Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Morgan of Ely Baroness Morgan of Ely Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 4:30 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, I was 12 in 1979 when we had the first referendum on whether we wanted devolution to come to Wales, and I have had a little taster this afternoon of what it must have been like during that campaign. But we have had a different result from that in 1979; the Assembly has been established for 19 years and it is maturing and developing.

I thank my noble friends Lord Murphy and Lord Hain for tabling this amendment because this issue is worthy of debate. I am afraid the people of Wales were told when we established the Assembly that we would put the issue of income tax-varying powers to them in a referendum. We have heard today what a risky business referenda are; I concur—I also have the scars from the recent referendum—and, let me tell you, I am no longer a fan of referendums.

It is worth repeating the question asked by my noble friend Lord Murphy: what has changed since the last Bill that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, brought through the House, and what is the difference between that Bill and this one? What has made the Government change their mind on this issue? It is worth drawing attention to the fact that Wales is not a rich country. My understanding is that only about 6,000 people in Wales pay the highest rate of income tax, those who earn over £150,000, while only one in 16 pay the 40p higher rate of income tax. We are not talking about people that it is easy to tax, so it is worth remembering and understanding that this is not going to be a power that is easily exercisable.

However, I beg to differ with my colleagues on this issue, because times have changed. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, the Assembly has moved a long way during those 19 years. On top of that, we have the issue of austerity. The IFS said recently that, by 2020, there will have been an 11% cut since 2010 in funding coming to Wales. That is hitting some of the poorest members of our society. Austerity is hitting not only our revenue budgets but our capital budgets. It is all very well to talk about borrowing money from the European Investment Bank, but we do not even know whether we will be able to access that kind of funding in future.

Why do I support the amendment? I support the amendment because, at this difficult time, borrowing against this income stream will be essential if we want to invest in our infrastructure in Wales. There is demand for better infrastructure. People want improvements in Wales. That demand is there. However, it is important to understand—we will come to this in the next amendment—