The Wales Act 2014 took forward the vast majority of the recommendations of the independent Silk commission. Business rates have now been fully devolved to the Assembly. The Government are taking forward the devolution of stamp duty land tax and landfill tax in time for April 2018. The Act will make the Assembly and the Welsh Government more accountable to people in Wales and enable them to support stronger economic growth.
During the passage of the Wales Bill through this House, Members debated and agreed to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord German to allow the names of the first four candidates of each political party to appear on the ballot papers for the regional list in the Assembly elections in 2016. With fewer than seven months to go before those elections take place, can the Minister tell me by what means and by when this decision will be implemented?
My Lords, we intend to lay the draft order in Parliament later this autumn. The Government of Wales Act 2006 provides that parties may nominate 12 candidates for each Assembly region. Ultimately it is for the Secretary of State to determine how this is reflected on the new regional ballot paper. The order prescribing this has already been shared with the Electoral Commission—as is normal—and with administrators on an informal basis with a view to the final draft being prepared and shared very shortly.
My Lords, reserved powers for the Welsh Assembly were not included in the original Wales Bill but they were very strongly endorsed in the St David’s Day agreement last February. Can the Minister tell us what the position is? Has this principle now come into effect?
Yes, indeed, I make it clear to the House that the Wales Bill will appear here before too long, although there are no dates. The objective is that there is going to be a clearer settlement in terms of setting out reserved powers—a reserved powers model. It will be a strengthened settlement and will deliver a fairer settlement through the introduction of the funding floor alongside the spending review, with the expectation that the Welsh Government will work with us to progress.
The Minister will be aware that the requirement in Section 12 of the Wales Act for a referendum before the transfer of income tax-raising powers to the Welsh Assembly has been used as an excuse for delay. Will his Government use the forthcoming Wales Bill to remove this block and make the Welsh Government accountable for their gross failure in maintaining standards of education and health in Wales?
I cannot agree with the noble Lord in terms of delay because we think that it is right to get the agreement right. The Wales Act and the St David’s Day agreement empower the Welsh Government with the tools and levers that they need to grow the Welsh economy. We believe that the referendum is right as part and parcel of giving the Welsh people more say in terms of their powers.
My Lords, as this is a Welsh question and as I am a Welsh woman, the House would not want me to gloat or refer to anything relating to an oval ball. I would like to ask the Minister to respond to claims made by an eminent group of experts that the plans outlined in the Command Paper in the run-up to the new Wales Bill will not deliver the lasting devolution settlement that was promised by the Government. Can the Minister give a categorical assurance that there will be no attempt to claw back powers to Whitehall from Wales in the forthcoming Wales Bill?
I will say, as was set out in the St David’s Day agreement by the Prime Minister, that this is a very important Bill that is coming up. It will enable the referendum to be held on the income tax devolution, and the Command Paper said that the funding floor would be introduced in the expectation that the Welsh Government would hold a referendum. So I can give these guarantees. These are important for the future.
My Lords, will the Minister take no notice whatever of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford? Is it not a mark of respect for the people of Wales and in the spirit of devolution that the Welsh Assembly Government should be able to order their policies on health and education in the manner that they judge best and that is accountable to the people of Wales who have wished to elect a Labour administration?