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House of Lords Hansard
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Draft Wales Bill: Silk Commission
30 November 2015
Volume 767

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many of the 61 recommendations of the report by the Silk Commission (1) have been included in the draft Wales Bill, (2) are still under consideration; and (3) have been rejected.

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My Lords, the Silk commission made 61 main recommendations, which break down into 100 discrete proposals. Over 75% of these are being taken forward in legislative form in the draft Wales Bill.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that last month Sir Paul Silk gave evidence to a Committee of this House and expressed his “immense disappointment” that the draft Wales Bill fails to deliver on the unanimous cross-party agreement of the Commission on Devolution in Wales—of course the Minister himself was a distinguished member—and that the Bill does not reflect its recommendations, noting in particular the lack of devolution of policing to Wales and the failure to legislate on resolving disputes between the UK and the Welsh Government? Will the Government now take note of this, and as it is a draft Bill, will the Minister give an assurance that the final Bill will implement such proposals?

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My Lords, it is worth noting that, as the noble Lord has just said, this is a draft Bill. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has emphasised, consultation is going on. The primary aim of the Bill is to take forward not the Silk recommendations but the St David’s Day agreement, which represented a political consensus.

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My Lords, the St David’s Day agreement and the Silk commission reported strongly in favour of the Welsh Assembly and Government having reserved powers. The draft Wales Bill is less clear on this point and this has led to very fierce criticism from the Welsh Government. It is noticeable that Government after Government treat Wales, which is strongly committed to the union, much more ambiguously than Scotland, which is not so committed. The noble Lord is a staunch and honourable supporter of Welsh devolution: why are his colleagues so evasive?

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My Lords, it is not fair to say that progress is not being made on this issue. As the noble Lord is aware, the draft Wales Bill represents a move forward in favour of a reserved powers model. Work is continuing on that, as we speak, in discussions between the Welsh and UK Governments. It is not an easy thing to resolve, but significant progress is being made.

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Will the Minister explain why the Government are prepared to devolve air passenger duty to Scotland, notwithstanding the effect that may have on Newcastle, but will not do so to Wales? South-east Wales, and Cardiff Airport in particular, might benefit very much from this.

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My Lords, devolution of APD is not a straightforward issue, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware. In Scotland, most people who travel by air do so from Glasgow or Edinburgh. In Wales, most people would not necessarily travel from Cardiff Airport. For example, people in the north would not think of doing so. In addition, the significant issue of state aid has to be looked at. Those are the two main reasons why it was not taken forward.

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My Lords, what would the Government’s view be of any proposal to reduce to 16 the voting age for elections to the Welsh Assembly?

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My Lords, my noble friend is perhaps aware that the draft Wales Bill gives power over this issue, and over elections to the Welsh Assembly in general, to the Welsh Government. That being the case, this is a matter for Cardiff and for Wales to determine.

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My Lords, tomorrow Wales will become the first UK country to adopt the soft opt-out approach to organ donation. This was approved by the National Assembly for Wales, after a long and comprehensive debate and widespread public consultation. Will the Minister clarify whether the Assembly could have introduced such a Bill under the new measures proposed in the draft Wales Bill; or would it have been forced to go cap in hand to a Minister in Westminster to ask permission because, as the First Minister has claimed, the Government are trying to roll back the devolution settlement for Wales?

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My Lords, the First Minister has recently acknowledged that significant progress is being made on the draft Bill. In terms of the consenting provisions, if there is an aspect of legislation from this House to apply in Wales, it needs a legislative consent Motion and vice versa. It is not one-way traffic. Because we are a United Kingdom, it is important to preserve the consenting process. Discussions are going on on the precise scope of that process.

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My Lords, talks on reserved powers are continuing. Will the Minister give an indication of the timetable for these talks coming to a conclusion?

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My Lords, as I have indicated, significant progress is being made. I remind noble Lords that this is an ongoing process. It is not anticipated that this draft Bill will become a firm one until the end of next year. There is, therefore, a good period of time. I repeat that significant progress is being made and I am very happy to update the House as and when the process is concluded.

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My Lords, my noble friend will know that many of us in this House are concerned about piecemeal changes to the constitution and to the franchise. Is it not a pity that the power to give votes to 16 year-olds has been granted to the Welsh Assembly before the Parliament of the United Kingdom has been able to come to a considered conclusion on the matter?

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My Lords, I understand my noble friend’s views on this matter but I repeat that issues relating to election to the National Assembly for Wales are to be devolved in totality. It is a significant move to Wales, just as it is to Scotland, and it is for Wales to determine that issue.

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My Lords, will the Minister clarify a point that he made in an earlier answer—namely, what is the state aid problem with the devolution of air passenger duty to Cardiff and not to Scotland?

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My Lords, I recognise that the noble Lord has significant expertise in these areas, particularly in relation to Cardiff Airport. However, perhaps I may inform him that there is a significant issue in terms of competition from Bristol Airport. There is not a similar competition element in relation to proximity to Glasgow or Edinburgh airports.