“high quality candidates to represent them in elections.”

That is what it says. [Interruption.] That is what the Government say. In other words, they are saying that, because Plaid Cymru and Conservative party candidates are not sufficiently attractive to the population, the electoral system must be changed to allow those inadequate people to get elected. That is absurd. It is not a definition of democracy. It is an indictment of the paucity of the Government’s arguments.

As I said earlier, I will support the Bill but, as Members will have gathered, I will not do so with any conviction or determination and certainly not with any enthusiasm. Frankly, it is better than nothing, but not much better. I assure the House that we will argue strongly in Committee about many of the issues that I and others have raised, and I hope to goodness that Members will have the common sense and decency to think again.

7.10 pm

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. Many great political figures in the history of devolution will be very pleased that it is taking place. My predecessor Richard Livsey, Rhodri Morgan, Ron Davies, Lord Wigley and Lord Elis-Thomas will be delighted, although Richard Livsey is in a more elevated chamber than those in the Palace of Westminster.

Although the Conservatives did not embrace devolution to begin with, their contribution has been substantial. I thought that Lord Bourne, who was a regional Assembly Member, might have been based in Brecon and Radnorshire, but he actually lives in Aberystwyth and is now Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. It is a tribute to this Government that this Bill has been introduced, and that is to be celebrated. I congratulate the Government on moving quickly with

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the Bill so as to ensure that part I of the Silk proposals can be acted on in this Parliament. That shows real commitment to devolution and I commend it.

My party, both in Wales and across the UK, believes that power and authority derive and flow upwards from the people and that power must be exercised at the most appropriate local level. We have long supported a federal system as part of our vision for the UK’s constitutional future. In order to ensure that our central principles of dispersing power as widely as possible and ensuring that Wales’s distinct challenges can be addressed, we have advocated and supported devolution strongly. We have argued consistently since the establishment of the National Assembly that it should possess additional financial and legal competences. The key to that has been the need to increase the Assembly’s accountability, and I believe that this Bill goes a very long way to doing that.

It is true that a lockstep, which other Members have mentioned, will put some constraint on the ability of whichever Government are in office in Cardiff Bay to use those powers. Although I would prefer not to have the lockstep, the acceptance of the principle of giving income tax powers to the Welsh Government is such an important step that it should not be dismissed.

In their reasoning on the inclusion of the lockstep, the UK Government have argued that the devolution of power to set different rates

“could distort the redistributive structure (or progressivity) of the income tax system and could potentially be detrimental to the UK as a whole.”

I do not want this Bill to be used as a means of establishing tax competition between Wales and the rest of the UK, but we must accept that tax competition is an inevitable consequence of devolution. If we are arguing that Wales should be able to borrow and raise what it wants to spend, it should have the power to tax as it sees fit.

Overall, although I cannot pretend that I would not prefer it if there were no lockstep, under the circumstances I am willing to accept it, if it means the increased accountability and responsibility for the Welsh Assembly that this Bill will deliver.

Hywel Williams: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about the lockstep, but if taxes were reduced across all bands we would retain a certain amount of progressivity. The progressiveness of the system itself can vary depending on whether the rate goes up or down, so the lockstep is not a full answer to the question of progressivity in respect of income tax.

Roger Williams: I accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but that is the form in which the Bill appears, and rather than take the risk of losing the powers, my party is prepared to accept it.

On borrowing powers, I share some of the concerns outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), who will speak later, on the issue of writing a borrowing figure into the Bill. In the Welsh Liberal Democrat submission to the Silk commission, we argued for borrowing powers equivalent to those proposed for the Scottish Parliament—a capital borrowing limit of 10% of the total capital budget each year, with a cap at about 10 times the amount. We also asked for a

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very small amount of revenue borrowing, which would be a better, more sustainable approach to the borrowing arrangements.

In addition to the Bill’s financial measures, I welcome a number of constitutional moves, including those on double-jobbing, five-year terms and the lifting of the ban on dual candidacy. The move to five-year terms will help ensure that issues relating to the Assembly will receive the hearing they deserve during election campaigns. In the 1999 Assembly elections, I stood at both constituency and regional level but failed to get elected in either, so it is not a fail-safe system. Those Assembly elections took place at the same time as local government elections and Carmarthenshire had multi-member wards. There were polling booths with the words, “Remember you can vote for two candidates,” written above them. Obviously, that referred to the local government election, but it confused a lot of electors and resulted in an enormous number of spoilt ballots, because they were not aware of the complexity of the system. I think that having separate election days is very important.

When legislating on a ban on dual candidacy in 2006, the then Labour Government said that the process

“devalues the integrity of the electoral system in the eyes of the public and acts as a disincentive to vote in constituency elections.”

However, in reality it has reduced voter choice and undermined the credibility of the electoral system by punishing parties for being successful. I believe that the Opposition’s often used argument that turnout would diminish because voters would be unprepared to vote in elections in which some losing constituency candidates were likely to be elected as regional candidates is unfounded. Dual candidacy is accepted by the electorate in Scotland and, indeed, for the London Assembly.

We heard from Labour’s Welsh conference over the weekend that Labour would like to see Wales’s powers brought into line with those in Scotland and move towards the reserved powers model. I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues would wholeheartedly support that, but I remind the Opposition that they had 13 years to address those issues. In its 2011 manifesto, Labour made a commitment

“not to seek powers to vary income tax”.

That was a straightforward rejection, so I am very pleased to hear that Labour has changed its view and I look forward to the passage of this Bill through Parliament.

7.19 pm

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I am very pleased to speak in this debate, because we in Plaid Cymru welcome the chance—at long last—to debate the Wales Bill, modest as it is. We particularly welcome the fact that the Bill is a vehicle for implementing greater financial powers for Wales. Those powers need to be looked at very carefully in Committee, and I look forward to such a debate, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards). However, we cannot help but feel that the Bill is a lost opportunity to implement the full recommendations of the cross-party Commission on Devolution in Wales, chaired by Paul Silk.

I first want to reflect for a moment on the process and the time that it has taken to get to the Bill today. Following the overwhelmingly successful referendum in 2011—we in Plaid Cymru, as part of the One Wales

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coalition Government, had pushed for it—and realising the growing appetite of the people of Wales for greater control of their lives, as well as perhaps mindful of the growing appetite across these islands for constitutional change, the Westminster Government set up the Commission on Devolution in Wales to consider the devolution of further powers. Each of the main four parties nominated a commissioner. Eurfyl ap Gwilym served with distinction for Plaid Cymru, and I commend his work and that of the other commissioners.

The commission was instructed to produce two reports—the first on financial powers, and the second on wider policy issues. It was specifically instructed not to look at the issue of funding, namely the Barnett formula. As we have already heard, the independent commission headed by Gerry Holtham noted that Wales loses out on about £300 million each year. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), who is no longer in his place, that the figure varies, but if the UK economy takes off, as we all fervently hope and as the Government certainly hope, the loss will be increased.

The commission produced a highly commendable piece of work in November 2012. Its first report was a complex package of recommendations. I use the word “package” advisedly, because part of our concern about the Bill is that the whole package has not been adopted. We in Plaid Cymru wanted more, as our submission to the commission attests, but we gathered round the compromise that had a chance to work precisely because it was a package of reforms. I know that the commission came to its conclusions after a great deal of hard bargaining.

Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting point about the balance on the commission, but surely it is the place of Parliament to debate and decide changes in laws, not just to rubber-stamp commissions.

Hywel Williams: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point entirely. However, the commission was set up by the Government to look very closely at the question and it came to a unanimous judgment, but they then decided to adopt only some parts of its report. My point is that I wanted them to adopt the entire recommendations of part I of the Silk report. It is disappointing that they did not, because we can see the package of reforms that the commission came to as its conclusion.

It is also massively disappointing that the Government waited so long to respond to the report. We were told that they would respond in the spring of 2013. Then it was pushed to the summer. I remember making the point in the Welsh Grand Committee, when the Secretary of State said that spring officially ends in June, that July in Welsh is Gorffennaf—gorffen haf—which means the end of summer. We waited, and autumn came. The nights were drawing in, the countdown to Christmas began and, eventually, a full year after the commission produced its report, the Government responded.

Glyn Davies: I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech with great interest, but does he accept that moving forward with a Bill to recommend tax-raising powers for the National Assembly for Wales is a huge advance in devolution that will, if such powers are

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granted, transform the Assembly’s authority? Does he agree that introducing those powers in a Bill as quickly as the Government have done—we are debating it today with a view to taking it through in this Parliament—is quite a creditable performance?

Hywel Williams: I am indeed very glad that the Bill is before us, as I said at the start of my speech, but I am contrasting the time between the commission reporting and the Government responding. We suddenly have the Bill before us today. I certainly welcome that, but I have no idea why it has appeared so quickly; it is not for me to comment on the lack of other Government business.

I know that the term “a slap in the face for Wales” is very well used, and I hope that it will be reported tomorrow by our friends in the BBC, but I must say that to ignore such a fundamental report—as the hon. Gentleman has just pointed out—for so long is somewhat disrespectful. More importantly for us in Plaid Cymru and for other hon. Members, it is also damaging to the political and economic progress that our country can make. The Welsh Government continue to be denied the powers that they should be able to exercise—they are also denied the funding that they should have—and that were recommended by Gerry Holtham. However, we are where we are—but where are we?

Towards the end of last year, the Prime Minister swept into the Senedd building in Cardiff Bay to a media fanfare and the flashes of cameras, and announced new financial powers for Wales, but the proposals were rather light on detail. Indeed, the Prime Minister had discovered “anti-gravitas”, as I called it at the time, in making a proposal that then seemed to float away. It was not until some weeks later that we learned that all was not as it seemed. The Government had cherry-picked the cross-party Silk commission’s recommendations—accepting some, but only in part, and even omitting others.

The draft Wales Bill was published in January, and the Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I was a member, was tasked with its pre-legislative scrutiny, with a tight turnaround for producing a report. I must say that I enjoyed the process of scrutinising the Bill, and I pay tribute to all Committee members and to the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), for his chairmanship. Contrary to his rather fierce, if not sometimes eccentric, persona in this Chamber, he was the model of a balanced Chairman, and I was very glad, if slightly surprised, that he acted in that way.

To return to the narrative, the Government then seemed to be in a hurry, and we now have the Bill. The Welsh Affairs Committee sessions took evidence from a variety of independent academics, civil society groups and even elected politicians from both this place and the National Assembly for Wales. Interestingly, even Opposition party leaders from Cardiff graced the Committee’s sittings. That move was not uncontroversial, because the Committee’s purpose is of course to scrutinise the Government at Westminster. Having the party leaders from Cardiff caused a certain amount of head scratching, because it was something of a first. However, it indicated that this was not some humdrum scrutiny exercise of a small Whitehall Department or a minor Bill because, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), the Committee was considering part of the blueprint for the next stage in our national political development, and it deserved such a level of scrutiny.

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The consensus that began to emerge was that borrowing powers were vital to allowing the Government of Wales, formed of whichever party or parties, to be able to borrow for investment to boost our economy and create jobs. However, the consensus was that the lockstep on income tax rates meant that the provision could not realistically be varied, because the power was unusable. Other than the duo of the Secretary of State for Wales and his Treasury colleague, the Exchequer Secretary—unsurprisingly—all agreed that it would be far better to have the ability to vary each individual income tax band rate.

During sittings of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I pointed out a paradoxical effect of raising or lowering tax rates with a lockstep. If we raise the tax rates with a lockstep, the higher rates are then less progressive than the lower ones: if we raise tax by a penny on the 20p band, we increase it by a twentieth, while if we raise it by a penny in the 40p band, we increase it by a fortieth. We should bear that slightly obscure ratio issue in mind. Equally, a decrease has a similar effect.

The cross-party Silk commission recommended in the first place that we should not have a lockstep. I proposed an amendment in discussions on the Welsh Affairs Committee report—I proposed that the Committee recommended dropping the lockstep. Unsurprisingly, our three friends from the Tories voted against my amendment; the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and I voted for it; but, unaccountably, Labour members of the Committee managed to abstain. Even though they have publicly declared opposition to the lockstep in the Committee, they did not step up to the plate.

Jonathan Edwards: How baffled is my hon. Friend on the Labour party’s position on the lockstep? The First Minister says he wants to get rid of it. The shadow Secretary of State said today that he supports it. Who speaks for Labour?

Hywel Williams: I remain baffled—that is all I can say. Irrespective of Labour party internal divisions and wrangling, Labour has said that greater financial powers should have been granted, but now it is possibly saying that they should not be. The Tories remain divided on the lockstep. The greater part of the group in the Assembly complains that income tax powers with the lockstep are unusable, but the other part supported the London party and was given the sack.

I referred to the referendum when the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) was in his place. The formulation of the question, if we ever have a referendum, will be extremely difficult, but rather than make the point myself, I shall but quote from the widely respected economist, Gerry Holtham, who told the Welsh Affairs Committee that Welsh politicians are being asked to

“fight a highly losable referendum. Tax is not popular, and, to be frank, neither are politicians at the present time. It is most unfair, but there it is. You are asking them to fight a losable referendum for a tax power they can’t use. It doesn’t look like a high-odds proposition to me.”

I tend to agree with him, particular given the possible complexity of the question, and the possible lack of a no campaign, which has been referred to.

The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), the constitutional expert and Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, urged members of

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the Welsh Affairs Committee to seek to amend the legislation so that the lockstep is removed. He has said that the requirement for a referendum on the limited income tax powers is “ridiculous”. The Secretary of State, however, sung the praises of the lockstep, saying that it could be used to vary all rates and would put Wales at a competitive advantage. He has also noted his opposition to the devolution of long haul air passenger duty, as that would put Bristol airport at a competitive disadvantage. On the one hand, he argues against a competitive advantage, but, on the other, he refers to a competitive disadvantage. That does not seem particularly coherent to me, but there we are. In evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee, the First Minister seemed to say that he wants Wales both to have a tax competition advantage and not to have one, as expertly adduced in a telling question asked by the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb). That incoherence shows that the cherry-picking of the Silk recommendations falls apart. It is a whole package.

On Labour’s new-found conversion to the need for reform of the Barnett formula, Plaid Cymru has been pointing out the consistent underfunding of Wales through the block grant for well over a decade, but successive Labour Secretaries of State have assured us that

“the Barnett formula serves Wales well”.

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) is not here, because those are his words. I know them by heart because I have heard them so often. His consistent standpoint is that the formula serves Wales well and we meddle with it at our peril. I will not intrude on Labour’s private grief and confusion, and the further inconsistency on Barnett that Labour’s leader in the Scottish Parliament seems to generate so effectively and so unconsciously. After 13 years in power when Labour could have sorted the formula, it now cries for fair funding—the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) says that income tax powers without fair funding is a “Tory trap”.

Wales should be fairly funded, as Plaid Cymru has long argued, because every day we lose around £1 million in additional funding. Those figures change, as the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan has said—he would no doubt jump up and remind me were he in his place. We lose around £1 million every day, which we could spend on improving our health service, tackling the scandal of poverty or building new schools. For now, the Labour position is no fair funding and no income tax powers for Wales. We know why. That is Labour’s position because it fears that, if we address Barnett, its anti-independence campaign in Scotland will be finally scuppered. Oddly, therefore, the Labour party says in Wales that we must reform Barnett, but the very same unified and indivisible Labour party says in Scotland that we must not reform Barnett.

Meanwhile, the UK Government water down the Silk recommendations to conform to their fundamentally anti-devolutionist view that Wales cannot possibly have something that Scotland does not have. As we have seen this past week, events in Scotland may overtake them all.

Albert Owen: May I ask the hon. Gentleman what the view of Plaid Cymru’s sister party in Scotland is? If there is a no vote, which I hope there is, in the referendum

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in Scotland, will he and the sister party—the Scottish National party—argue for reform of Barnett in Scotland, which could reduce Scottish revenues from the UK Government?

Hywel Williams: My job is to represent Wales. The Labour party advertises itself as the unified, indivisible Labour party in England, Scotland and Wales. The hon. Gentleman’s point is bogus.

It is important that we now move forward, whatever the weaknesses hon. Members on both sides of the House might find in the Bill. Realistically, income tax might not be varied for some time, or ever, depending on what happens in the referendum, but the Bill will give access to vital borrowing and investment powers.

The Silk commission produced its second report earlier this month. Plaid Members say that Wales should be moving to a reserved powers model as swiftly as possible. We believe it would make more sense to have a referendum on the Silk part II recommendations. That larger and more substantive referendum would consider both true income tax-varying powers and wider policy powers. We will table amendments to preserve the integrity of the Silk report recommendations. Given that the principle of fiscal devolution has been conceded in respect of the other tax-varying powers, we say there is no need for a referendum on a simple income tax-sharing model. I agree with the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), who is in his place, who said today that that should be the case. We will seek to amend the Bill accordingly.

Mr David Jones: At the risk of appearing to carp, I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that, a moment ago, he accused the Conservative party of cherry-picking the recommendations of the Silk commission. Is he not cherry-picking, too, when he says that we should dispense with the referendum, which, after all, was recommended by the commission?

Hywel Williams: Our argument is on a package of measures, but the Government have cherry-picked. Our ambition—I make no apology whatever for it—is to have both Silk I and II and even more implemented.

Jonathan Edwards: The Secretary of State has cherry-picked the Silk commission’s recommendations on the ability to vary income tax. Because he has cherry-picked, why does he not devolve the lockstep without the referendum, and then have a referendum on removing the lockstep? That would be a practical way of moving forward, and of preserving the Silk commission proposals and recommendations.

Hywel Williams: That might be a way forward, but I have no idea how we would formulate a coherent question on the lockstep, as I have said. We should work towards all parties committing to a tax-sharing model in their 2015 manifestos, so that that could be achieved without the need for a costly referendum. Then in the future we could possibly have a referendum on the power to vary income tax, along with the wider powers expected as part of Silk II.

Plaid Cymru believes that constitutional change should not happen simply for its own sake, but because it represents the means to create a better society in Wales—more prosperous, more just, more equal and more

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democratic. That is our positive case. The financial powers recommended in the first report by the Silk commission represent some of the means to achieving that. They empower, but with them comes responsibility—a responsibility that Plaid Cymru would welcome.

Most of the debate has been focused on Wales. As a nationalist, I am pleased to quote an English Member—the hon. Member for Nottingham North again. He said:

“I start from the premise that the UK is the most massively over-centralised of all the western democracies and I find that deeply unhealthy.”

That point is about England and devolution all round—if I may use that 19th century phrase. He continued:

“I welcome this Bill very strongly because it is a step, not a leap—it is a step in the right direction.”

7.41 pm

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I welcome the Bill, which contains much that will benefit the residents of west Wales in particular. The more I listened to the speeches today, especially from the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), the more I came to the conclusion that we must be doing the right thing, given the level of opposition that he expressed.

I probably have more in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), the Chairman of the Select Committee, than I should perhaps readily and publicly admit. That is because I am not an anti-devolutionist but I am a reluctant devolutionist. I am pragmatic about it and I accept that we are where we are. I am reluctant because, in the time that I have lived in and represented my area, I have never had a business—small, medium or anything in between—come and tell me about the need for further devolution or for further powers to be devolved to Cardiff. In many cases, I have been on the end of contrary suggestions. Very few people say that the one thing standing between them and sustainability and profitability is more politicians, more devolution and more of the confusion that can sometimes result.

Nor have I heard from many members of the public about the need for further devolution. I suppose that that is a contradictory comment, because when put to the test in a referendum the result is somewhat different, but not many people talk to me about the need to devolve the criminal justice system, the police or other such matters. I therefore come at the issue from a very schizophrenic position, knowing that we are where we are—as the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) has just said.

My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth and I come into step on the danger of mission creep. I do not always admit to sharing the views of the former Prime Minister Mr Blair, but I will on this occasion, because he said:

“I was never a passionate devolutionist. It is a dangerous game to play. You can never be sure when Nationalist sentiment ends and separatist sentiment begins.”

That was not entirely different from what Donald Dewar had said at the time that the Scottish Parliament was set up. He very explicitly said that he saw it as the end of the debate about independence—but a few short years later we are on the eve of a referendum on Scottish independence. That troubles me because—as other hon. Members have said—we appear to be travelling in one direction only, towards independence in all but name.

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The Bill is a chance to put all that to bed. It strikes the correct balance between practical considerations and ideological objectives. Above all, it is a Bill that has the voter, the ratepayer and the business man and woman in mind, rather than the ambitions of politicians, either here or in Cardiff.

I want to touch on one and a half issues—both constitutional—and I shall be as brief as I can, because the afternoon seems to be dragging on into the night. The first issue is fixed-term Parliaments. When I was on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, we looked at this in some detail, and there was very little objection to the notion of fixed-term Parliaments. They were felt to have the potential to reduce uncertainty and instability, to give a clear timetable for the next election, and to provide more effective forecasting and the ability to prioritise more effectively. All of that is a given. There was not quite so much consensus on whether the term should be four years or five. The general view is that we are one of a relative minority of countries across the globe that have opted for five years. Nobody considers it to be much of a problem except when a collision of dates occurs, perhaps between elections to this Parliament and to the Welsh Assembly. Even then, the Electoral Reform Society was not particularly alarmed by the fact that the public may have to make a choice between candidates in Cardiff and candidates in Westminster. I agree: plenty of evidence suggests that people are capable of making an informed and intelligent decision in two simultaneous elections.

I am concerned that if boundaries were to change as a result of future legislation, asking people to vote for candidates on different boundaries might cause confusion, and we would need to guard against that. People ask how likely that is to happen, and it is probably some way off, but there is a more immediate problem. If there were to be—God forbid—a yes vote for Scottish independence in September, the whole basis of our future government could be affected by people who will spend only a few months in this House. The question is—and I suspect that Plaid Cymru Members will sympathise, and perhaps even Members from other parties—whether we could legitimately have an election in May 2015, the outcome of which was decided by people who would not be in this House for very many weeks thereafter. That is an argument—I put it no more strongly than that—for deferring the general election until after those matters have been resolved, which would then bring us into collision with the Welsh Assembly elections, now set for May 2016. Although I do not have too much of a problem with a dual election, we need to consider that that might be an inevitable outcome of a result in favour of independence—albeit unlikely—in Scotland later this year.

I do not intend to say much about double-jobbing, although it is an area of the Bill that I was concerned about until I heard the speech by the right hon. Member for Neath, who compelled us to accept his arguments even though they were at odds with the independent evidence available. As I result, I came to the view that I must be wrong and the Bill must be right. It is a bit rich—and I would say this if the right hon. Gentleman were in his place—for a former Secretary of State, who was partially responsible for the legislation and the problems that he highlighted, to go against the only authoritative independent evidence that is available to us from the Electoral Reform Society and the Electoral

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Commission. To suggest that they are wrong and he is right is taking the House for fools, so I am completely confident that the inclusion of double-jobbing in the Bill is the right approach.

I shall conclude, as I know that other hon. Members wish to round off the evening with a flourish. The tax position is more an area of expertise for my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) than it is for me, but the situation is confused, and it would be further confused if we were to expand—perhaps post boundary reviews and all the elections we have mentioned, and taking into account the evidence provided to the Select Committee on our various visits around the country—the number of Members of the Welsh Assembly. It is an extraordinary suggestion that the Assembly in its current form does not contain sufficient expertise to deal with tax-varying powers, if that is what the Welsh nation wishes. Yet academic after academic, witness after witness, has come to us over the last few months suggesting that that is an inevitable consequence of the passage of the proposal. I think that would cause considerable concern in the minds of the business and voting community in Wales. It would be poor timing to suggest that what Wales needed was more politicians rather than fewer. There are cost and electoral implications and all sorts of economic and social considerations. I very much hope that the Secretary of State or the Minister can reassure us that such an outlandish and inappropriate proposal will not come into effect during our lifetime.

Mr David Jones rose—

Simon Hart: I was going to finish on that point, but I will take an intervention.

Mr Jones: Before my hon. Friend resumes his perch, he will recall that the First Minister indicated that he felt that the Assembly as currently constituted, with 60 Members, could cope comfortably with new powers.

Simon Hart: I thank the Secretary of State for his intervention. The First Minister did, and a number of other canny politicians in the Welsh Assembly also came to that conclusion, but the academic and independent evidence tended to point in a different direction. We used the expression “direction of travel” earlier and there seemed to be a slightly surprising thirst for a larger institution in Cardiff than I was comfortable with. I think the First Minister was just guarding against an unhelpful headline in the Western Mail and was being über-cautious, whereas his academic colleagues who gave evidence to the Committee were a little more forthright.

7.51 pm

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart). He is always badgering us—ha, ha, ha!—about the Welsh Assembly.

This Bill is a missed opportunity. It is a Bill of nothing but smoke and mirrors. For too long—since 1999—we have been running around having no satisfaction with the Assembly. We had the Government of Wales

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Act 2006, which did not settle the constitutional argument. We have had Assembly after Assembly and Welsh Members of Parliament wasting their time talking about constitutional matters. Constitutional navel gazing is okay in the ivory towers of academia, but when the cost of the Silk commission is £1 million, the cost of the Williams report is £155,000 and the cost of the 2011 referendum was £5.89 million, it is time to draw a line. This Bill was our opportunity to do that, but we have had a timid response from a Government who have never, ever secured support in Wales.

Hywel Williams: I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman is talking about constitutional navel gazing when all I have heard from Labour Members is speech after speech about the complexities and even the theology of list membership and constituency membership.

Chris Evans: I can only speak from my own experience. I use the Blackwood high street test when I go to Islwyn. If I walked down that street now and asked people what they thought of the Assembly, unfortunately I would be met with disinterest from most of them. If I talked about the constitutional arguments we have had today or to anybody tuning in today, they would wonder why we were talking about the Wales Bill. They would be more concerned about health, education and transport than debating giving further powers to the Assembly. That is the simple fact.

What we see in this Bill is an anomaly. On the one hand, we see the Government lifting the ban on dual candidacy, yet they are also banning double-jobbing. It seems to me that there is something fundamentally undemocratic about the way the Welsh Assembly operates. If there is a vacancy or a resignation under the first-past-the-post system, there is a by-election. That is correct; that is the model we follow in this place. However, as the Secretary of State for Wales will know, if there is a vacancy or a resignation from the list, people move up one. That is not democratic; there is no looking for a further mandate.

There are serious problems with our electoral system. First, it is difficult to understand. People in Gwent will say to me, “Why are thousands of Labour votes thrown away and I have a Tory”—or someone from the nationalist party—“representing me, but I’ve not voted for them? What is the point in voting Labour in the first-past-the-post system, yet voting Labour in the top-up system but getting no Labour AMs?” That is the situation we have to face and we are not talking about it. When we talk about dual candidacy, I think basic fairness says that in a race of four people, somebody has got to win and somebody has got to lose. Nobody gets the consolation prize of going to the Assembly.

The most damning case against dual candidacy appears in the impact assessment, which says:

“The Government of Wales Act 2006 modified the original devolution settlement to ban candidates at an Assembly election standing simultaneously in both a constituency and on a regional list. This provision has been considered unfair on smaller parties in Wales who may have a smaller pool of high quality candidates to represent them in elections.”

What the impact assessment is saying is that smaller parties in Wales, such as the Liberal Democrats or the nationalists, might not have enough high-quality candidates to stand; therefore, we should relax the rules on dual candidacy.

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I do believe it is right to end double-jobbing. It makes no sense and it does not allow MPs or AMs to represent their constituents effectively. That part of the Bill is right, but the worst thing about the Bill is that we will have to come here again in a couple of years’ time and debate the constitutional settlement. That is turning people off not only the Assembly, but politics in Wales, because all that Wales is dominated by at the moment is constitutional arguments.

And so we come to the great part of the Bill: the devolution of income tax. The Government accepted the Silk commission recommendation that Wales should have the power to vary income tax, subject to a referendum. However, they did not accept the model presented by the Silk commission, which would allow bands to be varied independently. Instead, they would need to be changed in lockstep. If the Government want to commission a report at a cost of £1 million in these economic circumstances, surely they should have included all the Silk recommendations and we could have debated them on the Floor of the House. The devolution of tax-raising powers is not a priority—we can see that in our constituency postbags every week. We need a triple test. We need to talk about the issue of fair funding and a period of assignment to see whether it is in the interests of Wales and the UK to devolve income tax.

We already know that Wales is underfunded to the tune of £300 million, but varying income tax powers will not address the issue of fair funding. Once the power to partially set income tax rates is devolved, the block grant will be reduced by an amount equivalent to the Welsh share of current tax receipts. To accept this power while the block grant underfunds Wales would be irresponsible and lock in underfunding for ever. The Wales Bill does not commit to reform of the Barnett formula either, even though the Secretary of State himself has said that the formula is coming towards the end of its life. Again, that proves that this is only a piecemeal Bill and that we will unfortunately be back here on the Floor of the House, however boring and irritating we find these constitutional debates.

If we are to devolve tax powers, there needs to be further examination by the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to see how that will affect tax rates on both sides of the border. When we talk about jobs and the economy, it is also important to note that they are being created only by private sector businesses. We should therefore be speaking to those businesses and asking how their PAYE and payroll systems would be affected by the devolution of tax, but we are not. When we are varying tax powers, we also have to bear in mind that many more people live close to the Wales-England border and have to cross that border than live close to the Scotland-England border. Nearly half the Welsh population lives within 25 miles of the English border, while 10% of the English population live within 25 miles of the other side. That is 6.3 million in total. In contrast, just 4% of the Scottish population live within 25 miles of the English border.

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Gentleman is quoted in the Daily Post today as saying that Wales should have the same fiscal package as Scotland. Is that his position or is it not?

Chris Evans: Yes, it is.

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The fact that the Welsh border is significantly more densely populated than that of Scotland means that the complexity associated with different tax rates is much greater in Wales, for both employers and employees. Again, however, very little Treasury analysis has been conducted. Members may talk of a Scottish model, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) did, but I think that more work must be done. We must have a report. We must know the facts and figures before we proceed further. We must seek a fair system for the whole of the United Kingdom. We cannot allow tax powers in Wales to be different from those in Scotland and England. The one thing that we have to realise is that, for all our constitutional debates, there is not an economic border on the Bristol channel, or to the north-west on Offa’s dyke. Business does not operate in that way. Business will go where business costs are lower.

Glyn Davies: The hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting speech. However, I should like him to clarify one point. On the one hand he tells us that he supports the Labour proposition that the Welsh Assembly should be given the same fiscal powers as Scotland and, on the other, he seems to be arguing the complete opposite. Which is it to be?

Chris Evans: Perhaps, when I was in full flow, the hon. Gentleman missed the point that I was making. I believe that, before we proceed, there must be a report—an impact assessment, giving facts and figures—on what will happen if we devolve tax-raising powers. That is the way in which business works. An impact assessment is the most effective and efficient way of putting the facts across.

I have spoken for a long time, but let me finally say something about borrowing powers and the devolution of minor taxes. Like many members of my party, including the First Minister, I have called for more borrowing powers. The Welsh budget has been cut by 10% during the current Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly’s capital budget has been reduced by nearly a third. I therefore welcome the borrowing powers in the Bill. As was agreed in intergovernmental talks last year, initial borrowing will be available before the devolution of minor taxes in order to finance improvements to the M4, and those of us who have to travel up the M4 every week will welcome those improvements. The amount must be agreed between the Welsh Assembly and the United Kingdom Government.

Borrowing powers linked to the minor taxes when they are devolved will be limited to £500 million for current spending and £500 million for capital projects. I hope that that will be looked at. If, or when, income tax is devolved, the borrowing limit will increase to £1 billion. If the Government underwrite that, it can be arranged now. The devolution of stamp duty and landfill tax will give the Assembly an independent revenue stream worth about £200 million a year, and it will be interesting to see how that money is spent. However, those taxes will not be devolved until April 2018, three years into the next Parliament.

I believe that we could have had a wide-ranging debate about the devolution settlement, not only in Wales but in this country, but the Government have been timid in their response to the Silk commission, and we are now faced with the inconvenience of having to

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revisit the Bill. I fear that, instead of talking about the bread-and-butter issues that affect my constituents, we are once more boring them silly with talk of constitutional matters and constitutional reform, which simply switches people off. I support the Bill, but I believe that there is more work to be done on it, and I hope that it will be improved by amendments tabled in Committee.

8.3 pm

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): It is a privilege to be called to speak in the debate. I was going to say that it was a privilege to be called at an early stage, but it has been a lengthy debate, and we may be here for much longer still. I do not think that the remark made by the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) about the debate drawing to a close is quite appropriate yet. In any event, I am delighted to have an opportunity to reiterate Liberal Democrat support for the Bill, which represents another important milestone in the process of devolution. I pay tribute to the initiatives taken by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), a former Secretary of State for Wales—although she is not in the Chamber at present—and by the present Secretary of State.

At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) described the Bill as a ragbag and a compromise. Of course it is a compromise in part, because two political parties—the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats—have been working together. That compromise, if it was one, appeared in the coalition document, in which we spoke of delivering the referendum that was a leftover from the previous Labour Government. We also spoke of establishing the Silk commission and enabling it to deliberate, and we spoke of introducing legislation. On all three counts, the coalition Government have delivered what we said we would deliver immediately after the last general election.

I think that it would be a huge lost opportunity if the National Assembly Government did not take advantage of the powers that the Bill provides. Based on the recommendations of the Silk commission, it follows on from the work of Lord Richard, Gerry Holtham and the All Wales Convention, and devolution in Wales has been thoroughly and forensically tested through their reports. The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) spoke of the need for a report and the need for more detail, but we have spent the last 10 years constructing the case for fiscal devolution and the devolution of powers. The evidence base is there, which is why the Government are introducing the Bill. It takes us further along the devolution journey to the end of the road—a place where, I believe, we shall have a steady and strong constitutional settlement that will be good for Wales and for the United Kingdom as a whole.

Party politics aside, I think it important to remember that all the great steps forward in devolution have been made when progressive forces in all parties have come together. The referendums of 1997 and 2011 came about because parties worked together in constituencies to promote the cause. As the Secretary of State said, the Conservative party is committed to a referendum if given the opportunity, and I should be pleased to share a platform with him to illustrate the consensus that exists on the issue.

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As was said earlier, the success of Silk part I—and, indeed, part II—has been the consensus that was arrived at between all four parties. The contributions of Sue Essex and, more recently, Jane Davidson, along with Rob Humphries from my party, Nick—now Lord—Bourne, Dr Eurfyl ap Gwilym and the other commissioners have been huge, and the outcomes have been achieved on the basis of consensus. Long may that continue—although I am not entirely hopeful, having endured four hours of this debate.

Those of us who embrace localism believe that the key argument for the Bill is about promoting accountable devolution, and establishing a renewed sense of the legitimacy of the Assembly and its Government. I do not deny the legitimacy of any elected Assembly Member—that is a key principle—but I will sometimes deny Assembly Members the capacity to justify their decisions on the basis of the financial decisions of others. The accountability argument is compelling: a Government who spend money but have no responsibility for raising it cannot make their voters bear the full burden of their decisions. That seems to me a very clear and straightforward principle.

I believe that the conspiracy theory that we have heard from Labour Members has no place in the debate. I am sad that the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) is not present. When we were sitting, as we often do, in the Welsh Affairs Committee, I thought that the conspiracy theory was limited to him, but it seems to be remarkably infectious among Labour Members. I think that the principle is clear: if we want our Government to be legitimate, we must link the decisions that are made with the money that is raised.

As the hon. Member—my hon. Friend the Member—for Arfon (Hywel Williams) pointed out, that logic causes my view to diverge slightly from those of some of my hon. Friends when it comes to the issue of the lockstep; but that is a debate to be had in Committee. Perhaps the parameters of devolution in my mind are a little broader than those in the minds of some Government Members, but I do not believe that anything that I have heard from Opposition Members, or anything that we discussed in the Select Committee, should deviate from support for the Bill this evening and in the future. I simply want the Government in Cardiff to have the tools to do the job—to have their hands on the economic levers—which inevitably means the release of borrowing, for instance. This Wales Bill gives the Welsh Government additional tools to grow the Welsh economy and help Wales compete in the global race and create a stronger economy.

I have always considered Paul Silk’s work to be a package, which is how he has described it in one or two briefings to Members of Parliament. I am glad that most of the recommendations have been adopted by the Government, although they have not been adopted in their entirety and there have been allegations of cherry-picking. I also respect what he said about the need for a referendum, and I respect the point made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about how the referendum question on fiscal responsibility was presented to the Scottish people. I just express a slight fear and concern about referendum fatigue. We had the initial referendum in 1997, and we had the referendum in 2011, mercifully scrapping the dreaded legislative competence order process. There were Members who are now on the Opposition Benches who told us that the

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LCO process would be written on a tablet of stone and would be there for generations. In 2011, we got rid of that, which was one of the worst kinds of sticking-plaster solutions to devolution.

There is the prospect of more referendums after this one, however. Some of us subscribe to the reserved powers model, and some of us very much hope our party manifestos will be strong on Silk part II recommendations, but the pressure will be on for another referendum, and I just express the concern about referendum fatigue. I am not going to be charged with creating the wording of this referendum question, but it would be much better if those varying issues of critical importance to Wales could be bound together in one general question.

Susan Elan Jones: I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying about referendums. I well remember the referendum in, I think, February 2011—it was certainly cold enough. Having been told by rather a lot of people in north-east Wales that north-east Wales would vote no, it strengthened the process in terms of full law-making powers that north-east Wales voted very conclusively yes. I think sometimes referendums can do that.

Mr Williams: I share that sentiment and referendums can also lead to people in different parties working together to make a compelling case. We would all applaud that, and I think even the good people of Monmouthshire voted yes?

David T. C. Davies: No.

Mr Williams: Sorry, not quite, but the vote was much better than before. I think there was a bit of a swing of opinion. We certainly welcome the fact that people along the borders voted in bigger numbers for this, although I stand corrected. I am still slightly shocked by the glowing appraisal my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) gave of Liberal Democrat policy on federalism; he commended us on that. However, I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones).

Mr David Jones: It would appear that my hon. Friend’s sole, or at least principal, concern about the Bill is the issue of the referendum, but does he agree that when we are talking about whether Wales should have a different tax basis from the rest of the country, that is something that concerns every resident of Wales and people should have their say on that?

Mr Williams: I do agree with that. I should, perhaps, make it clear that I was warning about referendum fatigue in the future. I have signed up to the Silk package and he has made that recommendation very clearly, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We must be very mindful of that fatigue in the future, however.

The hon. Member for Islwyn talked about the Blackwood high street survey that he unofficially—or maybe officially—makes when he is back in his constituency. He said that nobody raises these issues. I would just say that there is a case to be made in respect of our business community. People come to talk to me about business rates and the lack of clarity on responsibility over business rates, and there is a case for fully devolving

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them to the National Assembly. Over the past nine years I have dealt with many cases involving this subject. I can think of many constituents who have come to me struggling with issues about where responsibility lies. Therefore, I am particularly pleased that decisions will, because of this Bill, be made closer to Wales and that rates can be more responsive to the needs of Welsh businesses.

The Federation of Small Businesses in Wales agrees that businesses in Wales are facing the most onerous business rates of any constituent nation of the UK. We do not have many options available to us, such as using different multipliers for different-sized firms, and it hits our small businesses hard. Small businesses are the backbone of the Welsh, and particularly the Ceredigion, economy.

The Select Committee addressed that issue. Now that the Government have made their position on it clear, I would like to know how they intend to take forward their policy on devolving business rates completely. We need a clear settlement of business rates, which gives politicians the incentive to be creative on business rate policy and to be accountable for it.

I am also pleased about the Government’s views on the full devolution of stamp duty and landfill tax. It is true that those taxes are not massive generators of revenue; they generate about £200 million a year out of an overall budget of £15 billion, which is 0.3%. However, I welcome the fact that stamp duty and landfill tax could be used to encourage inward investment and business generation in Wales, providing a much needed boost to the economy.

Moving on to the key issue of borrowing powers, the Select Committee urged in our pre-legislative scrutiny report that by the time of the publication of the Bill the Government should have set out how they decided the limits of the £500 million current account and the £500 million for capital account borrowing. That was an incredibly worthwhile report, and I think that the Government should acknowledge that there is a need for pre-legislative scrutiny of all Bills of this nature. Comparing the lobbying and transparency Bill with this Bill, the work we have undertaken on the Select Committee will serve the process very well. I remember that the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Kirsty Williams, came before the Select Committee and made the comparison between the settlement for Scotland and the settlement for Wales.

We also talked about, and sought clarification on, the issue of bonds, and I am encouraged that the Government seem willing to consider further whether it might be appropriate for the Welsh Government to issue bonds alongside the other measures.

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Gentleman is reading out a range of measures included in the Bill, which were included in Silk. One measure that was in Silk that was not included in the Bill is the devolution of airport duty tax. How disappointed is he that that has not been included, especially considering that our airport is now owned by the people of Wales?

Mr Williams: I know the hon. Gentleman has worked vigorously on this issue. I think that argument is very much in flux. I think there is some way for the hon. Gentleman to convince us that that needs to be included,

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although I appreciate what he says about Silk being clear on that and the Government having taken a different view.

Many local bodies can issue bonds, such as local housing associations, and, to reference Scotland again, the Scotland Act 2012 allows for the UK Government to devolve bond-issuing powers without any further primary legislation. I believe that there should be parity.

On the subject of borrowing, above all else I think it would be very strange if a national Parliament did not have the borrowing powers enjoyed by the most menial of local authorities. The capacity to do that is important, but important though the question of borrowing is—in particular for the work that needs to be undertaken around Newport and the M4—we should not kid ourselves that borrowing is the sole panacea that will lead to stimulation of the economy. Borrowing ultimately means paying back, with interest. Successful borrowing will be dependent on the competence of the Government doing the borrowing, and it will not solve all the problems.

As I said earlier, we should be striving for a reserved powers model for Wales, rather than facing the spectre of holding a referendum each time a section of policy is handed down from Westminster on a piecemeal basis. That is not to understate the huge strides forward that we have made in the Bill, however. I commend the Secretary of State and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) for everything they have done to ensure that this issue has been pursued to this point. For a Liberal in Government, this represents a proud moment. There will be an even prouder moment when we have the opportunity to put the Bill on to the statute book.

As I have said, the work of Silk has been a consensual process, with parties from all sides working towards an effective and beneficial devolution process for Wales. I sincerely hope—although I am not totally hopeful—that as we all play our part in passing the Bill through Parliament, the level of consensus that we achieved at the beginning of the process will be resurrected. I do not know what the weather was like in Llandudno at the weekend—it was sunny and clear on the west Wales coast—but it strikes me that a haze might have descended on the town. There is clarity on the Liberal Democrat Benches, and clarity among our Friends on the nationalist Benches, but I have to say that there is deep fog on the other side.

8.21 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to participate in the debate. When this matter was last discussed in the Welsh Grand Committee, I was the Chair of the Committee, so I had to remain impartial. I listened to a lot of the arguments, however, and this is my opportunity to express my views on the Bill and the devolution settlement.

I am a proud devolutionist, and I am proud of my party’s record on devolution. That process did not begin with the setting up of the National Assembly for Wales. One of my predecessors, the late Cledwyn Hughes, was one of the architects of devolution. He was the second Secretary of State for Wales after Jim Griffiths, but before Labour came into Government in 1964 he worked in opposition to establish the first Welsh Office

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and to devolve powers and responsibilities. Democratic devolution then came into being with the setting up of the National Assembly.

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), and I agree with a lot of what he said. He asked about the weather in Llandudno. It has not been widely reported that unity broke out among members of the Labour party in Llandudno. Whether he perceived clarity or not, we certainly had an excellent conference, with unified speeches from the leader of the Labour party in Wales—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) seems to disagree with me on that. I do not think he was there, although I am sure he takes a great deal of interest in the matter.

At our conference, we saw a First Minister and a future Prime Minister agreeing on huge policy issues, including reserved powers. That was radical, and in the tradition of Labour pro-devolutionism. It was an excellent conference, and coming after the Plaid Cymru conference, it is not difficult to compare a good one with a car crash. We heard that Plaid Cymru members had fallen out over issues such as what constituted Welshness. By contrast, we were talking about the economy and the constitutional measures that a Labour Government would introduce, so if the hon. Member for Ceredigion wants reserved powers, I suggest that he tell the good people of Ceredigion to vote Labour. A Labour Government would deliver that. We would deliver on our promise, just as we delivered on our promise to establish a National Assembly for Wales.

The Secretary of State for Wales and I go back a long way politically. When we were debating the setting up of the National Assembly for Wales, we were on different sides of the argument, and I remember that we were on a panel with Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas. Of the three of us, only two agreed with devolution; the third did not. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has now progressed in the right direction, however.

Jonathan Edwards: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the First Minister now supports the lockstep proposals of the UK Government, which the shadow Secretary of State advocated earlier? That is not what the First Minister has been telling the people of Wales for the past three or four months.

Albert Owen: The shadow Secretary of State set out the Labour party’s position in Llandudno on Sunday, and that is the position that we will proudly put to the electorate in a forthcoming election. I understand that Plaid Cymru does not support devolution per se; it supports it as a vehicle for independence. That is the difference between us. Yes, we have grown-up conversations in Wales, but the people of Wales elect more Labour representatives than Plaid Cymru representatives. Plaid Cymru is the “party of Wales” in name only. Yes, the Labour party has differences of opinion within it—any modern democratic party does—but we now have a clear position, following our conference, and I hope that we will go on to get a majority Government in this place so that we can change the laws to best reflect the views of the people of Wales.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) to an extent. Whether we like it or not, the people of Wales are not that interested in Silk; they

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are not that interested in constitutional issues. I and many others have supported devolution for many years, but I understand that not everyone is interested in it. Politics is the art of the possible. I would have liked an Assembly to be established in 1979, but the proposal was defeated convincingly by the people of Wales. I would have liked to see a stronger Assembly in 1997, but I was far more pragmatic and mature by then, and I realised that we pro-devolutionists needed to compromise in order to get the measure through.

I do not accept what the hon. Member for Ceredigion said about referendum fatigue. It is fundamentally important, when we are proposing major constitutional changes such as the setting up of new bodies in Scotland, Wales and other parts, including London, that we should have a referendum. Equally, it is right to hold a referendum when we are proposing to give more law-making powers to the National Assembly for Wales. We should also have one to decide the changes on taxation. I would have liked to see those powers established in 1997, but I know that we would have lost the referendum if we had proposed them at the time.

Mr Mark Williams: The clear case for a referendum on this issue was made in the Silk report. How many referendums does the hon. Gentleman envisage us having to endure as we head along the devolution road?

Albert Owen: I tried to answer that question earlier when I said that a referendum should be held when we are proposing a huge political or constitutional change. These taxation measures constitute such a change, as did the devolution of law-making powers and the setting up of the Assembly itself. When it comes to significant constitutional changes, I believe in trusting the people. I did disagree with the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) when he said, “We’ll just take the recommendations of a commission.” We are a democratic body; we are elected Members of Parliament; we represent people and communities, and we are here to represent their views. Again, I think Plaid Cymru has been caught out slightly, because it is saying, “We want all the bits of the Silk commission, but we do not want the referendum.” Either you want it all or you do not want it all—it is pretty simple.

Jonathan Edwards: Surely the powers cannot be used on the lockstep. That is Labour’s position: those bands cannot be varied because of the lockstep. The referendum should therefore be on the need to remove the lockstep to allow the bands to be varied. Surely that should be the basis of the referendum; it should not be a referendum on devolving the lockstep.

Albert Owen: That is the hon. Gentleman’s position. I have made my position clear: when there are major changes on taxation, there should be a referendum. I am therefore supporting that measure in the Bill. We would lose most of the people of Carmarthen and Ynys Môn if we started talking about the lockstep. The serious problem we have is that when we eventually go to the people of Wales on a taxation referendum, we have to boil it down—[Interruption.] If he stops chuntering from a sedentary position, I will try to give an answer on a simple question that we understand in the first place. The beauty of a referendum is that we need to boil things down. The question as it is

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framed now would not be easy, which is what we have to work towards. That is where I am coming from on this issue.

It is very logical that the Bill proposes borrowing powers for the National Assembly for Wales. The hon. Member for Ceredigion talked about the abilities of community councils and town councils to borrow in a way that the Assembly cannot, so this is a natural progression. Many things such as stamp duty and landfill tax can produce the revenue streams to help with that borrowing. It is eminently sensible that that happens.

I repeat that we need to consult the people of Wales and have a referendum on the income tax issues in the Bill, so I support that approach. Not having those things would be out of sync with what we have done in the past, when we set up the Assembly and when we had a referendum on increasing its law-making powers. I supported both those referendums and I would support this one, too, but we have to get it right. I am as confused as anybody who has spoken in this debate about exactly what we are going to be telling the people of Wales. I know this is only a Second Reading and it is right that we debate these issues, but in Committee—that is the place to do it—we shall deal with the nitty-gritty of what the taxation actually means. The figures produced in the explanatory notes and in the Government’s various Command Papers are not easy to digest, so we need to have that scrutiny, which this House of Commons does best, before we finalise things.

There has been much debate about the position outlined by my Front-Bench team, and on that I agree slightly with the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards); those details need fleshing out just as much as any others. The purpose of parliamentary democracy is to have that debate and that parliamentary scrutiny, so that is the way we need to move forward. I have been consistent on the referendums issue, and I believe we must have a referendum if we are to move to being able to vary income tax powers or whatever the end result is of this Bill going through both Houses of Parliament.

I wish to discuss the electoral arrangements, as I am slightly confused as to why these provisions have been bolted on to this financial measure, other than to suit a deal done between the coalition parties and Plaid Cymru to try to get the Bill through. We have heard about the Government of Wales Acts. I supported doing away with the dual candidacy because I thought it was unfair and undemocratic that a person who stands for election in a seat and loses, often comfortably, can then arrive in that democratic institution through another means—that is fundamentally wrong.

When we had a debate in this House some time ago—I cannot cite the Hansard reference—the Under-Secretary told us about the consultation exercise, when people were in favour of keeping the ban on dual mandates.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb) rose—

Albert Owen: I am happy to take an intervention if the hon. Gentleman wishes to be helpful.

Stephen Crabb: I am glad the hon. Gentleman will take an intervention on that. He will be as aware as anybody that a significant number of the people responding

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to that consultation saying they were in favour of the ban were Labour Welsh Assembly Members.

Albert Owen: I do not know who the people were. The hon. Gentleman may well be right, but Labour is obviously the biggest party in Wales and has a strong voice there, unlike some other parties. It was a consultation exercise—[Interruption.] I am getting chuntering remarks from the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr again, but perhaps Plaid Cymru should also have had enough intelligence to do standard letters to put its view across in this open consultation. The point I am making is that this coalition proposal, supported by Plaid Cyrmru, is on the wrong side of the argument. These parties are doing it for their own political reasons. Nobody has said to me, “Wasn’t it terrible what you did in 2006 when you banned the dual mandate?” Nobody has raised the issue and it is right to leave things as they are. I shall be voting against the measure when the time comes, for the reasons I have given.

Individuals have been mentioned, which is wrong, but I must mention the leader of Plaid Cymru who, when she was elected, made a bold statement that she was not going to stand on the list. She made the brave decision to go before the electorate as an individual and leader of her party. She chose the seat for Rhondda, which she had every right to do, but now she has the jitters. She no longer feels secure in her statement, so she wants the lifeboat of a list place to get her into the Assembly for Wales; that is what this is all about. That is why I point to a deal being done. I smell a dirty deal here between the coalition parties and Plaid Cymru.

Mr David Jones: I have to say that the hon. Gentleman has raised a red herring there. I assure him that there has been absolutely no deal with Plaid Cymru. He knows me well enough to know that of all the parties in this House, Plaid Cymru is probably the last one I would ever do a deal with.

Albert Owen: I will take the Secretary of State’s word on that, but he is pandering to its views and helping it out. I certainly will not be doing that when it comes to voting on this Bill.

There are lots of things in this Bill that I do support. I have mentioned some already including the borrowing powers, the landfill tax and the stamp duty measures. I will support the Bill on Second Reading if there is a Division, but I will be working with Members from across the House to scrutinise it so that we get to a position where it is sellable to the people of Wales in a referendum, because I am, first and foremost, a democrat and a devolutionist, and a proud one too.

8.36 pm

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I will be brief, as most of what I had intended to say has already been said, and said quite eloquently. It is important to touch on some of the arguments that have been made today.

Let me start with the issue of double-jobbing. We have had a degree of confusion from the Opposition Benches over the issue of whether or not a list Member can stand in a constituency. Such confusion ill becomes

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this Chamber, because the argument we have heard is basically one against the d’Hondt system of electing Members to any Assembly, which is one with which I have some sympathy. The decision to choose that system was taken by the Labour Government, by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) who is no longer in his place. It is odd to argue that that system is being used in a way that allows people to stand in individual constituencies and on the list in almost every single country that operates it apart from Ukraine and Wales. It is difficult to argue that Wales should be following the lead from Ukraine rather than from any other democratic country in Europe.

That argument is a red herring, and it is undoubtedly the case that the gerrymandering happened in 2006 when the ban came into place. If Opposition Members, who have given us a number of anecdotal stories about the issue, were to go to mid-Wales, they would hear plenty of people talking about the loss they felt when my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) failed to be returned to the Assembly, because of the change in the legislation by the Labour party. He was a fine Assembly Member, and would have continued to be so if it were not for the gerrymandering of the system. It is clear that this Bill aims to address that matter, and it addresses it in a way that represents the views of the civic society and three of the political parties in Wales. It is a shame that the parochial and partisan nature of the Opposition means that they cannot support this much-needed change.

It is also important to point out that I sympathise with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is no longer in his seat, in relation to the issue of five-year terms. As a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I have supported the recommendation as it stands, but I have some reservations. It is not necessarily the case that I am opposed to an extension to five years to the Assembly term; it is more that I have reservations about taking a five-year term as a norm. I would be fairly relaxed if we decided to move to four-year terms in Westminster and the Assembly.

I fully accept that the argument for a five-year term for the Assembly is to ensure that the two elections do not clash, but I have reservations about whether five years is, in any way, shape or form, better than four. As things stand, the intention of the legislation is to ensure that Assembly elections can be held separately from Westminster elections, which is something that I support. However, I also agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda that we always seem to extend terms rather than reduce them, which is a shame.

Let me turn to the issues of importance in the Bill. My personal view is that the key issue is financial and fiscal accountability. We can talk about all the elements of the legislation, but in truth we are considering an attempt to ensure that the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly are accountable for fiscal decisions made in Wales. It is here that we see the confusion in the Opposition’s argument.

Yes, it certainly was a sunny Saturday in Llandudno. As I did not want to impose myself on the Welsh Labour party conference, I was personally in Llanfairfechan, where the weather was also suitably good. However, we should reflect on the confusion that came out of the Welsh Labour conference. When I argued in not one but

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two Welsh Grand Committees for the concept of fiscal accountability, I was informed in fairly robust terms by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) that the Welsh Assembly did not need any further accountability. Indeed, I can quote the hon. Gentleman, who is no longer in his seat, directly:

“I have just made the point that I do not believe for a moment that having additional responsibility for tax-varying powers would confer any extra degree of accountability on the Welsh people.”—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 5 February 2014; c. 18.]

I am delighted to see that he has just returned to his seat. He made those comments on 5 February, yet at the conference on Sunday we had his new Llandudno declaration. Clearly, a road to Damascus conversion occurred somewhere along the A470 between Pontypridd and Llandudno.

Albert Owen: It will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that we are a democratic party and our conferences are the places where we make such decisions as a democratic body. I know that he has been a member of other parties, but that is the position of the Labour party. If he wants clarification, perhaps he should ask questions rather than giving opinions.

Guto Bebb: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am sure that the Labour party is a democratic institution; it also believes strongly in the hereditary principle, as we have found out from Aberavon.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd made a clear statement in the Welsh Grand Committee on 5 February that there was no need for fiscal devolution for the Welsh Government to have any further accountability, yet in his speech in Llandudno on Sunday he clearly made the point that the further devolution of income tax varying powers so that they were on a par with those in Scotland was necessary to give that accountability.

Mr David Jones: I think I ought to tell my hon. Friend that I ventured into Llandudno on Saturday and it was reasonably quiet there. Does he not get the impression, as I do, that far from its being a damascene conversion on the part of the shadow Secretary of State, it is more likely that he has been leaned on by his bosses in London and Cardiff?

Guto Bebb: I would not want to offer an opinion on whether the hon. Gentleman has been leaned on or not. There is clearly a significant difference between the comments made in the Welsh Grand Committee on 5 February and the speech delivered in my constituency on Sunday and those differences need to be reflected on, because ultimately I agree with the speech that he made on Sunday. There is clearly a need for fiscal accountability for the Welsh Government. If we are to have grown-up politics in Cardiff Bay, it is important that decisions about spending and raising money should be taken by the elected politicians there. It is a step in the right direction to have a proposal in the Bill that will allow the Assembly, if it so desires, to trigger a referendum to allow a degree of control over income tax to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff. That is the key point about this legislation, which attempts to work with the grain of Welsh public opinion. The income tax variation is not being imposed on Wales; the Welsh Government, or the Welsh Assembly for that matter, are being allowed the ability to ask for those powers

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and trigger a referendum. The challenge for the Welsh Government will be to ask themselves whether to trigger that referendum or not.

Let me make a brief final point about the tax accountability issue, as I am aware that the debate has gone on for quite a while. The Select Committee had a significant and long discussion about whether we needed a lockstep or not. As some Opposition Members may wish to remind me, we had that debate in the Welsh Conservative party too. My own view is that the lockstep is something I can comfortably live with. The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) made an interesting point on the arguments about whether the progressive nature of our tax system would be affected by the lockstep. He argued about whether, if we increased taxes by a penny on the standard rate and a penny on the 40p rate, we would make the system less progressive. The reverse argument can be put. For example, if we reduced the standard rate by 2p and the 40p tax rate by 2p, that would in effect be more progressive because it would give a 10% cut to the standard rate taxpayer and a 5% cut to the 40% taxpayer. As a Welsh Conservative who believes in lower taxes, I am confident that those powers will be necessary to reduce taxes in Wales. If we reduce taxes using the lockstep, the result will be a more, rather than a less, progressive system. The principle of fiscal accountability justifies the imposition of the lockstep at this point in time. As such, I am happy to support the Bill as it stands.

8.45 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb). It is interesting that he should mention Ukraine at a time when Victor Yanukovych is recommending referendums across Ukraine for more autonomy for its regions.

The Bill is, at best, a pig’s breakfast, but when there is nothing else on the table I guess that the parties will coalesce around it. To be fair, one reason why it is a pig’s breakfast is that the constitutional settlement across the United Kingdom is diverse. The settlements in Northern Ireland, London and Wales—

David T. C. Davies rose—

Geraint Davies: I am coming to Monmouth in a moment—and Scotland are very different. It is worth bearing in mind that it might not be timely to make concrete decisions when we do not know the verdict of the Scottish people on becoming independent. We do not know whether that decision will gather pace for the devolutionary process in Wales.

David T. C. Davies: I just wondered whether the hon. Gentleman could clarify whether the Bill is a dog’s breakfast or a pig’s ear. I have never heard of a pig’s breakfast before.

Geraint Davies: It is a new constitutional phenomenon that I have just introduced. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will delight in it, being a person who indulges in that sort of thing.

If I may reference Scotland for a moment, rational and emotional powers are at play. There are people who thought that Scottish independence was going to go

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down the tube because of currency, the EU and inward investment, but now, of course, the wind is blowing in a different direction. The people of Scotland feel that they are being told that they cannot live without us and there are the emotions of divorce, so there is a mixture of rational economic argument and emotion. The feeling in Wales is that, rather than facing years and years of Tory austerity, we want to decide our own thing. The reality is that if Scotland leaves the UK we will end up with more Conservative Governments, because of the residual demography, and that will change the appetite for devolution.

Plaid Cymru would obviously like Wales to go down the road of independence and it sees this as a stepping stone. It talks about fair deals and fair funding for Wales even in the knowledge—this is an important point on what is behind the Tory agenda, too—that the difference between taxes raised versus expenditure in Wales is about £15 billion. The Conservative plot is to reduce the number of Welsh MPs, give borrowing and tax raising powers to Wales and forget about giving Wales its fair share of both revenue and capital. In the case of Scotland, the difference, coincidently, is also about £15 billion, but it currently makes up that difference in oil.

We therefore have a situation where it is convenient for everybody to go along this path, but the people of Wales want fair funding now. What that means in relation to the Barnett formula, as has been mentioned, is an extra £300 million a year. Wales should have the same needs-based formula as the English regions. It is not difficult to work that out, so that should just move forward.

With regard to capital, like other parts of Britain outside London and the south-east, Wales gets a small fraction of the investment per head that London gets—London gets about £5,000 per head and Wales gets about £500 per head. That is a problem for everyone outside London. If we migrated some of that investment outside London, we could put pressure on the system to make it more balanced. Britain is quite unusual in that respect. In Germany, for example, Berlin does not dominate Munich or Dusseldorf, so there is no necessity for that balancing.

If the response in Wales is, “Well, we are not getting enough money to do our own thing, so we will have to borrow it,” who will pay for that borrowing? That is the real fear, because there is no money on the table for that. Then there is the false analysis that the borrowing needs to be hypothecated against an income stream from income tax or other taxes, and that the amount of borrowing should be determined by the size of those streams. Frankly, that is just false. It is not the case that in order to justify more borrowing we need more income tax devolution. It is the case that the amount of money Wales will get in future, as the Secretary of State argues, will be broadly the same; it will not be distorted by this method.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) and I fear that we will end up with less money over time because the tax take per penny of income tax is 70% of what it is in England. If we assume for a moment that the global amount of money remains the same, then where does the extra money for paying back the borrowing

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come from? Well, it comes from nowhere. The reality is that the money would be paid back by top-slicing revenue, which means top-slicing the amount of money for services. That is what will happen if Wales does not get its fair share of UK funding.

We have already seen the signs and symptoms of the stealthy stranglehold that the Tories want to put on Wales, with the recent U-turns on the valleys lines. All of a sudden we hear, “Here you are. You can borrow some money.” A moment ago there was going to be electrification from Paddington to Cardiff and then through to Swansea, including the valleys, but all of a sudden we are told, “Well, the small print states that the Welsh Assembly has to do that, and it can do that by borrowing.” In fact, the commitment to go through to Swansea is not even fulfilled. The Government said that they would electrify the line from Paddington to Cardiff and then from Bridgend to Swansea, but they will not do the bit in the middle. If the Welsh Assembly Government say that they will not do that because they have another priority, which they might have, as is their right, we will have a bit in the middle that is not electrified, and that is not electrification through to Swansea, so the Government have broken their word.

Albert Owen: I am a little confused by my hon. Friend’s terminology, because he talks about small print. I do not see any small print. The Prime Minister made a statement to the BBC in which he said that he would pay for electrification to Swansea and the valleys. That was in his statement, not in any small print.

Geraint Davies: Perhaps I have been misinterpreted. There was no small print. There was a big announcement, as my hon. Friend has just said, by the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and others. The small print I was referring to was the weasel words in the long-winded document that was exchanged between Ministers, which presumably changed the headline proposition. It had been, “We will provide this,” and then the Minister argued, “When we went through it all I found here on page 23 that it says that actually it is interpreted in this way, so according to our lawyers the Welsh Government will have to do that.” That is not what we heard on the radio.

Mr David Jones: The hon. Gentleman will know that there was a letter, signed by Carl Sargeant, the relevant Welsh Minister, confirming that there was an agreement. Is that small print?

Geraint Davies: The Prime Minister said that the UK Government would pay for the electrification of the railway lines, which are essentially UK infrastructure. I think that it is disgraceful, frankly, that while £52 billion is to be spent on HS2, the Secretary of State will not even fight for that extra bit of money for Wales. We desperately need it. He should resign.

Owen Smith: I just want to clarify for the House that the Prime Minister said:

“It’s this government”—

I presume he means Her Majesty’s Government—

“that’s putting the money into the electrification of the railway line all the way up to Swansea and, of course, the valley lines.”

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Geraint Davies: Which valleys was he talking about?

The Secretary of State, in concluding his lamentable speech, said that this bit of legislation would make Wales more competitive, fairer and more accountable and that it would deliver economic growth. If I believed that, I would support the Bill wholeheartedly, rather than in a lukewarm fashion. What is really involved is a “Wonga economics” trick—“You can borrow all this money. Don’t worry, it’ll be all right. You can spend it on the railways and roads. Spend some more and we’ll give you some more and if you tax more you can have more,” and all that. Globally, however, there will not be any more; the money has to be paid back. There will be less overall revenue for core services such as health and education.

Members will be glad to hear that I will not speak for much longer, as people want to wind up the debate, but I want to say that the whole essence of devolving income tax is about competition and confusion. Labour Front Benchers have said that we do not want a competition, and I think it intrinsically wrong to generate more and more different sorts of tax competition across the United Kingdom. It is not healthy and it generates confusion for inward investors. It is not something that we want.

I mentioned the smaller taxes such as stamp duty, which are seen as peripheral and unimportant. However, Boris Johnson has jumped on his hind legs and started squawking that he now wants stamp duty on the back of what we are having in Wales. He wants £1.3 billion. The issue is undermining the national accounts of the United Kingdom. It is no longer about small fry and throwing crumbs to Wales; it is distorting the stability of public economics in Britain, and we need to think about that carefully.

One problem has been that the Silk commission was made up of people who know about the Welsh Assembly and have been inside the system; they were talking to each other and to small groups of people in cold church halls. Questions that were not asked or answered include, “What will happen in a few years’ time if London or Yorkshire wants this? What will it look like?” Some people mentioned cross-border health and education; we can add cross-border tax differences to that. Will such things be a help or hindrance to the people of Wales? There is by no means a clear answer.

The Tories are not generating a regionally balanced economic growth perspective; the majority of economic growth is funded by mortgages and consumer debt in London and we are again seeing the emergence of a twin-track economy. Where will the devolution of different taxes at different rates to different parts of the UK end up, when greedy London wants more than its fair share, gobbling up the core of the resources for Britain as a whole?

Wales is increasingly being pushed into being decoupled from the speed boat of London, which will zoom away. We need to have our fair share of economic stimulus and investment and to a large extent what I have been discussing is a decoy from the real matter at hand, which is to get the right money for Wales now before we talk about the intricacies of tax devolution.

8.58 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): We have had a good discussion on the Wales Bill, and a wide range of views have been expressed. We will broadly support the Bill,

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although we will table amendments in Committee. I put on the record straight off that we disagree with the clause on dual candidacy.

We heard from the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), a former Secretary of State for Wales. She welcomed the Bill and the cross-party participation on the Silk commission. However, she was the only person who regretted that the Bill did not include a clause to reduce the number of MPs in Wales and she felt strongly that there should be no reform of the Barnett formula until the deficit had been brought down—quite what she meant by that, we are not absolutely sure.

The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), in characteristic form, told us that he saw the Bill as part of a relentless devolution of powers to Wales and likened it to sleepwalking to independence. However, he expressed his support for a federal system. He told us that he would vote and campaign for no in any referendum, although he did rather like the idea of borrowing powers, especially if they led to a relief road for the M4.

We then heard from the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who, when he had finished smearing Labour in Wales, got down to the point—

Mr Harper: I am sorry, but the only comment I made about the NHS in Wales was about mortality statistics, and I was quoting exactly the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). If quoting her is smearing, I plead guilty, but I do not think I was doing that; I was raising legitimate concerns on behalf of my constituents.

Nia Griffith: Indeed. Perhaps I will move on then. The hon. Gentleman also said that he wanted road bridges to be built with money raised from the Severn road bridge; again, we wonder quite where he is going with that one.

Returning to the Bill, the hon. Gentleman raised valid points about the devolution of stamp duty and land being divided, and referred to confusion between people with certain postcodes whereby, for example, somebody with a Newport postcode ends up, in effect, being put in Wales when in fact they are in England. He also mentioned the complexities of payroll for small businesses in the event of devolution of income tax. I think he is really saying that there needs to be a very thorough impact assessment on all these issues, and we would certainly call for that.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) emphasised the benefits of holding elections on separate days to avoid confusion, although not all Members agreed. He reiterated his support for the reserved powers model of devolution whereby the assumption should be that the National Assembly for Wales has powers in the devolved areas of responsibility unless otherwise specified.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) said that it is difficult to find anybody in his patch who is interested in more devolution, so perhaps he spends more time in South Pembrokeshire than in west Carmarthenshire. He agreed with the hon. Member for Monmouth about devolution creep. He also noted his disagreement with the academics who are calling for more Assembly Members.

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The hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) found himself agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—that must be a first—on the idea that if anyone changes the term of a Government, it is always to increase it rather than decrease it, and he was sceptical about the need for an increase to five years.

The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams), speaking on behalf of Plaid Cymru, expressed severe disappointment that the Bill did not fully reflect the Silk commission recommendations. He described the thorough scrutiny of the draft Bill by the Welsh Affairs Committee and explained the potential difficulties in enthusing the electorate about a referendum on tax. He mentioned the Barnett formula and the need for funding reform and told us that Plaid Cymru would table an amendment to allow for devolution of income tax without a referendum.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) reminded us that he is a strong supporter of localism and firmly believes that decisions made should be linked with any money raised. He wants to see a positive impact in terms of working together for a referendum. He compared the very thorough scrutiny of the draft Bill with the complete lack of scrutiny of the transparency of lobbying Bill before it came to this House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) talked about borrowing and expressed concern about the unfairness to Wales in contrast with Scotland, where it is calculated as 10% of capital budget rather than being contingent on the devolution of taxes.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) spoke very eloquently about banning dual candidacy, quoting Lord Richard’s evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee. He reminded the House of the very considerable, bare-faced abuse of the list system and quoted the leaked memorandum from Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru, in which she gives explicit instructions to her party’s list Assembly Members to direct their time and resources—paid for by the taxpayer, Mr Deputy Speaker—to Plaid Cymru’s target seats. He also emphasised the need for shared risk on taxation and making sure that Wales does not in any way miss out if income tax powers are devolved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) expressed disappointment that the Bill falls short of fully reflecting what was in the Silk commission report. He also gave contemporary examples of how the list system is being abused, with list Members neglecting much of their area in order to focus almost exclusively on one part of it, with a view to standing for that constituency—exactly following the advice of the Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, to ignore constituents’ problems and focus solely on what will bring electoral advantage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) reminded us that people have a lot of concerns, and do not have only constitutional issues on their minds. Again, he was concerned about the large number of people living within easy commuting distance of the border and the effects that any change in tax rates could have on either side of the border. He called for a thorough impact assessment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who is a fervent devolutionist but is not for

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devolution as a route to independence, said it was vital to work with people and to have a referendum on all important decisions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) referred to the current dispute about railway funding, saying that it was a good example of his worries that weasel words might mean giving with one hand but taking away with the other. He also said that we should look carefully at what exactly the intentions behind the Bill are.

I turn now to some of the more mundane issues dealt with by the Bill. We very much welcome the devolution of the land taxes—stamp duty and landfill tax. They will provide an independent income stream against which the Welsh Government can borrow. We hope that the devolution of those taxes can take place as soon as possible and that the process will not be subject to any unnecessary delays. We understand the logic of the time scale but we urge that it should not be allowed to slip.

We welcome the borrowing powers that the Bill will legislate for, not least because this Tory-led Government have cut the Welsh budget by 10% over the course of this Parliament and have reduced the Welsh Government’s capital budget by nearly a third. Borrowing powers will enable the Welsh Government to invest in vital infrastructure projects to help boost economic development.

Jonathan Edwards: The Labour party continually attack the UK Government—and rightly so—for their huge cuts to capital expenditure in Wales, but the Government are following the exact budget lines set by the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer before the 2010 election. The Labour party set a path to cut capital budgets in Wales by 40%. That is what the UK Government have delivered.

Nia Griffith: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the Opposition have very different priorities from the Government in the way that we deal with budgets and decide what our priorities are. Quite frankly, I think that he needs to do a bit more homework before he begins to make these suggestions.

I turn now to income tax. The Opposition do not accept that there is no accountability without the devolution of income tax. The National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government are accountable through elections, and Welsh Ministers are subject to the usual scrutiny procedures. Let us look at councils: more of a council’s budget comes through the block grant than from council tax, but nobody says that councils cannot borrow and that council borrowing has to be contingent on further devolution of some income tax powers.

None the less, we accept that the Welsh Government are slightly anomalous in not having the power to raise revenue. The devolution of a number of minor taxes will rectify that anomaly. It should be noted that in their evidence to the Silk commission the Welsh Labour Government did not actually seek the power to vary income tax. However, since the publication of the Silk commission report we have said that we support the recommendation to give Wales the power partially to vary income tax, contingent on a triple lock. That consists of fair funding, agreed by the Welsh and UK Governments; the power being subject to a referendum; and the power being in the long-term interests of Wales—that is to say that it should tested during a period of assignment.

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We would like the Secretary of State to give further details on the period of assignment and to provide reassurances about the ability of HMRC to monitor a Welsh rate of income tax. We believe that further examination is needed of the impact of tax competition arising from different rates of income tax on either side of the border. We want to ensure that that looks at the behavioural aspects of what might happen if income tax rates vary on either side of the border.

Turning to the constitutional issues, we believe that the question of five-year terms is a matter for the Assembly. It may not be practical to table an amendment to that effect, but we want to put on record our belief that it should be something for the Assembly to decide.

On double-jobbing, we are very clear that we do not think that an individual should be an MP and an AM at the same time. It is not practical or fair to the electorate and we certainly support the ban in the Bill.

A number of my hon. Friends have referred to dual candidacy and I want to focus on one aspect of it, namely that the impact assessment notes that more people find it confusing and dislike it than those who favour it, and that smaller parties need the system because they are struggling to find candidates. It is pathetic that some of the smaller parties are finding it difficult to find candidates of the right quality. They should be asking themselves why it is that they cannot find anyone. Is the Liberal Democrats’ problem that no young person wants to knock on doors and explain why the Liberal Democrats propped up the Tories to put up student fees to £9,000 in England while in Wales the Labour Welsh Government pegged fees at £3,500? I cannot see any young person wanting to stand for the Lib Dems. Will young people want to stand for Plaid Cymru when they are worried that they might be told, “If you haven’t got two parents who were born in Wales, you can’t represent Wales”?

Hywel Williams: Disgraceful!

Nia Griffith: Well, that is the sort of thing we have heard Plaid Cymru say about whether the captain of the Welsh rugby team should be captain or not. [Interruption.] Plaid Cymru Members can shout and protest all they like, but that is what they said only three weeks ago.

Jonathan Edwards: A smear!

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I think the hon. Members for Arfon (Hywel Williams) and for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) need to calm down a little. In fairness, everybody has been able to put their point of view. I am sorry they do not accept what the shadow Minister is saying, but they cannot shout from the Benches in that way.

Nia Griffith: I am not sure how the Conservative party will find people to stand for it when many of its Members are simply rubbishing Wales in order to further their electoral interests in England. It may be very difficult for the Conservatives to find people, but if they can they should not try to overturn the ban on the dual candidacy. That is the whole point, is it not?

Hywel Williams: Will the hon. Lady give way?

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Nia Griffith: I think I have been asked to keep going by Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Don’t bring me into this! I certainly did not say that. It is up to the shadow Minister whether she wishes to give way, not the advice from the Chair.

Nia Griffith: In that case, Plaid Cymru Members have had one intervention already and I think that is enough, especially as they have had a long time today to raise different issues.

We in Llanelli felt let down by the abuse of the dual candidacy system. It was like having a massive cuckoo sitting in a nest in which it did not belong, neglecting all the other constituencies and focusing solely on one, whereas the proper role of a list Assembly Member is to look at broader issues, as Joyce Watson is doing with human trafficking and Rebecca Evans with disability.

We are strongly opposed to clause 2, which would reverse the ban on dual candidacy. Apart from that, we are generally in favour of the Bill and welcome it. I will table amendments in Committee and we will oppose dual candidacy, but all in all we are in favour of the Bill.

9.13 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): It is a pleasure to close this important debate and it is good, as ever, to follow the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), who on this occasion gave an uncharacteristically churlish speech. I want to call her out on her comments about the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who is always the model of courtesy and graciousness in his contributions in this House. His remarks about Wales were based on evidence and truth and were carefully made, so I commend him. He is a former Cabinet Office Minister, so he is familiar with issues pertaining in particular to fixed-term Parliaments. This debate has been enriched by his participation. It has also been enriched by the speeches of not one, but two former Secretaries of State. It was good that the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), who is no longer in her place, both gave very thoughtful contributions on issues about which they have a lot of experience.

We also heard from the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which did a fantastic job in scrutinising the draft Wales Bill. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) in fact attracted not just praise from Liberal Democrats, but a slightly backhanded compliment from the right hon. Member for Neath, who described him as having “sincere and intelligent extremism”. As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows better than most hon. Members in this House, extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice at all.

We have had a fascinating and wide-ranging debate during the past few hours on matters directly, and sometimes indirectly, related to the Wales Bill. There were excellent speeches from both sides of the House, and I thank all hon. Members for their speeches.

I will limit my remarks to the Bill, but I first want to say that, regardless of points of disagreement, there has been a broad measure of consensus on and support for

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the Bill by all parties in the House. Just as a Dulux colour sheet has different shades, there have been different shades of support—ranging from frosty and cold by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth to rather grudging and unenthusiastic by Opposition Members through to warm by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham. There has been support for the Bill and, as we go into Committee, we should not forget that this wide-ranging Bill enjoys broad support from hon. Members and parties across the House.

The vast majority of hon. Members clearly support the Government’s move towards achieving a strong measure of fiscal devolution that will give the National Assembly for Wales control of devolved taxes for landfill and land transactions, and enable the Welsh Government to borrow for capital investment. I hope that such a positive position continues as the Bill progresses.

I should perhaps start with the lockstep, a term that few hon. Members had probably heard before the Silk commission did its work, but one with which we are certainly becoming increasingly familiar. I know that the Government’s proposals to allow the Assembly to vary income tax rates uniformly—in other words, in lockstep—subject to a referendum, concern some hon. Members on both sides of the House. Let me be clear that this Government believe that the structure of income tax is a key mechanism to redistribute wealth across the whole of the United Kingdom, including Wales and, as such, that wealth redistribution is properly determined at UK level. The lockstep is consistent with the principle that fiscal devolution should not unduly benefit one part of the UK at the expense of another, which would result in what at least one hon. Member has called a race to the bottom. I am pleased that that position is one that now seems to enjoy the support of Labour Front Benchers, although that was not clear when we last discussed it in the Welsh Grand Committee.

There would be a real risk of a so-called race to the bottom if the Welsh Government were able to set substantially lower rates for higher or additional rate taxpayers without needing to change the basic rate. Far from making the income tax powers unusable, as some hon. Members have suggested, the lockstep makes the powers very usable, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained at the start of the debate. Devolving income tax would give the Welsh Government a crucial lever to reduce taxes across the board in Wales to make it a lower-tax economy and put money back into the pockets of hard-working people across Wales.

If electors in Wales decide in a referendum in favour of income tax devolution, the Welsh Government would become responsible for almost half the income tax generated in Wales. In reducing the tax burden on working people in Wales, the Welsh Government would reap the benefits of a growing Welsh economy and gain access to a significantly larger revenue stream to finance further borrowing. With vision and foresight, the Welsh Government could grasp that virtuous circle with both hands.

Some Opposition Members, not least the right hon. Member for Neath, raised concerns about how the application of devolved income tax will work in practice. There was some discussion of that in the last sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee, when there was a lot

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of confusion about whether Welsh budgets would be detrimentally affected by the devolution of 10p of income tax. Following the Welsh Grand Committee, I circulated a letter to all members of the Committee explaining, with a practical example, how that would work. I would therefore hope there would be some clarity, but the right hon. Member for Neath said that there is a risk that Wales will be cast adrift. Let me explain to him that the system of income tax devolution we are proposing protects Welsh funding in two ways. First, the lockstep retains the redistributive structure of income tax across the UK, as I have just described. Secondly and crucially, the block grant adjustment mechanism, which we are calling indexed adjustment, means that Wales is protected from UK-wide shocks. For example, if the UK tax base were to decline, the block grant adjustment will be reduced accordingly. Reducing the block grant adjustment thereby increases the Welsh block grant. Therefore, the finances of the Welsh Government are protected through that mechanism.

Mr Hain: I am grateful for the Minister’s views. Is he saying that, if the Welsh Government raise less, Westminster will compensate more?

Stephen Crabb: That is not what I am saying. A key principle of the mechanism is creating the incentive for the Welsh Government to create the conditions for the economy in Wales to grow, so that they can reap the fruits and benefits of a growing Welsh economy. The protection kicks in when there are shocks and changes that affect the overall UK tax base. When changes would otherwise have a detrimental impact on Welsh Government revenues, Welsh Government revenues are protected because of the indexation. I shall circulate further information to right hon. and hon. Members.

Geraint Davies: Is the Minister saying that there are only upsides? Is he saying that, if the Welsh Government do well and grow the Welsh economy, they get a greater share of overall UK revenue, and if things go the wrong way from their point of view or the UK point of view, they still get that share or more and it never goes down? I cannot believe that.

Stephen Crabb: There is a lot of upside in the proposals, which I hope Opposition Members have the intelligence and foresight to recognise. In fact, the Silk commission calculated that Wales would have been better off under the system we are proposing had it been in place in the past decade. That answers the question asked by the right hon. Member for Neath—he asked whether Wales will be better off. The Silk commission estimated that, had the system been in place in the past 10 years, the people of Wales would have been better off. I hope that that also provides assurance to the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who sees the Bill as a nasty plot and conspiracy.

Some Opposition Members have sought to link the devolution of income tax to so-called fair funding. That is another diversion they are throwing up, and another barrier they are erecting, so that they do not have to contemplate greater and truer accountability for the Government in Cardiff Bay, which they would prefer not to contemplate. The joint statement from the UK and Welsh Governments in October 2012 established a clear process to review relative levels of funding for

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Wales and England in advance of each spending review. The announcement recognised that levels of funding for Wales relative to England were not currently converging, but that, if convergence in funding is forecast to resume during the period, both Governments are committed to discussing a sustainable and fair solution. The fair funding mechanism agreed with the Welsh Government in 2012 worked very well in practice ahead of the last spending review. I hope that that, too, reassures hon. Members.

Current funding levels are well within the parameters recommended as fair by the Holtham commission. Safeguards are in place to address convergence if and when it resumes. Therefore, the funding regime for Wales should not be seen as a barrier to income tax devolution. That is one more smokescreen the Opposition are throwing up to disguise their basic opposition to, and dislike of, fiscal devolution.

A number of hon. Members mentioned borrowing powers for capital investment. There is clearly a broad consensus on all sides in favour of giving the Welsh Government the ability to borrow to invest in Wales’s infrastructure. Some Opposition Members want the Welsh Government to be able to borrow more than the £500 million permitted under the Bill—some suggested they should be able to borrow a virtually unlimited amount. The UK Government have set the limit considerably higher than we would have if we had used the tax and borrowing ratios we used in the Scotland Act 2012. Had we done that, the borrowing limit would be closer to £100 million, based on the taxes devolved in the Bill. We have set a higher capital borrowing limit of £500 million initially, but with flexibility for that limit to be increased if the Welsh Government gain access to further independent streams of funding, such as an element of income tax. If Opposition Members want to see the Welsh Government have a greater borrowing capacity, they should join us in campaigning for a yes vote in an income tax referendum.

What we are not prepared to accept is reckless borrowing without the means of paying that money back. Borrowing must be commensurate with the independent revenue streams. The Government have not worked hard over the last four years to build a reputation for financial prudence and competence, and tackling Britain’s deficit effectively, only to throw away that hard-earned reputation by allowing the Welsh Government to borrow beyond their means.

The hon. Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) said that she would welcome sight of the “workings-out”—I think that was the phrase she used—to help her to understand how we arrived at the £500 million borrowing limit. I suggest that she looks at pages 26 and 27 of the Command Paper that was published alongside the Bill, which is clear on the rationale and the basis for deciding on the £500 million figure. It is higher than would have applied if we had stuck closely to the Scottish ratios, and that is because we want the Welsh Government to crack on with the job of improving the M4. That was agreed with Welsh Ministers, and it gives them the tools to make progress quickly and to tackle that major infrastructure problem.

The hon. Lady also asked why Northern Ireland’s position was different. Northern Ireland is not a good benchmark for hon. Members to use in comparing borrowing regimes. The Northern Ireland Executive

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exercise many of the powers and responsibilities that are exercised by local authorities in other parts of the UK. In particular, they collect the equivalent of council tax and business rates and have borrowing powers similar to those held by local authorities.

Opposition Members did not talk much about borrowing, which will have a huge, transformational impact in allowing the Welsh Government to invest in new infrastructure in Wales, and nor did they talk much about the impact of lowering taxes in Wales, creating a low-tax economy and creating new jobs. They saved most of their energy and time for discussing the ending of the ban on dual candidacy. In fact, the right hon. Member for Neath used large chunks of a speech he made in 2006, if my memory serves me right. It has been like “Groundhog Day” as Opposition Members—although I am sure they were reflecting the concerns they have heard in their constituencies—manned the barricades to oppose a sensible measure—

Albert Owen: Is the Minister criticising Opposition Members for referring to a measure in the Bill? Surely it is the purpose of a Second Reading debate to talk about the measures in the Bill.

Stephen Crabb: I am criticising Opposition Members on two counts. One is the amount of time that they took talking about a relatively minor issue, when they could have used their time to better effect by talking about the real, everyday concerns of the people of Wales who will be affected by the measures in the Bill. I also criticise Opposition Members on this issue because they are wrong. They are in the minority. All other parties support the measure. Wales is the only country with such a ban on dual candidacy.

Wayne David: Will the Minister give way?

Stephen Crabb: I have been very generous with my time, and I am not giving way again.

The Bill provides the Welsh Government with the means to take active steps to improve the lives of hard-working people in Wales. It will allow the Welsh Government to tailor devolved taxes to best fit the specific needs of Wales; it will make them accountable for some of the money they raise, not just the money they spend; and it will give them the tools to grow the Welsh economy. It also provides them with the means to make much needed investment in critical infrastructure in Wales and, if they choose, to call a referendum to devolve a portion of income tax. It is a Bill I am pleased to commend to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Wales Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Wales Bill:


The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Proceedings in Committee

(2) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House shall be completed in two days.

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(3) The proceedings shall be taken on the days shown in the first column of the following Table and in the order so shown.

(4) The Proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.



Time for conclusion of proceedings

First day

Clauses 1 to 5, new Clauses relating

to Part 1, new Schedules relating to

Part 1, Clauses 8 to 11, Schedule 1,

Clauses 12 and 13, new Clauses

relating to the subject matter of

Clauses 8 to 13 and Schedule 1, new

Schedules relating to the subject

matter of Clauses 8 to 13 and

Schedule 1

The moment of interruption on the first day

Second day

Clauses 6 and 7, Clauses 14 and 15,

Schedule 2, Clauses 16 to 22,

remaining new Clauses relating to

Part 2, remaining new Schedules

relating to Part 2, Clauses 23 to 29,

remaining new Clauses, remaining

new Schedules, remaining

proceedings on the Bill

The moment of interruption on the second


Consideration and Third Reading

(5) Any proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

(6) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

Programming committee

(7) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee, to any proceedings on Consideration or to proceedings on Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(8) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Claire Perry.)

Question agreed to.