My Lords, the Government announced on Friday that they will implement the key recommendations made by the Silk commission in its first report and will enable the Welsh Government to use their existing limited borrowing powers to improve the M4 motorway as soon as possible. I will issue a Written Statement on this to your Lordships’ House this afternoon.
My Lords, I hope that this Question standing on the Order Paper helped to expedite the long-awaited response from the Prime Minister, which I welcome as far as it goes. Will the Minister confirm that she and the Government accept that the Silk report presented a balanced package, and that cherry picking that package would unravel it? Will she therefore state by when the other 20 or so recommendations that were not covered on Friday will be announced? Will they be in the Statement that she will make this afternoon? In particular, will she give an assurance that the legislation necessary to enact all the commitments that were made on Friday will be on the statute book before the next general election?
I thank the noble Lord for his Question. Undoubtedly the continued interest in this issue from all sides of the House and well beyond it will have had an influence on ensuring that we had a positive response to the Silk commission’s first report. The Silk commission made 33 recommendations but the announcement on Friday did not go into detail on many of those. A full response to the Silk report will be issued in the next couple of months so that we will be able to deal with this by the end of the year. The intention is that a draft Wales Bill will incorporate Silk recommendations that the Government have accepted, where legislation is necessary. The Government intend to pursue that, if possible, in the fourth Session of this Parliament.
My Lords, I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say on Friday that he believed in devolution. I was hoping for the Welsh Secretary to say something on his visit too. Does he also believe in devolution? In the absence of a more equitable allocation of financial resources by Westminster to Wales, do the Prime Minister’s proposals mean that to fund matters such as a Newport road development, Wales will be expected to pay for them out of new Welsh taxes?
The noble Lord has asked two essential questions. My colleague the Secretary of State for Wales has worked extremely hard to ensure that this report has had a positive response from the UK Government. I remind the noble Lord that there was an agreement in October 2012 between the Welsh Government and the UK Government on the future of the Barnett formula. The agreement was that there would be a review process at each spending review, and that if there was future convergence—if that started again—then it would be dealt with by the two Governments working together.
I thank my noble friend for those questions. We will provide for the referendum by primary legislation here in Parliament but it will be the responsibility of the Assembly to trigger the referendum, and it is right that the timing should lie in their hands. In relation to the actual question, there will be discussions between the UK Government and the Welsh Government but it will be for the Electoral Commission to study any suggested question and to provide advice, in the way that occurred at the previous referendum in Wales.
I thank the Government for eventually responding last week in such a positive way to the recommendations of the Silk commission. Will the Minister explain, however, why they failed to grant permission specifically for long-haul air passenger duty and the aggregates levy to be devolved, as recommended by the commission?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. Regarding the aggregates levy, the noble Baroness will recall that the Silk commission referred to issues associated with that in relation to the European Union and permission for that. Therefore, until that is resolved, it is not appropriate that that goes forward. On long-haul air passenger duty, the Government are not yet persuaded of the case, but I urge noble Lords in general to await the full response in relation to the reasoning behind these recommendations to ensure that there is a full picture, which will come in the forthcoming weeks.
My Lords, I would like to ask a general question with regard to the transfer of powers to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. As the Minister will know, in relation to Scotland and Northern Ireland, transfer was on an all-embracing basis subject to a few specific clear exceptions. With Wales, the situation is very different. It is all piecemeal, sometimes involving hundreds of minor transfers over the years. Will the Government look kindly, therefore, upon a proposal that the situation in Wales should equate to that of Scotland and Northern Ireland, thereby bringing cohesion and simplicity and saving a whole generation of Welsh lawyers from constitutional neurosis?
I am aware of the noble Lord’s continued interest in this issue. I am aware, too, that this point has been raised by a number of people. But I remind noble Lords that this is an issue for part two of the Silk commission, and something on which it is already working. I remind noble Lords that the remit of the commission was to look at modifications to the devolution settlement.