Amendment proposed (
This amendment and amendment 21 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.—(Mr Gauke.)
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
Amendment agreed to.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 40, in page 7, line 13, at end insert—
‘(10) In the event that the power to add new devolved taxes under Section 116C, or the power to add new devolved taxes under Section 80B of the Scotland Act 1998 is used, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must undertake a review of the benefits of symmetry in the devolution of taxes between Wales and Scotland.’.
Clause 6 stand part.
Clause 7 stand part.
Amendment 7, in clause 14, page 19, line 5, at end add—
Clause 14 stand part.
Clause 15 stand part.
That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill.
Clause 16 stand part.
Amendment 8, in clause 17, page 20, line 29, at end add—
Clause 17 stand part.
Clause 18 stand part.
Amendment 42, in clause 28, page 29, line 34, leave out paragraph (2)(b).
Amendment 43, in line 36, at end insert—
‘( ) Part 2, except the referendum-related provisions and sections 19 and 20, will come into force the day after the Secretary of State has laid a report before each House of Parliament on the further legislative steps needed to move to a model of reserved powers for the National Assembly for Wales; the report must be laid within six months of this Act receiving Royal Assent.’.
Recommendation 11 of the cross-party commission on devolution in Wales states that the National Assembly should be given a power to introduce specified taxes and any associated tax credits in Wales. This recommendation was not included in the Bill. That might have been merely an oversight by the Government, although those of us who are a little more sceptical suspect that they deliberately omitted it from the Bill. Whatever may be the case, amendment 32 seeks to align the Wales Bill more closely with the Silk commission recommendations.
We in Plaid Cymru welcome the inclusion of an ability to introduce specified new taxes. We note that the Silk commission recommendation 11 states that the Welsh Government should retain the revenue from these new taxes without a deduction from the block grant. I hope the Government will ensure that that is indeed the case. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that when replying to the debates.
Although the issue of Barnett was not within the remit of the Silk commission or this Bill, it is a closely related issue and I hope we will be able to debate at least some of it when we look at new clauses. It is important not least because Labour, if I correctly understand its position, has said that Barnett reform is a necessary condition before it will support greater financial powers for Wales. That is a significant statement on its part, I think.
The ability to vary income tax and access to potential borrowing for investments that can boost the economy and create jobs in Wales are the central tenets of this Bill, but there are several areas within the Bill that, if fully developed, could bring real benefits to the Welsh economy. That is why, in addition to the ability to introduce new specified taxes, the ability to introduce associated tax credits is so important. Although much careful research and preparation would be needed before introducing a new tax and associated tax credits, and it would be unwise to pre-judge where and when that might be done, at least giving the Welsh Government the ability to do this would give them much more freedom to act and take greater responsibility for developing our economy, which hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to see. We could raise the revenue, where necessary, and provide tax credits in order to stimulate activity or to provide assistance wherever it was felt necessary, be it for individuals, businesses or areas of industry.
The amendment aims to preserve the integrity of the original cross-party Silk recommendations. For Plaid Cymru it makes perfect sense, and I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to support it. Should we not press the amendment to a vote, or were we to do so and it were to fall, Government Members might consider tabling their own similar amendments on Report. Given that the principle of new taxes has been conceded in the Bill and that tax credits could be introduced, we would wish that to be the case.
We may hear talk later about parity with Scotland, and in the next few months there will be a great deal of intense debate in Wales on that issue. I note therefore that the Scotland Act 2012 provides for the Scottish Government to introduce new taxes or credits. By incorporating the Silk commission’s recommendation on tax credits in the Bill, we seek that ability for Wales now, too. The impact and compatibility of any new tax or tax credits would of course have to be measured and assessed in relation to the Human Rights Act 1998, European Union state aid rules and other directives, but it would be for the Welsh Government, through a resolution of the National Assembly, to decide what use they wanted to make of an innovative new tax.
I will speak in more detail in my speech about why I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s amendment 33, but may I ask him to clarify whether he envisages the definition of a “Welsh taxpayer” for any of these new taxes being the one set out in clause 8, proposed section 116E? That is relevant to my constituents, who might inadvertently be caught by any of these new taxes.
The hon. Gentleman raises a point that was made at an earlier time. He has outlined particular difficulties faced by his constituents, with which I have a great deal of sympathy. I might as well concede that this is a probing amendment and I would be interested to hear what he has to say later in the debate. We have a great deal of sympathy with hon. Members across the House who point to the border as a particular problem area; as has been said in the earlier debate, so many of our population live just over the border and vice versa, so I entirely concede that we need to take this issue seriously.
Paragraph 4.6.8 of the Silk commission’s first report states:
“In addition to the use of taxes to achieve policy outcomes in devolved areas, credits can also be applied so that activities are effectively subsidised. While existing tax credits such as the working tax credits (and in future the Universal Tax Credit) should remain UK wide, the Welsh Government should be able to introduce its own credits in relation to devolved taxes and through use of devolved grants and subsidies to promote investment and getting people into work.”
That is a laudable aim and I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to support us in order to fulfil it.
Amendment 33 would enable the Welsh Government, by a resolution of the National Assembly for Wales, to introduce a new tax without the need for approval by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Obviously, Plaid Cymru’s starting position is that Wales should be an independent country and that it should be for the people of Wales, through our own democratic institutions, to decide how its taxes are structured. However, the amendment would simply tidy the process of bringing in the new tax credits should the Welsh Government, through the National Assembly, decide to do so. I need not remind Members who represent Welsh constituencies or who are interested in the smooth functioning of democracy of the disastrous bureaucratic and constitutional nightmare that was the legislative competence order system. I was involved in that as a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee. Before the successful 2011 referendum on full primary law-making powers, the Government of Wales Act 2006 provided for further devolution on paper. The reality, I am afraid, was that it came to resemble a Kafkaesque constitutional quagmire when the powers were to be devolved. On occasion, it was entirely unusual. The Welsh Affairs Committee, reporting in 2010, stated that requests for extra powers from the Welsh Assembly Government, as it was named then, too often disappeared into the black hole of Whitehall.
We agree that we have, on the one hand, the extreme of the LCO system and, on the other, the reserved powers model, which we will come to later in this group. The hon. Gentleman would, I think, subscribe to the reserved powers model.
The hon. Gentleman surmises correctly. The model is clearer, more elegant and more easily understandable, and we will be able to debate it later.
Going back to the LCO process, the hon. Gentleman will recall, as he participated in those long debates on LCOs—
As the world expert on LCOs, I certainly concur with the hon. Gentleman about the cumbersome system. It is far better that legislative powers are solely with the National Assembly for Wales. Does he agree that despite the faults of the legislative competence order, the House succeeded in improving substantially the suggestions that came from the Welsh Government regarding LCOs and what happened to the legislative process afterwards?
I certainly do not want to rehearse the discussions and arguments we had on LCOs. LCOs were a curate’s egg—occasionally they went through without touching the sides. I remember chairing the LCO on mental health, which lasted for two sessions. The LCO on the Welsh language took rather longer.
Will the hon. Gentleman remind the House—I think he did some specialised work on this—of the number of hoops we had to go through to achieve legislative competence orders and of the fact that that did nothing to enhance democracy, which, mercifully, this Bill is seeking to remedy?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. The contrast between what I propose now and the LCO system is extreme. I think I counted 27 individual stages, but it might have been 28 or 26—the figure is lost in the mists of time. It was an extremely complicated business. To be fair, Members on both sides of the House made positive contributions. I pay tribute to Dr Francis, who is not in his place, for his skilled chairmanship. We got a lot through, but it was against the odds.
There is a danger that matters get lost in process, are ignored by the government machinery and do not progress at good speed. If we repeated the LCO process, we would be repeating a mistake and would unnecessarily create a drag on the smooth functioning of democracy. Surely the Members of the Assembly, through scrutiny, have, in partnership with the Treasury, the ability to carry out the requisite research, impact assessments and consultation. I hope that that ability is there. The need for a lengthy process of resolution in each of the Houses of Parliament when there is so often a strain on time—perhaps not at the moment, but often there is a strain on time—is surely a bar to the swift adoption of the system once the requisite preparatory work has been carried out in Wales. Surely if a matter is devolved, it should be devolved, and devolved fully and without the Government in Westminster seeking to keep their oar stuck in. As with many of our amendments that were considered in Committee last week, we say that it should be for the people of Wales, through their democratically elected institutions and representatives, to decide on the matters that have been devolved without being harried back and forth. The Government have conceded that Wales should have the power to introduce new taxes, and we are arguing for tax credits as well, as did Silk. That should be done without strings being attached that could prove a restriction and impediment.
Finally, let me return to the LCO process, which operated in much the same way as the new tax process is designed to operate. The Assembly used to submit a request for more powers, which was then scrutinised by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs before its final approval by MPs and peers. There is no proposal in this case of scrutiny by the Welsh Affairs Committee, and one does not have to be a constitutional expert and/or an accountant to see what a tremendous drag and immensely time-consuming process that might be. At the time, the critics of the LCO procedure maintained that it was cumbersome and opaque, and they were proved right. Sir Jon Shortridge, the former head of the civil service in Wales, said that Wales was often seen as “a complication too far” by London. The Welsh Affairs Committee also said that there was “an unacceptable lack of transparency” in the Whitehall clearance process.
All this talk of the Government of Wales Act 2006 and the 2011 referendum reminds me that Westminster always relinquishes its grip on power with a clenched fist. Where it can, it will inevitably introduce roadblocks or constitutional caveats that mean that the power on offer is never fully recognised at first despite the overwhelming majority of people in Wales being in favour of devolving more powers.
For the smooth functioning of democracy and to save Members’ time in this place in the future, I strongly urge hon. Members to support our amendment should it come to a vote and impress on the Government the need to learn from the mistakes of the past and streamline the process of introducing new taxes and tax credits in Wales.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Primarolo. After the earlier exchange, I feel left out by not having experienced the pleasures of legislative consent orders. They sound absolutely fascinating and were clearly invented by Wayne David so that he could be the self-proclaimed world’s greatest expert in them. I am feeling very left out indeed, but let us return to the matter at hand.
I want to say a little about this group of amendments and new clauses. Hywel Williams reassured me on one point by saying that he shared my concerns, but I shall talk about that in a moment.
When I read amendment 32, which would allow the Welsh Government to introduce tax credits by resolution of the National Assembly, I wondered whether, as tax credits are an instrument of welfare policy, it would effectively amount to the devolution of that policy. That was perhaps a little unfair, but the hon. Gentleman did go on to talk about universal credit and other areas of welfare policy, suggesting that he would like to see them devolved to the Welsh Government. I do not think I would.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s view, as he wants an independent Wales and to devolve absolutely everything, but if we devolved every area of tax and spending—welfare spending is, of course, the single largest area of Government expenditure—that would in effect create an independent country. I accept that that is the hon. Gentleman’s ultimate goal, but I suspect that in this Chamber today it is a goal that is not shared by anyone other than his right hon. Friend Mr Llwyd. It certainly is not shared more widely. I would not support it and the hon. Gentleman set out clearly in his opening remarks why this measure on tax credits is a Trojan horse to smuggle through the changes to welfare policy more generally that I, for one, would not want to see introduced.
Amendment 33, also tabled by the hon. Member for Arfon and his colleagues—I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd in his place—concerns a new tax. I asked the hon. Gentleman a question about a matter of concern to me. I said at Second Reading and on the first day in Committee that I was content with the definition of a Welsh taxpayer as set out in the Bill, but this proposal fills me with concern for two reasons. First, it does not say anything about whether the definition of a Welsh taxpayer would remain the same, and I set out in earlier debates my concerns about companies in my constituency employing residents of both England and Wales and the increased complexity. I raised that with the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, who was able to reassure me that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs would be able to look at such things when it reports both to this House and to the Assembly.
Secondly, I am concerned about allowing the Welsh Government to introduce new taxes because those taxes, even if they are levied on Welsh taxpayers only, might have economic effects on both individuals and businesses based in my constituency in England, who have no democratic control over Assembly Members or over the Welsh Government. That is why I am keen to see the retention of both Treasury control and the role of the House of Commons, one of whose historic functions is controlling tax and spending. Those are checks and balances that I think the hon. Member for Arfon wanted to remove. For those reasons, I do not support those amendments either.
One amendment caught my eye—amendment 40, in the name of the shadow Secretary of State. In the event of these devolved taxes being used, it would place a duty on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to undertake a review of the benefits of symmetry in the devolution of taxes between Wales and Scotland. Both at Second Reading and on the first day in Committee, the shadow Secretary of State set out some concerns about how tax competition might affect Wales adversely in comparison with Scotland. But if I were going to ask the Chancellor to conduct such a review, I would also want the review to cover the impact on Northern Ireland and on England.
I am reasonably relaxed about tax competition, as I said in previous debates, and I support the devolving of tax to the Welsh Assembly and to the Welsh Assembly Government, because I think if a Government and an Assembly have the ability to spend money, it is more democratically sensible if they also have the power to raise it. From a Conservative party perspective, I believe that ensuring that people who spend money are also accountable for raising it is absolutely in our political interest because it makes people think not just about things they want and things they would like to have, but about the cost of them, and how to raise the taxes, and the economic impact of raising taxes.
I suppose, therefore, that if I were urging the shadow Secretary of State to do anything—not that my urging him to do anything will have the slightest effect on his amendment; probably the reverse—if we were going to do such a review, we would want to look at the impact not only on Wales and Scotland, but on Northern Ireland and on England, particularly on parts of England that are close to Wales. The hon. Member for Arfon correctly noted that a significant proportion of the population of Wales live close to the England-Wales border and many people commute either side of it for leisure and business purposes and to access public services; and a significant number of people in England who live in those border regions do likewise. That was a sensible point and I am pleased that he accepted that we will have to think more about the impact on those border areas.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting contribution. I agree about the need to consider the impact in other parts of Britain, including Northern Ireland, of asymmetry in taxation. He says he is sanguine about the prospect of these powers being exercised in Wales, but would he be sanguine about lower taxes for higher rate taxpayers potentially attracting to Wales higher rate taxpayers who contribute to the local economy of the Forest of Dean?
I have a couple of responses. First, because I was present for our interesting debate on the first day of Committee, I know that the so-called lockstep provisions in the Bill mean—this is my understanding; I am sure the Exchequer Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—that it would be impossible to reduce the higher rate of taxation without also reducing the other rates in lockstep.
I would be delighted if taxes generally were reduced. Government raise too much money and spend too much of people’s money, and I am very pleased that in his recent Budget the Chancellor was able to increase the personal allowance again to allow my constituents to keep more of their money. I think they generally spend it better than even the Exchequer Secretary can spend it. I want my constituents to keep more of their money and keep his grubby mitts off it, but of course we have challenges to deal with, such as the deficit that we inherited, so increasing those tax cuts will not be possible. Cutting taxes generally would be helpful, and if cutting taxes in Wales meant that we saw lower taxes across the United Kingdom, that would be an entirely welcome prospect.
Cutting taxes in Wales would not necessarily lead to lower taxes across the whole of the UK. He is right about the lockstep provisions being designed to mitigate the effect of cutting taxes only for the wealthiest. However, if taxes were cut, as the Secretary of State has said he wants to do, for taxpayers in Wales, would that not be a potential disbenefit to the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world should people move in order to avail themselves of those lower tax rates in Wales?
No. That would create pressure on the Chancellor to make sure that tax rates were lowered. I am grateful to note that the hon. Gentleman appears to have become a convert to lower taxes and that will lead to an interesting conversation with members of his shadow team, who appear to be wedded to higher taxes. Creating an incentive to put downward pressure on taxation not just in Wales but across the United Kingdom would be welcome. There are many pressures from interest groups and from individuals campaigning for Government to spend more money. We all know that there is no such thing as Government money; there is only money belonging to taxpayers. It is either money belonging to taxpayers today that we relieve them of or, if we borrow money, we relieve future taxpayers of money. Lower taxes mean that people keep more of their own money. I am very content about that. I just want to make sure that it works properly.
On the point about higher rate tax, I had an entire debate in Westminster Hall on this to make it clear that I thought the focus and the priority for the Treasury when cutting taxes was to focus on those on median incomes—those in the middle. That is why I welcomed the changes to the personal allowance in the Budget, which in the context of the changes that we have made over the past four years, deliver more of the benefit to those on middle and lower incomes than those at the higher end. My priority is focusing on those on middle incomes.
My hon. Friend is making a logical case to give the Assembly powers over taxes, but is it not the reality that the Assembly will not behave in a logical fashion? Rather than cutting taxes, as he presumes and as even Owen Smith seems to be suggesting, the Assembly will ratchet up taxes at all levels, and my hon. Friend will benefit enormously because many talented and wealthy people in Wales will cross the border, go and live in his constituency and pay their taxes there, leaving us bereft of the money that we could be spending on public services.
I am grateful for the intervention from my hon. Friend, who chairs the Welsh Affairs Committee. He has put me in two minds. I am not sure whether to welcome his pessimism about the way he thinks the Welsh Assembly Government and the Welsh Assembly will behave, and look forward to the incredible opportunities that he sets out. If the Welsh Government do not learn from history and if they think it sensible to raise taxes, whether landfill taxes, stamp duty land tax or income tax, the flipside of proposal from Owen Smith is that rather than attracting people to go and work and live in Wales, the effect may be the one that my hon. Friend suggests.
If any businesses currently located in Wales want to relocate to the Forest of Dean, they will be made incredibly welcome. I will personally talk to the local council to smooth their way, and if residents want to come and live in the Forest of Dean, they will find a very good quality of life. If they want to pay their taxes in England, I certainly will not stop them. It seems that I can have it both ways. If the Welsh Assembly behaves in the way my hon. Friend fears, it will be good for my constituency. But to be serious for a moment, he puts his finger on it: he worries about the impact on Wales. I trust to some extent the good sense of voters in Wales.
By not devolving the tax powers that are set out clearly in the clauses that we are debating today, one of the problems is that the Welsh Assembly Government have to worry only about spending money, not about raising it, which leads to the consequences that my hon. Friend sets out. The Welsh Assembly Government do not have to think carefully about the price to be paid. If politicians’ minds are focused on the price to paid, whether it is individuals choosing to leave Wales or entrepreneurs choosing either not to set up their businesses in Wales or to move existing businesses to more hospitable parts of the United Kingdom, that will concentrate minds well, even if the Government there are not of that mind to start off with. It may also create political opportunities for parties that do behave in such a way to make inroads in the Welsh Assembly elections and in parliamentary elections to this House.
The hon. Gentleman is being generous with his time, even if he is slightly misrepresenting what I said earlier. The proposal to cut taxes in Wales rested on the prospect of a Conservative Government, led by his Front-Bench spokesmen’s colleagues in Wales. As he is talking about inward investment and business investment, would he like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Welsh Government on a 244% increase in foreign direct investment into Wales, higher than in any other part of Britain?
I always congratulate people on bringing investment into the United Kingdom. I am sure that the Welsh Government work hard to do that. But I am also sure that those businesses are mindful of the competitive corporation tax regime created by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, which has provided a good base in the United Kingdom from which to do business. That competitive corporation tax regime does not just benefit companies in England; it also benefits companies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That competitive tax regime is one that we want to see go further.
I cannot let the shadow Secretary of State for Wales get away with championing the success of inward investment and talking in percentage terms. We need to recognise the low base and the Welsh Government’s poor performance in recent years in attracting inward investment. Clearly, any growth needs to be recognised, but we also need to recognise the failure over the last decade, which compares significantly with the previous record.
Order. We are now going just a touch wide of the amendments, which are specifically about new powers and the process for them. Mr Harper is also ranging quite widely, so I would be grateful if he addressed the amendments.
I will not dwell at any length on my hon. Friend’s point, but it is always interesting to get that perception of the facts on the record, which is slightly different from that set out by the shadow Secretary of State.
The Minister will doubtless talk about new clause 20 —this probably comes back to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Arfon—which limits the ability that otherwise might be there for the Welsh Government to interfere with how HMRC operates, and how they use their powers, unless it is specifically for devolved taxes. I am pleased that it contains the condition that the Treasury has to consent to the provision. I think that this is the response to the concern I raised in my question to the hon. Gentleman on amendment 33, which is that even if the tax falls directly on Welsh taxpayers, there may be effects that range more widely, either on businesses located in England, or businesses that hire people from Wales. The Treasury having to consent to that enables a UK-wide perspective to be applied, allowing Members of this House who represent English constituencies that will be impacted by the tax to have a democratically accountable mechanism for speaking to Treasury Ministers, raising those concerns on behalf of their constituents, and allowing the Treasury to take them into account. I am pleased that that Treasury backstop provision remains there and I would not want to see it removed.
My final point is on clause 14 and stamp duty land tax, which I referred to on Second Reading. The Bill does not define what is meant by “land in Wales”. We had a slightly amusing knockabout on that on Second Reading, but there was a serious point underlying it. I made the point then that I wanted to ensure that “land in Wales” was not defined using postcodes, which are not very accurate when determining which country particular residences are in, and that we use a definitive mapping system instead.
Will the Minister also touch on what will happen to estates or properties that straddle the England-Wales border? I understand from the Library’s excellent briefing paper that a number of farms have land on both sides of the border and that the value of that land would be apportioned, with stamp duty land tax being paid for one part of it to the Treasury and for the other part to the Welsh Government. I wonder how that would work. What sort of mechanism will be put in place and how straightforward will it be for my constituents?
The hon. Gentleman might be worrying too much about something that is fairly straightforward. In fact, just outside Chester there is a pub that has one bar in Wales and one in England, and it seems to be doing rather well.
I do not doubt that businesses can operate in that way. What I do not want to see is businesses that today are operating perfectly happily, attracting customers from both sides of the border, finding that the Government’s intervention will impose a complicated regime. We all know the refrain, “I’m from Whitehall and I’m here to help you”—I assume that “I’m from Cardiff Bay and I’m here to help you” is greeted with the same warm delight in Wales. If they happen to have land on both sides of what is currently not a border, as far as they are concerned, I do not want them suddenly to be faced with a complicated taxation regime that will require them to hire expensive accountants to deal with it.
My plea to the Minister is therefore this: recognising that we would have to deal with that land in different ways, can we ensure that whatever administrative system is put in place is as straightforward as possible, and not just for HMRC, but for my constituents and those in the constituency of my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies who might operate on both sides of the border?
Notwithstanding my concerns about some of the amendments that have been tabled, I generally welcome the devolution of these taxation powers to the Welsh Assembly, because I think that democratic institutions that spend money also ought to raise it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Primarolo. I rise to speak to amendment 40 to clause 6, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend Nia Griffith; amendments 7 and 8 to clauses 14 and 17 respectively, which deal with minor taxes; and amendment 43 to clause 28, which relates to reserved powers. It is also worth bearing in mind the amendment to clause 28 that we tabled last week, on what we described as the fair funding lock, which is relevant to that part of my remarks today.
All these amendments relate to the theme of stability and symmetry. Our contention is that although devolution has, for all sorts of reasons—historic, political appetite and timing—developed in an asymmetrical fashion across the UK, which has often been desirable and necessary, on both sides of the House we recognise that it is potentially undesirable for that degree of asymmetry to continue in future. It is undesirable because with it has come a certain instability in our devolution settlement. It is not a pressing problem of instability that has in any way threatened the existence of the UK, until recent months and years, but it is increasingly problematic. That instability and asymmetry has traditionally been exploited by nationalists in Wales and Scotland in good faith and with good intentions, from their perspective, but has led them to ratchet up demands for new and varied powers in Wales and Scotland, setting one part of Britain against another in seeking to extract benefit from their objectives of independence for Wales and Scotland through asymmetry of the settlement.
In recent months, another party has joined them in seeking to divide some parts of Britain from others and to separate people in one country of Britain from those in another for party political gain and ideology. That is the Conservative party, which has recently become a zealous if late convert to the cause of tax devolution and competition, and sees an ideological and legitimate benefit for a party that believes in low taxation, the Laffer curve and the logic behind the comments by Mr Harper. It thinks that, from a relatively low political base in Wales, it has the potential to expand its presence by arguing that it is a low-taxation party in Wales.
I was intrigued to hear how sanguine the hon. Member for Forest of Dean is about the prospect of his constituents enjoying higher tax rates than those on the Welsh side of the border in the unlikely event of a Conservative Government in Wales. I am not sure that his constituents would be as sanguine as he is about the difference of a few yards making a 10% difference, potentially, in the tax rate enjoyed by them, compared with their neighbours.
I will happily restate for the record our view that we ought to have a fair rate of taxation in Britain. That is why we have pledged that the next Labour Government will reintroduce a 50p rate in Wales and throughout the UK. Our proposal is directly relevant to the amendment, which is about symmetry between the powers enjoyed in Wales and in Scotland—
I will give way in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman will calm down. I will finish my point and then the Floor will be his.
We want to future-proof the legislation so that, in the event of a Labour Government in Britain—we have already pledged in Scotland to take forward the Scottish devolution proposals and to extend the amount of income tax that can be devolved and the powers relating to that tax—the Chancellor would be forced to consider the benefits of symmetry and extending it throughout the UK.
Was the hon. Gentleman not rabble-rousing in his speech at Llandudno when he made it clear that a Labour Government in Wales would have the right to increase the tax rate to 50%? If he is concerned about tax competition, surely a 50% rate in Wales and a 45% rate in the rest of the UK would be problematic for the Welsh economy.
I am not sure I was rabble-rousing. I would never describe the representatives of the Welsh Labour party as a rabble, although they may have been roused by my speech, and I trust they were. It is fair to say that they were reported as having been roused by my speech and I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing that to the Committee’s attention. I am happy to repeat the view I expressed in that speech: that our worry is that the Conservative party has an established track record of cutting taxes for the wealthiest people, not just in Wales but throughout the UK, and is increasingly happy to support them and to act on their behalf. In the event of the Labour party winning the trust of people across Britain and winning the next election, we would like a Welsh Government to give the Welsh people, through their Assembly, the ability to deliver a progressive rate of taxation in Wales in keeping with the progressive values of the Welsh people. There is nothing wrong with that.
I want to come back to the hon. Gentleman’s point about whether I would be relaxed about delivering a lower rate of tax. Depending on whether there would then be a reduction in revenues, and that had some consequences, I would have no problem with a lower rate of tax. One of the things my constituents find annoying about the current settlement is that they see money being spent without there being any connection with its having to be raised; it all just comes from the centre. I think that if the taxing and the spending are connected, constituents will be relaxed about it. Given what the hon. Gentleman said, if a Labour Government remain in Wales there is clearly no prospect of lower taxes in any event.
I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. Taxpayers in Wales elect a National Assembly that has a democratic mandate to exercise its powers in respect of taxation, just as his Government do currently. I have never accepted the argument that the only way to give accountability to the National Assembly is through its having powers to raise taxes as well as spend them. I accept that intellectually there is a clear line to be drawn between taxation and representation, and that an increased level of financial accountability is afforded if taxes are being raised as well as spent. That is why we do not oppose that aspect of the Bill. Let me be clear, though, that Labour does not favour—as do, clearly, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench—tax competition within Britain. We are believers in the Union and in the ability to pool risk and share rewards across Britain. That fundamental belief is undermined, in my view and that of the Opposition, by tax competition that would see lower rates set in Wales compared with those in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
We are sanguine about supporting these tax powers, given the correlation the Government have drawn with borrowing, which we think absolutely vital. We are equally sanguine about the fact that Wales—given that Scotland has already moved on to this perspective as a result of the Scotland Act 2012, passed by this Government—ought to enjoy similar powers. However, we will not go on to say that we need to cut taxes in Wales to undercut England, because we do not believe in Wales undercutting the English.
Is there not a point about symmetry? The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that the three parts of the UK with devolved Administrations need to move together in terms of the powers they have and the decisions they make. Surely the logic of devolution, particularly in the way that his party delivered it, was that there was a different settlement in those three parts of the UK. I accept that avoiding asymmetry might be a desirable outcome, but is it not a bit late for him to take that view, given the three different types of devolution that his party delivered in government?
That is precisely what I said in my opening remarks. We have a tradition of asymmetry that results from history and the relative degree of appetite for these powers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland at the point at which we introduced them. Given that the Conservative and Unionist party is increasingly exploiting that asymmetry for narrow party political ends and risking tax competition within Britain, we worry that we need to move towards a more symmetrical system. In truth, that is what this Bill does. It puts Wales and Scotland on to a more symmetrical footing in respect of taxation policy. It puts Wales on precisely the same footing that Scotland will be on after 2016. We support that. Our amendment says that if Scotland were to go further, as it would be likely to do under a Labour Government, we would afford people in Wales the ability to move to a similar position.
I think the hon. Gentleman is either confused or has been misreported. The speech he made in Llandudno specifically stated that Wales would have the power independently to reinstate the 50% tax rate. If he is concerned about tax competition, then surely he can see that a 50% tax rate in Wales—whereas it is 45% over the border, 45 minutes from my constituency—would create a disadvantage for Welsh taxpayers.
I have not been misrepresented or misreported—that is precisely what I said and in no way, shape or form is it confused. It is a reflection of our abiding concern that the Tory party seeks to cut taxes for the wealthiest people in Wales. That is not a progressive tax system and it does not reflect the views and values of the people of Wales. Therefore, if we were in power in Westminster and Scotland took on greater tax powers, we would afford the Welsh people a similar opportunity.
The hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that he did not believe that Wales should undercut England. In other words, he does not believe that Wales should have a lower level of income tax than England. Does he also believe that Wales should not have a higher level of income tax than England?
No. That is why I said what I said and why we have tabled amendment 40. In the event of further cuts by a Tory Government to the taxes of the wealthiest people in Wales and England, we would afford the Welsh people the ability to set a more progressive rate and to reintroduce the 50p rate in Wales, just as we propose to do across the rest of the UK.
We are, of course, discussing a hypothetical point to an extent, because in the event of there being a Labour Government in Westminster—which is the only way Wales would enjoy these additional powers, unless the Secretary of State intends to amend the Bill—we would reintroduce the 50p rate right across the UK. The issue would then be a moot point in Wales.
This might be a hypothetical point, but it is interesting and revealing that, while the shadow Secretary of State is ruling out ever using income tax powers in Wales to reduce taxes, he is certainly not ruling out using them to increase taxes. As he is well aware, under the powers in the Bill, if he increased taxes at the additional rate, he would also increase the basic rate.
Indeed. That should come as no surprise to anyone. The Exchequer Secretary, in his rather tortuous remarks, is attempting to put words into my mouth. I said in my speech in Llandudno—I say it again today—that in the event of a Labour Government in Westminster, we would afford the Welsh people the ability to put up the top rate of tax and reinstate the 50p rate in Wales. That is very simple.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the essential point is that, although we have asymmetrical devolution in the United Kingdom—there is a great deal of variation between the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—we still have one British economy? Having variation is one thing, but having huge divergence is something else altogether.
Leaving aside the escape route that the hon. Gentleman has prepared for himself with his hypothetical point, is he not recommending tax competition?
No, I am not recommending tax competition. If the hon. Gentleman would like a further tutorial later, I will happily give him one on tax policy or anything else he likes.
None of the changes would of course come into effect unless what Labour has referred to as the triple lock is met. First, as the Bill lays out, we would need certainty that Wales was not worse off. We still have serious questions about whether Wales would be worse off—versus the Barnett formula and the block grant that we currently enjoy—if tax powers are taken. Secondly, we would need to be absolutely certain that there was fair funding for Wales; hence our fair funding lock. We are not talking about it today, but we did so briefly during the first day in Committee. For the changes to apply, Welsh Ministers would need to be satisfied that funding arrangements were fair before they triggered a referendum on exercising the powers. Thirdly, we would of course need such a referendum. As I said earlier, if the powers were exercised, they would be designed to mitigate the dangers of further Tory tax cuts for the wealthiest.
Amendments 7 and 8 on minor taxes and their volatility are probing amendments, unlike amendment 40, which we will push to a vote. Fundamentally, we broadly support the provisions—we certainly support the borrowing associated with the devolution of such powers and taxes to Wales—but we have significant concerns about how the powers will work, about the volume of these taxes and about how the Government have drawn a causal link between the devolution of these taxes and borrowing powers. The hon. Member for Forest of Dean raised other questions about the workability of the taxes and the manner in which they would be deployed.
On the connection drawn between powers and borrowing, I said on Second Reading and on previous occasions that the Government have yet to explain why they arrived at a rationale for associating powers with borrowing that is different from the one used in the Scotland Act. The Exchequer Secretary will know that the Scotland Act drew a connection between the capital budget for Scotland in respect of borrowing and the amount of borrowing allowed each year. The overall capital budget for Scotland is £2.3 billion, so borrowing of £220 million per year is allowed up to that ceiling. Why this Bill draws a different line between these taxes and the amount of borrowing has never been explained, and we remain convinced that the figure was just plucked out of thin air. If the Minister wanted to explain where the figure of £500 million came from and the basis on which it was derived, we would be very grateful.
As an indication of how the amount of money is significant—we support it—but perhaps not enough, Jane Hutt, the Minister for Finance, has announced only today an important package of funding on infrastructure, including £220 million for a new specialist cancer hospital at Velindre. I am sure all hon. Members welcome that, but it is a measure of how little £500 million buys these days. It is therefore incumbent on the Government to explain how they arrived at that figure.
We understand that the Government have made provision in the Bill such that the amount of money will not go down, even in the event of a reduction in the amount of taxes taken by the Welsh Assembly—that is guarded against—but the Minister will know that stamp duty and landfill taxes are especially volatile. In particular, stamp duty land tax is extraordinarily volatile year on year. For example, in Wales during the past five years it has been between £55 million and £130 million. Indeed, that difference of 60% occurred in just one year.
On the capital borrowing level of £500 million—I think the hon. Gentleman was asking how the Government had arrived at that figure—I may be wrong, but I believe I touched on this on Second Reading. In the “Wales Bill: Financial Empowerment and Accountability” document, there is a quite extensive section on how the Government arrived at that figure. It was partly through allowing the Welsh Assembly Government to proceed with improvements to the M4. Is the hon. Gentleman seeking further details on that, because I thought the document was quite comprehensive?
The point I was making—I hesitate to repeat it—was that there is a clear rationale in the Scotland Act 2012: a percentage of the overall capital budget for Scotland could be drawn down every year up to a maximum that was equal to the amount of the capital budget. The difference for Wales is that we have a direct line drawn with respect to the amount of taxes. We heard the Government describe it on Second Reading as relatively generous, because the overall amount of landfill tax and stamp duty land tax is around £200 million a year on average and the amount of borrowing is £500 million, so it could be seen as a 2:1 benefit for Wales. However, as I say, a different justification was used for Scotland, and it has never been clear from where that £500 million figure was derived. I suspect that the £500 million was a read-across from the £500 million previously enjoyed by the Welsh Development Agency, but if the Minister would like to tell us otherwise, we would be grateful.
Landfill tax is less volatile than stamp duty land tax, but in 2009-10 its yield fell by £100 million across the UK and by several million pounds in Wales. The whole point about landfill tax is that it is designed to reduce. As the amount of recycling done by local authorities in particular increases, the revenue from landfill tax will reduce; it is a disincentivising tax. It strikes me as particularly curious to attach a direct line between that particular tax and stamp duty, given its volatility, and the amount of borrowing, given that the Government now concede that the amount required by Wales is significant.
On the complexity of these taxes, I thought that Mr Llwyd provided an interesting example of the pub in Chester, which has one bar in one country and another bar in the other. Having sampled the warm welcome of hostelries in Chester, I know that that is an excellent pub doing extremely well, but if the landlord came to sell it, how exactly would the Treasury decide which room was in which country and in which country the relative rate of stamp duty land tax or whatever tax it is in a devolved Administration or devolved setting in Wales would be paid?
There are no estimates of the number of houses in Wales in similar circumstances. Many properties are on one side of the border, but the land attached to them, included when the house is sold, is on the other side of the border. Our view is that the Treasury ought to have done a little more homework on just how many properties will be affected and what the relative degree of difficulty would be in implementation. I see the Exchequer Secretary shaking his head. We know that businesses were consulted on the potential complexities of different rates of income tax, but to my knowledge, no analysis has been undertaken by the Treasury in respect of stamp duty land tax or landfill tax, which I think is a bit remiss on the Treasury’s part.
“on the further legislative steps needed to move to a model of reserved powers for the National Assembly for Wales”.
Guto Bebb, who is no longer in his place, referred to the conference in Llandudno that was addressed by my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, who made a further announcement about our intention to move to a symmetrical model of devolution as between Wales and Scotland.
In effect, that would mean that powers would be assumed to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly unless they were specifically reserved to the UK Parliament. That would hold many benefits for Wales. In particular, it would stop a Conservative Secretary of State, such as the one that we have currently, continually referring Welsh legislation to the Supreme Court. On three occasions, the Secretary of State has either sought to refer or succeeded in referring legislation to the Supreme Court, at a cost of about £150,000 a time. We do not know precisely how much it has cost. The Exchequer Secretary must know, so it would be good if he told us.
Our point is that there has been a party political attempt by the Secretary of State to stop the Welsh Government taking forward legislation that they feel would be in the interests of people in Wales and, in particular, working people in Wales. An example is the action that he took in respect of the Agricultural Wages Board. The Conservatives were so determined to cut wages for low-paid agricultural workers that he took the Welsh Assembly to the Supreme Court. We await the ruling. We are fearful that it could deal a further significant blow to some of the lowest paid agricultural workers in Wales.
The Secretary of State will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that all he is doing in referring matters to the Supreme Court is ensuring that the legislative balance between this place and the Welsh Assembly is upheld, and that the legislation that sets out that balance is not trespassed upon. To follow the hon. Gentleman’s logic, he is presumably saying that if, God forbid, he were ever Secretary of State and the Welsh Assembly Government tried to move the devolution settlement unilaterally, he would simply acquiesce and not defend the rights of this place or the primary legislation that it has passed.
That was the justification that the Secretary of State used at the time and he would no doubt use it again today. Our view and the view of many people in Wales is that what he did in respect of the Agricultural Wages Board was a party political attempt to tie the hands of the Welsh Assembly by arguing that it was employment legislation and not legislation that related to agriculture, which is devolved to Wales. Many of the learned counsel who offered their opinions on the matter backed the view of the National Assembly for Wales. We will wait to see what the ruling is. My point is simply that a shift from the conferred powers model to a reserved powers model would militate against such apparent confusion on the part of the Secretary of State and ensure that we had greater clarity about where the line lies between the powers of this House and the powers of the National Assembly.
I concur with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said about reserved powers. However, does he agree that the issue is less about party politics than about the clarity in the devolved settlement? That is why some parties are committed to having the reserved powers model in our manifestos. That is the conclusion that most people have reached after Silk II.
Indeed; the hon. Gentleman’s party and my party are committed to having that in our manifestos. We see significant benefits in putting Wales in a symmetrical position to Scotland in respect of powers and in tying the hands of future Conservative Secretaries of State who might employ the same argument to tie the hands of the Welsh Assembly Government.
Absolutely; Silk said precisely that. I am saying today for the clarity of the Committee that we believe that the current Government employed the argument for party political purposes. They attempted to stop the Welsh Government doing what they wanted to do, which was to maintain the Agricultural Wages Board for Wales. That would have had significant benefits for some of the lowest paid workers in Wales. On that basis, I believe we can say firmly that Wales would be better off if we moved to a reserved powers model, with the greater clarity and additional safeguards that it would bring.
Finally, Madam Chair—[Interruption.] I beg your pardon, Sir Roger; I did not see you slip into the Chair, but it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once more. On the background to these clauses, we did not have much chance to discuss the so-called fair funding lock. The ability of the Welsh Labour Ministers in Cardiff Bay to determine whether they think the funding settlement for Wales is fair and adequate, in advance of their moving to adopt any of the powers of income tax—or any of the other taxes—is an important test. I hope that the Government will rise to that challenge at some point in the future.
I rise to support amendment 7. I recognise that it is a probing amendment, but it is nevertheless important to discuss the volatility of stamp duty land tax revenues in Wales. I will also speak to amendment 43 and the need to move to a reserved powers model for the National Assembly for Wales. I am aware that those two issues are not really related, but both are in this group of amendments, and in my view both are extremely important.
As the Silk report states, stamp duty land tax is a “relatively volatile tax”. Indeed, as the director of CBI Wales said only last year, SDLT raised about £210 million in Wales in 2007, but only £115 million in 2008-09. That is a relatively small amount, accounting for about 2% of the Welsh block grant, but a variation from £115 million to £210 million in two years is not insignificant. As Silk himself stated, the devolution of stamp duty land tax could pose potential risks for the Welsh budget.
Let me be clear: I am in favour of the devolution of stamp duty land tax, but I would like reassurance from the Minister about precisely how that volatility will be managed. The essential point is that devolving SDLT has consequences for the block grant, which would be reduced by the amount of SDLT collected in Wales. I would like a fuller and clearer explanation from the Minister about exactly how the block grant offset will be determined. Will borrowed resources be used to meet any shortfall when the receipts from land tax are less than expected? Does the Minister agree with the Silk report that the value of the deduction should be decided between the UK and Welsh Governments, and not by the UK Government unilaterally? I suggest that the deduction should take into account the volatility of the tax and the forecast revenue in Wales. I would therefore like specific reassurances from the Minister that these admittedly esoteric but nevertheless extremely important issues will be clearly addressed, so that we know precisely what we have before us.
My second point is about whether we move from a conferred powers model of devolution for Wales to a reserved powers model. In my view, there is no perfect model of devolution. In Northern Ireland and Scotland there is a reserved powers model, but—let us be honest—those models have their problems. We will all have heard about Scotland and Antarctica. For those who are not au fait with that problem, there was an issue of whether Antarctica was included in the devolution model for Scotland. It was not on the reserved powers list, and therefore the assumption was that it was devolved to Scotland in issuing licences and permits for people to operate in Antarctica when they were based in Scotland. Of course, that was an oversight by drafters, and it was put right retrospectively. I simply cite that example to show that there is no perfect model of devolution. We can cite other difficulties that arose when Scotland adopted the reserved powers model, but the fact that no model is perfect does not mean that a reserved powers model for Wales would not be a huge step forward. It would be a huge step forward, because we have heard—very eloquently—from the shadow Secretary of State about numerous examples of issues that have been taken to the Supreme Court by the Wales Office. At root, the problem is a lack of clarity, which would not exist if we had more clearly defined the reserved powers model.
We are all concerned about the Conservative party’s determination to prevent the Welsh Government from introducing measures to protect Welsh agriculture workers, and the case for moving to a reserved powers model has been well put by the UK’s Changing Union project. Under the title “The benefits of a ‘Reserved powers’ model of devolution”, it said:
“A ‘Reserved powers’ model of devolution would benefit Wales and the UK as a whole. A ‘Reserved powers’ model would provide much greater clarity about the legislative powers of the National Assembly for Wales. This will benefit civil society organisations, politicians, civil servants and the general public—in short the democratic process as a whole. A ‘Reserved powers’ model would place the relationship between Cardiff and London on a more stable, adult footing and help reduce the number of unnecessary disputes”— which have been alluded to already in this debate—
“between the two levels of government. A ‘Reserved powers’ model of devolution for Wales would place Welsh devolution on the same footing as devolution for Scotland and Northern Ireland making it far more likely the UK will be able to develop more effective mechanisms to manage intergovernmental relations between central government and the devolved territories.”
That is an effective summation of the strong case for moving to a reserved powers model. I emphasise that there is no ideal model of devolution. Inevitably, devolution is a dynamic, but if we had this model, it would be far better than what we have at the moment.
Would the hon. Gentleman add to that list the availability of maximum flexibility in the future? We had the Government of Wales Act 1998, the Government of Wales Act 2006 and we now have this Bill. This piecemeal, step-by-step approach to what some of us would like to see—home rule in a federal Britain—is going on and on, but a reserved powers model would give us greater opportunities for flexibility.
Home rule, of course, was championed by Keir Hardie, who was the first Labour Member of Parliament, representing Merthyr and Aberdare. Home rule is very important and we must look at mechanisms to enhance that principle and take it forward. A reserved powers model would provide flexibility, but it would also provide greater coherence, stability and clarity. On those principles, it is superior to what we have at the moment, but—as I have said—there is no such thing as perfect devolution. Whatever the nature of the devolution settlement, we will always need to discuss, debate and even argue about some issues. On balance, however, I think a reserved powers model would be the right choice.
Do the Government recognise that a cross-party consensus is emerging in Wales that a reserved powers model would be superior to what we have at the moment? I ask the Conservative Minister not to dig his heels in on this, but to recognise that there is a constitutional consensus and that it means something. It is one of the essential underpinnings of a progressive view on devolution. For goodness’ sake, do not give the impression that his opposition to a reserved powers model is all about trying to prevent what we would see as progressive measures to protect agriculture workers in Wales. He is genuinely concerned about constitutional stability and flexibility, as has been said, and about achieving something approaching a cross-party consensus on the way forward for devolution. That is why the amendment is very important indeed. In some ways, it takes us beyond the parameters of the Bill, but nevertheless, if the House were to support it, it would give an important indication of how we all see devolution moving forward. It is therefore very important that we support the second amendment, amendment 43 to clause 28.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to respond to the debate.
Part 2 of the Bill introduces a provision to devolve taxes to the Welsh Assembly. Clause 6 introduces a new part 4 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 and confers the required competence on the Assembly to legislate on devolved taxes, including their collection and management. Clause 6 also allows for further taxes to be devolved to the Assembly via an Order in Council and makes it clear that officials working in any body set up by the Assembly to administer the devolved taxes can be designated as civil servants if the Assembly so chooses. This applies whether the body only collects and manages devolved taxes, or if it is additionally responsible for the existing devolved subject of local government finance, including council tax and business rates.
Clause 7 makes amendments to the commissioners for revenue and customs Acts to allow Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to administer devolved taxes on behalf of the Assembly. The clause also amends HMRC’s information powers to allow it to share information with the Welsh Government in relation to devolved taxes.
Clauses 14 to 16 and schedule 2 provide for a devolved tax to replace stamp duty land tax on land transactions in Wales, in line with the recommendation of the Silk Commission. Clauses 17 and 18 provide for a devolved tax to replace the existing tax on disposals of waste to landfill sites in Wales, again as recommended by the Silk Commission.
Let me address Government amendment 20. In devolving tax powers, our intention is that the Assembly should have a free hand in choosing how it wants its devolved taxes to be administered and by whom. We do, however, recognise that HMRC has many years—indeed, if one includes its predecessor organisations many centuries—of experience in administering taxes within the UK, so we want the Assembly to be able to use HMRC’s services for these purposes if it wishes to do so. The proposed legislation in clause 7 provides for this.
As set out in the Command Paper, though, we believe that this should be on the basis of mutual agreement. The Assembly should not be compelled to use HMRC to administer its devolved taxes, but neither should the commissioners for HMRC be compelled to take on this role. At present, the 2006 Act would allow an Act of the Assembly to modify an existing function of HMRC or confer a new function on HMRC without the consent of the UK Government.
Amendment 20, therefore, amends parts 2 and 3 of schedule 7 to the 2006 Act to make clear that the Assembly can only confer functions on HMRC and, once conferred, modify those functions if they relate to a devolved tax and the Treasury consents to it. The amendment ensures that the Assembly has the option of using HMRC to administer its devolved taxes, but puts appropriate safeguards in place for the UK Government in recognition of the vital role HMRC plays in collecting tax throughout the UK. I therefore hope that hon. Members will support the amendment.
All I can say at this stage is that we would consider any such request in good faith. We want to work in a constructive manner, and I believe that the UK Government have a record of doing that when dealing with the Welsh Government. Our amendment certainly does not constitute an attempt to delay matters. The Assembly has the option of using HMRC, but it is not compelled to do so. We think it reasonable, if the Welsh Government wish to use HMRC, for its commissioners and the UK Government to make a proper assessment of the overall impact on the UK.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. As I have said, our intention is to work constructively. It will be for the Assembly to choose whether to make use of HMRC’s expertise, which is obviously considerable, but should it wish to do so, I think it reasonable for the UK Government to reserve the right to ensure that no demands are placed on HMRC that could disrupt the important work that it does throughout the United Kingdom, including in Wales.
“the benefits of symmetry in the devolution of taxes between Wales and Scotland” whenever a tax is devolved to either. It requires the Government to assess whether a tax that is being devolved to Wales should also be devolved to Scotland, and vice versa. I understand the intention of the amendment, but it fails to take into account the fact that key principles of tax devolution already exist. The UK Government have adhered to those principles, and we would expect future Governments to do so. They state that any changes should be evidence-based, and should be considered in a UK context. An assessment of the UK context would include an assessment of whether symmetry with the other devolved Administrations was desirable.
The amendment seeks to impose an unnecessary statutory basis on a process that the Government would undertake as a matter of course when considering the case for devolving further taxes to either Scotland or Wales. It could, indeed, lengthen the process of devolving new taxes in the future by placing a superfluous statutory requirement on the Government. I do not believe that it is necessary, or would improve the procedure for adding new taxes that is set out in the Bill. It may well be that the hon. Gentleman simply wants to probe Ministers to establish whether this or a future Government would take the issue of symmetry into account, but I do not find the argument for a statutory basis persuasive.
We are indeed keen to ensure that the Chancellor has a statutory obligation to consider the benefits of symmetry across the piece on a statutory footing, but let me take up the Minister’s reference to the need for an evidence base to support taxation policy. Does he agree that it would have been wise of the Treasury to undertake some form of detailed behavioural analysis of the impact of tax competition in respect of income tax, or indeed any analysis of the impact that stamp duty land tax or landfill tax might have on behaviour?
I shall deal with stamp duty land tax and landfill tax later in my speech. As for income tax, I am tempted to explain to the hon. Gentleman yet again about the lockstep attributes of our reforms. He has expressed concern about tax competition, but it seems to me from his earlier remarks that he does not believe in it, and that, if he had a chance to seek greater tax competitiveness for any part of the United Kingdom, including Wales, he would not do so. Indeed, he seems to be advocating a policy of “tax uncompetitiveness” for Wales. However, I must not detain the Committee too long on that subject.
I realise that the Minister wants to make progress, and I know that he has rejected the suggestion that there should be an analysis of what might happen as a consequence of the Bill, but it would be helpful to have a clear articulation of the Government’s position on tax competition. Does he want tax competition, yes or no?
What we want is greater devolution in terms of income tax. When we debated the subject last week, I explained in some detail why we thought that it was a good thing, primarily because it would increase the accountability of the Welsh Government to the Welsh people, which I would expect Members in all parts of the Committee to want.
Amendments 32 and 33 were tabled by members of Plaid Cymru. Clause 6 introduces an important new power to devolve further tax powers to the Assembly via an Order in Council. The power has a broad scope, and can apply to brand-new taxes and to existing UK-wide taxes. The clause sets out the process for making such an order, which would need to be approved by both the House of Commons and the other place, as well as by the Assembly. Amendment 33 would remove Parliament from the process, so that the order would need to be passed only by the Assembly.
We recognise that it is important to give the Assembly and the Welsh Government the economic levers that are needed to generate growth in the Welsh economy, including the ability to introduce new taxes. We also recognise that—although this would depend on the proposal under consideration—if we are to proceed in a timely manner, it would be advantageous to be able to devolve further taxes without requiring primary legislation. However, a balance needs to be struck. Tax devolution should not be at the expense of reducing the overall tax receipts or competitiveness of the United Kingdom as a whole.
That last point is particularly important. As we stated in the Command Paper that accompanied the Bill, we would assess any proposals for further tax devolution against a number of criteria. For example, we would consider whether any new tax would affect the UK’s wider economic policy, impose disproportionate burdens on businesses or individuals, or create new tax avoidance opportunities. In short, the criteria would ensure that any new tax would not be to the detriment of the UK as a whole.
It is important for the devolution of further tax powers to take place in the constructive and collaborative manner that led to the Bill. It is therefore right for the resulting legislative process similarly to involve both the Assembly and Parliament, so that the proposal can be considered from the perspectives of both Wales and the wider UK. It would not be right for either to be able to legislate to devolve further taxes without the agreement of the other.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me for the second time. He said a moment ago that the Treasury would be concerned if any reductions in taxes in Wales led to reduced receipts for the Exchequer. Does he not agree with the Secretary of State that a Conservative Government in Wales should cut taxes, or does he think that that would necessarily always lead to higher receipts?
That is a matter for the devolved Administration, but the design of the income tax powers is such that we believe that we are striking the right balance.
Amendment 32 seeks to extend the power to tax credits. I know there was a little debate earlier as to whether this was about extending powers over the social security system as such, which is not the intention behind amendment 32. That was made clear by Hywel Williams.
It is worth pointing out that in devolving complete control of taxes relating to land transactions and disposals to landfill, we are giving the Assembly the ability to introduce tax reliefs or tax credits in relation to these devolved taxes. As Members will be aware, the landfill communities fund is an important part of the UK landfill tax system. Under this scheme landfill site operators can contribute a percentage of their landfill liability to be used on projects that will bring about significant environmental benefits. They can then reclaim 90% of this contribution as a tax credit, and I can confirm that it would be within the scope of the Assembly’s devolved tax powers to introduce a similar tax credit scheme in Wales if desired, which I am sure Members would welcome.
Turning to stamp duty land tax in clauses 14 to 16 and schedule 2, clause 14 adds a new section 116L to the Government of Wales Act 2006 which provides that a tax on Welsh land transactions is a devolved tax; in other words, it empowers the Assembly to legislate for the new tax. The clause defines a Welsh land transaction in similar terms to the definition of a chargeable transaction for SDLT purposes. In practice in most cases the new tax will apply to an acquisition of a freehold or leasehold interest in land in Wales. The term “land” here includes buildings erected on the land. Where a transaction includes land that sits astride the England-Wales border, the new tax can only be charged on the part of the land that is in Wales. In these relatively rare cases, the principle is that the transaction is to be treated as two separate transactions, one involving the land in England and the other the land in Wales. The transaction involving the land in England will be subject to SDLT. The Assembly will be able to legislate the new tax as soon as this clause comes into force. However, the tax cannot be charged on any transaction to which SDLT applies. This means the new tax will come into force when SDLT is disapplied in Wales under the provisions of clause 15.
Clause 15 amends the main SDLT legislation at part 4 of the Finance Act 2003 to exclude land in Wales from the definition of a chargeable interest in land for SDLT purposes. The clause also introduces schedule 2 to this Bill, which makes consequential amendments to SDLT legislation. The clause takes effect for transactions where the effective date for SDLT purposes, which in most cases is the date on which the purchase contract is completed, is on or after a date to be prescribed by Treasury order. We intend to set that date in consultation with the Welsh Government to ensure that arrangements for the devolved tax are in place. Subject to this proviso, we expect the date to be
Once the devolved tax on land transactions is introduced, clause 16 provides for the supply of information about Welsh land transactions to HMRC. This information is currently supplied by means of the SDLT return. The information is needed to allow HMRC to undertake compliance work in respect of taxes such as capital gains tax and corporation tax, which are not devolved, and to support the activities of the Valuation Office Agency.
Amendment 7 tabled by the official Opposition requires the Government to review the historical volatility of SDLT revenues in Wales, a point also made by Wayne David. It is true that SDLT is one of the more volatile taxes, but it is ultimately for the Welsh Government to consider whether they want to review the volatility of SDLT in Wales in order to inform their design work. It is also the case that alongside the devolution of tax powers in the Wales Bill, the Government are providing the Welsh Government with new tools to manage tax volatility, specifically a cash reserve and extended current borrowing powers.
Clauses 17 and 18 provide for a devolved tax to replace the existing tax on disposals of waste to landfill sites in Wales, as recommended by the Silk commission. Clause 17 provides for the new devolved tax, which will mean that the Welsh Government and Assembly will have full control over the design and administration of a Welsh landfill tax. Again, similarly to taxation on land transactions, the clause will come into effect two months after the Bill receives Royal Assent. This will allow the Assembly to legislate for the devolved tax and, subject to that legislation, the Welsh Government to make the necessary administrative arrangements. The devolved tax cannot apply to a disposal if the disposal is made before the date at which the existing UK landfill tax is disapplied in Wales, as provided in clause 18.
Similarly to the official Opposition’s amendment 7, their amendment 8 requires the Government to review the volatility of landfill tax in Wales. I would make similar arguments in that it is a matter for the Welsh Government whether they wish to do so.
Finally, amendments 42 and 43 seek to postpone the commencement of part 2 of this Bill, apart from the referendum provisions and clauses 19 and 20 in relation to borrowing powers, until the Secretary of State has laid a report before both Houses of Parliament setting out the steps needed to move to a reserved powers model of devolution. The report would need to be laid within six months of the Bill’s enactment.
Through these amendments, Opposition Members are seeking to connect directly the commencement of the parts of this Bill that would devolve tax-raising powers to the Assembly to one of the most far-reaching of the Silk commission’s part 2 recommendations. A move to a reserved powers model would be a fundamental change to the devolution settlement in Wales. It should be a matter for party manifestos at the next elections, as the Silk commission itself recognised. As such, I believe there is nothing to be gained by requiring the Government to report to Parliament on the legislative steps needed to move to a reserved powers model. There is certainly no justification for delaying the devolution of SDLT and landfill tax and withholding the transfer of power to the Assembly over its budgetary procedures until such a report is laid.
I fear that this is an attempt by the Labour party to delay the devolution of fiscal powers to Wales—anything to thwart the need for truly accountable decision-making in Cardiff bay, and anything to avoid the Welsh Government having to take responsibility for their actions. This Government, in contrast, are committed to devolving the tax and borrowing powers in this Bill as soon as possible. I invite hon. Members opposite to consider the full implications of their amendments, and to withdraw them.
I will seek leave to withdraw the amendment standing in my name and those of my party colleagues, but I would like to make a few brief points.
In response to Mr Harper, who suggested our views on tax credits and devolution might be the thin end of the wedge in devolving universal tax credits, I should say that I was quoting from the Silk report that while existing tax credits, such as working tax credits and, in future, universal tax credits, should remain UK-wide, the Welsh Government should be able to introduce their own credits in relation to devolved taxes. That was the point I was making.
Finally, we in Plaid Cymru see amendment 40 for what it is, which is an attempt to delay, and we will be voting against it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: 40, page 7, line 13, at end insert—
‘(10) In the event that the power to add new devolved taxes under Section 116C, or the power to add new devolved taxes under Section 80B of the Scotland Act 1998 is used, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must undertake a review of the benefits of symmetry in the devolution of taxes between Wales and Scotland.’.—(Owen Smith.)