Thursday, July 03, 2014

Wales Bill

Glyn Davies: I am grateful to be called to speak on an issue that is of great personal interest. As well as being the Member of Parliament for the Welsh seat of Montgomeryshire, I served for eight years representing Mid and West Wales as a regional Member of the National Assembly for Wales. My dominant interests since becoming a Member of Parliament have been Welsh politics, the Welsh economy, Welsh public services and, indeed, the relationship between Cardiff Bay and Westminster as they deal with the devolution process, which will continue for many more years to come. The nature of constitutional process is that one does not reach an end stage.

Unlike the Shadow Secretary of State, I do not think this a dry debate at all. Debates about the constitution tend not to jokey or light hearted. But as someone who is deeply embedded in Welsh politics, I find a debate about a Bill concerning the future governance of my nation hugely interesting.

I declare my enthusiastic support for the Wales Bill. It is a significant step forward in the devolution process, even if there are aspects with which I do not agree. In this disagreements I may be in a small minority, but I should refer to them alongside my general support for the Bill, putting my opinions on the record for the benefit of anyone in my constituency and indeed the rest of Wales who might want to know what they are.

I have listened to most of the debate; I missed some of it owing to other meetings. My general impression is that Labour’s position in particular is thoroughly confused. Clearly, Members on this side of the House are pleased that Labour will be supporting the Wales Bill—that is a positive move—but the contributions of many Labour Members suggest that they just do not accept the principle of financial accountability underlying the devolution of income tax raising to the National Assembly for Wales. Some of their language has sounded more as though they oppose the Bill than being in support of it.

The Plaid Cymru contributions have been ‘churlish’—that is the word that I will use. During this Parliament it was a Conservative Secretary of State who introduced, with very great determination, the Bill that created law-making powers in Wales. I do not believe that it would have been introduced if it had not been a Conservative Secretary of State; I think that a Labour Secretary of State would probably have chickened out. It was a Conservative Secretary of State who established the Silk commission, which has done very good work. Like several other Members, I commend it for its work. It is a Conservative Secretary of State who has introduced this Bill. I perfectly accept that it does not go as far as Plaid Cymru Members may want—one would not expect that—and, indeed, there are differing views on the detail of the Bill across all parties, but nobody can disagree that granting tax-raising powers to the National Assembly for Wales, and the borrowing powers that go with them, is anything but a huge constitutional step forward. On that basis, it might have been at least fair of Plaid Cymru to congratulate the Conservative party on taking us down the road, not as far as it would want, but certainly in a positive direction.

Mr Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman said that he had been in and out of the debate, and I accept that—so have I. My colleagues were generous about various parts of the Bill, but nevertheless there are parts about which we are concerned, and that is the nature of politics. Do not call us churlish because we find fault in some way with the Bill. That is just politics, is it not?

Glyn Davies: I thank my hon. Friend for that. He has been a friend for a long time. It is reassuring that he has decided to intervene and say how supportive he is of what the Conservative Government have delivered in the past few years. I shall read today’s debate in Hansard to pick out all those individual bits that he speaks so enthusiastically about.

There are several elements to the Wales Bill, the most important one by a long way being the tax raising powers and the commensurate borrowing powers that go with them. There will be continuing debate about this matter. It may well feature in the manifestos of the various parties leading up to the next general election, and I believe it will be revisited in the next Parliament. That is naturally the way of things with constitutional issues when. There will be a next step in this process, and I look forward to being a part of it after the next general election.

Another issue that is causing a lot of excitement is the removal of the ban on dual candidacy. Labour today is describing this change as political gerrymandering. If there has been any political intent to gerrymander, it was on the part of the Labour party when it introduced the ban. No independent body in Wales, including the Electoral Commission, thinks that it is any way partisan to scrap the ban on dual candidacy. It was brought in by the Labour Government in this place with the support of Labour in Cardiff, with the view that it would benefit the Labour party in Wales, and it is truly ironic that it did not. The Opposition should welcome what is a right and proper constitutional change being brought in by this Government.

Personally, I am not in favour of a referendum. In general, I do not like them. Political parties should tell the people what they intend to do and if the people vote for them at a general election they can carry it out without a referendum. I accept that I am in a minority in relation to a referendum on tax-raising powers in Wales. The Silk commission recommended one and there was a referendum in Scotland before tax raising powers were introducing. On this specific issue, I will have to sneak back into my box rather quietly.

I am also not in favour of introducing a five-year term between Assembly elections. Again I might be in a minority. I generally think that four-year terms are right for Parliaments. We have a five-year term here at Westminster, and I realise that there is a lot of support for a five-year term for the National Assembly. Again, that involves another little box that I will have to crawl into.

But let us not forget what the Bill will do if, as I hope it will, it receives its Third Reading today. This Westminster Parliament is granting to the National Assembly for Wales the power to raise taxes, including a significant proportion of income tax — delivering financial accountability. In future a Welsh Government will be accountable to the people whom they represent. There is further to go, but this is an important principle. A Bill put forward by a Conservative Secretary of State is making a significant contribution to the process of devolution in Wales.

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