|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Sassoon: I am not going to give way immediately to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, because that would be discourteous to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, one of whose questions I have not yet addressed. I have a short memory so I would rather answer the questions that I have had before permitting another intervention. The third question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, was about what progress was being made in the discussions. The joint Exchequer committee agreed that it should meet twice a year, so the fact that it met in September means that a further meeting is anticipated later in the spring.
Lord Sassoon: I listen to all the guffawing going on, but many noble Lords have been in government here and there and will know that there is much good and important work that can and must be done to make such meetings effective. That is what is going on, and good progress is being made, including on the process for introducing a new tax under this Bill.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The question I asked is so important on this issue because the Minister himself said this issue is the central part of the Bill. I thought of this months ago when I asked, in a Question to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, why we were going ahead with the Bill. It has become obvious that a huge coach and horses has been driven through a central plank of the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and my noble friend Lord Sewel.
The best information we have is that the Scottish Parliament is going to reject the Bill. It is, you can shake your head as long as you like, Jim-sorry, Lord Wallace. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord can tell us what indications he has that the Scottish Government are going to accept this Bill as it is currently framed, if we agree it.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, forgive me if I stick to the clause as we have it. It is a separate matter, which relates to the whole Bill. I agree on the importance of this clause. Of course there needs to be agreement to the whole Bill in due course but what we are doing today-we are not making a great deal of progress but it is important and we should deal with these important points-is trying to make sure that some of these central clauses are got right. I do not know where the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, sees a coach and horses, because I have not seen one coming from my noble friend or anywhere else in this Chamber.
I would suggest that not all the speakers in this debate have talked about all the elements of the process by which a new tax would be introduced. I suggest that Members of this Committee might like to reflect on what the total package looks like. I believe that it is proportionate, including the criticality of those criteria which are appropriately laid out in the Command Paper. Incidentally, when it comes to the ultimate agreement to any proposals that come forward for new taxes, I remind the Committee that when the variable Scottish rate of tax was introduced in 1998, it was of course passed by this House, so we have precedent in relation to tax matters and Scotland on that variable rate, and on this House having competence.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Will my noble friend allow me one more go, at the risk of tedious repetition? Would my noble friend be happy if he thought that this power to invent new taxes was not circumscribed by the criteria, which, as he says, are set out in a Command Paper, which of course can be altered, and which is not part of the legislation? If there were no criteria there at all, would he be happy? If I suspect that the answer to that question is no, does he not see that the political reality is that those criteria will matter not a jot in circumstances where this power is conferred on the Scottish Parliament? That is the nub of what is exercising people on both sides of the House.
I do not mean this in any patronising way, but my noble friend has had a very distinguished career in the Civil Service and in banking. All of us have got battle scars from Scottish politics and know how it operates. He should take the fact that we all agree on this as a clear signal that these criteria that he is hanging on to will not exist in real politics if he proceeds in the way that he plans.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, while I am not steeped in as many years of Scottish politics, maybe the benefit of being a bit of an outsider and coming at this with fresh eyes means that I am able to observe a little of the history of this. Notwithstanding the attempt to say that tax proposals have not been brought forward in any way that has had discussion and consensus to date, including the ones that are the subject of this Bill, the history gives me confidence that this is a construct that will work. This is based on what we have seen in the devolution of powers to Scotland to date, and in the process that has led up to where we are with this Bill-which is not perfect and so other critical steps must be gone through. I do not see this obstacle that my noble friend is putting up. However, we will have to agree to differ on that.
Lord Sewel: I am grateful to the Minister. In citing the creation of the Scottish variable rate for income tax in the Scotland Act 1998, is not the Minister actually supporting my argument that the creation of new taxes and new powers ought to be through primary legislation?
Lord Sassoon: No; the point I made was that it went through this House, as would an order as envisaged here. Any number of points can be made. The principal point I addressed was the question of whether this House would be circumvented in some way by the introduction of a proposal for new taxes for Scotland. The answer is: unequivocally not, whether by an order or by primary legislation.
I would like to move on, because I have now laid out the full process here. It is important to register again the question of accountability, and the importance of the new accountability for the Scottish Government that is given here in the proposal that, for the first time, the Scottish Parliament will have the facility-with the approval of this Parliament-to set new taxes. It means that the Scottish Government will be able to find ways to deliver their desired policy outcomes and
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1266
The measures in Clause 28 will correct an anomalous situation whereby the Scottish Parliament can implement tax policy changes through only what Calman described as the backdoor of local authority taxation. At the moment, only local taxation is devolved to Scotland. Calman noted that the current situation incentivises the Scottish Parliament to achieve its policy aims through local taxes even though they might be more effectively achieved through devolving taxes which are reserved. Again, it is important that we reflect on that point.
Not only that, but introducing makeshift local taxes in lieu of the power to raise them nationally would mean that the UK Government and this Parliament would have no power to intervene even if there were implications for the wider UK tax system. The powers granted here would at least allow for a discussion of new taxes between Holyrood and Westminster that in many cases could result in better outcomes for both Scotland and the wider United Kingdom.
Although I suspect that we may come back to this matter in more detail in later clauses, I want to address in headline terms the question of my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton on whether Scotland will be better off or not. I know that there are questions about what the evidence from the past shows and how much credence should be given to that past analysis. But in simple terms, Scotland will be better off under the proposed arrangement if tax receipts grow faster than public spending than they would under the current block grant system and vice versa. It is not possible to say exactly what the impact will be but the key point is that this Bill delivers accountability to the Scottish Parliament and not a guaranteed financial settlement.
Lord Lang of Monkton: I believe that the prediction my noble friend just quoted is for the five years from 2010 to 2015. I do not believe that but I accept that that is a Treasury view. However, the powers under this Bill will not come into force until about 2015. If my noble friend believes that the Scottish National Party, the Scottish Executive, are keen to have these tax powers, which we have been debating extensively this evening, simply in order to cut them, I cannot agree with him on that either. The fact is that they have vast ambitions for increased public expenditure. My argument is that they will have to increase taxation not just to increase expenditure but to keep the standard of living and government expenditure in the same place.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, the directional effect that I have set out for the effect of what is proposed in this Bill compared to the current arrangements is clear. The question that people have is, on particular projections of growth and spending, what the effect would be. Of course, it is possible to give only the worked example of growth and spending based on the current spending settlement round and the current projections of the
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1267
The key point I come back to is that it transfers a significant amount of responsibility and accountability for this balance to the Scottish Parliament, which of course is fully accountable to its electors. That really goes to the absolute heart of what we are talking about and it is why I am grateful to my noble friend for drawing attention to the point.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: Earlier I was justly chastised by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for calling this a small matter. As the Minister says, it is significant, but does he accept that it is still light years away from what the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Foulkes, and I were talking about earlier, and which we hope might become a future Bill? It would get rid of all this overriding supervision by the two Houses here and simply say to the Scottish Parliament, "You raise the money that you spend".
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I come back to where I started, which is that it is the Government's position that we have a Bill that is appropriate in the current circumstances. There should be a referendum with a clear question about independence. When that is out of the way, there may be other questions to be asked. For the moment, however, the Government believe that what is being proposed in this Bill is appropriate to the circumstances we are in. My noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean suggests that this whole thing has come out of thin air and has no support from anyone. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, explained the genesis of it and I have said a bit more about Calman. The Scottish Affairs Committee has welcomed the provision to devolve new taxes and the accompanying criteria, and they have been welcomed by both the previous and the more recent Scotland Bill Committees of the Scottish Parliament and by the Scottish Government. It is therefore completely wrong to suggest that they have come out of a clear blue sky and have no support-before my noble friend chastises me, I do not think that that is a mischaracterisation of his position.
Finally, Clause 28 will provide powers to the Scottish Government to enable greater fiscal responsibility and increase the accountability of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. It grants both Governments the flexibility to negotiate the best possible solutions for Scotland and for the whole of the United Kingdom. At the same time, we believe that proportionate and sufficient safeguards exist to ensure that powers to devolve new taxes will not unduly damage the coherence of the UK tax system and the single UK market. I therefore propose that Clause 28 should stand part of the Bill and I urge my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, such is my respect for my noble friend Lord Howe, who has been waiting patiently, that I am not planning to respond to some of the points. I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister who has dealt with some pretty intensive questioning very well, although I have to say that he has not satisfied me.
I shall just pick up on the last point he made. He presents me as saying that this has all come as a surprise to people. I have to say that I think that what this clause actually does has come as a surprise to people in this Chamber, and it will certainly come as a surprise to Members of the House of Commons because they never discussed it properly. That is what we are here for, and I think that there is more to be done. Of course there is still an opportunity in the debate on whether Clause 29 should stand part to explore these arguments further.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, I shall now repeat as a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health to an Urgent Question tabled in another place earlier today about the Health and Social Care Bill. The Statement is as follows:
"Mr Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity again to set out the purposes of the Health and Social Care Bill. It is to give patients more information and choice, so that they share in decision-making about their care. It empowers front-line doctors and nurses to lead the delivery of care for their patients. It cuts out two tiers of bureaucracy, and strengthens the voice of patients and the role of local government in integrating services and strengthening public health.
The values of the Bill are simple: putting patients first, trusting doctors and nurses, focusing on results for patients, and maintaining the founding values of the NHS. We are constantly looking to reinforce those values, strengthening the NHS to meet the challenges it faces. We know change is essential: we will not let the NHS down by blocking change.
Throughout the development and progress of this Bill, we have engaged extensively with NHS staff, the public and parliamentarians. The Health and Social Care Bill is the most scrutinised public Bill in living memory. With over 200 hours of debate between the
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1269
We have made this legislation better and stronger. We have made significant changes to the Bill, including in response to the NHS Future Forum's work, and we will be open to any further changes that will improve or clarify the Bill. For example, so far in the Lords, the Government have accepted amendments tabled by a number of Cross-Bench, Liberal Democrat and Labour Peers.
Yesterday, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, wrote to their Liberal Democrat colleagues explaining their support for the Bill with those changes and some further amendments they wish to see. They said, for example, how we must,
The Bill is about quality, not competition on price. It will not permit any NHS organisation to be taken over by the private sector. It will put patients' interests first. We will not permit any extension of charging. Care will be free and based on need. Where the doctors and nurses on the ground know that competition is in the best interests of their patients and where it is based entirely on the quality of the care and treatment provided and not in any way on the price of that care and treatment, then competition can play an important role in driving up standards throughout the NHS.
We will not see a market free-for-all or a US-style insurance system in this country. I believe in the NHS. I am a passionate supporter of our NHS. That is why I understand the passionate debate it arouses. But it is also why I resent those on the Benches opposite who seek to misrepresent the NHS, its current achievements and future needs.
We are using the debates in the Lords further to reassure all those who care about the NHS. I am grateful for the chance to reassure all my honourable friends in the House of the positive and beneficial effects of debate in the House of Lords, and of the work we are doing to secure a positive future for the NHS".
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Statement. We are in a slightly odd situation here. We have a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister and a distinguished Member of your Lordships' House to MPs and Peers in their party concerning a matter of public policy involving a major piece of legislation currently before this House. I thought that we could not be further surprised by the parliamentary twists and turns of this Bill, but it is really a case of "Whatever next?". Is it the first time that a serving Deputy Prime Minister has decided to send a letter suggesting amendments to his own Government's legislation? This letter seems largely to concern Mr Clegg saying that he wants more amendments to the Bill and expects this House to deliver them so that Liberal Democrat MPs can support the said amendments in the Commons.
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1270
I appreciate that it may be difficult for the Minister to answer this question, but I am going to ask it anyway. How exactly does he think that the Liberal Democrats propose to achieve this target set by Mr Clegg in this House when they are part of a coalition wedded to this Bill in all its glory-and Part 3, too-and the Lib Dems command 70 to 80 votes in the House on a good day? Who will deliver Mr Clegg's amendments to Part 3 of the Bill, I wonder? Will it be done by consent with the Government or will it be by Division?
I would like to ease Mr Clegg's dilemma in this matter and make a very generous offer. The Liberal Democrats can have our amendments to Part 3 of this Bill. We have a great set of amendments to Part 3 which would serve to deliver what Mr Clegg and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, say that they seek on competition and, indeed, more. So I look forward to the Minister's response to my offer.
However odd the mode of delivery, it is important to ask whether this is a major announcement of a change in government policy and, indeed, was the text of the letter discussed with and agreed by No. 10 and Mr Andrew Lansley. This development has added to the considerable confusion about what government policy around the Bill is exactly, and I think that Ministers need urgently to clarify what precise changes are being proposed, what discussions have been held with the Deputy Prime Minister and whether these policy changes now represent government policy. I ask this because we know that Mr Clegg has to manage the challenge of the Lib Dem spring conference-and a challenge it is certainly shaping up to be. According to today's media, the Liberal Democrat health activists are planning to put an emergency motion to the party's spring conference urging their leadership to reject the provisions of the NHS reform Bill despite, presumably, the final changes advanced by Mr Clegg and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in this joint letter. Certainly this letter and that conference, combined with the growing tumult against the Bill-another royal college might bite the bullet and say that it wants the Bill to be withdrawn again; I think that there are only about two more to go-put the discussions that we will have on Part 3 in your Lordships' House next week in an interesting light.
This is an odd way to develop and announce policy-or is it shift in policy? Yesterday morning, the Minister, Simon Burns, was insisting the whole Government backed the Bill "as amended now". At the same time sources close to Mr Clegg, whoever they may be, were insisting the changes that he is demanding are,
That is exactly what I have been saying all the way through this Bill. The letter proposes four broad changes. The first is that we should remove the reviews by the Competition Commission from the Bill. In fact, amendments to that effect where tabled by the Labour Party. Imitation being the greatest form of flattery, I am very happy that the Liberal Democrats are tabling them again. Secondly, the letter suggests that we keep the independent regulator for foundation trusts, Monitor,
Well, the amendments that the Liberal Democrats have promoted so far on this certainly need some thought and some change. We would agree with them and we shall see. This is all familiar to us on the Labour side, because those proposals were part of the substance of our amendments in Committee which were so soundly and roundly rejected by the Minister. Is he about to resile from his earlier position and embrace the Labour amendments? I would appreciate some notice if that is what he intends to do.
Can the Minister confirm that this is still the Government's position? Can he clarify whether the changes outlined in the Deputy Prime Minister's letter now represent government policy? His letter promises,
Can the Minister explain what these additional safeguards are, and why the Deputy Prime Minister feels that they are necessary? Why does the Secretary of State seem to have no regard for the views of health professionals and the public when it comes to making changes to this health Bill but is quite happy to make concessions to accommodate the Liberal Democrats before their spring conference? Will the Minister clarify whether these amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill are "significant", as stated by the Deputy Prime Minister, or a "reassurance", as stated by the Prime Minister's official spokesperson?
It seems to me that the Secretary of State has seen a clear example of unmitigated chaos in the latest incarnation of his Health and Social Care Bill. Really, this is a most unloved and unwanted piece of legislation and the Bill should be dropped. In conclusion, the Minister has my deepest sympathy in dealing with this Statement, because it seems that it puts him between
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1272
Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Baroness said that she was surprised by the letter in question. I can tell her that nothing in the letter was in any way a surprise to me, for the simple reason that it reflects the very constructive discussions that I have had with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, which are a natural part of good government. I can only conclude that she does not recognise that such discussions are a part of good government, but it certainly is the case with the coalition. As far as I am concerned, Mr Clegg needs no permission to bring members of his party up to date with progress on the Bill or to make it clear, as he does, that he is fully behind it.
The noble Baroness asked about the changes that Mr Clegg and my noble friend Lady Williams have outlined in the letter that they would like to see. I simply direct the noble Baroness's attention to the Marshalled List for the Bill; there are a number of amendments already tabled and discussions continue on a number of other issues. Are the changes that have been made significant? I say to her that any amendments we accept are significant, and the amendments made to the Bill are largely about reassurance to those noble Lords who are unclear, uncertain or worried about the Bill and what it says. They are about delivering greater clarity and making sure that the Bill delivers on its intentions. I have been very happy to accommodate the concerns of Peers of all parties who have come to speak to me-not simply my Liberal Democrat colleagues-because the function of this House is to make Bills better, and we are certainly doing that with the Health and Social Care Bill. A prime example of that, surely, was the fruitful discussion that we had across the party divide on the Secretary of State's powers and duties, and I believe that the resolution of that matter was very satisfactory.
With regard to the issues themselves, it would not be appropriate for me to give a running commentary. The place for debate on each issue is surely our debates on Report. We are in the middle of the Bill; we should not attempt to engage in substantive discussion on matters of policy now when we still have four more days of Report ahead of us. We are open to constructive discussions with Peers of any party to make the Bill better, just as we listened, contrary to the assertion of the noble Baroness, to members of the public and members of the medical profession in their thousands during the listening exercise last year. We listened, paused, reflected and amended the Bill extensively. I am sure that the noble Baroness knows that nothing has changed in that respect, and my door is open to her as it is to anyone else.
Baroness Jolly: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his ever-open door and his willingness to listen. Will he further explain to the House how he believes that
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1273
Earl Howe: My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. I feel that the debate and discussions that we have had in your Lordships' House have made this a better Bill, as I said a moment ago. Again, a prime example of that is the clauses relating to ministerial accountability. With regard to the Royal Colleges, we have made all sorts of improvements, such as those in response to concerns about the integration of services, education and training, research, health inequalities, ensuring that competition is never an end in itself and a number of other important issues. I am glad that these changes were all welcomed by a wide range of Royal Colleges.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, in the light of what the Minister has just said, if I came to him over the next couple of days and handed him a document about the problems that it is felt will be experienced in specialist services, would he then deal with it before the completion of Report and let me have an answer?
Earl Howe: I would be happy to talk to the noble Lord about specialised services, and I speak as the Minister in charge of that policy area. If he would like to contact my office, I would be very glad to see him.
Lord Crisp: My Lords, like, I suspect, every other Member of your Lordships' House, I very much respect the way in which the Minister has handled the Bill and his willingness to engage in debate. I sit here as a Cross-Bencher listening to what seems to be the healing of a rift between the coalition parties, if I may put it like that, but I also see-my postbag is full of this, as I am sure everyone else's is-a rift with the medical profession, the nursing profession, midwives and others. Even though this approach may deal with some of the issues that they have wished to raise, I do not see that it will deal with the much more fundamental issue of the loss of trust and unity that seems to have been created as part of the passage of the Bill. Can the Minister say something about how he believes that that will be handled? These issues go far beyond your Lordships' House, as we all understand.
Earl Howe: The noble Lord is right. The stance taken by a number of medical bodies and members of the medical profession is of course a matter of great regret to me and my ministerial colleagues. I say to them and to the noble Lord that once the Bill has been approved by Parliament, as I sincerely hope it will be, that will be the time to re-engage with the medial profession and work with it to ensure that the Bill delivers on the promise that we have held out for it and that we still believe in. The principles that the Bill embodies, which the medical profession has always said that it supports, can then be given substance in the form of the improvements that we would like to
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1274
Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I, too, applaud the noble Earl for the way that he handles this very difficult Bill in very difficult circumstances. I am sure he is aware that there is a lot of concern about the Bill in the field of mental health, particularly as private provision gathers pace. Can he give any assurance to mental health professionals and services up and down the country about what in the Bill might protect mental health services in the future?
Earl Howe: Several things in the Bill are new. One is the duty to reduce health inequalities, which is very important in mental health. Another is the duty to promote integration of services. Again, we have had many debates on that and there are mechanisms that we propose to use to support greater integration of services.
I also believe that the worries about competition are misplaced. Competition is a tool that commissioners can use, or decide not to use, in the interests of patients. It is no more than that. The Bill does not change competition law or increase the scope for competition to be used in the NHS. It leaves the decision-making to commissioners on whether competition does or does not serve the interests of patients. There is a lot of misapprehension about what the Bill does, not just among those in the mental health world but more widely. I hope that that reassurance is helpful.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: I apologise to the Minister for being the cause of another late night for him. I apologise because, obviously, the Statement relates to some extent to the letter that I co-signed with the Deputy Prime Minister. I simply say, as have many in the House, that the Minister has shown amazing patience. Indeed, his door is always open; a number of us stumble our way through it and we are extremely grateful.
I shall say just two more things about the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. First, a great deal of the concern that has been expressed in public was expressed before some of the very recent changes, which are not widely realised or well understood among the public or the media.
Secondly, it is probably fair to say that Chapter 3 has been the centre of much of the concern about the Bill. There are other things in it that many people will widely recognise and accept, not least the work on education, training and research. This is not yet widely known, even within the medical profession. It may be that there is a great deal to be said for making a further attempt to get across exactly what changes have been made to the Bill. I think that would carry with it a rather different attitude among the public and the media from what has existed in the past few weeks.
Earl Howe: I am very grateful to my noble friend and agree with everything that she said. Many of the changes that the Government have made to the Bill-not just those made in your Lordships' House but those that were made last year-have not been fully appreciated, or appreciated at all in some quarters. The changes that we have made are not sufficiently understood even by those who recognise that amendments have been made to the Bill. Without naming names, I have spoken to very senior members of the medical profession who have had no idea at all about some of the amendments that we have made to bring greater clarity to the Bill and change it substantively. As my noble friend knows, we did that in particular with Part 3 of the Bill. There is no doubt that there is a job of work to do to put over the correct messages to the medical profession and to reassure its members that this Bill does not represent a threat to them or to the NHS-quite the reverse.
Lord Patel: My Lords, although many of the comments that have been made relate to amendments that have yet to be presented to the House, particularly to Part 3 of the Bill relating to competition, does the Minister agree that there are other amendments relating to other parts of the Bill that are of broad concern to people outside the House: namely, those relating to public health issues and how public health will be delivered, and that we also need to address those amendments?
Earl Howe: Of course, I acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord. It is a matter of regret to me that the commentary on the Bill hardly ever focuses on the proposals it makes for public health, which have generally commanded widespread approval. However, I recognise that there are concerns around the detail of those proposals. That is why we are here as a Chamber to address those concerns. I am sure that when we come to the amendments referred to by the noble Lord, this House will not be found wanting in the way that it explores those issues and resolves them.
Lord Martin of Springburn: The noble Earl has repeated a Statement made in the other House by a Cabinet Minister responsible for health. We have also heard mention of the Deputy Prime Minister supporting the noble Baroness's amendments. The Deputy Prime Minister is clearly a Cabinet Minister. Therefore, we have two Cabinet Ministers in the picture. If everyone is so enthusiastic about the Liberal Democrat amendments -the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, was kind enough to tell us that those follow her proposals, and imitation is the best form of flattery-does it mean that everybody is happy? However, the only piece of the jigsaw that I am concerned about is whether that means that the Conservative Party will support the relevant amendments. If that is the case, they will all go through on the nod and everybody will be happy. Perhaps the noble Earl can tell me whether I am wrong and I have missed something.
Earl Howe: Far be it from me to say that the noble Lord, Lord Martin, would ever miss anything; he is too wise a head for that. I see nothing strange or amiss
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1276
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am a little confused about all this, and I wonder if my noble friend the Minister can help me. I received the letter yesterday. At the top it stated, "Keep this completely secret and do not tell anybody". I switched on the television and there it was. I am confused because I watched and listened to the exchanges in the House of Commons this afternoon, which, I have to say, were a great deal more vigorous and bad-tempered in many ways than the exchanges here; and I congratulate the noble Baroness on the Labour Front Bench who did a much better job of responding on this matter than her colleagues in the House of Commons.
However, here we have the Labour Party, which in government made major strides towards introducing competition, privatisation and commercialisation of the health service, and now has been very strong indeed in opposing those matters when it comes to the Bill. I do not understand that. The other thing that I do not understand is that if what the noble Baroness says is correct-that many of the things she and her colleagues have been putting forward at Committee stage and have been saying outside this House are now being put forward by Liberal Democrats in the amendments that we were told about in the letter from my noble friend and my party leader-why is she not standing up and offering her help, with some enthusiasm, instead of being so grumpy about it all and the way in which this has been done? There seems to be huge confusion on the Opposition Front Bench and in the opposition party, and I wonder if my noble friend can suggest any gentle therapy that it might take up to help it with this problem.
Earl Howe: I am very happy to pick up that challenge from my noble friend; in fact, I have been using all my charms and skills on the Benches opposite without any effect at all. I feel that I may have arrived at an impasse. My noble friend is absolutely right because the situation that we inherited from the previous Government was in many ways one that we embraced-it was they who opened up choice in the NHS and indeed put a right of choice into the NHS constitution.
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1277
We do not think that the previous Government thought nearly hard enough about how this was all to be regulated, which is why we want a sector-specific health regulator. That is the reason for having Monitor and is why we think the provisions of Part 3 make sense because they are in the interests of patients and the NHS. I still hope that in our debates I can engender some movement on the Benches opposite to recognise that we are actually trying to improve the situation that we inherited for the benefit of everyone.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: 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
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1278
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.
Lord Lyell: 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.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: 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
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1279
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.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: 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
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1280
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?
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: 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.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: 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
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1281
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.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): 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.
Lord Maxton: 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.
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.
Lord Sassoon: 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.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: 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?
Lord Sassoon: 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.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: 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.
Lord Sassoon: 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
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1284
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: 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?
Lord Sassoon: 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
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1285
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.
The Duke of Montrose: 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.
Lord Sassoon: 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.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: 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
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1286
Lord Sassoon: 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.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: 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.
Lord Sassoon: 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.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: 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.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: 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
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1288
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.
Lord Maxton: 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-
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: 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.
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.
Baroness Adams of Craigielea: 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.
Lord Maxton: 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
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1290
Lord Browne of Ladyton: 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.
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
28 Feb 2012 : Column 1292
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): 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.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|