Peers discuss whether Wales should have taxation powers

 

Labour may be getting a bit hot under the collar over the UK government's reluctance to devote parliamentary time to a discussion of the Welsh government's revenue-raising abilities but peers have quietly got on with the job.

Their lordships stole a march on the Commons today with a brief discussion - prompted by former Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley - about the Silk Commission report at question time.

Baroness Randerson told peers that the UK government wants to "set in train" issues raised by the Silk Commission report on fiscal powers before the commission publishes its second report on the Welsh devolution settlement.

Last week, her boss, David Jones, said the UK government would respond to Silk's 33 recommendations "in due course" - a phrase Lady Randerson repeated this afternoon.

If "in due course" sounds rather vague, then the minister added that the 33 Silk proposals would be considered "with all due haste, speed but in a timely manner so that we give due and serious consideration to every recommendation".

She did get more specific. The Silk Commission is about to start work on part two of its remit, looking at the devolution settlement. It is due to report in late 2013 and Lady Randerson said: "We want to set in train issues that follow from the part one Silk Report before publication of part two."

She said the Silk Report's recommendations had very complex implications well beyond borders of Wales, some of which could be implemented relatively quickly without legislation while others required a substantial rewriting of the Government of Wales Act or new Treasury legislation.

Lord Wigley said the UK government should quickly give the Welsh government borrowing powers to fund capital investment.

Lady Randerson told him: "Since the report was published only last week it is very early to make decisions and I can make no firm comments about the outcome of the process that we are going through at the moment".

But she said it was important to recognise that the UK government had agreed in principle to borrowing powers for the assembly and could anticipate giving the assembly the right to raise taxes to offset those powers.

She said last month's agreement between Welsh and Treasury ministers meant borrowing powers could be given and the government should move towards those with all possible speed: "It is completely out of line with international situations for a legislature to have no powers of this sort".

Labour spokeswoman Baroness Gale wanted to know when MPs and peers would have the chance to debate the report.

She didn't get a detailed answer. Labour could, of course, devote some of the parliamentary time controlled by opposition parties to debate Silk in the Commons chamber but there is little sign of that happening - not even "in due course".

Instead, Silk aficionados (would "groupies" be too strong?) will have to wait for the Welsh Grand Committee to debate the report - or make do with brief exchanges on the subject that are likely to occur during Welsh question time in the Commons tomorrow.

 
David Cornock Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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