Wales politics

Cheryl Gillan calls for tax and spend 'responsibility'

Welsh government ministers have been told by Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan they should take some responsibility for raising the money they spend.

She told BBC Wales that ministers in Cardiff Bay should not only be "the spending arm" of government.

MPs are debating on Thursday the work of the cross-party Silk Commission into devolving some tax-raising powers.

Shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain said he was suspicious of the "real Tory agenda" behind the commission.

'Open mind'

Previous inquires suggested Welsh ministers could take control of taxes such as air passenger duty.

Mrs Gillan said she had "an open mind" over whether proposals to devolve tax powers should be the subject of a referendum.

She said: "Why should one institution of government merely be the spending arm, without having any linkage or responsibility for raising the money it spends?

"Even local government, local authorities have to raise an element of their taxation.

"Are we saying that the Welsh government and the Welsh assembly should be in a lesser position than local government? I think not."

They will be seen as Mrs Gillan's clearest comments yet in favour of giving the Welsh government some responsibility over taxation.

She added: "My own personal view on this is there should be some accountability and indeed that is happening in all other parts of the United Kingdom."

At present the Welsh government cannot raise taxes and only spends what it receives through an annual block grant from the Treasury.

First Minister Carwyn Jones has suggested devolving responsibility for some taxes, including stamp duty. Council tax and business rates are already set in Wales and generated more than £2.2bn last year.

The commission, led by Paul Silk, a former senior official at the assembly, was promised as part of the Westminster coalition deal between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. It will hold its first meeting at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Friday.

In the Commons, Mrs Gillan said she opposed devolution at the 1997 referendum, when Wales narrowly voted Yes, believing it "could be the slippery slope to separation".

"But I am less fearful now of separation, more hopeful... of a mature debate and reasoned solutions which will deliver a degree of self-determination without threatening our union," she said.

Shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain expressed fears that the commission would be used as a way to cut funding to Wales.

He said: "In truth, I am deeply suspicious of the real Tory agenda that lies behind the Silk Commission.

'Excuse'

"Silk must not become an excuse for this right-wing government to offload its financial obligations to lower income to parts of the United Kingdom like Wales."

He said he was open to the idea of Wales raising some of the money it spends but "it must not be at the expense of a needs-based settlement which is vital for Wales".

Mrs Gillan refused to "tie the Silk Commission's hands", but said she could not imagine how a settlement could lead to Wales being worse off and claimed it was "absolutely far from my motivation".

She also said it was unlikely that changes recommended by the commission would be legislated for before 2015, with an even longer timescale likely if manifesto commitments or a referendum were required.

Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards expressed fears about the timetable, saying: "Nobody in Wales is interested in a kicking game into the long grass."

Conservative MP for Monmouth David Davies, chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, said: "I won't be offering a welcome, cautious or otherwise, to the Silk Commission.

"The usual faces of the great and the good will be wheeled out... at the end of it we'll be told the vast majority of people who responded were in favour of giving greater powers and greater powers will be given.

"It's not a conspiratorial view... we seemed to be locked in a constitutional groundhog day."

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