I am pleased to open the debate on the amendments made to the Wales Bill in the other place. Given the number of Members who wish to speak in this relatively short debate, I shall aim to keep my comments relatively brief.
First, I place on record my gratitude to the peers who contributed to the scrutiny of the Bill during its passage through the House of Lords. It would be dangerous to try to name them all for fear of forgetting some, but a number who regularly attended briefing sessions and gave feedback throughout the process helped to get this important legislation through the other place without any Government defeats. I thank in particular Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth for steering the Bill so ably through the other House on behalf of the Government, supported by Baroness Mobarik as Whip for the Bill.
I also take the opportunity to place on record my thanks to a number of right hon. and hon. Members of this House. My right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan started the process when she established the Silk commission in 2011. My right hon. Friend Mr Jones expertly guided through Parliament the Wales Act 2014, which implemented the Silk commission’s fiscal recommendations. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb. In his time as Secretary of State he took a number of bold decisions, most notably the establishment of the cross-party St David’s day process, which put in place the framework of the Bill. That was a bold move, as I have suggested—one that sought to bring all parties together to make a constitutional agreement that would bring both Houses together, understanding the politics of both sides of this House and of the other place.
My right hon. Friend was unstinting in his belief in the importance of the Bill and subjected himself to immense scrutiny with respect to its contents. I pay tribute to his work in setting the framework that has allowed my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and I to take it through the Chamber.
It is also appropriate to pay tribute to Members on the other side of the House who played an important part in the scrutiny of the Bill, especially the former shadow Welsh Secretary, Paul Flynn, and his predecessor, Nia Griffith, who was involved in the work, negotiations and discussions throughout the process, as well as the current Opposition Front-Bench team.
I wanted amendments 9 and 44 to be spoken to separately, to give right hon. and hon. Members the opportunity to consider the fiscal framework agreed between the UK Government and the Welsh Government. The amendments are directly linked to that agreement.
The agreement reached between the UK Government and the Welsh Government is an historic agreement that is fair for Wales and fair to the rest of the UK. During scrutiny of the Bill last summer, this House approved the removal of the requirement for there to be a referendum before Welsh rates of income tax were implemented, and the fiscal framework paves the way for the devolution of those historic tax powers from April 2019.
The block grant adjustment mechanisms that will take account of the devolution of stamp duty land tax and landfill tax are also part of that agreement, ensuring that the replacements for those taxes in Wales, which the Welsh Government are already legislating for, come on stream in April 2018.
While the Secretary of State is talking about the fiscal framework, may I welcome the lifting of the cap on borrowing for capital expenditure to £1 billion? That is not quite the £2 billion that Front-Bench colleagues in the other place asked for, but I welcome it as a step forward. Does the Secretary of State agree that that measure will give the opportunity to continue investment in infrastructure in Wales, both digital and physical, and can also contribute to increased productivity?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the scrutiny he provided at previous stages, and for his comments just now. I will come to the numbers later, but I hope he recognises that there was a mature discussion between two institutions, and he is absolutely right that this measure paves the way for the Welsh Government to use their new borrowing powers to legislate for and finance things that really matter to the Welsh people.
The agreement ensures that, when tax powers are devolved, the Welsh Government will have fair funding for the long term, taking into account Welsh tax capacity and treating population change consistently across tax and spending. In doing so, we are delivering on the independent Holtham commission’s ambition of a long-term fair funding settlement and agreement for Wales.
Indeed, I spoke to Professor Holtham only last week, and he is clear that this is a “very fair settlement” and that there is now no case to argue that Wales is underfunded. The Government previously stated that Wales receives a fair settlement. This cements that in place and enhances the settlement.
Does not the Secretary of State agree that the fiscal framework is already out of date because it is pre-Brexit and we now know that Wales will suffer severely if we come out of the single market? Is it not true that the Bill is just another stepping-stone on the way to a new Bill, which we will get when the terms of Brexit are declared?
The hon. Gentleman is well aware that we have a positive dialogue with the Welsh Government on the nature and framework of the process and the ultimate outcomes of exiting the EU. I was happy to receive yesterday from the Welsh Government a paper outlining their proposals, and we will of course give it close consideration. It will be subject to a future Joint Ministerial Committee for the European negotiations.
I did not hear my hon. Friend’s comments, but should there be any attempt to frustrate the process of exiting the EU by the Welsh Government, the Welsh population would not expect or want it. After all, Wales voted to leave the EU, and it is only right and proper that we act on that instruction and direction, which came from the public in Wales. I would hope that the Welsh Government continue to engage positively in the way that they have.
Given the respect that the Secretary of State says there is between the institution of the National Assembly and the Government here at Westminster, should he not be disappointed that the Supreme Court has not ruled today that there should be a formal consultation with Wales via the National Assembly?
We have maintained that the views of the Welsh Government are important, but the views of other stakeholders in Wales are also relevant to the discussion. The Welsh Government will rightly form their view, and the UK Government will come to a conclusion that serves all parts of the United Kingdom, including other stakeholders in Wales, as part of the process. The legal action that the Welsh Government took was a matter for them. We have had the judgment, and we need to respect and act on it.
I shall return to the fiscal framework and the funding settlement for Wales. I have already mentioned Professor Gerry Holtham, but it is appropriate that we pay particular tribute to him for the work that he did. We should also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for the part he played in the negotiations, and to the way that the Welsh Government and Mark Drakeford, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, went about the negotiations with my right hon. Friend, whereby two mature institutions discussed serious matters that will have long-term positive consequences for Wales.
Building on the existing funding floor, the Welsh Government will continue to have a fair level of funding for the long term, taking into account Welsh tax capacity and treating population change consistently. For the first time, we have agreed to add a need-based factor of 115% into the Barnett formula, as Holtham recommended. We are embedding the funding floor that we announced in December 2015 into the mechanisms that decide how Wales is funded. The significance of this measure should not be understated: the Labour party called for it from Cardiff Bay for many years while it was in power in this place, but it has taken a Conservative Government to introduce that needs-based factor and deliver on Wales’s needs. I hope that the shadow Secretary of State, Jo Stevens, will recognise the significance of bringing the needs-based factor into the Barnett formula.
Does not the Secretary of State share my concern that the needs-based factor will be based on sums ascertained in 2009-10, which will be effectively 10 years old when it comes into effect? There should be a review before it starts.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention, and for the scrutiny and interest she has rightly given the Bill, but I hope she recognises the significance of the fiscal framework. The needs-based factor to which she refers is 115%, and the current level is well above that. It will fall to 115% over time, recognising the fair settlement that Wales gets because of its needs. It is significant that that needs-based factor is being introduced into the Wales settlement for the first time. It is something for which the hon. Lady and her party have been calling for some time, but it took a Conservative Government to deliver it.
My right hon. Friend has done a fantastic job of steering the Bill through its Commons stages. Liz Saville Roberts says that the figures are out of date, but when I sat down with Professor Holtham to think about how to scope out a fair funding floor for Wales, he was absolutely clear that there was no reason to think that just because of the passage of time the figures that he had in mind were somehow incorrect. The level that has been set by the Treasury is exactly right for Wales’s needs at this time.
My right hon. Friend played an important role in ensuring that we have the needs-based factor by framing the debate in such a way as to make possible a successful conclusion. Ultimately, the Welsh Government would understandably have rejected the Bill unless it was associated with an appropriate and fair funding settlement. I hope that Opposition Members will recognise the significance of the settlement, because it really does matter to the long-term funding of public services in Wales.
Does the Secretary of State accept that, as the First Minister set out yesterday in the White Paper published with the support of Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, there is a difference between the Barnett funding formula and funding arrangements of the sort that we currently have under the common agricultural policy and the structural funds? As things are moving on very rapidly, will he make a commitment that Wales will not be left a penny worse off as a result of leaving the European Union?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to go down a route for which no decisions have been taken. We are keen to engage and discuss those matters and, as we have already said, we are keen to engage with the Welsh Government and the other devolved Administrations on future funding arrangements. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the fairness of the way that we have approached the Barnett settlement and the fiscal framework, and that that will give him confidence that, as we hope, we will achieve a fair settlement for Wales and all parts of the United Kingdom as we exit the European Union.
I would like to make a little progress, but I will happily give way later if time permits.
We have agreed a fair way for the block grant to be adjusted to take account of tax devolution and the devolution of a portion of income tax, and a transitional multiplier of 105% in the Barnett formula that will give the Welsh Government additional money, over and above current levels, whenever we increase spending in a devolved area. That 105% demonstrates the even longer-term transition to getting down to the floor of 115%. We are doubling the Welsh Government’s capital borrowing limit, so that they will be able to borrow up to £1 billion —as Nick Thomas-Symonds pointed out a moment ago—to invest in infra- structure throughout Wales.
Lords amendment 9 puts the new capital borrowing limit in place now, so that it will be available as soon as the Welsh Government start to raise revenues through the taxes we are devolving. Lords amendment 44 then ensures that Lords amendment 9 comes into force two months after Royal Assent, thereby putting the new borrowing limit into place well in advance of the devolution of tax powers. As the hon. Member for Torfaen rightly highlighted, that will allow the Welsh Government to get on with things that matter, and to legislate and use the new financial capacity that the Bill will grant. Taken together with the Wales Bill, the agreement paves the way to making the Welsh Assembly a more powerful, accountable and mature institution, with greater powers and responsibilities to grow and support the Welsh economy.
The fiscal framework agreement resolves once and for all the perceived issues of underfunding that have overshadowed political debate in Wales for so long. It provides the Welsh Government with a powerful new borrowing limit to deliver much-needed infrastructure investment, and it ensures that the devolved Government in Wales can become truly accountable to the electorate by raising around a quarter of the money that they spend. Gone are the days when poor levels of public service in Wales could be blamed on perceived underfunding. For too long, funding was used as an excuse for poor outcomes, but not any longer. If they want big government, the Welsh Government could even raise taxes to pay for it. Or, if they want to reduce income tax levels, they could look to drive out inefficiencies and allow Wales to be seen in a new entrepreneurial light. I urge the House to agree to the Lords amendments.
In the spirit in which the Bill has so far developed, we will this afternoon see something of a rarity in my life: I will, on occasions, agree with the Government and some of the measures they are taking. Before the Secretary of State gets too excited about that, though, it has to be put on record that the Bill has had a chequered history. It started out very badly—so badly that the Government had to take it away and start all over again. The second attempt was better, and we have now reached a point at which although it is still far from ideal, there has been considerable movement by the Government as a result of pressure from the Opposition and in the other place.
I put on record my thanks to my predecessors, my hon. Friends the Members for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and for Newport West (Paul Flynn), and their Front-Bench teams, for their work during the Bill’s passage. I particularly thank my colleague Baroness Morgan of Ely and our team in the other place for the sterling efforts they made to secure numerous improvements to the Bill through debate and discussions with the Government, who took a largely constructive approach to concessions. We therefore support the Bill in its current, improved form, and will not attempt to frustrate its passage.
I shall not detain the House longer than necessary on matters on which there is agreement, but I wish to make substantial points on the Opposition amendments at the tail end of the selection list, on which I may wish to test the will of the House. We are hopeful that we can make good progress and reach those amendments.
Given the importance of the consequences of Lords amendments 9 and 44, it is right to put something on the record about them. They will raise the Welsh Government’s overall capital borrowing ability to £1 billion, and from April 2019 the annual capital borrowing limit will rise to £150 million—15% of the overall figure. As the Secretary of State pointed out, all that stems from the fiscal framework agreed by the Government here in Westminster and the Welsh Assembly Government. It is welcome news; I congratulate the Welsh Government. Like the Secretary of State, I particularly congratulate the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, Mark Drakeford, for working so hard to seal this important deal with the UK Government. I also pay tribute to the Government for moving on this issue.
The increase in borrowing ability is so important because the austerity that successive Conservative Chancellors have imposed on Wales has had severe consequences for the Welsh Government’s ability to invest, particularly in infrastructure. As has been pointed out, with the loss of European funding that Wales will experience once we leave the EU, the ability of the Welsh Government to invest in infrastructure becomes even more critical. Therefore, moves to enhance the Welsh Government’s ability to invest in and develop infrastructure for the future are of course welcome. It is all about investing in Wales and boosting our economy, and this measure will go a significant way towards doing that.
Sensible infrastructure investment led by the Welsh Government will help improve productivity rates in Wales and increase the gross value added of Wales. However, as Members will hear me say several times today, the Government plans do not go far enough. In the other place, my Front-Bench colleague, Baroness Morgan, tabled an amendment to raise the borrowing cap to £2 billion based on the Holtham recommendations. We accept £1 billion as a step forward, but it is clearly not enough to properly meet the demands of the Welsh economy. Before the Minister responds to that point, I caution the Government against viewing the cap as a target. The point is to see the flexibility and dynamism provided by the higher limit, rather than to look at only how much is borrowed.
Many successful businesses do not use 100% of their borrowing facility, but leverage their borrowing to a sensible percentage of the facility based on the economic context in which they are operating. The higher £2 billion that was sought would not necessarily have been used, but would have allowed greater flexibility and freedom for the Welsh Government to invest in a greater number and a greater scale of critical schemes and infrastructure projects.
I make these points to the Minister to put them on record and to push his conversations with the Treasury ahead of the forthcoming Budget, but, as I have said, we do welcome the step forward that Lords amendments 9 and 44 provide and we will not vote against them.
May I say that it is a matter of some pleasure to see this Bill going through the House? It started off, as my hon. Friend Jo Stevens said, as a dreadful and ugly Bill. This is not the slap of firm Government, but the timid, limp wrist cringe of a weak, uncertain Government, who do not know in what direction they are going. None the less, the result is generally beneficial, and a step forward—a stuttering step forward and not one of which we can feel greatly proud. We also know that we will have to come back to it because the world has changed after Brexit.
I accept that there has been some improvement in this Bill. I am talking about the £1 billion in the amendment, but it should have been £2 billion. The Welsh Assembly has a very good record of investing in infrastructure and other projects, but we do need more investments in the future. The purchase of Cardiff airport was a great success.
Much has been made of this £1 billion cap, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the M4 relief road, which is on his doorstep, has been talked about a lot. Access to borrowing has been available to the Welsh Government to crack on with scheme, but they have done nothing. The £1 billion is a sensible amount. Will he comment on the broader use of these powers?
The hon. Gentleman well knows why the delays have taken place on that scheme. Obstacles are in the way of the scheme going through the system of appeals and the public inquiry, but, certainly, there is unlimited enthusiasm. It is nice to see him sitting there among half an acre of empty green leather seats today. I noticed that, on a previous reading of this Bill, one party took great advantage, taking a video swipe that showed the Opposition Benches empty, apart from the three Members of Plaid Cymru. The visual image was that the Member who was speaking—a Plaid Cymru Member—was someone who habitually empties these Benches as people stampede to the Tea Rooms whenever he speaks. People should not lie by using these misleading pictures of the House.
What we have before us is an unprecedented challenge to Wales. We must understand what leaving the single market will do for Wales, for Welsh industry, for Welsh farming and for the health service. It will hit us much harder in Wales than in England, and we must make allowances for that. However, we are not doing anything of the kind.
Craig Williams talked about roads, and we do have a great problem there. I am talking about the highway robbery of the Severn Bridge tolls. We have had 52 years of double taxation of local people, and that is set to continue. Perhaps the Welsh Assembly could look into that infrastructure project. It is an outrage that people are paying twice for the tolls: we pay our share of the national road scheme in Wales and the west of England, and we pay over again for the tolls.
It was accepted by this House, under the Severn Bridges Act 1992, that those charges should be in place for a certain period. That period will come to an end later this year or early next year, when the Severn bridges have the same status as every other piece of motorway in the rest of the United Kingdom, and should be treated as such. The cost of maintenance should be borne by national funding. That is an unquestionable argument in favour of the abolition of the tolls.
There is a similar argument for the abolition of the tolls on the Cleddau Bridge, though their genesis was rather different. We cannot allow this psychological barrier to Wales to continue to exist. We want to give the impression of complete accessibility as that will be beneficial to those living on both sides of the River Severn. I hope the Government will look at this again.
When we look at these Bills that come up year after year, we see a growing acceptance by the people of Wales of the idea of devolution. I am glad to see the absence of that band of Conservative MPs who tried to vote against a clause very similar to this one on Third Reading.
This Bill will give the Welsh Assembly greater dignity and status as a real Parliament. From that point of view, we welcome it, but what we have seen today in this Chamber is that grudged nature of devolution. Today’s Supreme Court decision is saying that this Parliament will rule on powers that have already been devolved to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It should have no right to do that. It is reversing devolution in today’s judgment. Unfortunately, this sad Bill will not take account of Brexit or today’s decision by the Supreme Court.
I had not planned to say much this afternoon, but I thought that I would take the opportunity to contribute. First, let me put on the record my thanks to the Secretary of State and congratulate him on the fantastic way that he has steered this Bill through its Commons stages and on the way that he has handled very sensitive discussions with the Welsh Government, peers and the Opposition parties to bring this Bill to fruition.
I also wish to put on record my thanks to Lord Bourne and to Baroness Randerson, who has not been mentioned this afternoon. Baroness Randerson was a Minister in the Wales Office when I was Secretary of State, and she was a fantastic rock of wisdom and support on matters relating to devolution. The amendments before us really give effect to the fiscal framework agreement, and represent the culmination of all those original aims that we set out for this next stage of devolution.
I remember sitting down with the then Prime Minister David Cameron two and a half years ago in the lead-up to the Scottish referendum—we all felt that it was a moment of unique constitutional history—and saying, “Well, where does this leave Wales? Do we need to do something further on Welsh devolution?” We had already had the Silk reports. To be honest, they were on the shelf. My feeling was that it was not good enough to leave Welsh devolution in limbo. Yes, there was a bit of pressure coming from some of the opposition parties in the Welsh Government to give effect to Silk 2, but there was no overwhelming pressure. Conceivably, we could have resisted that pressure, but I thought that moving on to the next stage of Welsh devolution was the right thing to do.
I am immensely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to Baroness Randerson who were with me at the time in the Wales Office. We really talked about the matter to see what we should do. Comments have already been made this afternoon about how the Bill has changed, but it has followed an entirely appropriate and correct process, including a draft Bill, a consultation, the taking of advice and guidance, and amendments. The tone throughout has been one of listening. However, the original objectives have not changed. We wanted to create a stronger, clearer devolution settlement for Wales to end the constant arguing that resulted in the UK Government and the Welsh Government trotting off to the Supreme Court to debate which Administration are responsible for which policies—it was absolutely ridiculous. We also want to create a fairer devolution settlement, which is where the financial aspect comes in.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has done. My colleague Jenny Randerson greatly enjoyed working with him. He has pushed this agenda forward. One test that he employed at the time was to see whether the settlement would stand the test of time and whether a chapter would be closed—would Wales get used to its new constitutional settlement and would we not have to return to devolution in future? Has that test been met?
To be absolutely honest, I do not think that this represents the end of the book on Welsh devolution, but we need a prolonged period in which the Welsh Government learn to deploy their powers and use their competencies in a way that benefits the people of Wales. We were talking about the M4 upgrade earlier; an early deal that I did when I was Secretary of State for Wales involved making new money available to the Welsh Government to crack on with it. The project had been talked about for years. I remember taking a question on it during Welsh questions and William Hague leant across to me and said that people were talking about it 20 years ago when he was Secretary of State for Wales. We are still waiting for any substantial action despite the money being available. That is the challenge that risks corroding public support for devolution in Wales—the sense that the Welsh Government, despite their additional powers, seem unable to crack on and take big, bold decisions to improve the lives of people in Wales.
Returning to my previous point, the Bill meets the core objectives that we set out. The reserved powers model and additional powers for the Assembly and for the Welsh Government create a stronger devolution framework. Amendment 9 will create a clearer and fairer settlement as a result of the fiscal framework and the funding floor for the Welsh Government’s new borrowing powers. I remember being told two and a half years ago that the four things that we wanted to achieve had no chance of success. I was told that the Treasury would not agree to them, that the Welsh Government would not agree to take tax-raising powers—income tax powers—and that my own Back Benchers would not agree. However, all the parties worked together to sketch things out while respecting each other’s’ differences. Plaid Cymru has long-standing aspirations and ambitions for Welsh devolution that, frankly, no Wales Bill has met, but the tone was constructive and that has laid a good foundation and has provided smooth passage for a reasonably good Bill. It is not the end of the story, but I hope that it is the end of an interesting chapter for Welsh devolution.
I am sure that the House will join me in wishing the best to my hon. Friend Jonathan Edwards, who is expecting the imminent arrival of the latest member of his family. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I sympathise with all MPs who have to balance family life and parliamentary duty.
I, of course, welcome to an extent the fact that a fiscal framework is on the verge of being in place, giving the Welsh Government a degree of financial accountability that is intrinsic for any functioning democratic Parliament. Judgment is still very much out, however, on whether it can really deliver the economic accountability and levers for growth that are required in this tumultuous time. I therefore want to start with a few brief comments about the framework’s ambition, or lack thereof. I then want to ask the Minister a specific question about how the framework will operate before finally discussing the capital expenditure limit outlined in amendment 9.
Despite finally having this fiscal framework in place, we still lag behind every other devolved Administration in terms of powers and responsibilities. Earlier today—like most days—we were embroiled in the Brexit conundrum and all its unravelling economic implications, but the Government’s insistence on a patchwork approach to devolution means that Wales will not have the real levers for growth that it needs at this most difficult of economic times. If the Conservative party wants to talk about the real opportunities that a single market and customs union exit brings for Wales, it should be looking at the fiscal levers for growth, including VAT, the most important tax for Wales, and how it could be devolved. I hope the Minister will indicate that he plans to review the framework in light of recent developments to ensure that Wales has such fiscal levers.
I briefly want to touch on a technical point that my party colleague, Adam Price AM, has already raised with the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Finance Secretary. The much trumpeted relative need provision of the fiscal framework—the 115% rule, which is referred to as the Holtham floor—was based on a set of criteria that determined Wales’ relative need in 2009-10. There seem to be no plans to conduct a review of that relative need when the floor is set to be implemented approximately three years from now, meaning that those relative needs will be based on figures that are 10 years out of date. This was discussed briefly in earlier interventions, but the 115% rule surely cannot be set in stone for all time, so I ask the Minister to propose a review to investigate that.
I welcome those comments about periodic reviews as opposed to using 10-year-old statistics. I also have some concerns about the framework’s dispute resolution mechanism, but there may not be the time to discuss them here. We may be able to resolve that problem in future discussions.
I want to finish by emphasising the fact that both Governments lack ambition. In the Lords, Plaid Cymru called for a £2 billion capital expenditure limit, which was supported by Labour. However, under pressure from the devo-sceptic Tory party, we can see in amendment 9 that we are left with a capital expenditure limit of exactly half that. Although I am pleased that a fiscal framework is finally in place, I cannot avoid the observation that Wales is once again being short-changed through a lack of vision and ambition.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in a debate that is hugely important to me. As someone who served as a Member of the National Assembly for Wales for eight years before my six years here, almost all of my political life has been dogged—if I can use that word—by Wales Bills of one sort or another. I do not know whether I will still be a Member of this Parliament when the next round comes but, as my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb said, I am sure that there will be one.
It is a great honour to debate a particularly important Wales Bill, which makes devolution much more stable than it has been since it was first established in 1999. I could speak about a host of matters and on some of them there would be disagreement across the Floor of the House, but two principles are hugely important to me. The first relates to the fiscal issues, which I will come to, but I believe also that moving to a reserved powers model is of fundamental importance. There will be disagreements about what should be reserved to the Westminster Parliament, but generally speaking, moving to a reserved powers model will be a big step forward. People—including me—have been calling for it since 1999, and we should not forget that in the discussions about finance.
This debate is about financial issues, one of which relates to borrowing powers. I greatly support the measure, which gives the Welsh Government new and important borrowing powers. Other Members have suggested that the ceiling is not high enough, but I have heard Mark Drakeford, the responsible Minister in Cardiff, say that the Welsh Government will probably not borrow the £1 billion allowed in the first instance. I believe that the borrowing power will make a significant difference to the way the Welsh Government can operate.
There has also been some debate about the 115% rule. Throughout my time in politics in Wales, we have heard people—usually Opposition Members—calling for a level of spending in Wales that is the equivalent of spending in Britain, and that 115% is it. In fact, the UK Government are investing rather more than that, so the 115% is less than is being spent now. There has never been sufficient appreciation of the scale of the current Government’s funding for Wales. Complaining all the time gives the wrong impression. What has been called for since I became a Member of the Assembly in 1999 has been delivered, and I think we should recognise that.
The devolution of income tax is particularly important to me. I have long believed that it is crucial if devolution is to move forward. For any Welsh Government to be accountable to the people, they have to be fiscally and financially accountable. The form of that accountability has to be one that the voting public recognise, and income tax is that form. If income tax is devolved, there will be a debate at every election about the appropriate level of income tax. People will vote looking at both sides of the ledger—what the Government intend to spend and what they intend to raise. Until now, all we have had is a spending plan. When I was a spokesman for my party on financial issues in the Assembly, I would not refer to the annual budget as a budget, which caused a bit of controversy; I would refer to it only as a spending plan. We have to have both sides, and that is where we are moving to with the devolution of income tax.
I am hugely proud to support this very good Bill. Of course, it is not the end of the story—who knows what will be down the road in the next Parliament and thereafter? But it is a good Bill that takes us to a much more stable place and gives the Welsh Government much more accountability. The Bill not only delivers a clear position within a unified United Kingdom but gives the Welsh Government a degree of influence and power to deliver the sort of devolution that we, the people who live in Wales, want.
Lords amendment 9 agreed to, with Commons financial privilege waived.
Lords amendment 44 agreed to.