Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 5:00 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords who have participated in the debate on Amendment 24, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, for moving it.

The amendment seeks to quadruple the Welsh Government’s capital borrowing limit set in the Wales Act 2014 from £500 million to £2 billion. As the noble Baroness is of course aware, borrowing falls within the scope of the funding discussions between the United Kingdom Government and the Welsh Government that are proceeding alongside the Bill. As we know, the Bill cannot proceed without the legislative consent Motion, which is dependent on those discussions being successful.

I refer noble Lords to the communiqué published following the Joint Exchequer Committee meeting in September. The two Governments discussed the rationale for the existing capital borrowing arrangements and agreed to consider changing them. Therefore, I can give the noble Baroness the undertaking that she seeks, and I think it is consistent with what I said in the previous debate. It is unthinkable that the matter would not be raised. However, I think she will understand that I cannot give a specific figure. Indeed, the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, perhaps indicate that we do not want to constrain the figure in case the discussions lead to it going higher than that. I have given noble Lords an undertaking, which I will repeat: ahead of Report I will give a summary of where we are on the fiscal discussions, which are going well—including, as I understand it, in this area.

As noble Lords have indicated, there are two key considerations in relation to the borrowing limit. The first is ensuring that borrowing is affordable for the Welsh Government. Of course, the transfer of the taxation powers that we have just been looking at will certainly help in that regard, as will the smaller taxes that have already been transferred. The second is ensuring that borrowing is appropriate within the funding arrangements for the United Kingdom as a whole. I am sure that those two points are being borne in mind during the discussions—which, as I said, seem to be going well.

In relation to Welsh Government affordability, as I have indicated, we need to ensure that the Welsh Government have sufficient independent revenues to manage their borrowing costs. As I said, the new taxation powers that are being carried forward by the Bill will help in that regard. In relation to the wider United Kingdom funding arrangements, it is important to recognise that, within any given fiscal position, additional Welsh Government borrowing will mean less spending in the rest of the UK, including in relation to some of the issues funded for Wales from United Kingdom taxation.

Those are the issues being looked at, and I can give two undertakings: first, we will not get the legislation without the LCM; and, secondly, I repeat the undertaking that I gave at Second Reading—I appreciate that not all noble Lords were here for that—to give a summary of where we are so that noble Lords will be aware of it ahead of Report.

I understand the points that are being made and I think all noble Lords who have spoken—the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, and the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Berkeley—recognise the need for these powers in order that the Welsh Government can borrow. Of course, it is then for the Welsh Government to decide how they borrow and how they spend the money—that is within their devolved competence.

Given the undertakings I have given, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.