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Devolution

Volume 530: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2011

1. What recent discussions she has had with the First Minister on the remit of a commission on devolution and funding for Wales. (61862)

The Government are committed to a Calman-like process for Wales and will be putting forward proposals. I have discussed the issue with the First Minister, and will be continuing to have discussions with relevant colleagues and of course the First Minister.

The Secretary of State will know that the Northern Ireland Executive can borrow money and the Scottish Government will soon be able to borrow money, but the Welsh Government cannot. With the cutback in capital spending on schools and hospitals, is it not now time for the right hon. Lady to enter into immediate negotiations with the Welsh Government and the First Minister so that the Welsh Government can also borrow money?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. He is effectively asking why Wales is the only home nation without borrowing powers. It is fair to say that the new borrowing powers for Scottish Ministers, which are set out in the Scotland Bill, will not take effect until 2015-16, which is in line with our commitment not to change the system until stabilisation of public finances. May I make it clear that we are not ruling borrowing powers for the Welsh Government in or out at this stage.

The recent Labour Government amply demonstrated their enthusiasm for taxing and borrowing. Does my right hon. Friend think that it would be wise to allow the Welsh Assembly to follow that example?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. [Hon. Members: “No, you’re not.”] Despite the laughter from the Opposition, I am grateful to him. However, I cannot be drawn on this, and as I answered straightforwardly, we are not ruling it in or out at this stage. I want to have those discussions with the First Minister and other colleagues for the simple reason that many commentators, including the First Minister, are unsure of exactly what powers the Welsh Government would like to have.

As with the Calman process, it is right that we try to reach consensus on this and move forward. It is far too important a matter to be rushed or dealt with in a cavalier fashion.

Very important though borrowing powers are, would the right hon. Lady assure the House that the remit of the Calman-style commission will be far broader than matters financial, given the excellent work already carried out by the Holtham commission?

I am committed to establishing a process for the Assembly that is similar to that set out by the Calman commission. I have made it clear that we intend to review the financing arrangements for Welsh devolution. I must repeat, however, that I think that this matter is far too important to Wales, and far too important a subject matter, to be rushed or not to be discussed fully. I am seeing the First Minister on Monday to take forward our discussions and I do not want to pre-empt them by setting any parameters.

No doubt the right hon. Lady would not wish to pre-empt any decision, but in a co-operative spirit, may I suggest that matters administrative and constitutional should be considered? I am thinking of the possibility of devolving police and justice powers to Wales, for which there is a huge amount of support throughout Wales. On the vital issue of broadcasting, it is high time that Wales had control of its own broadcasting; S4C would not be in its current position if there were such control.

The right hon. Gentleman is trying to lay out his own manifesto and his party’s position with clarity, but that is not how we want to take matters forward. May I make it clear that I know how important S4C is to the Welsh language and culture? We have reached an arrangement on it, and I assure him that I will always look to the interests of S4C because I know how important a part it is of Wales’s culture.