Laws that will pave the way for the Welsh Government collecting its own taxes and enabling councils to merge into larger local authorities have been announced in the Senedd. The First Minister set out the legislative programme, the principal laws that AMs will be asked to during the next 12 months.
The Welsh Government says its planning bill will "simplify rather than frustrate" development. A public health bill won't be introduced until next summer but could now include minimum pricing for alcohol, following the recent Supreme Court judgement on the extent of the Assembly's powers.
The 10 bills announced today are:
- *Planning Bill *to reform and simplify the current planning system
- *Qualifications Bill *to establish an independent body for the regulation and quality assurance of non-degree level qualifications
- Additional Learning Needs Bill will be the sixth and final education bill of this Assembly
- Local Government Bill** will prepare the ground for reforming local authorities in Wales through a series of mergers**
- *Renting Homes Bill *to provide a new legal relationship between landlords and tenants
- Social Services Regulation & Inspection Bill to raise the quality of care and support
- *Environment Bill *for the sustainable management of natural resources
- Heritage Bill** to improve protection of listed buildings and ancient monuments**
- Public Health Bill -a consultation on its contents has just closed
- Tax Collection & Management Bill will create a tax system
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Kirsty Williams, has welcomed the introduction of the Wales Bill which would transfer tax and borrowing powers to the Welsh Government for the first time since devolution.
Finance Minister Jane Hutt says business rates will be fully devolved to Wales from April next year with Stamp Duty and Landfill Tax following by 2018. Welcoming the UK Government's Wales Bill she said the two governments had agreed an 'ambitious' timetable for tax devolution.
Plaid Cymru will try to change the UK Government's plans to give Welsh Ministers some control over income tax. The Wales Bill, introduced into Parliament today, would give the Welsh Government power to vary income tax after a referendum, but only if all three rates are changed simultaneously.
This is what's known as 'lockstep' and it's been criticised by politicians in all parties. Plaid MP Hywel Williams says the party will table amendments which could give a future Welsh Government more flexibility to vary individual rates and also to devolve Air Passenger Duty. Hywel Williams said:
He went on to challenge Labour MPs to support Plaid's amendments:
Welsh Secretary David Jones has dismissed criticism of the form of income tax devolution set out in the Wales Bill. Under the proposed changes, a future Welsh Government would be able to vary income tax levels but only by altering all three rates simultaneously.
Critics say that would mean the power would never be used because changing all three rates would be too expensive. But David Jones says it would still lead to a significant change in financial flexibility for the Welsh Government.
Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith has confirmed that Labour will try to alter the financial powers being transferred from Westminster to the Welsh Government by seeking to amend the Wales Bill which has begun its parliamentary journey today.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, says the financial powers being transferred to Wales will 'significantly strengthen' the Welsh Government.
Today's publication of the Wales Bill has been hailed as 'a major milestone in Welsh devolution' by the Welsh Secretary David Jones.
The Welsh Secretary and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury have jointly introduced the Wales Bill into parliament. This is the legislation which would transfer new financial powers to the Welsh Government.
- Provide for a referendum on devolving partial control of income tax
- If income tax is devolved, allow the Welsh Government to set rates
- Devolve control of Stamp Duty Land Tax
- Devolve control of Landfill Tax
- Allow the Welsh Government to borrow money for major projects (specifically improving the M4)
The Bill also introduces some changes to the way the Assembly is run:
- Fix Assembly terms at 5 years instead of the current 4
- Allow candidates to stand in constituency and regional list votes
- End 'double jobbing' so that AMs can't also sit as MPs and vice versa
Details of new tax and borrowing powers for the Welsh Government will be confirmed when the UK Government publishes its Wales Bill. The bill is expected to devolve stamp duty landfill tax and landfill tax and to provide for a referendum on transferring partial control over income tax.
It's also thought there'll be provision for borrowing powers and a new power for the Assembly to be able to make its own arrangements for setting its budget. There are also due to be some relatively minor changes to Assembly electoral arrangements.
The UK Government says it wants to see the Bill passed before the UK Election next year.