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House of Lords Hansard
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03 November 2014
Volume 756

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received from the Welsh Government in relation to the replacement of the Barnett formula as far as its application to Wales is concerned.

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My Lords, I begin by expressing my personal condolences to the family and friends of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. Lord Barnett was a delight to have as a sparring partner, and I will certainly miss his presence in your Lordships’ Chamber very much.

The Government are aware of the Welsh Government’s views on continuing the Barnett formula. Although there are no changes to Barnett in prospect, we have agreed with the Welsh Government to revisit the arrangements for jointly considering relative funding in advance of each spending review. The Prime Minister has been clear that Wales will be at the heart of the debate on how to make the United Kingdom work for all its constituent parts.

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My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to Lord Barnett: a lovely, gentle, intelligent colleague who was among the first to recognise that the funding formula bearing his name by now needs radical reform. Does the Minister accept that if Wales were to receive the same level of funding as does Scotland, relative to population and the portfolios devolved, Wales would now get a staggering £1.2 billion a year more than is currently the case? On what possible basis of equity can Wales be denied parity with Scotland in regard to such funding? Would it not now be a fitting tribute to Lord Barnett if the Government today pledged to revise the formula to deliver for Wales parity with Scotland in funding matters?

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My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, a very significant review of funding in Wales was undertaken by Gerry Holtham, which suggested that Wales would be getting a fair degree of funding if it was approximately 114% of that in England or more—I believe that that is the right figure. I believe that, certainly this year and next year, that figure will be met.

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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Question, with which I know for a fact that my noble friend Lord Barnett was in total agreement. I also thank the Minister for his kind remarks, because he might be forgiven for thinking that one of Lord Barnett’s missions in life was to make his life a total misery. Lord Barnett will be remembered for his formula, but those of us in this House will surely remember that he contributed to a vast number of other topics and therefore deserves to be remembered for all that as well. I think we all agree that he will be missed much more than, perhaps, some of us when our time comes.

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My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that Lord Barnett was a formidable parliamentarian across a range of subjects.

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My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks about Lord Barnett, who was a good friend and a great person in this House.

Can my noble friend explain to me how the vow made by all three party leaders in the concluding days of the Scottish referendum, which states that they are committed to,

“sharing our resources equitably across all four nations”,

is consistent with keeping the Barnett formula?

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My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the system for funding across the nations will change as we move to a greater degree of devolution in Scotland and that, when a greater degree of taxation powers is devolved to Scotland, the importance of the Barnett formula will be proportionately diminished. Therefore, it is not as though we are standing still on this; we are making a move in a direction that I hope the noble Lord will support.

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My Lords, I would like to associate these Benches with the tributes that have been paid to Lord Barnett. I used occasionally to share a taxi with him from Euston and he was a delightful person.

Do the Government agree that the cost of providing services to people in Wales on an equal basis is greater than that in England, having regard to relative levels of ill health, poverty and sparsity of population? If so, is not the basic premise of the Barnett formula utterly and fatally flawed?

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My Lords, I think that we need to remember that Wales receives greater per capita expenditure support than England; in 2012-13, while in England as a whole the level was just over £6,000, in Wales it was just shy of £7,000.

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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Barnett was an extraordinary man, as an MP, a Minister, a colleague and a friend to all Benches in this House. He diligently held the Government to account and did his utmost to ensure the best for the people of this country until just a few weeks ago. He believed, as we all do, that government should be a force for making life better for the people of this country. I have just been joined by my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham, who used to be a PPS for my noble friend Lord Barnett.

Can the Minister confirm that the Government will agree to the all-party request from the Welsh Assembly for bilateral talks between the UK and Welsh Governments on fair funding, and to rapid implementation of a funding floor, which the Welsh Government suggest should be completed by January 2015?

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My Lords, as I said in my initial Answer, we have agreed that we will revisit the arrangements for funding in Wales in advance of each spending review. We will do the next review next year in conjunction with the Welsh Government.

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Does the Minister recollect that our late splendid friend Lord Barnett often said that his formula was intended to be of only very short duration, and that he accepted, particularly in relation to Wales, that it was wholly inequitable for it to be perpetuated from year to year?

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Yes, my Lords, but the Barnett formula is the opposite of most government policies, which do not survive very long. His has survived a lot longer than anybody ever envisaged.

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My Lords, I join the tributes to my noble friend Lord Barnett.

Does the Minister agree that the problem is not in the formula itself? The grievance, as seen in Wales, is the lack of fair funding. When the Government look at the totality of relations with Wales, perhaps avoiding the straitjacket of the formula, would they consider a multitude of matters, including for example helping Wales by abolishing the tolls on the Severn bridges, which amount now to a tax on the people of Wales?

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My Lords, the Barnett formula is a bit like the Schleswig-Holstein problem. Virtually nobody understands how we got to where we are today. The key question is how much money makes its way to Wales. As I said earlier, for the period ahead Wales will receive a figure in line with most definitions, I believe, of what people think is fair.