Ball put in UK Government’s court as AMs unanimously back devolving Air Passenger Duty

(Title Image: Wales Online)

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the report of the UK Parliament’s Welsh Affairs Committee, Devolution of Air Passenger Duty (APD) to Wales and welcomes the recommendation by Committee that APD should be devolved to Wales.
  • Notes the consistent cross-party support that exists for the devolution of APD, including the position set out in the Finance Committee’s submission to the Welsh Affairs Committee report.
  • Calls on the UK Government to respond to the report by setting out proposals to devolve APD to the Welsh Assembly and fully devolve APD by 2021.

A point of consternation

Opening the debate, Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), welcomed the Welsh Affairs Committee report, saying APD had been a “point of consternation for all of us”:

The UK Government’s evidence maintained that Bristol Airport would be negatively impacted by any Welsh moves to reduce or remove APD, but this wasn’t an appropriate reason to limit devolution to Wales (APD has been devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland).

The Minister acknowledged that following the climate emergency declaration there would be environmental concerns. The Welsh Government’s policy would be to use APD “to secure optimal growth” for Cardiff Airport and improve connectivity. It would be fully assessed to determine if it complies with the Future Generations Act and carbon budgets under the Environment Act 2016; there may even be a marginal carbon saving if it results in fewer Welsh passengers driving to and from Bristol or other airports.

Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth), said there was very clear cross-party consensus on this and he was happy to co-submit the motion. APD would fit with taxes already devolved to Wales and he couldn’t understand why Bristol Airport felt so threatened by it.

“Baffling” battle for Bristol Airport

“It has again been baffling to see the Secretary of State for Wales – in whose constituency Cardiff Airport is – seemingly batting for Bristol Airport….And we have heard plenty of evidence to say that this wouldn’t be about disadvantaging Bristol – and there is no strong evidence to suggest that Bristol would be at a disadvantage – but that it would be advantageous to Cardiff. And that is what we are interested in here.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) cautiously welcomed the idea, but it would be easier to judge the merits of APD devolution if there was a clear intention by the Welsh Government on what they planned to do with it – comments echoed by Michelle Brown AM (Ind, North Wales).

Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) was clear that he wanted to see APD devolved then abolished; any loss to the Welsh Government – which is likely to be as little as £1million for long-haul flights – would be “multiplied several times over” by the increased volume of passengers travelling through Cardiff. APD could also, in the future, be used to incentivise the use of electric aircraft for short-haul flights.

Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) didn’t want to see powers devolved for the sake of it, but this is another incidence of the broken devolution settlement. Ultimately, the Welsh Government is the only authority with the ability to properly manage transport in Wales.

The motion was agreed unanimously.

However, while the vote is binding on the Welsh Government’s policies (as it was held during government time), it’s not binding on the UK Government in any way.

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