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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.
When I announced this Government’s ambitious five year legislative programme I set out our plans to address many of the issues the people of Wales care deeply about, such as improving public services despite the difficult financial situation.
We are now halfway through the programme, and while we have already achieved many of our goals, the ten bills I am announcing today continue our commitment, with legislation that will really make a difference to the people of Wales.
This legislative programme also sees us take action on two major areas of reform, putting in place the measures needed for local authority mergers and entering a new phase of the devolution story by preparing for our new tax-raising 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.
This is a proud day to be a Welsh Liberal Democrat. We have consistently supported greater financial powers for the National Assembly and today is a big step towards that goal.
I have been pushing for the Wales Bill to be published before the Queen’s Speech to ensure that it would pass before the next General Election. I am pleased this will now happen.
Tax varying powers will bring much needed accountability to Wales’ political system. It will sharpen minds in Cardiff Bay and bring the same level of accountability to Wales that exists in almost all other national parliaments. For too long the Welsh Government has been able to simply spend money without having the responsibility to raise it.
Stamp duty devolved to Wales could help lower the cost of buying a house and promote growth in the construction sector. If used effectively, devolving and reforming stamp duty could be a tool for growth and stimulating house building in Wales.
Wales must have a proper functioning parliament with additional fiscal responsibilities to help create a stronger economy and a fairer society.
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.
In recent months I have been leading constructive discussions with the UK Treasury on our new financial settlement. I am glad that that we have secured agreement to set ambitious target dates for tax devolution, starting with non-domestic rates, which will be fully devolved in Wales from April 2015. This move will bring Wales into line with Scotland and will ensure that we benefit from the growth in this tax base over time. It will also make it easier to set business rate policy in a way that meets the needs of Welsh citizens and firms.
Full devolution of stamp duty and landfill tax will take longer, since these require passage of the Wales Bill by the UK Parliament. The Assembly will also have to legislate to introduce replacement Welsh taxes, which will come into effect when the UK taxes are ‘turned off’ in Wales. An April 2018 date for introducing the new Welsh taxes is ambitious but achievable. I will continue to develop my plans to ensure that those taxes are simpler and fairer, while supporting jobs and growth.
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:
We welcome the publication of the Wales Bill that will seek to implement some of the recommendations of the cross-party Commission on Devolution chaired by Paul Silk.
However, our goal from the start has been to preserve the integrity of the Commission's original recommendations and it is disappointing to see that they have been cherry-picked in this way.
We will aim to put this right by tabling amendments to the Wales Bill with a view to scrapping the lockstep - a roadblock that would limit the Welsh Government's income tax-varying powers and was not part of the original recommendations. We will also seek to amend the Bill so that Air Passenger Duty is devolved to Wales as per the Silk Commission report.
He went on to challenge Labour MPs to support Plaid's amendments:
Having labelled the lockstep a "Tory trap" and having bought Cardiff airport, it would be a huge embarrassment for the First Minister of Wales - as the most powerful member of the Labour Party in the UK - if he fails to convince Labour MPs in Westminster to support these amendments which are so crucial to boosting the Welsh economy.
The Wales Bill will therefore be a test of Labour's priorities.
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.
This is an important Bill giving vital borrowing powers to the Welsh Government, and paving the way for Welsh control of business rates, Stamp Duty and, if voted for at a referendum, over income tax too. It’s also the first piece of Welsh-specific legislation the Tory-led Government has produced in four years.
Wales needs additional powers and resources to mitigate the effects of Tory cuts to the Welsh Budget, which will be 10% lower over the course of this parliament, and to the Capital Budget, which will be nearly a third lower.
As the party of devolution, Labour will address the Bill positively, and look to make improvements to it, in the interests of the Welsh people. We look forward to debating the merits of the Bill at the earliest possible opportunity.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, says the financial powers being transferred to Wales will 'significantly strengthen' the Welsh Government.
The package of financial powers in this Bill will provide powerful new tools for Wales to exercise greater control over its future. The Bill also significantly strengthens the Welsh Government’s financial accountability and transparency. The Powers in this Bill will help future Welsh Governments to deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society in Wales.
Today's publication of the Wales Bill has been hailed as 'a major milestone in Welsh devolution' by the Welsh Secretary David Jones.
The package of tax and borrowing powers it devolves to Wales should be used by the Welsh Government to grow the Welsh economy, give Wales a competitive edge and help the people of Wales feel more secure about having a better future.
Just as important, it will make the Assembly and the Welsh Government more accountable to the people who elect them. For the first time, they will be responsible not only for the money they spend but for raising some of that money as well.
The Bill will also make Assembly elections fairer and more equitable.
The swiftness by which we have introduced this Bill is testament to this Government’s desire to see the Bill passed before the end of this Parliament and provides the opportunity for devolved governance in Wales to be fairer, more accountable and, crucially, more able to support economic growth.