I beg to move amendment 21, page 8, leave out line 23 and insert—
‘(1) Part 4A of GOWA 2006 (as inserted by section 6) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 116A(1) (overview), after “Part” insert “—
(a) Chapter 2 confers on the Assembly power to set a rate of income tax to be paid by Welsh taxpayers, and
(3) After Chapter 1 insert—’.
This amendment and amendment 19 ensure that the overview provision in new section 116A(1) of GOWA 2006 relating to the Assembly power to set a rate of income tax can only come into force, like the other provisions relating to that power, following a yes vote in a referendum.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 2, page 8, line 36, leave out ‘only’ and insert ‘more than’.
Amendment 3, page 8, line 36, leave out ‘only one rate’ and insert ‘up to three rates’.
Government amendments 22 to 28.
Amendment 16, page 12, line 34, after ‘Assembly’, insert
‘and each House of Parliament’.
Amendment 6, page 12, line 37, at end add—
‘(2) The Secretary of State shall review the impact on the Exchequer effects of the provisions in this section on residents who live within 50 miles of the Wales/England border and the impact on the prospects for tax competition within the UK, and place a copy of the review in the Library of the House of Commons.’.
Clause stand part.
Amendment 41, in clause 9, page 13, line 8, leave out ‘10’ and insert ‘15’.
Clause 9 stand part.
Amendment 1, in clause 11, page 16, line 20, leave out from ‘Wales’ to end and add
‘where a Welsh rate resolution specifies more than one rate of income tax.’.
Government amendment 19.
Amendment 38, in clause 28, page 29, line 34, after ‘except’, insert
‘sections 8 and 9 and’.
Amendment 39, page 29, line 36, at end insert—
‘(2A) Sections 8 and 9 shall not come into force until a Welsh Government Minister has laid a report before the National Assembly for Wales containing a statement to the effect that the Welsh Government, with regard to the Statement of Funding Policy, is content with the fairness of the arrangements for allocating funding from the UK Government to Wales.
(2B) Sections 8 and 9 shall be suspended following any substantive reform, amendment or other alteration of the arrangements mentioned in subsection (2A), until the process under subsection (2A) has been repeated.’.
Amendment 4, in title, line 3, leave out ‘a rate’ and insert ‘rates’.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this evening, Mr Chope, and to set out the Government’s position on clauses 8 and 9 and the Government amendments. I will also take the opportunity to comment on the amendments tabled by others and will have the chance to debate taxation powers with the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, which I am sure will bring back many happy memories for him of serving on Finance Bills.
Subject to the outcome of a referendum, clause 8 amends the Government of Wales Act 2006 to introduce a Welsh rate of income tax to be paid by those defined as Welsh taxpayers. Clause 9 amends the Income Tax Act 2007 to set out how the Welsh rate of income tax determines the Welsh basic, higher and additional rates of income tax. It also defines the income that will be taxed at those rates.
I shall start with Government amendments 19 and 21. The income tax provisions in clause 8 form part of a new part 4A of the 2006 Act, which is introduced by clause 6. Part 4A’s introductory section includes a reference to the income tax provisions in chapter 2. The provisions in clause 6 will come into force two months after this Bill receives Royal Assent. However, the income tax provisions in clause 8 and 9 can of course be brought into force only following a yes vote in a referendum.
Amendment 19 therefore removes the reference to chapter 2 from clause 6, and amendment 21 reinserts the reference into clause 8, bringing the commencement of the reference into line with the rest of the income tax provisions. That will ensure that the amended Act accurately reflects the legislative competence of the Assembly at a given point.
The provisions in clause 9 concerning the Welsh rate have been revised since the draft Bill. That necessitated changes to the power to allow for further consequential changes to be made under secondary legislation introduced by clause 8 in new section 116I of the 2006 Act to ensure that it continued to work as intended. Government amendments 22, 27 and 28 make further technical changes to that power in order to clarify that proposed new section 11B does not impose a charge to income tax. Rather, the effect of the new section 11B is to apply the Welsh rates of income tax to a Welsh taxpayer’s non-savings income.
On Government amendments 23 to 26, the power in new section 116I also allows an order to be made to ensure that HMRC can continue to operate the PAYE system effectively in the event that the Assembly passes a Welsh rate resolution at a late stage in the preceding tax year. Such an order would require employers to continue to operate PAYE on the basis of the information issued by HMRC, rather than the correct tax position for a specified period. The tax position of employees would ultimately be correct over the course of the tax year.
The scenario I have set out would also apply if, for whatever reason, the Assembly did not pass a rate-setting resolution at all, assuming that that had not previously been announced by the Welsh Government. Although I accept that that is unlikely to arise in practice, it is important to recognise that the Assembly has the option not to pass a rate if it so chooses. Amendments 23 to 26 therefore extend the order-making power to cover that scenario. I hope that hon. Members will support those amendments and Government amendments 19, 21, 27 and 28.
In amendment 41, I was pleased to see an amendment from the hon. Members for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) and for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) that supports the principle of income tax devolution, although I note that their latest approach would not provide Wales with quite the same outcome that they have now proposed for Scotland. None the less, it is progress. Although I confess to not having previously studied the issue very closely, I was not sure whether the Labour party opposed income tax devolution or thought that there was not enough of it. No doubt we will receive an explanation later.
I am grateful to the Exchequer Secretary, and this of course brings back warm memories of time spent debating Finance Bills. He failed to mention our amendments 38 and 39—I presume he will do so in due course—which seek to give symmetry between Scotland and Wales in relation to tax powers. While I am on my feet, may I ask him to return to what he said earlier about Welsh taxpayers under this legislation? Will he confirm for the House that that would designate all MEPs in Wales as Welsh taxpayers, including Kay Swinburne, a Conservative, who does not live in Wales?
All Welsh MEPs will be Welsh taxpayers. I will deal with the amendments the hon. Gentleman mentions, although I do not think that they would achieve symmetry. I note that he was not very clear in responding to my point that only a little while ago he said that devolution of income tax to Wales was a Tory trap, or something of the sort. Now he proposes that devolving 10p is insufficient and that it should be 15p. I do not know whether he holds both views at the moment, or just one. I will certainly give way if he can provide some clarity on that point.
Of course, they are entirely reconcilable, as I shall explain later. However, I did not hear an answer from the Exchequer Secretary on whether Kay Swinburne, the Conservative MEP for Wales, who still lives in Ledbury in England, would be designated as a Welsh taxpayer under the terms of the Bill. That strikes me as an extraordinary oversight by a Conservative Minister.
I will repeat what I said: Welsh MEPs will be Welsh taxpayers. I am not sure that I can be any clearer.
On the extent of income tax devolution, there is a careful judgment to be made. Devolving an element of income tax increases the financial accountability of the Assembly and the Welsh Government in three important ways. First, it will enable the Assembly to fund more of the spending for which it is responsible. Secondly, the Welsh Government will be able to vary the levels of tax and spending in Wales. Thirdly, while the Welsh Government currently control many key levers to generate economic growth in Wales such as education, skills, housing and planning, the resulting economic performance currently has no impact on their budget. Devolving an element of income tax will directly link the Welsh Government’s budget to their economic decisions.
What will happen to the people residing in England who, as the Minister’s hon. Friends have said, already use services in Wales such as the health service? Many people on the border who live in England use health and education services in Wales. Is it equitable that they do not pay the level of tax that might be levied by the Welsh Assembly in future?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the question of who is a Welsh taxpayer is dependent on who resides in Wales. I take it from what he says that he is opposed in principle to the devolution of income tax. He is nodding his head as if to say yes. He will be aware that his party has tabled an amendment suggesting that 15p, not 10p, should be devolved to the Welsh Government. I do not know how he reconciles his view with that of his Front Benchers.
I support my hon. Friends’ amendment to look at how this impacts across the board. The Exchequer Secretary must accept that there are people in Shrewsbury, Herefordshire and Worcestershire who use services in Wales. Would he support—I am not saying that I support this—a Welsh Assembly Government charging for services used in Wales and paid for by Welsh taxpayers but also used by English people who do not contribute to the Welsh tax burden for those services?
There is absolutely no contradiction on our part. The Minister has come very late to the debate; I do not know why the Secretary of State does not feel able to answer these questions, but that is for him to respond to. We have said throughout that we have never thought that income tax devolution to Wales was a priority. We do not think there is a significant appetite for it in Wales, and we consider that it creates a Tory trap in two respects. The Conservative party is committed, in Wales and across the rest of the UK, to cutting taxes further for the wealthiest people. The Secretary of State has said that he wants to do that. He has further said that he favours tax competition, with Wales able to undercut England. We are not in favour of that. However, given that in the Bill the Secretary of State has drawn a clear line between the quantum of income tax that is nominally to be devolved to Wales and the amount of borrowing that will be afforded to the Welsh Government, and given that £1.7 billion has been cut out of the Welsh budget, particularly in capital, we are in favour of increasing the amount of money that they might borrow. Our 10p to 15p change would achieve that, if the Welsh people agreed to it in a referendum.
I am grateful for that lengthy speech. I may have come late to the debate, but it is perfectly clear that Labour has been all over the place on this matter. I come back to what I said about the advantages of devolving income tax. One of those, very significantly, is that there is much greater accountability for the Welsh Government, because if they are able effectively to use the powers that they currently have to get the Welsh economy to grow, they will benefit from that as a consequence of increased revenues.
Perhaps I can help to answer the question asked by Mr Hanson. First, my constituents who have to use the NHS in Wales do not want to, would love not to and would like to use the NHS in England. Working with the Secretary of State for Health, I hope we will be able to put that in place by the end of this year, as he has pledged in the House.
Secondly, all UK taxpayers make a contribution to the Exchequer, which supplies the block grant to Wales that, of course, part-funds public services. Given that we are talking about a partial devolution, there is still quite a lot of money coming from the block grant and any of my constituents who are using public services will, of course, have paid their fair share.
My hon. Friend makes two valuable points. I presume that his very good argument about the block grant would be weakened if the devolved amount was 15p rather than 10p.
The Minister has made the case that, if the Welsh economy expands relative to the English economy, the new regime—the Welsh Exchequer, as it were—would gain. However, the corollary of that, of course, is that if the English economy grows faster than the Welsh economy as a result of the current Government generating growth through a London housing bubble, Wales will lose out. Why is the Minister putting only one half of the argument when this could in fact be a hidden trap?
One of the attributes of devolving an element of income tax is that it will ensure that the Welsh Government have the incentives to grow the economy as strongly as possible. I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman has so little faith in the Welsh Government that he does not want to encourage this opportunity and that he does not have the confidence that, by pursuing the right policies, the Welsh economy can grow significantly. I would have thought that that is what he wanted.
The Minister knows that investment and economic development in Wales would deliver jobs and that that would reduce social security costs and increase income tax. There is no proposition for social security to be devolved, so a lot of the benefits will be in England. What is more, with this new manifestation of the policy—this half-cocked version—there is a real danger that, if a London-centric recovery occurs, Wales will lose out.
I continue to touch a nerve with the hon. Gentleman. If tax receipts grow in Wales as a consequence of greater economic growth—after all, the Welsh Government have powers over education, skills, housing and planning—it will be to the advantage of Wales and the Welsh Government. I have no doubt that it is the desire of the Welsh Government to do the best for the Welsh economy. This is an opportunity to benefit from growth and increased tax receipts.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; he is being very generous with his time. This is like all our yesterdays, in that we are debating, by implication at least, the Laffer curve. He said a moment ago that if Wales were to pursue the right policies, it would see economic growth by deploying these new powers. Does he mean by that that taxes in Wales should be cut, as the Secretary of State has said he would do? If so, which taxes does the Exchequer Secretary propose to cut and by how much?
That is a matter for the Welsh Government. They might want to pursue tax policies, but I repeat that policies on education, skills, housing and planning all contribute towards economic growth. The situation at the moment is that the Welsh Government controls many of the key levers to generate economic growth, but does not currently benefit from any resulting economic performance through the impact on its budget. This devolution of tax will address that situation. Equally, to go back to the point made by Geraint Davies, it means that if bad policies are pursued and they damage growth, that will have a consequence for the Welsh economy. I am sure that he is not suggesting that the Welsh Government will pursue growth-damaging policies.
Does the Minister accept that although some powers to affect economic performance are in Wales, the mass of powers are in this place in terms of the Exchequer, our relationship with the Bank of England and macro-economic policies across the United Kingdom? With the budget that it has, Wales alone cannot determine its economic future. To say so is simply misleading, and he should withdraw it. It is a disgrace.
The hon. Gentleman may say that the mass of powers are here, but we are talking about a relative test involving Wales versus the rest of the United Kingdom. United Kingdom policies apply across the United Kingdom; the specific policy of the Welsh Government may result in changes in growth in the economy and the impact of that on the budget.
I merely wanted to ask whether, while talking about good and bad policies, the Minister would care to congratulate the Welsh Government on the good policy of Jobs Growth Wales. The policy has been seven times more effective than the Work programme in Wales, and has resulted in Wales having higher growth and, indeed, better unemployment figures than anywhere else in the UK.
It is worth pointing out that 12,000 new jobs, as I understand it, have been created under the Work programme in Wales, but I think that I should make a little progress, Mr Chope.
The change involves creating incentives for the Welsh Government, which of course means transferring some risks to them. Specifically, the Welsh Government’s budget will benefit if the income tax base grows faster in Wales than the UK average, but it will be adversely affected if growth in Wales is slower. Crucially, the larger the proportion of income tax that we devolve, the greater the potential impact on the Welsh Government’s budget. Devolving 15p of income tax would increase the size of the impacts by 50% compared with devolving 10p. There is a balance to be found between risks and rewards, and at this stage we see no evidence to suggest that we should move away from the Silk commission’s assessment, which resulted in the recommendation to devolve 10p of income tax. That recommendation is now reflected in the Bill.
I aim to entertain and to scrutinise legislation properly. Simply on the question of risk, will the Exchequer Secretary tell us what risk the Welsh Government will bear in relation to the potential costs of the change? We know that it will cost between £40 million and £42 million to do it in Scotland. Will it be more or less for Wales? How much will it be?
At this point, it is not possible to say what the cost will be. I must say that, with the gain in greater accountability and the greater devolution of powers, hon. Members should welcome the change. The hon. Gentleman is aware that the issue is one for a future referendum. Whether the Welsh people want to go down such a route is a question for them, and such matters will clearly be relevant to that debate. However, on having a 10p rate rather than a 15p rate, I hear the arguments in favour of essentially no devolution whatsoever and those for having a larger sum, but we believe that we have got the balance right. I hope that hon. Members will accept the balance achieved by the Silk commission recommendation, and that the hon. Gentleman will not persist with amendment 41.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Wales Office on their work on this matter. I endorse the principles behind the Silk commission and the legislation. Although my hon. Friend alluded to Silk, he has not yet mentioned the principles behind the lockstep and not giving the Welsh Government the capacity to vary rates between the bands. Some of us still have concerns about that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he takes me neatly on to the next line of my speech.
Amendments 1 to 4, which were tabled by Plaid Cymru, relate to the single Welsh rate of income tax—the so-called lockstep system. Fundamentally, income tax devolution must work within the integrated UK-wide income tax system. It must work for Wales by increasing the accountability of the Assembly and the Welsh Government, and it must work for the UK by maintaining the stability of the tax system.
Following a thorough and robust assessment of the Silk commission recommendations, we have determined that that would be most effectively achieved through a single Welsh rate of income tax that applied to all bands. There are two main reasons for that. First, the pooling and redistribution of tax revenues is a key feature of our fiscal model and ensures that wealth is shared among the regions and countries of the UK. The income tax structure is a key mechanism for achieving wealth redistribution. It is surely right, therefore, that UK-wide redistribution is decided at the UK level. The lockstep ensures that that will continue to be the case.
Secondly, although there are many benefits of tax devolution, it is not without risk. Specifically, we need to minimise the potential for harmful tax competition, increased opportunities for tax avoidance and evasion, and higher administrative burdens. It is therefore crucial that when we devolve taxes, we do so in a way that minimises those risks. In particular, the Government have consistently been clear that tax devolution should not benefit one part of the UK to the detriment of another. Tax devolution is not about moving economic activity from one area to another, but about empowering the devolved Administrations to generate additional growth and increasing their accountability by linking their budgets to their decisions. That incentivises the devolved Administrations and increases their accountability to the people, in this case in Wales.
Without the lockstep, the Welsh Government could substantially lower the rates of tax for the upper bands in Wales without making any change to the basic rate. That would be a considerable incentive for high earners to move across the border, which would benefit Wales, but would be to the detriment of the UK as a whole. Instead, the lockstep system will enable the Welsh Government to vary the levels of tax and spending in Wales, but the size of any differences will be unlikely to lead to tax competition. For example, they would be similar to the existing differences between the levels of council tax in neighbouring local authorities in Wales.
Devolving an element of income tax is therefore best achieved using the lockstep system. That will enable us to deliver substantial benefits to Wales, while continuing to redistribute wealth throughout the income tax system and minimise the risk of tax competition. I hope that I have helped hon. Members to understand our rationale for the lockstep system. I therefore ask them not to press amendments 1 to 4.
Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that he has contradicted himself? Indeed, the whole Wales Bill is contradictory. The hon. Gentleman is arguing that the powers are needed to incentivise the Welsh Government to develop economic growth, but he is placing a lockstep on those powers, making it impossible to use them. It is essentially a handcuff on those powers. There is a huge contradiction in what he is saying.
I do not accept that the powers are impossible to use. One can debate whether the rates should be varied, but the fact that there will be greater accountability will benefit Wales as a whole. We must balance the improvement in accountability in Wales with the difficulties that might arise with tax competition in the higher rates, which would be likely to damage the tax base in the UK as a whole. That is why we proceeded with a lockstep.
On amendment 6, tabled by the hon. Member for Pontypridd, I assure the Committee that the Government always consider the impacts of potential policy options and keep policies under review. An assessment of the potential impacts of devolving elements of income tax to the Welsh Assembly is summarised in the documents accompanying the introduction of the Wales Bill, in particular the Command Paper and the impact assessment. That assessment explains how the proposed system of income tax devolution achieves the key benefits identified by the Silk commission, increasing the accountability of the Assembly and Welsh Government and providing flexibility over the levels of tax and spending in Wales, while also minimising the risks of tax competition in the UK whereby significantly different tax rates could affect the behaviour of people living close to the border.
The Government’s assessment of the Silk commission’s proposals look closely at the potential for harmful tax competition in the UK, particularly given the populous border between England and Wales. As a result of that work, the Government rejected a system of three independent Welsh rates of income tax, instead proposing the lockstep system. As I have previously explained, that system specifically helps to minimise the risk of harmful tax competition in the UK. I hope hon. Members agree that the assessment we have undertaken is suitably robust, and that they are reassured by our commitment to keep the policy under review. Clause 22 requires the Government to report annually on the implementation and operation of the finance provisions of the Bill, so we will keep Parliament informed in that regard. On that basis I hope that hon. Members will withdraw amendment 6.
Amendment 16 was tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Harper as recommended in the Silk commission’s report of November 2012, and clause 8 provides for the Comptroller and Auditor General to report directly to the National Assembly for Wales on HMRC’s administration of the Welsh rate of income tax. That will provide independent assurance to the Assembly on HMRC’s performance in administering this tax. The Comptroller and Auditor General currently reports to Parliament on HMRC’s administration of its business, including the operation of the UK’s income tax system. Should the Welsh rate of income tax be introduced, it will be operated as part of the UK income tax system. The NAO would therefore be able to report to Parliament in relation to the Welsh rate as part of its existing remit, and clause 8 ensures that reporting to the Welsh Assembly on the Welsh rate will additionally fall within the NAO’s remit.
My hon. Friend will know from Second Reading that my concern is about companies based in my constituency that employ people, some of whom are resident in England and some in Wales, because there would be an administrative burden on those companies should there be a Welsh rate of income tax. I think the Minister has addressed this point, but will he confirm whether that burden—to the extent that it exists—will effectively be reported not just to the Welsh Assembly but also to this House? Members who represent English residents have a legitimate interest in how that complexity will hit local firms. If the Minister could be absolutely clear on that, there will be no need to press the amendment to a vote.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point and I hope I can reassure him. There already exist mechanisms for scrutiny in relation to the Welsh rate by Parliament through existing vires. HMRC’s accounts would contain specific information on the Welsh rate, and they will continue to be laid before Parliament. Hon. Members will be presented with the levels of spending incurred by HMRC in administering the Welsh rate and the amounts of revenue collected. I believe that those existing channels provide an appropriate level of scrutiny for hon. Members in relation to the Welsh rate, and I hope that addresses my hon. Friend’s point.
I also think it right for additional insurance to be provided to the Assembly via the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report, and we anticipate that that report would be produced to a timetable similar to that of the wider report to Parliament on HMRC’s accounts. No doubt my hon. Friend will shortly contribute to the debate, but I have set out the existing mechanisms for scrutiny that will be available to Members of this Parliament, and I hope he is reassured.
On amendments 38 and 39, we have been working closely with the Welsh Government on Welsh funding. In particular, the Government recognise there has been convergence between the levels of funding in Wales and England since devolution, and that this is a significant concern in Wales. As a result, in October 2012 we agreed to implement a joint process to review the levels of funding in Wales and England in advance of the spending review. If convergence is forecast to occur over the course of the spending review period, options will be discussed to address the issue in a fair and affordable manner, based on a shared understanding of all the available evidence.
In advance of the 2013 spending round, a joint review was therefore undertaken by the two Governments and the outcome set out in a written ministerial statement. The review determined that funding levels are not expected to converge during the period to 2015-16, and in fact an element of divergence is forecast to occur. The review also determined that relative funding levels in Wales are within the range recommended by the Holtham commission.
These arrangements assure that we have a shared understanding of funding levels in Wales and a process is in place to consider options should convergence be forecast to resume. In no way would the devolution of income tax have any impact on these arrangements, and it is certainly not the case that income tax devolution would lock in the current level of funding. These arrangements therefore provide a firm basis for proceeding with the new financial powers in the Bill, and I hope that hon. Members will therefore withdraw amendments 38 and 39. I hope that my comments have been of assistance to the Committee, and that clauses 8 and 9 and the Government amendments will be added to the Bill this evening.
The lockstep income tax power that is on offer in this Bill is not the one recommended by the Silk commission. We see two ways forward to preserve the integrity of the original Silk proposals. Either the lockstep income tax power should proceed without a referendum, which amendment 1 would achieve, or the Bill should be amended as per the Silk commission recommendation on income tax, which amendments 2, 3 and 4 seek to do, thereby restoring the need for a referendum, as Silk envisaged, on an income tax sharing arrangement without a lockstep.
I remind hon. Members that their parties, through their representatives on the commission, agreed to the Silk recommendations. Indeed, the Labour party’s representative on the commission was the esteemed former Assembly Member, Sue Essex, who is of course a former Finance Minister in the Welsh Government. The purpose of amendment 1 is to ensure that the referendum is on the ability of Wales to vary each income tax band individually, rather than the lockstep that is proposed in the Bill.
I believe that we should not have a referendum on these powers. The borrowing powers that will accompany the income tax powers would be essential to move the economy forward. Capacity will increase with the income tax powers. However, I accept the position of my party that a referendum should be held on the original Silk recommendations. In my view, the principle of fiscal devolution has already been conceded in this Bill—we will discuss the minor taxes next week—so the case for a referendum is not very strong.
Amendments 2, 3 and 4 would alter the Bill so that the lockstep is removed from the income tax power, giving Wales the ability to vary income tax band rates independently of each other, subject to a referendum, as per the original recommendation of the Silk commission. As the Bill stands, the lockstep on the ability to vary income tax in Wales means that all three bands can be moved up or down only in tandem, as is the case in Scotland. I hesitate to point out that those powers have never been used in Scotland, even though they have been available since devolution in 1999. Of course, the Silk recommendation was for the power to vary income tax band rates independently of each other. In reality the lockstep kills the ability to vary income tax at all, which strengthens the argument that I put to the Minister in an intervention—the lockstep hinders what the Government claim to be trying to achieve in the Bill, which is to incentivise the Welsh Government to develop their economy. Without the ability to introduce innovative income tax policy, how are they meant to achieve that?
The Tory and Liberal Democrat UK coalition Government put narrow party interests before the Welsh national interest and added the lockstep to the income tax powers, riding roughshod over not only the people of Wales but the supposedly autonomous parties and colleagues in Wales. They ignored the fact that they had signed up to the Silk proposals via their own commissioner. Meanwhile, the Labour party, at its recent spring conference in Llandudno, said that it wanted for Wales what its devolution commission has settled on in Scotland. That goes beyond the Tory lockstep, with the added handicap that the band can be moved only one way—upwards. That is why I have labelled it “lockstep-plus”. This goes against everything that First Minister Carwyn Jones and Finance Minister Jane Hutt were saying for months prior to the Bill being introduced by the UK Government. They argued that the lockstep must be removed and Wales be given the ability to vary the bands individually, as recommended by the Silk Commission. Having said that, we support amendment 41 from the Labour party, which would increase the fiscal responsibility of the Welsh Government up from 10p to 15p.
Does my hon. Friend find it peculiar that Labour’s position is to allow an increase in taxes in Wales, thereby handing a tax advantage to England? Its only policy on tax competition is to move it in favour of our friends in England.
That is an important intervention. The Labour party’s position is that it is worried about tax competition, yet, based on its tax policy, the only tax competition that could happen would favour England and other parts of the British state.
Let us be absolutely clear: Labour has not argued, and is not arguing, for a tax increase in Wales. We know that the Conservative party is saying that it wants to cut taxes for the wealthiest in Wales. We are seeking to future-proof the legislation so that a Labour Government in Wales would be able to mitigate against further Tory tax cuts for the wealthiest, and introduce tax justice in Wales.
That is the crux of the argument, and the division between the Labour party and my party. My view is that we should empower the National Assembly and have a mature debate in Wales about what the level of taxation should be. I think the hon. Gentleman is aware of where my political conscience lies—I tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill to reinstate the top rate to 50p. Let us have the debate. Let us trust our Assembly Members to have the debate and let us see the National Assembly mature. The one thing that devolving responsibility for these powers will do is lead to the maturing of the Assembly. Hopefully, we will see the growth and development of our democracy in Wales.
When the Welsh Affairs Committee carried out the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, we had independent witness after witness—I hasten to add that my hon. Friend Hywel Williams had taken over my role in the Committee for that period, as I was enjoying my paternity leave with my son Llywelyn—giving evidence, except of course the Secretary of State and Treasury Ministers, arguing that the lockstep should be removed. Those giving evidence included the leaders of all the parties in the Assembly, not least the leader of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in Wales. Several distinguished economists, academics and experts, as well as the Chair of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, also gave evidence. When the Welsh Affairs Committee visited Scotland following the initial Silk report, there was much excitement about its proposals. Academics, economists, civil servants, Ministers and Back Benchers in the Scottish Parliament were all in favour of Silk’s proposals for Wales, as opposed to what they have in the Scotland Act 2012.
I need not remind Labour Members present that the Labour First Minister, Carwyn Jones, said that the lockstep is a “Tory trap” and that it should be removed. He said the lockstep was “a long way short” of what was considered to be good for Wales, adding that
“binding the rates together is not right for Wales”.
That is a clear indication of the need to remove the lockstep on income tax varying powers.
We in Plaid Cymru are seeking, through amendment 21 and several other amendments, to maintain the integrity of the original cross-party Silk commission recommendations. We believe that the Welsh economy needs that sensible package of reforms in order to increase its ability to bring about economic growth and create jobs. We believe that it is a necessary tool, which will help us to begin to rebalance the economy of the British state by giving greater power to the nations and regions, and will help Wales to begin to lift itself from the bottom of the UK economic league table.
In its present form, the Bill requires Wales to hold a referendum on the lockstep model of income tax and win it in order to gain access to the higher limit applying to borrowing to fund investment. We believe that Wales needs access to that money in order to invest sensibly in infrastructure, secure a good return on its investment, and provide jobs that will have a beneficial effect on the state of the Welsh economy. We are all mindful of the huge cuts in its capital budget that the National Assembly has suffered under the coalition Government.
Given that the lockstep was not the compromise agreed by the parties during the Silk commission’s deliberations, it would surely make more sense to devolve the model without the need for a costly referendum. It is simply an income tax-sharing model, with a 90-10 split between the United Kingdom and Welsh governments. Giving the Welsh Government the ability to vary tax is a theoretical exercise that, as the Treasury well knows, cannot become reality with a lockstep—hence the strings that are attached in the Bill. The big prize of what we propose would be the increased borrowing capacity that I believe is required to help the Welsh economy to regenerate and renew itself.
It is clear that all the other parties are now putting narrow self-interest ahead of the Welsh economy by attaching conditions and caveats to Wales’s gaining of greater fiscal and financial powers. The Tories and Liberal Democrats have their condition of the lockstep, while Labour has its caveat in regard to reform of the Barnett formula, on which its members continue to contort and refuse to commit themselves despite citing it as a precondition for greater financial powers for Wales.
As for the debate in Wales, Andrew R. T. Davies and Kirsty Williams have announced some exciting tax policies that they wish to pursue in relation to the ability to vary taxes. Unfortunately, their colleagues down here in London are completely undermining what they have pledged to the people of Wales in various policy announcements. That is a big hit to their credibility, which may be why the Secretary of State introduced the lockstep: perhaps he wanted to undermine Andrew R. T. Davies.
There has already been much public debate in Welsh civil society about the issue of the lockstep and the power to vary income tax bands individually in Wales. There has been controversy as the lockstep row has engulfed the Conservatives. The Welsh Secretary has claimed that the mechanism would not prevent Welsh Ministers from using the powers—although they have not been used in Scotland since 1999—and has suggested that a 1p cut across all three bands would increase Wales’s competitiveness, a claim which, according to the Welsh Government, would cost £200 million a year. Meanwhile, the leader of the Conservatives in the Assembly rejected the lockstep in his submission to the Welsh Affairs Committee hearing on the powers, prompting a damaging fall-out with the Secretary of State. All the Tory Assembly Members were seconded down here to No. 10 Downing street to try to repair some of the damage.
We are often given the impression that it is the Treasury that does the overruling in all these matters. If Scotland does not have it, Wales surely cannot have it. However, the ability to vary income tax bands individually, as per Silk, would truly allow for the ability actually to vary income tax in Wales, and would be a significant step in the maturing of our democracy. As I said in our first debate this afternoon, it would provide a very positive narrative for the Westminster parties in relation to Scotland, demonstrating that they were serious about reforming the settlement of the UK and going beyond what Scotland has at present.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have a great deal of sympathy with him in regard to the lockstep, and, indeed, with one of his Select Committee colleagues who voted to remove it from the Bill. However, he is ending his speech—I think it is coming to an end: I think he has reached the last sheet—on an incredibly negative note. Does he accept that, in ensuring that our National Assembly has fiscal accountability, the Bill still represents a huge advance on the status quo? I sincerely hope that he will support it on Third Reading for that reason, whatever happens to his amendment this evening.
Of course the hon. Gentleman is right. We do support the Bill, but we want to use the opportunities provided by the Committee stage to strengthen and improve it. In my view, the lockstep is one provision that needs urgently to be removed. If the United Kingdom Government are determined to introduce it, let us devolve it in the Bill and then have a referendum on its removal. Why have a referendum on the lockstep mechanism?
The Secretary of State has spoken before of his belief that Wales needs the ability to vary income tax in order to be competitive—spoken as a true Conservative—but then does not offer a power that actually allows for any variation in income tax. That is the huge contradiction in the Bill as it stands. It is time for him and his Government to put their money where their mouth is and support our amendments—I am not holding out much hope—and for the Labour Members present to support what their party in Wales is saying by supporting us in the Lobby later.
This is a very important debate. The Bill is incredibly wide ranging and has lots of aspects to it, but the one issue that dominates it, as much the most important aspect, is the devolution of meaningful tax-raising powers to the National Assembly for Wales, and that involves a significant part of income tax. In doing that, the Bill will deliver financial accountability to the Welsh Government, which has been lacking since the National Assembly for Wales was established.
Let me give some context by saying something about my own background. In 1997, I was opposed to the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales, because I thought we were considering setting up a body that was not meaningful. I recall being at the count in Llandrindod Wells when the result for Carmarthenshire came through, and there were great celebrations because a yes vote had been snatched from defeat at the last minute. I recall driving home and thinking to myself that that was a key moment, and from then on I have taken the view that the National Assembly for Wales should have law-making powers and meaningful tax-raising powers. If we did not have those two powers, we were creating something that was simply not worth while. That is why this Bill is particularly important and we are dealing here with the key part.
It does not make any sense to have a Welsh Government who claim credit and say how good they are whenever they do something the people of Wales approve of but whenever something is done that the people of Wales do not approve of say, “We cannot do that because we do not have enough money from Westminster.” They transfer the blame, and they do not become a meaningful until they are responsible for raising their own taxation. All of us know that from other things we might have done in our lives. When I was chair of Berriew community council, a very small village council, the biggest debate we had in the year was about whether we should levy 1p on the rates, just as a precept. It was much the biggest debate because it involved balancing what we wanted to spend with the demands on the ratepayers and it made us think clearly about the decisions we were taking. The same thing applied when I was the finance chairman of Montgomeryshire district council. We had an all-day debate every year about 1p on the rates, because again it was about balancing what the council wanted to spend against what we wanted to raise. That is what has always been lacking in the National Assembly.
I was a Member of the Assembly for eight years, at one stage being the finance spokesman, and I would never use the term “budget” as to my mind it was always an annual spending plan. It was not a genuine budget because it was not informing the people that it wanted money from them and that a balance was being struck between spending and demanding money from the ratepayers. So I am strongly in favour of the income tax proposal, because it is hugely important and it is why I really welcome the Bill. There are other parts of the Bill where my support is at varying levels, but the income tax proposal will be crucial.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will know that I have always had some doubts about the need for a referendum. If we believe passionately that a body must have tax-raising powers to be a viable parliamentary body, we should commit ourselves in our manifestos to going forward with this proposal and then delivering it afterwards. I have come to accept that for two reasons, one of which is that there is a general expectation because of the referendum in Scotland that there will be a referendum on income tax-raising powers in Wales.
The second reason is that I want to stay as true as I can to the Silk commission report, which recommended a referendum, and all parties signed up to that. In pursuing this issue, I think I have to accept that there will be a referendum.
There has been a lot of discussion about the lockstep and the lack of freedom for the Welsh Government to vary individual rates. There will be different views on that, but I perfectly accept the rationale of the argument of Jonathan Edwards. I must say though that it diverts us from the huge step forward that the Bill represents.
The Bill gives the National Assembly for Wales—the Welsh Government—financial accountability for what they do. We have two days of debate in Committee. By giving income tax powers to the National Assembly, we are trying to create the foundation stone on which we can build a proper body in Cardiff Bay, serving, and answerable to, the people of Wales with true financial accountability. For that reason this proposal and the Wales Bill itself deserve our full support.
It is a pleasure, Mr Hoyle, to serve under your chairmanship, and to call you by your true name. This clause is one of the most important in the Bill, so it is a shame that we do not have a huge amount of time to discuss it. There are many important questions about how it will work in practice in Wales. The Exchequer Secretary attempted to answer some, but not all, of those questions, and there remains significant uncertainty as to how income tax varying powers would work in Wales and what the real risks would be to the Welsh Government’s budget and to the services on which the Welsh people rely through that budget.
I take some comfort from the Minister’s observation that there is probably a long time between today and these measures being deployed in anger in Wales. Crucially, from our perspective, we have been clear about the triple lock—about knowing that this would be good for Wales and for the Welsh budget, that fair funding was secured for Wales and that the Welsh people had assented at a referendum to these measures being employed in Wales. All of those three tests would have to be passed.
However, there remains on our part significant concerns about the motivation behind these proposals from the Conservative Government. We are suspicious that the true motivation is to cut taxes in Wales for the wealthiest, as the current Government have done across the rest of the UK. That suspicion is based on a very clear reading of the statement made by the leader of the Conservative party in the National Assembly, who, in a wide-ranging speech last year, explicitly called for cuts solely to the top rate of tax in Wales. This is not a fantasy on our part. The leader of the Tories says that he wants to cut just the top rate, and the Secretary of State wants tax competition through cutting across the board.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, under the provisions in this Bill, a tax cut for one rate of income tax will apply to every rate of income tax. Does he understand that point, because that is what a lockstep means?
I entirely understand that point, absolutely, completely and utterly. I also understand that the leader of the Conservative party in Wales has placed on the record his desire to cut solely the top rate of tax—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State is muttering from a sedentary position. I presume that he is referring to his colleague, the leader of the Tory party in Wales, because it was he who called for a cut to the top rate of tax. We understand perfectly well how this legislation will work in Wales, but we are not in favour of any one part of Britain undercutting another through tax competition, which is unfortunately the position of the Secretary of State for Wales—[Interruption.] He keeps chuntering from a sedentary position that I do not understand it, but, dare I say, if he had greater faith in his own understanding of his own Bill, introduced in this House with amendments tabled in his name, he would stand at the Dispatch Box to explain the Treasury position and the tax amendments. Unfortunately, he clearly does not understand it sufficiently not to have to rely on his colleague the Exchequer Secretary. We are extremely grateful to the Exchequer Secretary for turning up to act as a human shield for the Secretary of State for Wales, but it is a crying shame that the Secretary of State and the Minister require his support.
The Exchequer Secretary can continue to attempt to suggest that I do not understand the Bill, but I understand it perfectly. I understand perfectly how lockstep works, but equally understand that this Government have cut taxes for the wealthiest in Britain. They have exclusively cut the additional 50p rate to 45p. I also know that his party in Wales has proposed that it would like to go further with Wales, so he will forgive us if we are suspicious of the “tax cuts for the wealthy” motives of the Conservative party. I think we will continue to be suspicious. Unless he would like to get to his feet and tell us that he does not intend that his colleagues in Wales should cut taxes for the wealthiest, I suspect that he will not wish to intervene further.
On the subject of the complexity and cost of the Bill, the Exchequer Secretary left us entirely without answers about how it will work. In order to illustrate its complexity, I highlighted that he has today moved a poorly drafted clause that will see a Welsh Tory Member of the European Parliament who does not live in Wales and who does not have a residence of any description in Wales, but who lives in England, designated as a Welsh taxpayer. The logic of that is entirely lost on me, but I should have thought that he would want to check who his European Members are in Wales and where they lived before he determined that they would get a tax break—in her case, a £700 tax break—were his Government to do what the Secretary of State for Wales has suggested and cut all the tax bands in lockstep by 1%. That is the tax cut that she would get in Wales, despite the fact that she does not actually live in Wales.
I intend to answer. I fully anticipate that my friend, Mr Kinnock, were he to be so lucky as to win the forthcoming general election and be returned as the hon. Member for Aberavon, a great and noble seat in the Welsh Labour tradition, intends, as he has stated on the record, to live in Aberavon. The irony of this poorly drafted legislation that has been brought before us by those on the Treasury Bench today is that it would not matter where he lived. He could live in Copenhagen or in England and he would still, for the purposes of this half-cocked Bill, be considered a Welsh taxpayer. I do not think that the people of Aberavon would understand that and I suspect that the people of Wales will not understand why an English Tory MEP living in Ledbury will be deemed a Welsh taxpayer.
Let me return to the point about the complexity, if I may, and read a small section of the Bill to the Minister for the delectation of the House. It is entitled “Close connection with Wales or another part of the UK” and can be found in proposed new section 116G in clause 8. It says in subsections (3) and (4):
“T”— the Welsh taxpayer—
“has a close connection with a part of the UK if in that year—
(a) T has 2 or more places of residence in the UK,
(b) for at least part of the year, T’s main place of residence in the UK is in that part of the UK,
(c) the times in the year when T’s main place of residence is in that part of the UK comprise (in aggregate) more of the year than the times when T’s main place of residence is in each other part of the UK (considered separately), and
(d) for at least part of the year, T lives at a place of residence in that part of the UK.
(4) In this section ‘place’ includes a place on board a vessel or other means of transport.”
I read those subsections for the enjoyment of the Leader of the House, who I am delighted to say has joined us, to point out what a ludicrously complex piece of drafting that is, and what a ludicrously complex Bill it is. We point that out because attending that complexity is cost—enormous cost.
The Secretary of State, or rather the Minister—the Secretary of State did not answer because he was not at the Dispatch Box—could not tell us how much it would cost to implement these measures in Wales. That is a surprise. He also talked about accountability. He might have been a little more accountable for his own Department, because it is today that the Government and his Department should have published the second annual report on the implementation of part 3 of the Scotland Act, in which we were anticipating, as outlined in the Secretary of State’s impact assessment to this Bill, a renewed and updated view on the costs associated with the implementation of these measures in Scotland. That has not been published today. It was not published in April as the Ministers promised.
That is a dereliction of duty, not least because it leaves us in Wales with no idea as to how much these measures will cost. But we have reason to believe and to fear that it will be a significant amount of money, because we know from the first report on the implementation of the Scotland Act that it will cost more than £40 million to implement such measures in Scotland, and we know from the Government’s own impact assessment that it is likely to cost more in Wales. The reason is the porosity and populous nature of the border between England and Wales; 48% of the Welsh population and 10% of the English population live within 25 miles of that border, which means that fully 6.3 million people live along that border. In contrast, just 4% of the Scottish population and just 0.5% of the English population live within 25 miles of the border between England and Scotland, which means that just 450,000 people live along that border.
If it has taken so far, as the Government have conceded, £1.7 million to start the analysis of how these measures will work in Scotland, how Scottish taxpayers will be identified, how a pay-as-you-earn system will work, how employers will deal with it, what the nature of the information to be provided to newly designated Scottish taxpayers will be—if it is already £2 million-ish and counting, and soon to be £40 million for Scotland, do we not need to have some idea in Wales, as a part of prudent management of Treasury finances, and Welsh Government—eventually—finances, of much money it will cost the Welsh? If the Minister wants to offer us some indication, I should be grateful, but at the moment we are in the dark, and in the dark we remain concerned that the costs will be greater for Wales, and the disbenefits for Wales, therefore, potentially also greater.
In the light of the fact that there is such a long period before the measure comes into force, we will not press the amendments that we have tabled to the clause, but we will maintain our concerns about the motivations that lie behind it. We will continue to push for fair funding for Wales, not to the detriment of Scotland but in the interests of the people of Wales, and we will continue to ask the Minister to clarify what exactly this measure will mean for the Welsh people, and whether they will be better or worse off if the Bill were ever to be enacted.
After what is a relatively short speech from Owen Smith, I am still not entirely sure whether he is for or against it, but we are certainly for the devolution of income tax in the way set out in the clauses. I hope that the clauses and the Government amendments will have the support of the whole House, and that all other amendments will not be pressed.
Amendment 21 agreed to.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Amendments made: 22, page 11, line 5, at end insert
‘at the rates provided for’.
This amendment, and amendments 27 and 28, make changes to reflect the fact that section 11B of the Income Tax Act 2007 (as inserted by clause 9) and section 13 of that Act provide for the rates at which income tax is charged rather than imposing the charge to income tax.
Amendment 23, page 11, line 14, at end insert—
‘(2A) If the Treasury consider it necessary or expedient to do so, they may by order provide that—
(a) the Welsh rate set by the Assembly for a tax year, or
(b) the fact that the Welsh rate has not been so set for a tax year, does not require any change in the amounts repayable or deductible under PAYE regulations between the beginning of that year and such later date as may be specified in the order.’.
This amendment, and amendments 24 to 26, clarify and extend the power of the Treasury, previously in section 116I(4) of GOWA 2006 (as inserted by clause 8), by order to deal with the consequences for PAYE of a Welsh rate having been, or not been, set for a tax year.
Amendment 24, page 11, line 17, leave out ‘or (2)’ and insert ‘, (2) or (2A)’.
Amendment 25, page 11, leave out lines 18 to 26.
Amendment 26, page 11, line 33, leave out ‘(4)’ and insert ‘(2A)’.
Amendment 27, page 11, line 40, after ‘tax’, insert
‘at a rate provided for’.
Amendment 28, page 11, line 41, leave out ‘charged to income tax’ and insert
‘income which is charged to income tax at a rate provided for’.—(
Clause 8, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.