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Devolution of Power

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2013

We are devolving power to the most appropriate level through local enterprise partnerships, local government finance reforms, giving local authorities a general power of competence, and city deals. We delivered a referendum in Wales, which resulted in the Assembly assuming primary law-making powers in all 20 devolved policy areas, and we established the Silk commission, which continues its work to review the present financial and constitutional arrangements in Wales. In addition, the UK and Scottish Governments are working together to ensure the smooth implementation of the Scotland Act 2012, which represents the greatest devolution of fiscal powers from London in 300 years.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In its recently published and much-applauded report, the Silk commission made several recommendations, including giving the Welsh Assembly Government powers to raise taxation and so making it more accountable to the people of Wales. When will the Government introduce legislation to enable those aspirations to be achieved?

As my hon. Friend may know, we are carefully studying the recommendations in the part I report from the Silk commission. We hope to provide our considered response in spring this year, and only at that point will we be able to set out what legislative plans might flow from it. Personally, I strongly support the principle of further fiscal devolution, as reflected in the Silk commission report.

Assuming that the Deputy Prime Minister does not support the creation of an English parliament or elected regional assemblies, does he accept that if devolution in England is to work, local authorities have to be at the heart of the process and not bypassed as the Secretary of State for Education wants? Will he therefore look closely at the proposals from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee to put the relationships between central and local government on a proper constitutional footing?

I have a lot of sympathy with some of the assertions made in that excellent report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee—namely, that at a time when the “Whitehall state” will be cash-strapped for a prolonged period, it is essential that we give local communities and local authorities greater freedom, including the financial freedom to decide how money is raised and spent. That seems to me the best way to square the circle and to ensure that local growth and local economic innovation continue.