Need to get one thing clear. I'm not publishing my speech because of a developing sense of self-importance. Its just that I treat the Welsh Grand Committee as a Welsh Parliamentary 'Think Tank' where we can explore and develop opinion. It follows that I don't feel constrained by any 'party line'. And I would expect disagreement with some of it, particularly the references to devolution of powers over a significant proportion of income tax. The Labour Party are very opposed to this. They rather enjoy their ability to blame every failing of the Welsh Government on the UK Tory/Lib Dem Coalition Gov't. Real financial accountability they do not want. Anyway, here it is (with grammatical error corrected). Feel free to comment.
Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Thank you, Mr Owen, for calling me to speak in this debate on the Queen’s Speech, the coalition Government’s third legislative programme, and specifically its Welsh aspects.
I apologise to you and fellow Members that as soon as I have spoken I would like to leave, to go to the Chamber, where there is a debate in which I have a strong constituency interest. I will try to be back for the closing speeches.
It is also a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Torfaen. His speeches always contain sections that I find impossible to disagree with—even if they also contain parts that I can disagree with. He also always presents his arguments in a considered tone.
This Queen’s Speech debate has given contributors an opportunity to discuss a very wide range of issues. But I want to speak about the draft Wales Bill and what it might contain as well as what it might not. However I feel that I must comment on two issues which featured strongly early in the debate. One is the overarching aim of the Queen’s Speech. It is to restore order to the United Kingdom’s public finances by reducing our debt, bringing down the annual deficit and generally creating more economic activity and employment.
One reason I want to emphasise this is so that I can pay tribute to the work of the Liberal Democrats. I am inspired to do that by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy, who referred in generous terms to the Pensions Minister, an excellent member of the Government, and by the negative comment about the Liberal Democrats delivered by the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, which was amusing but unfair. The truth is that two of Britain’s great political parties have come together to form a Coalition, making compromises for the greater good. Sometimes those compromises are difficult for their memberships. However, the two parties have come together because they recognise that this country faces huge problems which must be addressed. The Conservative party is the larger, more numerous party, but it is right that we acknowledge the huge contribution that the Deputy Prime Minister and other Liberal Democrat Members have made to the coalition.
Paul Murphy: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Glyn Davies: Indeed I will. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for stopping me at that stage.
Paul Murphy: And I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks earlier. Would he not, however, consider the point that whatever the academic distinction of the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), no one in their right mind would ever have invented the bedroom tax?
Glyn Davies: I am reluctant to be drawn into other issues and away from the points I want to discuss. I will say, however, that I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy made Some good points about this issue and I would recommend the right hon. Gentleman to go and listen to the Pensions Minister the next time he makes a considered speech in the House. He should then read the speech the next day in Hansard. Like me, he will be convinced that the changes in housing benefit subsidy are the right policy.
Paul Murphy: I would not normally do this, but I actually sat in a Westminster Hall debate with the Pensions Minister some months ago. I thought he was entirely unconvincing, as, I am sure, do the 40,000 people in Wales who will be affected by the bedroom tax.
Glyn Davies: I am not quite sure at what stage the scales fall from politicians’ eyes, but I have sat through three speeches by the Pensions Minister on this issue, and think he makes an incredibly strong and unanswerable case.
I want to come to a second general point, which was very much part of our early exchanges this morning. The relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union is a complex issue and will feature prominently in British politics over the next four years. It is an important issue in Wales. Opposition Members have suggested that the attitude of the people of Wales might be different from that of people in the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not know whether that is the case or not. But i do know from contacts with the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales that there is a lot of concern in the farming community about what changes in the relationship might mean.
However, we know two things. We know that there is huge dissatisfaction about the current distribution of powers between the EU and Britain. It is right that we explore whether we can tackle this public discontent—that is what constituents tell me they want. We must see whether we can renegotiate so that it is more acceptable to the British people. I also feel that the British people think that 1975 is such a long time ago, and they would like the opportunity of a vote on whether to be in the EU or out of it. The Government have tackled these two issues. The Prime Minister has said that he wishes to have a renegotiation with the European Union, to see whether we can make the relay ship more acceptable to the British people, and to then hold a referendum. That is the right thing to do, and I am still hopeful that members of the Opposition parties will come around to accepting it as the right way and that they will eventually support us.
Jonathan Edwards: If there is a strategy for renegotiating the European settlement based on repatriating powers, what are the objectives going into that renegotiating process? We have heard about the working time directive. Does the renegotiation include convergence funding and agricultural support?
Glyn Davies: That has been asked several times of me and others. I resist answering it specifically because there will be a range of issues. Even today the Secretary of State answered a similar question by referring to one issue. The immediate assumption is that there is only one issue. There will be a wide range of issues on the table, and if we are going into a negotiation it seems rather unwise that we should show our cards in public by deciding now exactly what those issues should be. There will be a negotiation. The Prime Minister is in a very good position to represent Britain in that negotiation, and we have two years before a general election in which all the points that hon. Members want to make can be made.
Hywel Williams: The hon. Gentleman would concede, however, that if someone is going into a meeting to renegotiate, the participants in the meeting and the supporters would at least know what the agenda is—what is in there.
Glyn Davies: The negotiations will start in 2015, and there is a general election before that. I should have thought that it will be very clear during that election campaign exactly what the intentions of the various parties will be, and it may well be that the hon. Gentleman’s party will make its views clear, unless he is entirely satisfied—
The Chair: Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is trying to be helpful, but he is discussing issues that were not in the Queen’s Speech. I know that some of his party’s Back Benchers were upset that that issue was not in the Queen’s Speech, but we will be discussing what is in the Queen’s Speech and how it relates to Wales.
Glyn Davies: I am most grateful to you, Mr Owen, for allowing me to move on to the draft Wales Bill, which I have been trying to do for a while; Opposition Members have made that a little difficult by their interventions
I have to make an admission—to me, the Welsh Grand Committee is a real joy. I look on these occasions as is a bit like a parliamentary political think-tank. One can come here and discuss issues in a convivial way with Opposition Members, ranging over issues about what might or might not be in a draft Wales Bill.
I have some concerns about what seems to be currently proposed. The first issue I want to address is that of dual candidacy. I shall have to declare an interest in that I was a beneficiary of the system, in the sense that I contested two elections in 1999 and 2003 , where I lost as the candidate in Montgomeryshire but was elected as a regional AM for Mid and West Wales. In all probability, had there been a ban on dual candidacy, I would have contested the seat, accepting that I would have been unlikely to have been elected to the National Assembly.
I cannot see the logic of having an additional member system—albeit we do not much like the system—that insists that 20 of the 60 Members of the National Assembly for Wales would not have stood on the doorstep to talk to voters, asking for there vote because they were actually barred by law from doing that. In general, I am not in favour of creating laws just for their own sake; a law must have a worthwhile purpose. What the Coalition Government is proposing is eliminating a law, taking an unnecessary law away.
If the Labour party, or any other party, does not want to have a candidate on a regional and also fighting a constituency seat it can ensure that it does not happen with its own candidates. It is perfectly open to the party to do that. I would expect the Opposition parties to do just that, bearing in mind the comments that they are making today if the law is changed. However, we do not need this law. Let it be a matter for the political parties and the voters to make a judgment on the candidates that political parties choose to put forward for election.
I feel somewhat the same about the issue of double-jobbing. I do not think that anybody, neither constituents nor political parties, like the principle of double jobbing—of serving as an MP and an AM—but we have to question whether we need a law To ban it. Voters and political parties themselves have the power to prevent it. Voters will not support people in these circumstances. And if we are going to pass such a law, we must think carefully about where it leads. This is where I agree with some of the comments made by the right hon. Member for Torfaen. Why would we not extend the principle to the House of Lords? And what about the local councils? Being a councillor is now often a full-time job. Once we go down the banning road, logic takes us a long way.
And even though we can introduce discretions within the ban, they will inevitably make it more difficult to move from being a Member of this House to being a Member of the Assembly, and vice versa. We currently have a good process, beneficial to both sides, where members can move from one to the other, increasing understanding. It is something that we should encourage.
The third issue is the fixed term. I must admit that I am not convinced that a five-year fixed term for Assembly Members is something that I am in support of at this stage. There are two reasons for that. A lot of people might look at the current Government and think that perhaps five years is too long.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Way too long.
Glyn Davies: I thought you might think that. In general, in Parliaments across the world, four years seems to be accepted as about right, and that was the period chosen for the National Assembly for Wales. What we would be doing is changing the position in the Assembly because of what we have done in this House.The National Assembly for Wales is an important body In its own right. If four years was considered right for the Assembly when it was set up and is right now, I do not see any reason why we should change it because of the arrangements we have put in place here.
Jonathan Edwards: Will the hon. Gentleman remind the Committee of how he voted on the legislation which went through this place, advocating five-year fixed term Parliaments for the House of Commons?
Glyn Davies: I pointed out earlier that I consider the Welsh Grand Committee to be such a joy. It is because I feel I can speak rather more freely. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Torfaen said that sometimes the restrictions on Members speaking in the main Chamber are a little more onerous than perhaps they are in the Welsh Grand
One argument that I have heard is that there may be a possibility of a clash if elections are held on the same day. I cannot see why that should be of concern. If it is a real concern, the Assembly has the facility to move the election by a limited period, so that it is not on the same day, but I cannot see why it should not be on the same day. To suggest that the voters cannot discriminate between two elections on the same day is an insult to them. We have certainly had a referendum on the same day as an election in the past. We should trust the voters to make the judgment. We should not use the possibility of a clash as a reason to create a five-year term for the National Assembly.
Finally, let me touch on the Silk commission. Like other Members, I thought that there would be a reference to part I in the draft Wales Bill. I support the creation of the National Assembly for Wales as a fiscally accountable body to the people of Wales, and income tax has to be a part of that accountability - which is what Silk recommended. If it is not, we are tinkering at the edges in terms of both fiscal accountability and borrowing powers for the Welsh Government. If taxation powers for the Welsh Assembly are included in the draft Wales Bill, I will argue that power to levy income tax, or a substantial part of them, should be transferred to the National Assembly for Wales. And my view is that we should do that not by referendum, but by treating the next general election as a referendum. I accept that not many people hold this view, but it is mine. Only exceptionally should decisions be taken by referendum. Political parties should tell voters what they stand for, what they will enact, and then act on it if elected.