Liberal Democrats have a proud record of leading the way on giving greater powers to the nations of the UK. Liberal Democrat Ministers led the 2014 Wales Act through Parliament, transferring Wales’ first tax powers. Now we need to go further. We need to implement the Smith Commission proposals for Scotland in full, and deliver Home Rule for Scotland. In Northern Ireland, we wish to see a permanently peaceful, stable, non-sectarian and truly democratic society. In England, we will introduce ‘Devolution on Demand’, enabling greater devolution of powers to councils or groups of councils.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have always supported more devolution to Wales – without Liberal Democrats in Government the Silk Commission would never have been established. We endorse the recent St. David’s Day announcement and will implement it in full, devolving powers over energy, ports, local elections, broadcasting and more, and implementing a reserved powers model.
But this announcement does not go far enough. Liberal Democrats will go further and deliver proper Home Rule for Wales and a Welsh Parliament. We will implement the remaining Silk Part 1 proposals on financial powers for Wales, and implement the Silk Part 2 proposals in full. We will implement a reserved powers model and prevent Westminster being able to override Wales on devolved matters. We will make sure Wales can borrow for investment, and transfer power to control a range of benefits for older people, carers and disabled people. We will fix Wales' historic underfunding and deliver fair funding for Wales.
What do you mean by Home Rule?
Our submission to part two the Silk Commission's process was entitled Securing Home Rule for Wales. This has always been our goal. Welsh Liberal Democrats have long supported a proper Parliament for Wales. This was our aspiration when our predecessors supported the Cymru Fydd and Home Rule Movements in the nineteenth century and our support then continued through referendum campaigns, government commissions and election campaigns. Gladstone practically invented the concept of home rule. Lloyd George championed home rule at the beginning of the last century. Emlyn Hooson introduced, albeit unsuccessfully, a bill to establish a Welsh Parliament. Liberals before us have fought hard and had the vision and the courage to call for greater autonomy for the peoples of these nations. We believe that decisions that affect Wales should be made in Wales, and that the people have Wales have the right to decide our own future.
Why is a reserved powers model important?
The current devolution model is simply not fit for purpose. It is inconsistent that Scotland and Northern Ireland have a reserved powers model, and Wales uses a different model of devolution. Wales currently has a conferred model of devolution. The model lists the subjects devolved to the National Assembly, with everything else the responsibility of Westminster. In contrast, Scotland has a reserved powers model of devolution, which means that legislative competence is devolved to the Scottish Parliament in all areas except those specifically reserved to the UK Parliament in law. The lack of a reserved powers model leads to confusion; this has been showed by the increase in Supreme Court cases, where the court has needed to decide where the line between Westminster and Cardiff Bay lies.
What powers will you implement for Wales?
We will deliver a raft of new powers for Wales. These include implementing the major road-maps for more devolution - Silk I, Silk II and the St. David's Day Command Paper - in full. This will transfer to Wales powers over energy, ports, transport, electoral arrangements, broadcasting and S4C, youth justice, policing, and more.
Not all of the Silk II recommendations made it into the Command paper. No consensus was achieved on some issues, despite Liberal Democrats pushing for more devolution. It’s why we’re committing to go further and not just implementing the Command paper but implementing Silk II in full.
There have often been calls for St. David’s Day to be made a bank holiday in Wales. Allowing the Welsh Government to set its own Bank Holidays would make this a possibility.
What do you mean by borrowing for investment?
We will make sure Wales can borrow for investment, by doubling Wales' capital borrowing limit to around £1 billion. This will give Wales proportional borrowing powers with Scotland. It will allow Wales to catch up with the rest of the UK in terms of infrastructure and ensure that our nation is competitive in attracting jobs and investment.
What do you think of the Barnett formula?
The Liberal Democrats have already delivered a substantial extension of financial powers to the nations of the UK and we will devolve further fiscal powers to the devolved governments. In order to ensure reliable funding, we will retain the Barnett Formula as the basis for future spending allocations for Scotland and Northern Ireland. This will protect the individual nations’ budgets from external shocks like the recent global drop in the price of oil.
However, we recognise the findings of the Holtham Commission that the current formula underfunds Wales and will commission work to update this analysis. We will address the imbalance by immediately entrenching a Barnett floor set at a level that reflects the need for Wales to be funded fairly, and seek over a Parliament to increase the Welsh block grant to an equitable level.