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Scotland Act 2016

Volume 771: debated on Wednesday 20 April 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to co-ordinate the implementation of the Scotland Act 2016 with the Scottish Government.

The joint ministerial working group on welfare and the Joint Exchequer Committee will oversee the implementation of welfare and tax powers, and a cross-Whitehall programme board has been established to oversee implementation of the Scotland Act. Senior officials from the Scottish and UK Governments meet regularly to identify and resolve issues and, building on the successful implementation of the 2012 Act, I am confident that both Governments will work constructively together to implement these historic new powers.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. However, is he aware that in last week’s debate on HS2 only one Peer—my noble friend Lord Glasgow—spoke of the need to extend that line as far as Scotland, and that the same week the First Minister of Scotland announced a feasibility study to extend the successful Borders Railway further south? What, then, are the chances of the two Governments working together to make sure that Scotland gets a modern railway system?

In all issues the two Governments will seek to work constructively. There was a specific review to see how passengers who travelled to Scotland could get the benefits of HS2—that is an example of how the two Governments have been working together.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Scotland Act 2016 leaves the power to call a second referendum on independence in Scotland here at Westminster and not in Scotland, and that it is utterly irresponsible for any unionist to argue that a vote to leave the European Union would justify a second referendum when the vast majority of people in Scotland regard this matter as now settled?

I very much agree with my noble friend. The people of Scotland voted very clearly and decisively in 2014 to remain part of the United Kingdom, and at the time Nicola Sturgeon, now First Minister of Scotland, said that this was a “once in a generation” issue. It is incumbent on the SNP to respect the decision that the people of Scotland took and to focus on jobs, prosperity and high-quality public services in Scotland.

The Scotland Act transfers very considerable income tax powers across all bands to the Scottish Parliament. Is the noble Lord aware that the Scottish National Party has now abandoned its long-held policy to restore the 50p additional rate because it anticipates that 7% of additional ratepayers in Scotland would configure their tax affairs to avoid paying taxation in Scotland? What are the Government doing to ensure that there is no prospect of tax avoidance within the UK?

HMRC is very focused on tax avoidance. The passage of the Scotland Act 2016 has meant that the debate that is going on for the Holyrood elections is about not what new powers should come to Scotland but how those powers are used. Tax is absolutely central to that, and that is a good and healthy development of the debate in Scotland.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the existence of this latest Scotland Act, which devolves significant further powers to Scotland and therefore fundamentally changes much of the governance of Britain, should instigate a serious review of the way in which central government governs the whole country—the four nations of this country? Perhaps in particular the future of the territorial Secretaries of State should be looked at seriously, as surely now, with these further devolved powers, they have become even more obsolete.

The territorial Secretaries of State are a very powerful voice and effective representatives for the home nations of the UK at the heart of the UK Government. They should continue to be so.

My Lords, I welcome the reiteration by the Minister of the administrative organisations and committees that have been set up to monitor how we proceed with the consequences of the Scotland Act. Before the passage of the Scotland Act, a great deal of concern was raised across the House about the implementation of devolution. Quite rightly, the process which dealt with the fiscal framework was confidential. However, would the Minister agree that some more transparency in the future deliberations of how the Scotland Act was processed would be useful?

There are regular reports to Parliament on different aspects of the devolution settlement, and we will always look at how these can be improved. We have undertaken to make annual reports to this House and to Parliament on the general operation of the fiscal framework, and that is very positive.

Following on from the last question, when does my noble friend expect to see the first report, post this Act, from the Scottish Fiscal Commission on the projections for Scotland over the next year or two?

I am not sure I can give a specific date for when the first report from that commission will be forthcoming but I am happy to write to my noble friend with further information on that.

Has the Minister noticed that the Government in Scotland are not keen on laws being made in Westminster, which the Government in Scotland consider too remote, but are very enthusiastic about laws being made in Brussels? Does he agree that, although very many clever people may be running the SNP, they are not very good at geography?

They are not very good at geography and I do not think that consistency is always a strong point with them either.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that with the increased responsibility will go increased accountability? That must not be forgotten.

At the heart of the Scotland Act 2016 is the transfer of responsibility to the Scottish Parliament, along with greater accountability, so the Scottish Parliament, which has always had great powers to spend money, now has responsibility for determining how that money is raised.