Offer us the same powers as Scotland, the Welsh Government demands, as devolution legislation is unveiled

By David Williamson

The Welsh Government made a new call for the same powers proposed for Scotland to be offered to Wales as draft legislation to strengthen the Edinburgh Parliament was published.

Scotland’s Government is poised to gain major powers over tax, benefits, energy and election in the wake of September’s independence referendum.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “As the First Minister has previously said, we must see fair funding delivered, along with the package of powers recommended by Silk. He has been clear too that whatever is being offered to Scotland by way of new powers must be also offered to Wales. Now that Airport Passenger Duty (APD) is being devolved to both Scotland and Northern Ireland, it must likewise be devolved to Wales.

“Discussions with the Secretary of State for Wales on future powers are still ongoing as we move towards the St David’s Day deadline.”

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said a new “going-rate for powers” had been struck.

She said: “Since the advent of devolution, Wales’ powers package has been second rate to both the other devolved administrations. With today’s publication of new legislative proposals for further Scottish devolution, a new going-rate for powers has been set and Wales should settle for nothing less that parity with Scotland.

“For Plaid Cymru this is a matter of basic fairness. Wales is every bit as much a nation as Scotland and should expect to be treated on the basis of equality. But there are also significant consequences for Wales if we settle for anything less than parity.

“Whilst Scotland will have powers to block fracking for example, Welsh communities will be left at the mercy of Westminster. Scotland will have a greater say on how the money it raises is spent whilst in Wales we will continue to lack the levers to turn around our economy and create jobs.”

Meanwhile, the Welsh branch of the Electoral Reform Society warned that time is “running out” for Welsh 16 and 17-year-olds to gain the right to vote in Assembly elections.

Steve Brooks, director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, said: “UK ministers are already giving Scotland the power to lower the voting age in time for the 2016 elections, but when it comes to Wales they are dragging their feet. If the UK Government doesn’t move quickly, the chance to introduce votes at 16 for the next Assembly election could be lost.

“The new powers on offer to Scotland will help them make their elections work better. As a Wales-only matter, it is right that a similar offer is made to Wales.

“With these new powers, the National Assembly would be able to drag our Victorian democracy into the 21st century. AMs would be able to look at introducing modern methods like electronic voting, do more to make polling stations truly accessible for disabled people, and extend voting hours across several days or a weekend.

“And with council mergers on the minds of many, these powers would give the Assembly a strong set of tools to tailor local elections for Wales’ needs”.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was not impressed by the draft legislation, claiming there had been a “significant watering down” of the proposals.

However, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie insisted the vow to transfer powers to the Scottish Parliament had been delivered, adding that Ms Sturgeon had “gone on the hunt for reasons to be miserable”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Too much of what the prime minister has set out imposes restrictions on the recommended devolved powers and would hand a veto to UK ministers in key areas. For example, the proposals on welfare do not allow us to vary Universal Credit without the permission of the UK Government.

“That means – under the current proposals – we will not have the independence to take action to abolish the bedroom tax.”

But Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said in an Edinburgh briefing: “The Scottish Government has the power to make variations to housing benefit charges in whatever way it wanted to. The consultation exists because there are UK responsibilities and Scottish responsibilities and the two governments need to talk to one another.

“There is no veto implied in this – it is just a matter of the normal functioning of government.

“In a sense this is a way, in legislation, that we make that clear.”

Sourced by Wales Online

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