Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 3:45 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, the powers on income tax are one of the most important aspects of the Bill. As the Minister knows better than I, the Silk report recommended a referendum as a compromise on income tax. There were those members of the commission who were very keen for the Welsh Government to have those powers and those who were not keen at all. The compromise position was that they should have the powers, but only after a referendum. I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—otherwise, I am equally sure, he will remain discreetly silent on the issue.

However, the devolution story has moved on a very long way since that recommendation. We have had the Scottish referendum, the St David’s Day agreement, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, reminded us, the previous Wales Act, which I took through this place. So a referendum requirement is well out of kilter with the times. Forgive me: along with several other noble Lords who have already expressed their views, I am a little out of love with referenda. They do not always answer the question on the ballot paper.

I also remind the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, that powers over income tax could possibly mean that income tax could go down as well as up, or that the Welsh Government could choose to do as the Scottish Government have done for nearly 20 years: to have that power but not to vary the rate of income tax. But there are many reasons associated with the principle of powers over income tax that make it essential that the Welsh Government are given those powers.

There are reasons associated with certainty and transparency. The Welsh Government have evolved from being a purely executive body within the Assembly to being a full legislative body. As those powers have developed, they have lacked the right to levy taxes generally. Gradually, in the previous Wales Act, they were given some of those powers. Clause 17 would increase them.

Along with many noble Lords here, I hope that the Assembly will exercise the power that the Bill gives it to call itself by whatever name it wants and will choose to call itself the Welsh Parliament. I very much want a Welsh Parliament—but a Parliament has to have tax-raising powers alongside its executive and legislative powers.

In the next group of amendments, we will look at greater borrowing powers. In life, in order to borrow money, one has to have a way of paying it back. It is therefore only logical that the Welsh Government and the Assembly are given the power to vary income tax. It is essential that the Welsh Government stop shying away from responsibility for their income and from full-blown power and control over its activities. We have to come to the day when the Welsh Government no longer blame the UK Government for everything.