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Schedule 1 — Referendum about commencement of income tax provisions

Wales Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 24th June 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendments made: 6, page 32, line 40, at end insert—

“Assistance for designated organisations

6A (1) An Order under section 11(1) may make provision for the provisions of PPERA 2000 listed in sub-paragraph (2) to apply with specified modifications in relation to a referendum held by virtue of section 11(1).

(2) The provisions are—

(a) sections 108 and 109 of PPERA 2000 (designation of organisations to whom assistance is available);

(b) section 110 of, and Schedule 12 to, that Act (assistance available to designated organisations).

(3) The modifications specified may include allowing a permitted participant to be designated by the Electoral Commission under section 108(1) of PPERA 2000 in relation to one of the possible outcomes at the referendum whether or not a permitted participant is designated in relation to the other possible outcome.”

This amendment enables an Order in Council under clause 11 to modify the provisions of PPERA 2000 about designation of organisations by the Electoral Commission, and the kinds of assistance available to designated organisations. For example, the Commission could designate an organisation under section 108 of PPERA 2000 in relation to one (rather than both) of the possible outcomes of a referendum. Amendment 6 is in amended form from the text originally submitted.

Amendment 7, page 33, leave out lines 1 to 29 and insert—

“Information and encouraging participation

7 (1) An Order under section 11(1) may authorise or require the Electoral Commission to do things for the purpose of promoting public awareness and understanding in Wales about one or more of the following—

(a) the referendum which the Order causes to be held;

(b) the question to be included on the ballot paper at that referendum;

(c) voting in that referendum.

(2) An Order under section 11(1) may authorise or require the Chief Counting Officer to do things for the purpose of encouraging participation in the referendum which the Order causes to be held.

(3) The things which the Commission or the Chief Counting Officer may be authorised or required to do under sub-paragraph (1) or (2) include imposing obligations, or conferring powers, on counting officers or other persons.”—(Mr David Jones.)

This amendment enables an Order in Council under clause 11 to authorise or require the Electoral Commission or the Chief Counting Officer to do things for the purpose of promoting public awareness and understanding of, and encouraging participation in, the referendum. Those things may include the issuing of directions to counting officers.

Third Reading

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales 5:31 pm, 24th June 2014

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had a number of productive debates on this Bill, and I would like to thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. It was in November 2012 that the Silk commission recommended a package of measures to devolve fiscal powers to the National Assembly and the Welsh Government. We have had a number of debates in this House since then on giving the Welsh Government increased borrowing powers;
on the devolution of a portion of income tax, subject to a referendum;
and on the devolution of taxation on land transactions and landfill. Our debates on the Bill have enabled us to fine-tune those proposals further, and I appreciate the broad support that the Bill has received from all parts of the House. I would again like to thank Paul Silk and his commissioners for their work on their two reports, and also my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies and the other members of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs for their excellent pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill.

This Bill is a major milestone for Wales, and it demonstrates the Government’s commitment to strengthening Welsh devolution and Wales’s role in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

In the debate in Committee on 6 May, at column 109, the Secretary of State committed to updating the House, either on Report or on Third Reading, on the conversations he was going to have with the Secretary of State for Health about the health service. Is he able to do that today?

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

Yes, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me about that important point. I can tell the House that I have engaged with the Department of Health, and that NHS England is continuing its efforts to work constructively with the Welsh Government to find a solution to the problems faced by English patients, such as my hon. Friend’s constituents, who access NHS services in Wales. Work on resolving the issues raised by the cross-border protocol is continuing, and it is hoped that this work will conclude by the end of this year.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Can the Secretary of State also inform the House on the relative performance of the NHS on either side of that border? What is the difference between, for example, the Wye Valley NHS Trust and the Aneurin Bevan health board on cancer waiting times? My understanding is that in Wales the targets are rather more stringent, and are being met.

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

I could rehearse the remarks that were made on the last occasion we discussed this issue, but the point that my hon. Friend Mr Harper was making was that his constituents access the health service in Wales. They wish to access the English health service, but at the moment they have difficulty doing so. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would want to facilitate my hon. Friend’s constituents’ access to the English health service, rather than continuing to snipe.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

The shadow Welsh Secretary mentioned cancer waiting times, but does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that that is a very narrow element of this? The patient experience involves diagnosis, and the waiting times for diagnosis are much longer in Wales. If we take into account the total waiting times in Wales for cancer treatment, the picture is very different from what was suggested.

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The shadow Welsh Secretary ought to understand that there is huge public dissatisfaction with the Welsh Government’s performance on health in Wales. I suggest that, rather than trying to engage in guerrilla warfare on individual points, he has a word with his Assembly colleagues and urges them to do more to deliver a decent health service for the people of Wales.

Despite Labour’s focus on dual candidacy, at its heart, the Bill is about driving forward economic growth in Wales, and it illustrates the centrality of economic recovery to everything this Government do. The Bill provides the Welsh Government with additional levers and incentives to deliver economic growth. As well as providing opportunities for the Welsh Government, it increases scrutiny of them. Since devolution, the Assembly and the Welsh Government have been accountable only for how they spend taxpayers’ money; now, they will become more accountable for how they raise it. The challenge for the Assembly and the Welsh Government will be to use the tools we have given them effectively and efficiently. Part of that challenge will be deciding if and when to seek the agreement of the Welsh electorate, in a referendum, to devolving an element of income tax. I urge the shadow Secretary of State and his colleagues in Cardiff Bay to abandon their opposition to a referendum, and the Assembly to trigger a referendum sooner rather than later.

We are 87 days away from probably the most momentous decision in the 300-year history of our Union. The referendum in Scotland has significant implications for devolution in Wales. The majority of us in this House sincerely hope that the people of Scotland will vote to remain part of the Union. A no vote will allow those of us who believe in the Union to consider how best to strengthen it and to enable all parts of our United Kingdom to prosper.

In Wales, the recommendations made by the Silk commission in its second report provide opportunities to consider further devolution. As the commission acknowledged, the key legislative recommendations should be matters for the next Parliament, and it will be for political parties to set out their proposals at the 2015 general election. That will provide a mandate for the next Government to implement the changes they have committed to, and will enable Parliament to consider changes to the Welsh devolution settlement in the context of strengthening our Union.

As well as its financial reforms, the Bill makes some highly welcome improvements to the Assembly’s electoral arrangements, making them fairer and more equitable. Assembly terms will be changed from four to five years to make it less likely that Assembly and parliamentary elections occur on the same day. Members will no longer be able to sit simultaneously in both the Assembly and the House of Commons, enabling Assembly Members to concentrate on representing their constituents in the Assembly. The Bill overturns the clearly unfair ban on dual candidacy introduced by the Labour party, which is seen by constitutional experts and the public alike as partisan and anomalous.

This Bill marks a significant strengthening of the Welsh devolution settlement. It bolsters the democratic institutions in Wales, and ensures that the Assembly and the Welsh Government are more accountable to those who elected them. It provides the tools for the Assembly and the Welsh Government better to support stronger economic growth. I commend this Bill to the House, and I trust that the House will support its Third Reading.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Wales 5:40 pm, 24th June 2014

I echo the Secretary of State’s thanks to colleagues from all parts of the House who have engaged in debate and scrutiny of this Bill on the Floor of the House over what feels like quite a long period of time. We have had a constructive set of discussions, which have revealed some of the divisions between Ministers and their Conservative colleagues in the Welsh Assembly and exposed the clarity of the Opposition’s support for devolution.

I join the Secretary of State in thanking Paul Silk and the members of his commission for preparing the groundwork for this Bill, and also for reflecting on the future of Welsh devolution, not just in respect of fiscal powers but beyond that. I am sure that we will debate the measures in the second part of the Silk report at some future stage.

Labour supports much of this Bill, and will not oppose it on Third Reading. In particular, we support the Government’s decision to afford Wales borrowing powers. I have said on many occasions in this House that, in not being able to borrow, Wales has been at a disadvantage compared with other parts of the UK. We have acknowledged that that was a mistake of previous devolution legislation. Wales is a legislature that should be able to borrow in order to invest in vital infrastructure. It is welcome that the Government have recognised that, and are moving to afford Wales those borrowing powers. It is a shame that the borrowing powers are not the same as those that will be enjoyed in Scotland, but, overall, we are supportive of the measure.

We are supportive, too, of the proposal to devolve stamp duty, land tax, landfill tax and other minor taxes. Business rates are also to be fully devolved to Wales. We look forward to the Welsh Government, with their progressive values, using those powers in a fair and progressive manner to deliver, hopefully, innovative and progressive solutions for Welsh people in respect of land and businesses taxes.

I also welcome the move towards a more symmetrical position between Wales and Scotland. Wales is not Scotland, and the history of our two countries is very different. The way in which we came to support devolution is very different, and I have often said that. That asymmetry can be explained by our different histories and the different degrees of support for devolution in Wales and Scotland at the point of the initial referendum. However, that position has changed, which could be due in part to the impending referendum in Scotland. The Secretary of State rightly referred to it as a momentous moment for British democracy and for our country. It is right that we consider how things have moved, and why people’s support for Welsh devolution has strengthened. It seems increasingly clear to us, and also to the Government, that a more symmetrical system of devolution might add to the stability of the devolution settlement and diminish the cause of separatism.

We are disappointed that the Government have failed in this Bill to undertake any serious analysis of how the costs and benefits of tax devolution will be weighed for Wales. Any Government who were truly serious about affording these powers to another Parliament and Assembly should have undertaken that sort of analysis. Indeed, this Government did undertake that sort of analysis in respect of the Scottish proposals to take on taxation powers. I cannot therefore understand why the Government and the Secretary of State for Wales in particular have refused to insist that colleagues in the Treasury undertake a similar measure for Wales.

The argument has been made that a considerable gap is now expected between the passing of the Bill and the adoption of these powers, but there was a considerable gap—three years or so—between the passing of the Scotland Act 1998 and the uptake of its powers, and that did not prevent the Government from seeing the necessity of undertaking the work in advance.

It is also disappointing that the Government have failed to offer any real guarantee about whether Wales will be better or worse off under these provisions. We still do not know whether the block grant will be eroded over time. Initially, it will be protected, but the Exchequer Secretary told us again here today that if Welsh gross domestic product and revenues grew more slowly than those of England, Wales would have less money over time to spend on vital public services. Given the problems of meeting the demand for public services in Wales because of our specific demographics and history, and of a £1.6 billion cut to the Welsh budget since the Conservatives came to power, it would be better for the Government to give some sort of guarantee to the Welsh people that they would not be worse off.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

No, it does not indicate that at all. It indicates that we are not fantasists. We understand the fiscal reality of Wales, which expends £35 billion a year in public expenditure and raises £17 billion a year in tax revenues, leaving a very large shortfall. We understand that that shortfall is made up by virtue of our being part of a generous Union that shares risks and pools rewards across the UK. Our fear is, of course, that Plaid Cymru Members wish to use this—honourably, from their perspective, as they believe in a separate, independent Wales—to fuel their cause of separatism. We are not interested in fuelling their separatist cause. That is why we have asked questions about the Bill.

We are concerned that the Government have failed to take this opportunity today to use the Bill to take forward the reserved powers model. For the reasons that I mentioned earlier, we think that it would be beneficial for Wales to be placed on a similar footing to Scotland in respect of the devolution model, and the Government could have taken that step in the Bill.

The biggest failing relates to the measuring of benefits and costs to Wales. We will now need to rely on noble Members of another place to undertake further scrutiny of the long-term impact on Wales of the volatility of tax revenues and of the costs of establishing an Exchequer function for Wales. The reason why the Government have not undertaken such scrutiny is that, I fear, they are not terribly interested in Wales. If they were more interested in Wales, they would not have implemented £1.6 billion-worth of cuts. If they were interested in Wales, they would not constantly mislead the public, as we have heard this evening, and seek to divide and rule in Britain when it comes to the respective merits of our health care systems, housing, education and all manner of other things where the Secretary of State chooses to bad-mouth Wales. If they were genuinely interested in assisting Wales, he would have demanded that the Exchequer Secretary undertake a similar analysis to the one that he undertook with Scotland.

The bit of the Bill in which the Government are most interested—as I suspect are nationalist hon. Members—is the bit on dual candidacy. We have heard eloquent and compelling arguments from Labour Members as to why it is right that we banned dual candidacy. It is not right for losers to be turned into winners, as was the case in Clwyd West, in the Secretary of State’s seat. The public do not understand how political alchemy is used to transform people who have been rejected under first past the post, and to put them back into office via the back door. The Secretary of State and his colleagues have wholly failed to explain why they are doing that, other than for narrow party political advantage.

It is fair to say that we have not had many laughs here in the last couple of days, debating this rather dry and dusty devolution Bill. One thing that has amused me is the attempt to paint my party, and indeed me, as somehow anti-devolution. That is amusing as much as it is risible because, of course, the Labour party is the party of devolution. We campaigned for it for 100 years; we delivered it, and we will continue to deliver it. We have concerns about tax-varying powers because we do not want them turned to what we think would be malign intent—to fuel the separation of Wales from England. The Secretary of State is right to say that we face a very important choice in Britain; the Scottish people face an important choice. We do not want to fuel separation by encouraging tax competition, with one part of Britain undercutting another in a race to the bottom. That is anathema to Labour values and anathema to the values of the people of Wales.

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire 5:51 pm, 24th June 2014

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

I do not think this a dry debate at all. Constitutional debates tend not to be ones about which we joke and laugh, but as someone who is deeply embedded in Welsh politics, I find a debate about a Bill concerning the future governance of my country hugely interesting, and I have enjoyed the various aspects of it.

I declare my enthusiastic support for the Bill, which is a significant step forward in the devolution process, although there are aspects with which I do not agree. Perhaps I am in a very small minority, but I should refer to those differences alongside my general support for the Bill, to put my opinions on the record for the benefit of anyone in my constituency and indeed the rest of Wales who might want to know what they are.

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

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

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

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

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen 5:58 pm, 24th June 2014

It is a great privilege to speak on Third Reading of a Bill that my hon. Friend Owen Smith indicated we will not oppose, for a variety of reasons. The Secretary of State referred to this as a milestone Bill. I have sat through 26 years of Welsh Bills, and I have to say that I do not think this is a milestone. There are some good parts to it, but a real milestone would have been the Bill introduced by the Labour Government after the 1997 general elections, which set up the Welsh Assembly.

Jonathan Edwards suggested in a previous debate that the Westminster parties, by which I assume he meant the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats—he is actually a member of a Westminster party, as we meet here in Westminster, rather than Dudley or anywhere else—were obstructive when dealing with devolution matters. Had he said that in 1978, he would have been absolutely right. I was treasurer of the “No Assembly” campaign in Wales and deeply opposed devolution in the late ’70s, but I changed my mind, and for a variety of reasons, including all those years of Conservative government. He and his Plaid Cymru colleagues must reflect on this: no Labour Government would have meant no Assembly and no Welsh Government. Obviously we were helped by the pro-devolution parties—the Liberal Democrats and his party.

Glyn Davies suggested that a Labour Secretary of State might have “chickened out” of extending the Assembly’s powers. I see no evidence for that, having been a Secretary of State for Wales twice. I certainly would not have chickened out. Indeed, when this Bill was introduced I enthusiastically supported the previous Secretary of State, who I thought showed great courage in introducing it as a Conservative, and I agreed with her.

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire

I would like to reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think the Labour party would have chickened out had he been Secretary of State.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that.

The devolution of extra powers was supported overwhelmingly by the people of Wales in the referendum, including in my constituency, which, having been one of the most sceptical and anti-devolution constituencies in the whole of Wales, changed its mind. I think that there has been a sea shift in how people perceive devolution. People understand it more, although not completely. We heard earlier about the Welsh television surveys indicating that many people did not know who ran the health service, for example. There will still be some of that, but there has been a change none the less.

To that extent, I welcome aspects of the Bill. The change to the name “Welsh Government” might seem trivial to many people, but it is significant. I think that the fixed terms, the ban on dual membership and other aspects of the Bill are greatly to be welcomed. Even though we disagree on how the business of taxation should be introduced in Wales, the fact that the Government have introduced the idea that we should deal with it is significant. All parties now agree on that, even if we disagree on the method and mechanism by which it will be introduced. However, there are parts of the Bill, including dual candidacy, on which we fundamentally disagree with the Government. There are substantial disagreements, but there are also agreements.

The Bill will now go to the other place, and I think that there is an opportunity for their lordships to improve it. I will refer to just two issues. One relates to reserved powers, which I spoke about earlier. I think that the Scottish referendum—I hope that there will be a no vote—will be followed by extra powers for the Scottish Parliament and that that will be replicated in our Assembly in Cardiff. I hope that the Government will rethink that.

More immediately significant is the issue of borrowing. I think that we are being short-changed in Wales as a result of this Bill. I agree wholeheartedly with the Government that the Welsh Government should be able to borrow, as the Northern Ireland Executive and the Scottish Government can, but I have still heard no reasonable answer to the question that all of on the Opposition Benches have posed. The borrowing principle was introduced in Edinburgh and Belfast without necessarily any reference to streams of income, even though Scotland theoretically has a stream of income and the Northern Ireland Assembly has dealt with rates for many years. There is a gaping hole there. I think that their lordships would be well advised to examine that issue in the Bill.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

There is one further problem with the borrowing situation in the Bill. Why should the Westminster Government allow borrowing powers and then direct where the money should be spent? That undermines the whole principle of devolution, subsidiarity and any other principle of democratic accountability in sharing out responsibility. Their lordships will undoubtedly address that issue.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen

I think they will be right so to do. There is a lot of work to be done by their lordships, particularly the Welsh Members, in dealing with these issues, including borrowing.

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

I am reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but the intervention by Mr Llwyd is completely misconceived. There is no question of the Westminster Government directing the Welsh Government as to how to exercise their borrowing powers.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen

In that case, we are all right, are we not, and we can see what happens next?

These detailed issues are very important for us. Whatever divides us in this Chamber—the nature of politics is that we do divide on issues—there is a general consensus among us all that this Bill is another step in the right direction, and a step that makes sure that we remain members of the United Kingdom. By strengthening devolution, we strengthen the United Kingdom. However, the situation is changing. We must all accept—even I, coming from south-east Wales and Monmouthshire, with all my early scepticism, accept it, and not reluctantly but with some enthusiasm—that the landscape of our constitution and the way in which we govern ourselves in the United Kingdom is changing. Inevitably, the referendum in 87 days’ time will change us all, but I hope that in so doing it will unite us in ensuring not only that the United Kingdom remains as it is but that we devolve, sensibly, more and more powers—including, indeed, taxation—to the people of Wales.

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion 6:06 pm, 24th June 2014

It is a privilege to say a few words in support of the Bill on its Third Reading.

The Silk commission made a serious attempt to tackle the deficiencies in the devolution settlement, notably the lack of responsibility and accountability at Cardiff Bay. Those principles have been carried forward in the Bill. In assessing the funding system, Silk properly identified what was required—not just accountability but economic incentivisation, empowerment, efficiency, equity and, above all, responsibility.

I applaud the Bill and thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team in the Wales Office.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

Many tributes have been paid to my constituent, Mr Paul Silk. It is extraordinary that because of the quality of the work that he and his fellow commissioners did, the Bill has gone through relatively easily, even with a few minor amendments.

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Paul Silk has done the politics of consensus a great service. The commissioners, from all four parties, sometimes had to make compromises but arrived at an agreed report on two occasions. That is a mark of Paul Silk’s chairmanship and the quality of those commissioners.

Of course, my right hon. Friend is a Conservative Secretary of State

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion

Indeed—he is a very good Secretary of State on many issues.

I remind my hon. Friend Glyn Davies that this is a coalition Government and it is a Liberal Democrat achievement that we have got this far with this Bill. Last week I was at a book launch, as was Mr Llwyd, to celebrate the life of the late Emlyn Hooson—one of my hon. Friend’s illustrious predecessors—who on St David’s day in 1968 put forward a Parliament for Wales Bill that did not get very far. It is a mark of his work and that of many others from other political parties that we have reached this point today, albeit crystallised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion

I could not possibly comment, but I will give way to him.

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire

I would just like to say that the late, great Baron Hooson was a wonderful Member of Parliament who served Montgomeryshire and Wales with distinction for many, many decades; I do not want to be accused of being churlish.

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion

My hon. Friend says that with great sincerity, and I know him to be a sincere man. I just wish to place on the record the fact that the process of devolution has been an achievement of politicians of all parties—Liberals, Conservatives, and friends from the nationalists and from the Labour party—over the years. That process of consensus has to continue if the process of devolution marches on.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Opposition Whip (Commons)

I would not wish the hon. Gentleman to continue without mentioning one of his predecessors, Lord Elystan-Morgan, who made an interesting point in his autobiography, saying that when he started his political career—many of us know that he did not spend his life in just one political party—he would not have dreamt that the process of self-government and devolution would have gone on to the extent that it has.

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, and I agree with that. I can promise her, very much in the spirit of what Paul Murphy said, that Lord Elystan-Morgan and others of our respective Welsh teams will be working very hard on this Bill to make necessary amendments to make it all the more workable and successful.

I wish to talk about one regret I have about this Bill, which is the lockstep, an ideal that, as a devolutionist, still confounds me. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire on that matter. I recently read a military definition of the lockstep—I am alarmed that Bob Stewart is here, because he may correct me on this—which talked about how, when marching, all the marchers’ legs should be moving in the same way at the same time. Of course the Silk commission suggested something different, recommending that income tax rates should be capable of variation independently to create better economic conditions in Wales.

We have heard from the Secretary of State and from the Opposition about giving the Assembly Government the tools to do the job, and that is what I want this Bill to do. We should, however, be mindful of what Paul Silk said in his report, which was that the availability of capacity borrowing powers is contingent on the level of income tax devolution available to the Welsh Government following a successful referendum. He said that the lockstep model is less attractive and would therefore discourage the Welsh Government from pursuing devolution and the additional capital borrowing powers that would accompany it. He was right, and I regret the fact that he had to say that. I regret the response of the Labour party to the Bill and what Paul Silk said. I am clear that we have not heard the last of this, and I encourage Conservative Members to examine what their colleagues in Scotland have said about the lockstep and act accordingly, because those tax-varying powers really would enhance the tools available to Government.

I agree with Professor Dylan Jones-Evans who said that the important thing is to give the Government, of whichever colour, the powers to do the job. That is about grown-up government, and about respecting other Governments and other jurisdictions’ capacity to do the job; it is not about “nanny knows best”. Our friends from Plaid Cymru will agree with that characteristic as much as Liberals and Conservatives. That is a principle behind the Bill and I hope we can take it further. Welsh Liberal Democrats want to see flexibility of income tax powers without the Scottish lockstep model. Nevertheless, the Bill represents a huge step forward—although it does not provide the strides that some of us would have hoped for.

That brings me to the reserved powers model for the future, which I support. I could not support the Labour amendment on Report, as it struck me as a fudge, although outside the Chamber I was assured by the shadow Secretary of State that it was anything but. I wish to reiterate what Liberal Democrats, including the Deputy Prime Minister, have said, which is that we support the reserved powers model. The challenge Paul Silk set was for every party in this House to sign up to the reserved powers model at next year’s general election. The debate about devolution and the progress made has been a journey of stops and starts, but I believe the reserved powers model is the way forward and I endorse what Paul Silk has said.

Finally, there is an old adage that time and tide wait for no man. I believe that the tide of devolution in Wales is flowing fast and no Government, including this one and, indeed, future ones should be left behind.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.