementation group is a UK Government group. It is entirely within the capacity and the direction of Ministers in London to press on with the work of that group. It is clear that the Scottish Government want their powers increased. To do that, clearly we would welcome more progress to begin setting out how the powers will be used. From that, many more questions will flow about implementation. That is where things stand at the moment.

On a slightly peripheral question, I am getting very worried that we are setting a precedent here. This may not be quite the moment to raise it with this Minister at the Dispatch Box but I still think that it is extremely relevant. The first indication of a legislative consent Motion was taken when the Scotland Bill was going through this House. It was dubbed the Sewel Motion thereafter. That was to allow Westminster to legislate on devolved matters.

We were told that a legislative consent Motion would be required not when the Bill started here or in the other House but when it reached the “second House”. We could not progress further until the legislative consent Motion was in place. Now we are dealing with a convention that was established outwith Parliament whereby Westminster is asking for a legislative consent Motion for a reserved matter, which this is. Are we establishing a precedent that Westminster goes ahead and produces legislation without legislative consent Motions—admittedly it is quite within its powers to do so because this is the sovereign Parliament—because it appears that the legislative consent Motions are getting slightly out of sync with each other. There is a danger that this is a precedent.

My Lords, we need the legislative consent Motion. I am not sure I can help my noble friend much further on this. As I have said, it is in the interests of the Scottish Government to get on with the legislative consent Motion if they want consideration of any possible amendments to be taken in this House. I am repeating myself, but that really is as far as it goes. I do not think that these are questions of precedence so much as of practicality. As I said just now, there are a number of matters on which the Scottish Government would wish the provisions of the Bill to go further, so it is in their interests to bring forward the Motion.

I am grateful to my noble friend. So that we are clear about this, am I not right in saying that we do not need a legislative consent Motion? It may be that the courteous convention is that we take account of legislative consent, but that is a courtesy. This House is sovereign, and that is one of the reasons I asked my noble friend whether we were wasting our time. I was hoping that he would say that we are committed to this policy and that whether the Scottish Parliament passes the legislative consent Motion is not relevant. It would still become law and that is where we are or, alternatively, as part of our respect agenda we would not proceed without a legislative consent Motion. We seem to be in a rather fuzzy position where we are not really saying what our position is in respect of legislative consent, but when my noble friend said that we need a legislative consent Motion, that is clearly not correct.

I am grateful to my noble friend for picking me up on that because the technical position is just as he states. However, in substance I stand by the remarks I made because just as we respect the conventions here, I would expect the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government to respect them as well, and we look forward to receiving the legislative consent Motion in due course and ahead of Third Reading. However, my noble friend has set out the constitutional position perfectly correctly.

Perhaps I may add to that one other point that we will come to at a later stage in the Bill. There are clauses that deal with the issue of the referendum. The Scottish Parliament has set a date on its consultation period that falls after the likely date when Parliament will be prorogued, so it will not be possible to take account of the consultation process because of the timetable it has chosen.

My Lords, I really cannot comment on the date for Prorogation. We will see it when it comes, so that is pure speculation. Perhaps I may get back to the clause, albeit that that is an important matter. I want to finish my response to the questions about implementation put by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. Earlier I touched briefly on his questions about the joint Exchequer committee, but to complete the picture in the context of this discussion, as I said, the committee met on 27 September. It was a useful first meeting, which agreed the principles relating to the mechanism for the block grant adjustment, as I think the noble Lord knows. It is important to stress again that discussions continue, outside the meetings of the joint Exchequer committee, on a bilateral basis on a range of issues across the Bill including the block grant. I repeat again that, although there are certain aspects on which we would like more progress and more focus, we are making good progress and I remain confident that we will agree on the measures set out in the Bill.

In conclusion, I believe that the provisions in Clause 29 are necessary and sensible as part of further tax devolution. I move that this clause stand part of the Bill.

Clause 29 agreed.

Clause 30 : Scottish rate of income tax

Amendment 52

Moved by

52: Clause 30, page 23, line 5, after “the” insert “Devolved”

As I explained about six hours ago, I have put down a series of amendments to put “devolved” in front of Government. That is in no way to denigrate the functions of the devolved Government, or to devalue them or say that they are in any way less important by putting that word in front. It is meant to indicate that we are talking about devolution and not independence. As I said previously, Alex Salmond and his Ministers and colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, all of them in the SNP group, are going around in this great big pretence that they are already independent and acting as if they are an independent Government. They are doing things that they think they have the right to do. As we will come to in other debates, the chief civil servant in Scotland has made some amazing and unbelievable outpourings. In some of the statements made by Ministers, they clearly do not comprehend what is meant by devolution.

Devolution means that they remain part of the United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom Government and Parliament are sovereign. Ultimately, the UK institutions can make decisions affecting Scotland on a whole range of things, although by convention and out of courtesy we do not do that. The word is put in there just to remind people that we are talking about devolution; a very important concept that, as noble friends know, I have fought for since I was a young man—and that was not yesterday. I spent a long time helping to persuade the Labour Party—along with John Mackintosh, Donald Dewar and a lot of noble Lords here—to come round in favour of devolution. One or two of my colleagues were not so enthusiastic about it, but we managed to persuade the party to do it. Devolution is very important. We should be proud of it and say how important it is, and how Scotland, by having a devolved Administration, can get the benefits of both worlds. There is the benefit of being part of a strong, powerful United Kingdom—one of the most important powers in the world, with a permanent seat on the Security Council, and membership of the European Union and NATO—but also that of having a Scottish Government, with power over their own affairs in a whole range of important matters such as education, social work, law and order, health and all these areas. This is not to minimise those in any way, but to make sure that that is clearly understood.

The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, makes a very important point. We have spent a lot of time in the debate today talking about the problems that surround devolution, but devolution in itself has been a very considerable achievement. It may not have gone as far as my noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen suggested, to kill nationalism stone dead, but it has put in place a system of government that has rectified some of the inequities that have existed for something like 300 years. Because of the nature of the debate that we have had as part of this legislation, we are missing out on making the case that devolution was a very considerable achievement. I do not think that anyone—and I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—would try to put the genie back in the bottle and go back to the previous status quo. Although what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is talking about is in essence a gesture, it is an opportunity for us to celebrate the fact that a transfer of powers was made very peacefully to the Scottish Parliament after the election of the Labour Government in 1997.

Many people misunderstand devolution, which has existed in Scotland for 300 years because of the nature of the Act of Union. The Scotland Act merely transferred that legislation, which often took place in this House in the middle of the night, and put it into a proper parliamentary context. By the time I became Secretary of State for Scotland, the Scotland Office was one department. When the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was Secretary of State for Scotland, he oversaw an empire of something like 13 different government departments. The model that we have now is the right one, and I support the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in his argument for celebrating the cause of devolution rather than trying to hide it.

My Lords, I rise as somebody else who supported devolution. There have been one or two occasions during this evening when I have had my doubts, I must say—but in the main I have supported it, because in my view it is about democracy. That is what distinguishes it from independence, which almost certainly under the SNP would be democratic but does not have to be. It is not a prerequisite of an independent Scotland that it has to be a democratic state, but the fact is that devolution is about democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, may sit there and pull faces, but he is one of the reasons why many of us argued strongly for the democratic process of devolution. What we had developed in Scotland was a Secretary of State for Scotland of a Conservative Government who, of course, increasingly had fewer and fewer Members in support in Scotland. Legislation which affected the whole of the people of Scotland was being put through this place with no democratic validity whatever.

There was an alternative, which was to abolish the Scotland Office and do away with separate Scottish legislation altogether. That was not seriously a political option in Scotland. The reason why we argued so strongly for devolution was because we felt that the only way you could get democratic legitimacy in Scotland was to give democratic powers to a Scottish Parliament to make legislation in Scotland for—

The hour is late and I am not going to make a speech, but I will just rise to the fly to say one thing. I opposed devolution because I thought that it would lead ultimately to the growth of the demands for independence and would benefit the nationalists, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. However, if I had realised how much damage devolution would do to the Labour Party in Scotland, I might have been tempted to go along with it.

It was partially self-inflicted, as my noble friend beside me says. However, that damage is also a short-term phenomenon and we will recover.

Certainly, we will recover once we have had the referendum on independence. I do not understand why Mr Alex Salmond does not want that referendum immediately, because this is his best chance of winning it. The longer he leaves it, in my view, the less chance he has of winning it. The arguments will no longer be about the way in which, or whether, we have the right to hold the referendum. It will be about the issues of what being an independent country, outside the United Kingdom, actually means: whether it will be part of Europe; whether it will have to apply to be part of Europe; and whether the rest of the United Kingdom will be part of Europe. Mr Alex Salmond seems to think that the rest of the United Kingdom would not necessarily be part of Europe, but it must be in his best interests to hope that it will be part of it. Can your Lordships imagine a Tory-dominated England, led by people such as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who would probably say: “Now we can get out of Europe—we don't have to be in it any longer. We can get out altogether and leave the European Union.”?

I always supported devolution on the basis of democracy. It was the right thing to do and it still is. I wish, however, that we could settle the issue of independence once and for all. If we get it out of the way, we could then deal with whether we apply, change or alter devolution. I am not necessarily convinced that we have to give enormous extra powers to the Scottish Parliament. In fact, there are some parts of the devolution settlement where we ought to be taking powers back from Scotland. For instance, broadcasting is one area over which they demand power, but powers like that should certainly be with this Parliament because they are now international rather than national. We should not therefore necessarily always be looking at giving powers to Scotland, and never taking them back.

We also have to look at what to my mind my late and very good friend Donald Dewar meant when he said that devolution is a process and not an end. The process was about extending democracy from the Scottish Parliament down to local government and local areas, so that you were giving powers to the people in the areas and the communities in which they lived. That to me is what Donald Dewar meant when he said that, not that it was the first step towards an independent Scotland.

On that point, was it not the case that the Scottish Parliament in fact did quite the opposite of that, and drew powers away from local government and brought them to the Scottish Parliament? In fact, they are the people who have not continued devolution. While this House has tried to keep the concept of devolution going, the Scottish Parliament has done exactly the opposite.

That is very much so and it was quite interesting, as I listened to the debate earlier on taxation, that the Scottish Government, led by Alex Salmond over the past—what is it now?—three or four years, have not allowed local authorities to increase their council tax. They have put a cap on it, so they have in fact restrained taxation at a local level. My noble friend is quite right. They have actually reduced the democratic rights and responsibilities of local government, whereas what ought to have been the next step was to say, “We have devolved power to a Scottish Parliament for democratic reasons. We now need to devolve further down, to give more democracy to our local communities and our people to take the decisions at their level that need to be taken at that level”. That to me is what devolution is about. It is not about independence; it is not actually about nationalism or nationality at all. In fact, nationalism has been the bugbear of devolution, not the natural progression of it. Therefore I support my noble friend's amendment, which would put “devolved” into this Bill.

My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate for the simple reason that I do not support the amendment and I feel that I am destroying my relationship with my noble friend Lord Forsyth bit by bit in a salami-slice fashion.

Sorry, I meant my noble friend Lord Foulkes. Maybe I should start again.

The reason I do not support the amendment is not that it gives us an opportunity, as my noble friend Lady Liddell of Coatdyke has indicated, to celebrate devolution—I intend to do a bit of that myself—nor that it created the opportunity for what I thought was an excellent contribution from my noble friend Lord Maxton on the reasons for devolution and why we should support it in principle. But over the course of this Parliament, I have been surprised by the ability of people to make the most detailed and engaging speeches about the concept that has become known as localism while at the same time resisting devolution. I do not really understand how people can hold those two concepts together in their head, as localism is just a form of devolution. As my noble friend Lord Maxton has suggested, we ought to start looking at the powers that we as politicians in government of any description exercise over people. We should look at the appropriate level to exercise them that is relevant to people. Given the experience that the political classes have had in the United Kingdom over the past few years of the deterioration of their relationship with the people they govern and legislate for, getting their relationship with the people of the country back would be very helpful.

I am a passionate supporter of devolution. I do not have anything like the history that some of my noble friends and other Members of this House have, but I have been committed to it for the whole of the shorter political life that I have had, and I was committed to it in my membership of the Labour Party before I had a public life in politics. At some stage in this debate we need to move away from arguments about what other people are doing or personalities—I include the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in this; he ought not to be the manifestation of a particular type of politics that we define ourselves against, any more than we should be obsessed by what other people are doing—to a collective narrative for devolution and for the union that describes the sort of United Kingdom that we want for the young people of today in Scotland and their future. That will be, as the people of Scotland demand, a Scotland in which there is significant devolved power, exercised by a Parliament that they elect independently of the United Kingdom Parliament.

We have to recognise that whether we have conditioned people into that expectation because of their dissatisfaction with the previous settlement and the sense of disfranchisement that there was between the people who governed them and the exercise of their votes, whether we have conditioned them into it by their expectations of devolution, or whether they have just been conditioned into it by their espousal in significant numbers of the concept of nationalism, it does not really matter what the motivation is—that is where the people of Scotland are. The sooner we get a collective narrative that describes the sort of Scotland that we want our children or our children’s children to live in, and what powers the people who govern them will have, how they will be able to use them and how they will be accountable, the more chance that we have of preserving the union. I passionately believe that the best way of describing that is in the context of the union.

I come to the issue of the use of the word “devolved”. The people of Scotland do not actually need that word attached to anything. They understand that their Parliament is a devolved Parliament and the Scottish Government are a devolved Government. Whether or not the people who happen to have charge of that Government or that executive power for a particular period have other ambitions and behave in a particular way, as they do, that is designed to give some alternative impression, the people of Scotland are not fooled. The people of Scotland want an Executive who address the issues that Scotland faces, which are manifest to anyone who lives there. We have problems in relation to unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, health, the abuse of alcohol, sectarianism and a lot of issues that have their roots in decisions made by previous generations, such as the movement of people, the death of economic drivers, changes in economic circumstances and the movement of jobs from these islands. There is a whole series of things, over many of which we have not had any real control.

Of course, the people of Scotland do not want a First Minister who is more interested in consorting with people who give the impression that he is somehow much more important than he is. They do not want that and they see through it. We do not need to spend much time describing all that. However, they definitely want politicians who can address the issues and challenges of their everyday lives. They want people to explain to them why these issues are best addressed in the context of the United Kingdom, wider Europe and the world. They understand that.

Traditionally, Scots knew and understood their position in the world. That is why, while there are approximately 5 million people in Scotland who claim to be Scots, there are in excess of 40 million people around the world who claim Scots heritage in one way or another. We are a nation of people who have an understanding and concept of our place in the world. I honestly do not think that we need to spend any more time in this Committee or on the Bill debating these issues. We need to start describing the future of Scotland in the context of devolution and celebrate what we have already achieved by being a template for genuine localism in the United Kingdom.

It has not been perfect. We have a very young Parliament in which people are growing up. Members of the Scottish Parliament who were not politicians at all when we devolved powers to it are becoming significant politicians in the United Kingdom. I simply do not support my noble friend’s interesting amendment, which has led to a short but interesting debate, because the last thing that the people of Scotland need is for their politicians to spend another few hundred thousand pounds on changing the name of their Government.

My Lords, can I perhaps be somewhat boring and brief at this time of night by focusing on the amendment? It would insert the word “Devolved” into Clause 30, Clause 37 and Schedule 4, where the reference would become to the devolved Scottish Government. Clause 15 changes the formal name to the Scottish Government from the Scottish Executive. It was felt that the Executive were increasingly widely known as the Scottish Government and that it made sense to amend the Act to reflect public perception and to avoid confusion. However, the fact that the Scotland Act refers to “Scottish Executive” prevents the use of “Scottish Government” in legislation, contracts and other legal matters. Therefore, Clause 15 is designed to prevent inconsistencies in what the Scottish Executive are called by the public and in the legal name.

The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, wishes to insert “devolved” in front of “Scottish Government”. That is unnecessary and may even lead to further confusion. Altering the name of the Scottish Government to “the devolved Scottish Government” would in no way strengthen the position of devolution. Indeed, it is important to note that no such prefix attaches to the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland. It would look very odd and lopsided if it happened just in Scotland.

That said, this has been a useful debate on devolution. I will not go into all the highways and byways but some important points were made. Some of us who very much support what has happened over the past 12 years sometimes miss a trick because so often, ahead of the debates in 1997 and the referendum leading up to that, we talked about devolution in terms of the Scottish Parliament dealing with matters related to the domestic agenda of the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom Parliament being responsible for macroeconomic policies, defence, foreign policy, social security and pensions. Although we will undoubtedly debate where the boundaries should be—the Bill seeks to address some of these issues—I nevertheless believe that the idea of a Scottish Parliament within a United Kingdom still commands the support of the vast majority of the people in Scotland. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

I am convinced by the eloquence and brevity of both Front Benches. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 52 withdrawn.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.46 pm.