This Government have a strong record of taking forward devolution in Wales reflecting public opinion. In 2011, we delivered a referendum which saw the National Assembly for Wales acquire full law-making powers across its devolved policy areas. We established the Commission on Devolution in Wales, the “Silk” commission, which delivered two unanimous reports on the future of devolution in Wales. The Wales Act 2014 implemented almost all of the recommendations in the commission’s first report. It devolved a comprehensive package of tax and borrowing powers to the Assembly and Welsh Government, giving them new tools and levers to put Wales in a stronger position to develop as a nation.
The Government are today announcing the outcome of the Wales devolution programme—the “St David’s day” process—on the future of devolution in Wales.
I have led a series of discussions with the four main political parties in Wales and sought the views of others, including business and academic representatives, in order to establish where there is consensus on the future path of devolution in Wales. These discussions have without exception been approached in a positive and constructive way and I am grateful to all participants for their invaluable contributions.
I want to establish a clear devolution settlement for Wales which stands the test of time. The Command Paper I have laid before the House today sets out a blueprint to achieve that, and to make the Welsh settlement clearer, more stable and long-lasting.
Since becoming Secretary of State for Wales I have made clear that I believe in further devolution where there is a clear purpose for devolving additional powers to Wales, and the package I am announcing today is underpinned by that principle.
There are four key Government commitments in the St David’s day package:
i. To implement a reserved powers model for devolution in Wales. This will make devolution in Wales clearer and better defined.
ii. To devolve significant additional powers to the National Assembly and the Welsh Government in areas such as energy, the environment, transport and local government elections. The Assembly will also become responsible for deciding how it conducts its own affairs and regulates its proceedings. These are based on those recommendations in the Silk commission’s second report on which there is consensus.
iii. To consider and analyse the non-fiscal recommendations in the Smith commission agreement for Scotland to decide which might be appropriate for Wales. In two cases, elections to the National Assembly and the licensing of onshore oil and gas extraction, the Government have decided that there is a clear case for devolving these powers, and commit to doing so in the Command Paper.
iv. To introduce a floor in the level of relative funding provided to the Welsh Government. The precise level of the floor, and the mechanism to deliver it, will be agreed alongside the next spending review. The Government have made this commitment in the expectation that the Welsh Government will call a referendum on income tax powers in the next Parliament.
The new borrowing powers for the Welsh Government, set out in the Wales Act 2014, will be extended to enable the Welsh Government to issue bonds to borrow for capital expenditure. In the next Parliament, we will also consider the case and options for devolving further powers to the Assembly over air passenger duty (APD).
Taken together, this is a landmark in the Welsh devolution process and lays the foundation for a clearer, stronger and fairer settlement for Wales. We now have a strong blueprint for a new Wales Bill in the next Parliament.
It is in the best interests of the people of Wales that we have a clear devolution settlement which gives them a stronger voice over their own affairs within a strong and successful United Kingdom. The Command Paper published today sets out the path to achieving that.