Devolution of Fiscal Responsibility

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 9th July 2014.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 11:30 am, 9th July 2014

What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues and others on devolving fiscal responsibility to the Welsh Government.

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

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on the Wales Bill, which devolves a significant package of tax and borrowing powers to the National Assembly and Welsh Ministers. The Bill completed its passage through this House on 24 June, and it will have its Second Reading in the Lords next Wednesday.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Being in the position to set tax rates and collect taxes will clearly bring a new-found fiscal responsibility, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Wales should take that as an encouragement to vote in a Government in Wales who will look after their best interests?

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

I certainly agree with that, and I also believe that it is essential, once the competence is in place, for the Welsh Government to call an early referendum on tax-varying powers to maximise the benefit we are creating through the measures in the Bill.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath

Is it not the case that people in Wales would be buying a pig in a poke if income tax were devolved without a proper floor being put underneath the Barnett formula? The failure to address that issue has resulted in Wales being short-changed, so if income tax were devolved without the Barnett formula being addressed, it would be a bad outcome for Wales.

K

Wales does better out of the Barnett Formula than England does.

Submitted by Kevin Wells

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

I fear that the right hon. Gentleman has overlooked the arrangements that we put in place with the Welsh Government in October 2012, which ensure that if there is any danger of convergence, then the issue will be resolved. I believe that we should all be ambitious for Wales, and we should indeed be looking for a lower rate of income tax in Wales to give Wales the competitive advantage that it needs.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

Is it the policy of the coalition parties fully to devolve income tax powers to Scotland, and if so, why does the Wales Bill still include a tax-sharing arrangement in relation to income tax powers, with the lockstep measure for safe measure? Why are the Tories treating Wales like a second-class nation?

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

We have made it clear that the Scottish powers would kick in only after the next general election and they will, of course, have to be the subject of a manifesto commitment. However, Wales is not Scotland. We believe that the arrangements that we are putting in place are right for Wales. I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would support them.

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

On devolution, in the last hour there has been an extremely important ruling by the Supreme Court. It found in favour of the Labour Welsh Government in their attempt to preserve an Agricultural Wages Board for Wales and to protect low-paid farm workers in Wales. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to apologise for wasting court time and money on seeking unlawfully to get rid of an Agricultural Wages Board for Wales, and will he commend the Welsh Government on their actions?

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

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right that the Supreme Court delivered a judgment this morning. We are still considering the consequences of that. Where a procedure exists and there is an issue of doubt, it is entirely right that we should go to the Supreme Court to have the position clarified, and the position has been clarified.

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

The Secretary of State is trying to present this as a score draw. To be clear, he has lost 2-0. This is the second time he has referred Welsh legislation to the Supreme Court and the second time he has lost. This time he was trying to stop the Welsh Government trying to protect agricultural wages in Wales. I ask him again: will he apologise for wasting time? Will he agree with me that his interference and this ruling show that we definitely need Labour’s proposal of a reserved powers model for the Assembly in Wales?

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

I do not apologise for taking into account the devolution settlement and seeking clarity where it is necessary. To repeat, we are considering the ramifications of the judgment and will come back to the House in due course.