Political

Nick Clegg: we’re making the rich pay their fair share of tax

Nick Clegg’s speech to the Liberal Democrat Welsh conference contained much in the way of summarising the party’s current official position on politics and government priorities – and also a reference to Lembit Opik. Opik’s departure from the Commons was made the subject of a joke rather than a cause of regret – just the sort of reference that Lembit’s own actions do nothing to dissuade people from.

Central to the speech was Nick Clegg’s description of the Liberal Democrat approach to a fair tax system:

Not all the decisions we’ve made have been easy and we must be honest about the many obstacles we still have to face.

But we’re already making huge progress, both for the UK and for Wales.

Just think, thanks to Liberal Democrat tax reform, from next month we will start putting money back in the pockets of over one million Welsh taxpayers.

That’s fair – those who work hard and play by the rules should get a fair deal from government.

Based on today’s trends, by 2015 nearly a fifth of people working Wales will not pay a penny in income tax.

Nearly one in five Welsh workers.

No income tax. Not a penny.

That is Liberal Democrats delivering for Wales.

To fund this, we’re making the rich pay their fair share of tax.

By 2015 we will be raising £7bn a year by cracking down on those who think they can hoard their fortunes away from the taxman.

And, thanks to Liberal Democrat policies, from next month 600,000 Welsh pensioners will get a fairer deal.

Our ‘triple lock’ will ensure the state pension rises in line with earnings, inflation or 2.5% – whichever is the highest.

No more insulting 75p pensions increases that Labour delivered.

Instead, if you retire this year on a basic state pension, you will receive £15,000 more over your retirement than you would have done under Labour.

Scrapping the earnings link was one of the greatest injustices of Thatcher’s administration.

An injustice that Labour failed to rectify in thirteen whole years of majority rule.

We have taken just 11 months to right this thirty-year wrong.

We have begun to create a new economy out of the ashes of the old.

An economy founded not on speculation but on sustainability.

Not on the principle of making a quick buck, but on long term growth and prosperity for our children.

Thanks to the Liberal Democrat Green Deal led by our outstanding Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, hundreds of thousands of Welsh homes will be insulated, lowering fuel bills and reducing carbon emissions.

And by 2015, the Gwynt y Mor offshore wind farm will be providing a third of Welsh homes with clean energy and will have generated over 1000 jobs.

That is the kind of green and sustainable economy Wales and the UK need.

And thanks to Liberal Democrat principles, we’re restoring civil liberties, empowering communities and reforming politics.

And this includes political reform for Wales…

But I also want people to understand just how much this government has done to limit banking excess and get the banks lending again.

Our banking levy will raise £2.5bn every single year.

Not a one-off payment, like Labour’s bonus tax

Not a temporary fix.

A permanent, sustained tax on the banks’ balance sheets that will raise £10bn in this parliament alone.

On top of this we have agreed strict limits to cash bonuses –

Established the most transparent pay disclosure regime in world –

And extracted a commitment that the banks will lend £10bn more to businesses than they did last year.

So that’s £10bn more in tax and £10bn more through lending.

Money that will help Welsh businesses generate jobs and growth.

Yet Labour have the nerve to say that their £2.3bn bonus tax raised more money!

Only Labour party economists could claim that 2.3 is greater than 10.

It’s no wonder the economy collapsed on their watch!

But we can’t stop at reforming the banks.

We must start nurturing talent from a young age.

Under Labour-Plaid Welsh pupils receive £600 less in funding than pupils in England.

This is utterly unacceptable.

We want for Wales what we have put in place for England.

Welsh Liberal Democrats will create a Pupil Premium to target funding at those who need it most.

It would give extra money to be spent on the least privileged in our society – and it shouldn’t matter which side of Offa’s Dyke they are born.

Here is the speech in full:

It is a great pleasure to be here today, the day after the Welsh people voted decisively for change.

Liberal Democrats have consistently campaigned to strengthen and deepen devolution in Wales.

And so I think the first thing for me to say is ‘congratulations’.

This is another positive step towards reforming our broken political system.

The achievement of the cross party ‘Yes’ campaign will hearten political reformers across the UK.

And put a new spring in the step of the campaign for fairer votes.

This isn’t the end of the devolution process, but it does mark an important turning point.

For the first time ever laws that affect only Wales will be made only in Wales.

It will do away with the current restrictive and unwieldy arrangements.

And it will allow the Welsh Assembly the freedom to get on with the job of delivering for Wales.

I’d like to pay tribute to some of the fantastic people who helped to deliver this ‘Yes’ vote and who already do so much to champion the Welsh cause in Westminster.

Rob Humphreys, who represented us in the cross-party campaign.

Our MPs: Roger and Jenny, both chairing Parliamentary Party committees.

Mark, who secured a debate about a St David’s day holiday just this week.

And as part of the tourism strategy paper announced today we now are consulting on the possibility of making St David’s day a bank holiday here in Wales.

Our peers: Roger, Martin and Joan, Alex, Emlyn. And now Mike and Jenny, who have recently taken on their new roles.

I know they will both be missed in the Senedd.

Our AMs: Eleanor, Veronica, Peter.

And of course there is Kirsty, who I admire not just as a dynamic and charismatic politician, but also as a personal friend.

But I know haven’t always made your life easy, Kirsty, sorry about that.

As everybody in this hall knows she is a passionate advocate for Wales and a powerful voice both inside and outside the party.

When Kirsty Williams speaks Westminster listens.

And of course we’ve even had a Liberal Democrat celebrity flying the Welsh flag in the depths of the Australian jungle!

Now that’s one forestry disaster we’re not responsible for!

Ten months ago, last May, Britain entered a new political era.

And as a party we had a choice: take up the challenge or shy away from it.

I believed then – and I still do today – that we needed to embrace this change and not content ourselves with half measures.

Now, I know Kirsty is very fond of quoting David Lloyd George when he said:

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”

But I’m sure she won’t mind me borrowing it as to me this really rings true.

We took one big step back in May and we formed a bold, reforming, liberal Coalition.

A Coalition that will last the full length of this Parliament.

Rebalancing our economy, building a fairer society and driving change.

But what was the alternative?

We could have chosen to sit on the sidelines, risking economic instability and turning our back on the challenge of governing.

We could have said it was all too tough, that we just weren’t up to it, that we didn’t have the stomach to take the job on.

But it isn’t, we are, and we do.

Don’t get me wrong, the task we face is truly daunting.

We are under no illusions about the mess we’ve inherited from Labour.

You’d think that a party leaving behind the largest peacetime debt in our national history would show some regret –

That it would apologise for the £120m we are spending every day just to service the interest on their debts – enough to build a primary school every hour.

That it would agree with us when we say there is nothing fair about leaving the next generation to pick up the tab.

That it would at least admit the scale of the challenge and be constructive in its approach.

Not a bit of it.

When it comes to the problems facing our country, Labour has nothing to offer.

They say welfare needs reform, but they can’t say what they’d do.

They say that that the political system needs change but then stand in its way.

They say that the deficit must be cut but oppose every measure we’ve taken to achieve that.

Labour has gone from being a party of government to being the party of no.

No ideas, no direction, no purpose.

If Labour thinks that it can sit this out – that, having created these problems, it can now say nothing about them, let others solve them, and then arrogantly walk back in – then it is mistaken.

Our country is suffering from Labour’s neglect.

Labour must answer for its record, take responsibility and tell us what it’s really for.

Because no is not enough.

I know the Coalition has faced criticism over the reforms we’re making: change will always encounter fierce criticism.

But unlike Labour, we have taken responsibility.

We are facing up to the challenge.

And we will see this through.

Not all the decisions we’ve made have been easy and we must be honest about the many obstacles we still have to face.

But we’re already making huge progress, both for the UK and for Wales.

Just think, thanks to Liberal Democrat tax reform, from next month we will start putting money back in the pockets of over one million Welsh taxpayers.

That’s fair – those who work hard and play by the rules should get a fair deal from government.

Based on today’s trends, by 2015 nearly a fifth of people working Wales will not pay a penny in income tax.

Nearly one in five Welsh workers.

No income tax. Not a penny.

That is Liberal Democrats delivering for Wales.

To fund this, we’re making the rich pay their fair share of tax.

By 2015 we will be raising £7bn a year by cracking down on those who think they can hoard their fortunes away from the taxman.

And, thanks to Liberal Democrat policies, from next month 600,000 Welsh pensioners will get a fairer deal.

Our ‘triple lock’ will ensure the state pension rises in line with earnings, inflation or 2.5% – whichever is the highest.

No more insulting 75p pensions increases that Labour delivered.

Instead, if you retire this year on a basic state pension, you will receive £15,000 more over your retirement than you would have done under Labour.

Scrapping the earnings link was one of the greatest injustices of Thatcher’s administration.

An injustice that Labour failed to rectify in thirteen whole years of majority rule.

We have taken just 11 months to right this thirty-year wrong.

We have begun to create a new economy out of the ashes of the old.

An economy founded not on speculation but on sustainability.

Not on the principle of making a quick buck, but on long term growth and prosperity for our children.

Thanks to the Liberal Democrat Green Deal led by our outstanding Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, hundreds of thousands of Welsh homes will be insulated, lowering fuel bills and reducing carbon emissions.

And by 2015, the Gwynt y Mor offshore wind farm will be providing a third of Welsh homes with clean energy and will have generated over 1000 jobs.

That is the kind of green and sustainable economy Wales and the UK need.

And thanks to Liberal Democrat principles, we’re restoring civil liberties, empowering communities and reforming politics.

And this includes political reform for Wales.

I heard what party leaders have been saying about the timing of UK and Welsh elections.

And as a result the Assembly will now have the power to vary the date of polling day by twelve months, so there’s no clash.

And we’ve decoupled the Assembly constituencies from those at Westminster.

But, while we are in government in Westminster, we are of course the opposition in the Senedd.

A much more effective opposition than the one currently sitting in the House of Commons.

At least we have a plan for Wales and an opposition Leader with a lot more than just a blank sheet of paper!

The honest truth is that the Labour-Plaid administration simply isn’t delivering.

Liberal Democrats are bringing about change for Britain; now we need change for Wales.

Labour’s legacy in Wales is shocking.

Half a million people economically inactive.

Prosperity now lower than when the Assembly was created in 1999.

One in seven Welsh children living in severe poverty.

That’s not fair and it is not good enough.

Labour has let down Wales.

Both in the Senedd and Westminster, their attitude has always been defeatist and patronising.

They have assumed that the only way to help Wales is to shift wealth wholesale from the Treasury coffers to the Assembly Government.

They may have had good intentions, but their actions have only served to smother Welsh innovation and stifle Welsh growth, making people dependent on handouts and overly-reliant on the public sector.

Labour misunderstood devolution.

They gave up a bit of political power, but kept clutching at the purse strings in London.

Their rhetoric was appealing, but the reality was disappointing.

Labour’s pessimistic attitude limits what Wales can achieve. It’s like asking a builder to build a house, but only allowing him enough materials to lay the foundations.

I, on the other hand, am optimistic about Wales.

On my many visits here I’ve always been struck by the entrepreneurial outlook, the immense potential and drive to succeed.

As Liberal Democrats, we understand that you can’t just shift business and growth from London to Wales and call that progress.

Growth has to be organic, nurtured at home.

Liberal Democrats want to see a strong Welsh economy to benefit Welsh people.

That’s the sort of devolution Wales needs.

It’s about creating an environment for Welsh business to thrive and for Welsh entrepreneurs to succeed

It’s about rebalancing our economy so that we don’t ignore everything outside one square mile in London

It’s about creating an innovation fund, as proposed by the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

It’s about listening, not lecturing.

Liberal Democrats in the Coalition are leading the charge.

Thanks to Norman Baker’s brilliant efforts we have secured the electrification of the London-Cardiff train line.

And we are exploring plans with the Assembly Government to electrify key commuter lines in the valleys and along the coast.

This is brilliant news for South Wales in a very tough public spending climate.

Labour failed to electrify a single metre of track in Wales.

We will transform train travel, improving business links, creating new avenues for growth and providing a major boost to the economy.

And Vince Cable has paved the way for radical reform to the banks.

I understand why people are angry when they hear about the super-sized salaries and bumper bonuses awarded to top bankers.

I am too.

But I also want people to understand just how much this government has done to limit banking excess and get the banks lending again.

Our banking levy will raise £2.5bn every single year.

Not a one-off payment, like Labour’s bonus tax

Not a temporary fix.

A permanent, sustained tax on the banks’ balance sheets that will raise £10bn in this parliament alone.

On top of this we have agreed strict limits to cash bonuses –

Established the most transparent pay disclosure regime in world –

And extracted a commitment that the banks will lend £10bn more to businesses than they did last year.

So that’s £10bn more in tax and £10bn more through lending.

Money that will help Welsh businesses generate jobs and growth.

Yet Labour have the nerve to say that their £2.3bn bonus tax raised more money!

Only Labour party economists could claim that 2.3 is greater than 10.

It’s no wonder the economy collapsed on their watch!

But we can’t stop at reforming the banks.

We must start nurturing talent from a young age.

Under Labour-Plaid Welsh pupils receive £600 less in funding than pupils in England.

This is utterly unacceptable.

We want for Wales what we have put in place for England.

Welsh Liberal Democrats will create a Pupil Premium to target funding at those who need it most.

It would give extra money to be spent on the least privileged in our society – and it shouldn’t matter which side of Offa’s Dyke they are born.

That’s why I disagree with the Welsh Conservatives’ budget proposals which could see the gap rise further.

We want to deliver for children in Wales.

And we must ensure that further devolution works for Wales.

Now that the referendum has returned a Yes vote, the Coalition will honour its commitments.

We will work with the Welsh Government to establish a joint process similar to the Calman Commission in Scotland.

Why?

Because greater devolution should go hand in hand with greater control.

I want Welsh voters in charge of Wales’s future.

But while one referendum has been passed, we now face another.

One that goes beyond party politics.

One that transcends national divides.

One whose result will be felt for a long time to come.

The Alternative Vote.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the way our MPs are elected.

It is a simple change that will make a huge difference.

It means MPs working harder, an end to tactical voting, more voices being heard and power put back in the hands of people, not politicians.

I don’t know what the result of the referendum will be, but one thing’s for sure: this chance won’t come again soon.

So please, get the message out there, spread the word and let’s win the vote for electoral reform.

But as everyone in this hall knows, alongside the referendum this May, we will also be campaigning hard for seats in the Assembly.

This election is a chance for the Welsh people to deliver their verdict on the Labour-Plaid Government and gives us the opportunity to set out our vision for a fairer, more liberal Wales.

We all know what Welsh Liberal Democrats can achieve.

As a partner in the Assembly Government you reduced class sizes and provided hundreds more doctors and nurses.

You fought for free entry to museums and put Wales on the cultural map with the world class Millennium Centre.

In councils in Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham and Newport, Liberal Democrats are making a huge difference to their local communities.

In Cardiff we’re spearheading plans to build more affordable housing.

And Swansea Council is reopening the Leisure Centre after it was closed by Labour.

Liberal Democrats in Newport have secured £20m to repair some of the town’s crumbling roads.

And in Wrexham we’re installing solar panels on 3,000 council properties, projecting a profit of about £29m for the local community.

These are real solid achievements that are making Wales a fairer place to live.

But we want to go further, aim higher.

And we couldn’t ask for a better team to represent the party.

Our AMs have already shown their mettle through their hard work and tireless campaigning.

But it’s fantastic to see some fresh faces too –

Aled, leading our team in North Wales

Rob in Swansea West

Nigel campaigning for Cardiff

Ed for Newport East

Liz in Ceredigion

And of course we’re going to win with Wyn in Montgomeryshire!

So I ask every single person here over the next two months –

Please, go out into your communities, deliver leaflets, knock on doors.

Get our message out loud and clear.

I’m not saying it won’t be tough.

There will be challenging questions on the doorsteps.

There will be people not yet convinced.

There will be families worried about the future.

But I know that with integrity, determination and courage of conviction, together, we can change Wales for good.

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