Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Opening up on another Wales Bill.

Spoke in the debate on the 'Gracious Speech' for the first time today. Always enjoy the pomp and ceremony which accompanies the Opening of Parliament, especially the glorious sight, smell and sound of the magnificent horses which accompany Her Majesty as she arrives at the Palace of Westminster. But for several reasons, today was first time I've spoken in a Queen's Speech debate. I spoke about the Wales Bill we are expecting to be introduced over the next few weeks.

Though not knowing precisely what will be in the Bill, we can make a pretty good guess at it, because there was the 'Draft' Wales Bill' that ran out of steam during the last Parliament. We know the range of powers to be 'reserved' to Westminster will be much reduced from previous proposals. We also know that the 'Necessity tests', which caused so much concern, has been totally removed. So more chance of agreement. 

Today I spoke about vesting in the Welsh Government the responsibility to levy a significant proportion of Income Tax. For me this is fundamental. My strong views on this issue were developed when I served as Conservative Finance Spokesman in the National Assembly for Wales more than ten years ago. We used to have what was termed the annual budget process. But it was not a budget at all. It was no more than an annual spending plan. A budget involves consideration of both sides of the ledger  - how Govt money is raised as well as how it is spent.

The key line in my speech was "If devolution of Income Tax is not included in the Wales Bill, it deserves to fail. It deserves to be rejected. Without the inclusion of a responsibility placed on the Wales Government to levy a significant proportion of Income Tax, not one iota of extra power should be devolved"

Though some of most contentious proposals in the Draft Wales Bill have been removed, there remains potential areas for disagreement. How is the small but growing body of Welsh law to be formally considered? Do we need a separate Welsh Juridiction? Should Policing be devolved along with other emergency services such as ambulance and fire services? Should we consider devolution of broadcasting? Plenty of potential for disagreement.

Taking a Wales Bill through the House will not be easy. Big challenge for new Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns. It will need a willingness to compromise on all sides, and a genuine desire to take devolution forwards. I hope I can play a part in that.

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