Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Morgan of Ely Baroness Morgan of Ely Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 4:45 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, to me this is one of the key clauses in the whole Bill. I have made no secret of my lack of enthusiasm for the way the Bill has been written, but we are now living in very difficult financial times. The IFS has claimed that there will be a 3.2% cut, in real terms, in the Welsh budget over the next three years. We have little confidence that the UK Government are going to make up the losses that Wales will face as a result of Brexit. The IFS has said that if they do not make up the losses, that will lead to a doubling of those cuts if EU aid is not replaced after Brexit. I am aware that there has been a promise until 2020, but nothing beyond that.

The devolution of tax powers through the Wales Act 2014 will also enable the Welsh Government to borrow in order to invest in capital infrastructure. That will benefit the economy and communities across Wales. The current level of capital borrowing permitted to the Welsh Government is £500 million. That is based on the devolution of two fairly minor taxes: stamp duty land tax and landfill tax. In the Command Paper published alongside the Wales Bill in March 2014, the UK Government committed to reviewing the level of capital borrowing available to Wales if income tax is partially devolved. This Wales Bill will result in the transfer of an additional £2 billion in tax revenue to the Welsh Government, and so will significantly increase the size of the independent revenue stream available to the Welsh Government. In line with the commitment given in 2014, the Bill provides an opportunity to give Welsh Ministers a more meaningful degree of borrowing power to reflect the significant increase in devolved tax revenues under their control.

The Silk commission, of which the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, was a member, recommended that the Welsh Government’s capital borrowing limit should be at least proportionate to the limit agreed for Scotland, taking into consideration the relative lack of exposure to PFI in Wales. With comparable devolved tax powers, the UK Government agreed a capital borrowing limit of £2.2 billion in the Scotland Act 2012. In line with the recommendation from the Silk commission, a capital borrowing limit of £2 billion would therefore be proportionate to that agreed for the Scottish Government, after taking into account the Welsh Government’s lower exposure to PFI. The UK Government’s position that a limit of £500 million is appropriate, as set out in the Government of Wales Act, is contradictory to the approach taken for the Scottish Government in the Scotland Act. At a time when there are significant economic uncertainties, the ability to bring forward additional capital investment would provide a much needed economic stimulus to Wales. With a capital borrowing limit of £2 billion, the Welsh Government would have the fiscal tools available to support the level of investment needed in Wales.

The Welsh Government and Assembly are anxious to grow up, but it is as if the UK Government still want to treat them like children, telling them how much money they can spend and that they are allowed to borrow only if they tell “daddy” what they are going to spend the money on. An increase in the Welsh Government’s borrowing capacity is absolutely critical, and I for one would find it very difficult to support the Bill without that increase. We understand that this will form part of the discussions on the financial framework, but we strongly recommend that both the Welsh Government and the UK Government come to an agreement on this critical area. I ask the Minister to give a commitment that there will be a revision of the amount that is currently in the Government of Wales Act.