As a former housing benefit claimant, I must say how disgusted I am George Osborne has not introduced a mansion tax, and call on Carwyn Jones to use Wales’ primary powers over council tax to do so.
With Housing Benefit, there are things that can stop you getting it or reduce the amount you get. These include the number of empty rooms you have, and whether you or your family have income from trusts, or whether your home is owned by a relative or employer.
The same rules that restrict the type of house a poor person can have should be applied to determine which properties MPs can claim for as “second homes” and to determine the “surplus” housing landowners have, so they pay more tax for excesses in the same way the poor are docked benefit.
The Assembly has the power to change the rules on council tax. It could make people who have unused properties pay higher council tax, creating a de-facto mansion tax. It could enhance councils’ compulsory purchase powers to force landowners to sell properties they are not using.
Dr Kim Howells always warned, “primary powers means tax raising powers.” I’d hate for him to be wrong!
As a former Housing Benefit claimant, I must write to say how disgusted I am that George Osborne has not introduced a mansion tax, and call on Carwyn Jones to use Wales’s primary powers over council tax to do so.
With Housing Benefit, there are a number of things that can stop you getting it or reduce the amount you can get. These include the number of empty rooms you have, and whether you or your family have income from trusts, or whether your home is owned by a relative or employer.
The same rules that restrict the type of house a poor person can have should be applied to determine which properties MPs can claim for as a ‘second home,’ and also to determine the ‘surplus’ housing landowners have, so they pay more tax for excesses in the same way the poor are docked benefit.
The Assembly has the power to change the rules around how council tax is set. It could therefore make people who have unused properties pay a higher council tax and therefore create a de-facto mansion tax. It could even enhance a council’s compulsory purchase powers to force landowners to sell properties they are not using.
Rt Hon Dr Kim Howells always warned, “primary powers means tax raising powers.” I’d hate for him to be wrong!
Ron Davies famously said, “Devolution is a process and not an event.” Since May 2011 Wales has had primary legislative powers – one of the first steps to full autonomy over its own affairs. If Wales is to become independent, including as part of a British Isles Customs Union, in my view as a Masters of Economics and Social Science and former town and community councillor, a number of institutional changes need to occur. These institutional changes themselves will be a process and not an event. Many of my suggestions below are within the scope of the powers the Welsh Government has that were granted by Schedule 7 of The Government of Wales Act 2006. The only thing needed is the political initiative.
The central use of tax varying powers
Any independent country needs to be able to raise its own revenue. This need not be done using the income tax system as is often presumed. The Welsh Assembly has the powers to change the way local authorities collect tax through the precept. That is, the Welsh Government could change council tax to be based on something other than property band and force local authorities to give the tax they collect direct to them.
The creation of ‘The Bank of Wales’
An independent country needs its own central bank. Scotland is well placed to have this if it becomes independent as ‘The Bank of Scotland’ can issue Stirling bank notes. Wales needs the same right to do so. There is no reason why Stirling can’t be the Single British Currency, in the same way the euro is the Single European Currency.
I would say that a financial institution does not need to be a bank to issue bank notes. So it might be that the Principality Building Society, who I save with as it happens, could be given the right by the UK Government to issue bank notes and use the brand name ‘Bank of Wales’. Any Stirling notes Principality gets in from customers issued by the Bank of England, it could reprint under the name of ‘Bank of Wales’, perhaps using the same serial number of the one issued by the Bank of England, who they would simply have to notify.
Independent countries also need to borrow money, so this is a role Principality also could play. In the meantime, the Welsh Government could legislate to give some of its financial powers and those of local authorities and other public bodies to Principality where it would be best for these decisions to be made independent of politicians and civil servants. This could be decisions made over the spending of European funding, including that currently done by the Wales European Funding Office.
The creation of a ‘Welsh Court of Justice’
An independent country needs to be able to make decisions about the enforcement of its own laws. A Welsh legal system now exists, so any dispute of the interpretation of Welsh law should be decided firstly in Wales. This could be created in the first instance by the Welsh Ministers transferring their decision-making powers for ‘judicial-like functions’, such as the interpretation of its laws and policies to, for want of a better word, a Quango, which has the same public appointment procedures as other Courts in the UK. Any tribunals currently under the auspices of the Welsh Government could be transferred to this ‘Welsh Court of Justice’. This could include the Planning Inspectorate, SEN tribunals, etc. Final decisions currently made by Ministers, Civil Servants, Councillors, etc. that affect someone in Wales’s civil rights could be made by this Court.
With Simon Thomas dropping out of the Plaid leadership contest to support Elin Jones (Western Mail, February 6), the campaign should have become less of a one-horse race that Leanne Wood was guaranteed to win, but reading Elin’s “vision” on her website disappoints me.
Elin talks Wales down from the start, feeling she has to justify we are a nation.
She says our legal system is not a separate jurisdiction, that we can only legislate in a small number of areas, and that we have no tax-raising powers so are therefore a “quandary” with no “power and status”.
As a Master of Laws, I’d argue all of these are wrong. Since last May, Welsh laws have to receive Royal Assent from the Queen, which means that it is only a matter of time before a conflict between ‘Welsh law’ and ‘English and Welsh’ exists before the Supreme Court will have to determine whether Welsh law is to be treated on par with Scottish law.
In terms of tax-raising powers, the Assembly does have those. It can pass any law it wants on local government providing it doesn”t take away their law enforcement and civic responsibilities. This means it could decide to set council tax on a Wales-wide basis and order the local authorities to pay the tax they collect through the precept directly to the Welsh Government.
The Assembly is now a Parliament in all but name. Primary legislative powers are just that, and Elin needs to move with the times.
As a Master of Economics and published author on UK Constitutional and Administrative Law, I take question with the letter by H Thomas (Dec 28), claiming Bill Clinton’s authority to the “it’s the economy stupid” phrase against independence.
While I originally opposed further devolution for Wales (Letters, April 27, 2002), for things I was proved right on, such as sub-standard legislation authoring compared to Westminster due to reduced scrutiny and an increased number of civil servants fulfilling duplicate legislative functions, the landscape has changed since the referendum in March and so the debate must change.
Unlike H Thomas, I now think independence is the best economic option for Wales, as it will allow us to integrate further into the EU and grow our economy faster than we can being pulled by the economy of the south-east of England.
There is now such a thing as “Welsh law”, and an inevitable consequence of this is that we will need our own High Court in Wales to balance England & Wales Law with specific Welsh law.
The first Welsh Assembly Government was a sub-committee of the National Assembly for Wales which had most of its powers delegated to it before formalised in the Government of Wales Act 2006. So rather than fund the lawyers to argue the laws badly written by Welsh ministers unnecessarily in the courts, or even employ the many unnecessary generalist civil servants, the Welsh Government should do something else.
They should use the same powers used to set up the Richard Commission to set up a permanent inquiry into the standard of Welsh legislation, which means those with expertise on the law in question could meet in the Senedd when the Assembly is not in plenary, to discuss and improve the legislation.
Their findings could be made as crucial as those of the House of Lords are to the Commons, but with a membership based on merit and not privilege.
I have previously expressed my objections to independence for Wales and primary legislative powers. The reasons have been because of reduced scrutiny of legislation due to unicameralism (Letters, April 14, 2004), unnecessary duplication of laws (Letters, October 1, 2002) and lack of effective use of time due to having to implement EU Directives on top on Welsh law (Letters, February 20, 2004).
Others have said independence is unaffordable because of entrappings of the state, requiring passport offices, driving licence agencies, and customs and tax offices. Welsh nationalists often draw parallels with Catalonia as a model for independence. I would however suggest another one – Benelux – the union between Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. There is no reason why all the British nations (including Ireland) can’t be independently constituted as nation states, whilst being both members of the European Union and a “British Isles customs union.”
These “member nations” could share state apparatus, like a council of ministers and supreme court, from which BICU governments would make laws applying to all nations in the case of the former, and from which they would provide judges to resolve inter-governmental, EU and international law issues in the case of the latter. We could still have British passports and hold joint nationalities as British citizens and Welsh citizens. Our driving licences could still be issued by the DVLA , but could have “CW” for “Cymru Wales” on them instead of “UK”. It would be a big improvement on the current settlement, as not only could a new Act of Union give us more exclusive rights within the BICU, but because each nation could be independent members of the EU, the people of Wales would have greater rights to be treated equally in England than they do now. We could be a member of the euro like Ireland, and that may mean more manufacturing returning to Wales while England keeps the pound.
GERAINT Rhys says (Have Your Say, January 13) that a Yes vote on March 3 will mean Wales will no longer have to ask ‘permission on every Welsh decision’ and that voting yes should not be seen as a stepping stone to independence.
The Assembly currently does not have to ask Westminster each time it wants to make a law; it has secondary law-making powers. What a Yes vote in March will mean is that the Assembly will have primary legislative powers on ‘all matters’ in the 20 areas within its remit, instead of just some of them.
Whether this is a stepping stone to independence, it depends on your definition. One is a sovereign nation. Wales is a nation – it has its own recognised international football and rugby team, for example. What about sovereign? With a Yes vote the Assembly will be able to ask the Queen to give Assent to its laws (called Assembly Acts), and the Queen is the sovereign Head of State. Assembly and UK Acts will require only authority from the Queen to be ratified. All it may take is one decision in the Supreme Court to reverse the centuries long decision that the UK Parliament has sole sovereignty.
There is nothing to stop the Supreme Court ruling that an Assembly Act has the same authority as a UK Act. So independence cannot be ruled out as a possibility after a Yes vote, but would be near impossible if there was a No vote.
The recommendation of the Richard Commission to give the Assembly tax-varying powers should be welcomed, especially if this means there could be lower taxes for small businesses and low-income workers.
However, the call for primary legislative powers would do nothing to improve life for people in Wales and would in fact be a burden on resources that could be spent on health and education.
An Assembly based on the Scottish model would reuire more civil servants, more Assembly Members and more
of our taxes spent on bureaucracy.
In the long term, this would lead to less Welsh MPs, poorer œuality legislation through by passing the Lords
and less time for AMs to spend helping their constituents.
To give the Assembly primary legislative powers would create an inefficient body disconnected from the people of Wales and would lead to a barrage of duplicate Westminster bills (The Western Mail, September 23).
If each region of the UK had its own parliament, in order to ban or allow fox hunting, 12 separately debated bills would have to go through the full legislative process, where a simple majority vote in the Assembly would do just fine.
The Assembly is currently accountable to Parliament, and it not able to pass any laws without them being independently scrutinised by MPs.
This acts as a safety net, making sure Welsh legislation goes through the same thorough and time-consuming process as Westminster bills.
For the same standards to be achieved in the Assembly, AMs would have to give up time currently spent helping their constituents and dealing directly with the public, further disengaging people from politics.
The Assembly has achieved so much in the past few years, education standards have improved, unemployment has decreased and the economy is more stable than ever.
The last thing Wales wants is Assembly Members wasting hours of time and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money pondering new laws that our MPs are more than capable of debating on our behalf in Westminster.
Plaid Cymru confirmed my fears that they want to turn the Assembly into a mini Westminster on Friday, when Janet Davies AM admitted to the University of Glamorgan Business School that she would like to see Wales have independent status with full law-making powers.
Assembly Members are currently able to spend two days a week helping their constituents and carrying out work in their communities.
If Plaid Cymru got their way, this time would have to be spent debating Parliamentary Bills and European Directives. The Assembly has shown that it can be very effective at policy delivery. Senior citizens and disabled people now have free bus travel, and more than 43,000 people in Wales will benefit from the Assembly Learning Grants this autumn.
We elected the Assembly Government toimprove our communities and standard of living. It is not its job to waste hours of time debating law when our MPs are more than capable of acting on behalf of us in Parliament. It would be madness to make any constitutional changes to the Assembly at a time when it’s beginning to show its relevance to the people of Wales