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 Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 4:45 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 24 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, which seeks to raise the limit on capital expenditure lending from £500 million to £2 billion. We touched on this issue in our debate on the previous group of amendments.

In the economic climate we find ourselves today, with further uncertainties ahead of us, it is more necessary than ever to have available to the Welsh Government a facility to boost jobs and stimulate growth by way of capital investment—in particular, in capital expenditure on infrastructure projects. Many expect the Chancellor to reflect that sentiment in his Autumn Statement later this month. The Bill imposes on capital borrowing the disappointing limit of only £500 million, which is not enough even to pay for the Welsh Government’s M4 relief road scheme—unless they were to adopt a more sensible route than that currently being advocated.

My party colleagues and I may disagree with the Welsh Government’s opinions on how to use capital borrowing, but we do agree that the National Assembly, as the body closest to the people of Wales, not Westminster, should decide how this money is spent.

As Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood set out earlier this year, following the UK’s regrettable decision to leave the European Union, the £500 million limit on capital borrowing powers is much too restrictive. The deal, made almost four years ago, on this element of the Bill does not reflect the new economic context in which we find ourselves. We currently have historically low interests rates and we need to mitigate the impact on jobs and wages of any economic shock brought about by Brexit. Perhaps most critically, we have productivity levels that show no sign of improving. For this to change, most economists believe that we need a major increase in infrastructure investment.

I alluded in earlier debates to Plaid Cymru’s £7.5 billion national infrastructure commission for Wales proposals as a comprehensive and expansive strategy for investing in the infrastructure of Wales. I urge the Minister to read it. Schools, hospitals and vital transport links could all be developed through an effective use of capital borrowing. Therefore, although we would like to see no limit at all on the capital borrowing powers for Wales—that would be a responsibility for a responsible Welsh Government—or, if not that, a substantially higher one, this amendment is a step in the right direction and for that reason I support it.