Wales politics

Alun Cairns hails 'new era' for devolution to Wales

Welsh flag and Westminster

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns hailed "a new era of devolution to Wales" as moves to transfer new powers and accountability for the Welsh Assembly were backed by MPs.

The assembly could change income tax rates, and have more say over energy, transport and its own elections.

But the UK Government stopped short of a separate justice system for Wales.

MPs gave the Wales Bill an unopposed third reading on Monday but other parties wanted more from it.

Mr Cairns insisted the move marks a devolution settlement for Wales that was "clearer, fairer and stronger and delivers powers for a purpose".

Speaking in the Commons, he said: "It delivers an historic package of powers to the national assembly that will transform the assembly into a fully-fledged Welsh legislature, affirmed as a permanent part of the United Kingdom's constitutional fabric.

"An institution that is accountable to the people of Wales, with powers over taxes that will make it responsible not only for how money is spent in Wales, but also for how the money is raised.

"Together, the powers in this Bill will usher a new era of devolution to Wales - one which draws a line under the constant squabbles over where powers lie.

Image caption Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns

"One in which people are clear of who should be held accountable for the decisions over public services that they use every day.

"And one in which the Welsh government is truly accountable to the people of Wales."

Other measures within the proposed laws include giving new powers to the assembly to make decisions on policies such as setting speed limits and whether fracking should be permitted.

But attempts to allow the assembly to award its rail franchise to a public sector operator, as well as getting control over fixed betting terminals, were also rejected during earlier proceedings in the Commons.

Shadow Welsh secretary Paul Flynn said the Bill "was just a stage" and not the end of devolution.

The Labour frontbencher said: "We'd like to go full speed ahead with the development of a separate Welsh government, at least with the powers of Scotland.

"That's not possible because there's a drag anchor there coming from the Conservative party. I wish they'd pull their anchor up and let the good ship Welsh Assembly sail free into clear waters."

Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader, and Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Mark Williams both said the new Bill did not go far enough.

The Bill will undergo further scrutiny in the House of Lords.

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