Wed. December 10, 2014
It is a pleasure to make a short contribution to this debate, primarily to welcome these Lords amendments, which mirror amendments that were tabled by Plaid Cymru when the Bill passed through the Commons and which conveniently the three Westminster parties voted against at the time—they say a week is a long time in politics, but we are only a few months down the line and there has been a complete change of position. In that regard, I congratulate the new Secretary of State on being far more progressive than his predecessor.
Mr Mark Williams:
The hon. Gentleman will remember that there were exceptions. I was pleased to support Plaid Cymru’s lockstep amendment. I would not profess to be Mystic Meg or a trailblazer, but people listened to the message put forward by him and others, and to their credit, the Government changed.
I stand corrected. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he has voted with us several times and broken his party Whip.
The lockstep, of course, was a handcuff measure that would have made the powers in the Bill unusable—the only plus side was the extra borrowing capacity it would have given to the Welsh Government—and removing it creates greater flexibility, which is obviously to be welcomed. When we were debating the Bill in the Commons, however, I warned the Government that events in Scotland would supersede it, and that has indeed been the case.
The Union survived by a thread, and even then only following the famous vow promising home rule, devolution max or something as close to federalism as possible. In that regard, the Smith commission was extremely disappointing.
Westminster has one chance left to save the Union, or the British state as it is currently constituted, but the Smith commission is playing into the hands of pro-independence campaigners in Scotland. It nowhere near delivers the powers promised in the vow, but it is far in advance of what the UK Government are offering to Wales in the Bill.
The signature policy of the Smith commission is 100% income tax devolution and the ability of the Scottish Executive to set as many bands as they want at whatever level they want. Indeed, my party put forward such an amendment during proceedings on the Wales Bill in the spring.
If the Smith commission is not in accordance with the vow that was given, why did the Scottish National party agree to it?
The commission’s remit is not one of its own choosing, but the SNP decided to act in the best interests of the country and move the process forward. Making out that the Smith commission proposals are what were included in the vow is not right. It was essentially home rule or devolution max, and on any definition of devo max, it means the full devolution of all powers apart from defence, foreign affairs, the monarchy and military policy. That is not included in the Smith commission proposals, which were less significant than what was promised to the people of Scotland on the eve of the referendum.
As I was saying, the Smith commission is vastly more progressive in its trajectory of travel, offering 100% of income tax in comparison with the Wales Bill offer of only a paltry income tax sharing arrangement—and even then, only following a referendum many years down the line.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if Wales has its own powers to set both a higher and a lower rate of tax and it chooses to reduce the higher rate so that a lot of millionaires move to Monmouthshire, the overall tax take to the United Kingdom would be dramatically reduced because those people would all evade tax by moving to Wales? Does he think that is a good thing to set in motion, and does he have any idea whether the Government have calculated the cost of that possibility?
I am interested in this line of tax harmony across the UK being put forward by the Labour party. In Wales, of course, we had at the last count 22 local authorities all setting different rates of council tax, and we are a key part of a single market across the European Union with its different members setting different tax rates. If Labour Members’ argument were to hold water, surely they would argue for tax harmonisation across the whole of local government in Wales and across all member states of the European Union. It does not make much sense to me.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?
I think I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s point.
In conclusion, the general election is fast approaching, and I can assure this House and the people of Wales that Plaid Cymru will fight that election on the basis that we will not allow our country to be treated as a second-class nation by the Westminster establishment.
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