Villiers tells BIPA there will be no further devolution until after Scottish Referendum

I’ll have to get some tips off Alan about recording Audioboos at live events, since you really have to turn this one up loud to hear anything at all..

But this is the new Secretary of State telling the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly in answer to a question about the devolution of Airport and Passenger Duty to Scotland that there will be no talk of repatriating powers to Scotland until the Referendum clarifies that country’s relationship to the Union.


  • BarneyT

    I’m not sure what message is being sent to the Scots with this “wait and see” approach. It strikes me as counterproductive to the Union, as it will surely give ammunition to the SNP to demonstrate the present lack of autonomy.

    It would surely serve the Union better and weaken the separatist argument if Airport and Passenger Duty levels are devolved to Scotland now.

    I may have this wrong, but it sounds like the UK government is preparing to lose the referendum…and this move only makes that reality more likely (assuming it’s taken onboard).

    It will be interesting to see what happens to the cries for a 12.5 corporation tax in NI (particularly from the Unionists) as any stagnation in this arena too at the behest of the UK administration will again demonstrate to Scotland (through citing NI) that they can achieve more going it alone.

    So could Unionist calls for devolved Corporation Tax in NI ironically strenghten Scotland’s call for independence?

  • sdelaneys

    Surely if independence is even remotely on the horizon it would be a waste of time and money faffing around with devolutionary projects now as they would be soon redundant and swamped by independence. Why would those who demand independence want devolution anyhow unless they are very half hearted about what they actually want?

  • What about a slightly different point-of-view? Perhaps this is no more, or less, than a tactful recognition of a pre-referendum period of purdah.

    Any — absolutely any — meddling with devolved powers and responsibilities over the next couple of years will be seen as interference in the referendum, and potentially misrepresented.

    Caledonian conspiracy theory is already alive, well, prevalent and poisonous — see, for example, the responses to Nicola Sturgeon at Perth, on the issue of spending limits:

    In a speech to the SNP conference in Perth, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave the clearest indication yet that the Scottish Government is preparing to disregard impartial advice on campaign funding from the Electoral Commission.

    The neutral watchdog – handed a key role in setting referendum rules under the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement last week – favours higher spending limits for the two main campaign groups than those proposed by ministers.

    The commission also wants higher spending caps for political parties under a formula which the SNP claims would put it at a £1 million disadvantage…

    Ms Sturgeon’s remarks provoked a furious backlash from the pro-UK Better Together campaign.A spokesman said: “We have the clearest signal yet that the rules for the referendum will be cooked up in Alex Salmond’s front room.

    “He cannot be a player as well as a referee on the same pitch. People in this country value fairness and they know when someone is at it.”

    Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Margaret Curran, said: “It didn’t last even a week before the SNP decided to move the goal posts….”

    Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “We know the SNP will attempt to rig this referendum in any way it can…”

    Cue Alison Krauss.

  • One for the diary:

    The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will hear from Theresa Villiers MP, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on Wednesday 31 October. The Committee will be taking evidence from the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on her responsibilities as Secretary of State.

    2.30 pm Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

    Questioning is likely to be on a wide range of matters, including the Committee’s recent inquiries into corporation tax and on Air Passenger Duty, as well as its current inquiry into an air transport strategy for Northern Ireland.

  • Mick Fealty

    What are you expecting Nev?

  • I would expect her re.APD to dust down these comments from July to which would be added the referendum dimension:

    The UK is paying over £120 million every day on debt interest payments alone. Air Passenger Duty (APD) is making an important contribution to reducing the nation’s deficit.

    Perhaps on her flights here it may come to dawn on her that APD restricts the flow of tourists and the related flow of tourist income.

  • Did you read Villiers’ speech? It was awful. Platitudes and apple pie, with zero newsworthiness. Parts of it were culled from comments she made the previous week, although with her limited knowledge of NI, I doubt she had a hand in any of it. She acts like she has no idea what side to take in the Corporation Tax debate, and is simply waiting to see what Dave does. She might be new, but I never thought I’d miss Owen Paterson.

  • Belfast Gonzo @ 5:32 am:

    No, but I’ll be searching out the text forthwith.

    After your observation, my expectations are rock-bottom. So, I shan’t be surprised — particularly since I have just had an extended response, on a separate grouse, from my local (London) LibDem very-junior minister, which amounts to the worst cut-and-paste job seen in a long while.

    Beyond that bit of blatant self-advertising, I found myself discussing the general phenomenon with another ex-politico (but who remains a bit closer to the action). His “explanation” came in five parts:
    1. This is already a very “tired” administration: they can no longer make the effort to rise to the occasion.
    2. This is a very arrogant administration: they can’t be arsed to explain themselves properly any more.
    3. This is a very stupid administration: they think they can get away with it.
    4. This is a very flabby government. The original Coalition Agreement was a botch-job, but the nearest thing to a ‘plan” to hand — and now outdated and well-worn. So ‘activist’ ministers (he named IDS, Gove, and May) just do it their ways, get on with it and get away with it. A league below are the barely-competent, who need hands held and to refer too much to the Quad (Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and — heaven help us — Danny ‘Ginger Rodent’ Alexander). Cabinet is no so stuffed (there can be thirty-two bods attending, many with no actual departmental roles) to be anything like an ‘executive’.
    5. The civil service has been so depleted (or the “quality” has hived off to better options), so demoralised, we are getting what we pay for, and no more.

    In any event, what we are suffering from (also in his metaphor, which I had to have explained) is ‘pachinko’ government. Pachinko is a Japanese pin-ball gambling machine. Unlike the pin-ball machines celebrated by Pete Townshend’s 1969 song (both he and I are of that vintage, or a bit earlier) pachinko has no ‘flippers’ and is even less of a game of skill, and more of chance.

    My corner in this? I’ve just bought two cattle-class returns to New York, cost around £900. The billing reveals that just £144 is the actual air-fare. The rest is charges and taxes.

  • Here is the text of the SoS’ speech. It’s the sort of waffle you would expect in a wafflers’ gathering; the real work is done away from the public gaze. Perhaps it’s time that the Irish delegation was cut down to size; 25 from Dublin and 5 from the devolved administrations is a nonsense.

    Edinburgh put a curious spin on its promotion of the BIPA event: Spotlight on Scottish-Irish relationships. The focus appears to have been on Scotland and it’s place in the archaepelago.

  • No more power until referendum, Scotland told: Villiers’ comments and an SNP response.

  • Can Nevin repost that link to the text of the speech? The hot-link @ 11:25am isn’t opening for me; I’m under the cosh to do “other things”; and other routes take me to irrelevancies (Sammy Wilson at the NI Assembly?).

  • I’ll try again, Malcolm, the speech is on the NIO website.

  • Thank you, Nevin: I now see where I was going wrong. I was searching for a speech with a major contribution on APD and NI air traffic. Blink or sneeze and you missed it.

    I’m grateful for this thread: it has caused me to re-think my personal attitude to APD. In retrospect I was seduced by the “Green” buzz around it. I now see I was wrong.

    I retraced to when it was introduced by Ken Clarke in 1994. It had some validity then: Clarke’s argument was that air transport was lightly taxed (no fuel duty, no VAT) compared to other modes of transport. He was so convinced by his own logic, he doubled the impost in 1997. With Brown as Chancellor it was first halved, then (2007) restored to Clark’s level. Darling made what was little more than a “cost of living” adjustment in 2009, and then Osborne hiked it twice more.

    It has now become a significant element in the national tax take: £2.6bn in 2011/12, to reach £3.9bn in 2015/16. The flights are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them … etc.

    The Green argument is APD would still need to increase a further four-fold to compensate for the notional “lost” fuel duty and VAT. That means £10.5 billion more from the air traffic industry (i.e. from passengers).

    Allow me to rehearse what, I’m sure, is well-known to others — but which I’ve had to refresh myself on.

    My doubts are whether that is a fair comparison, anyway. Other modes of transport benefit from similar waiving of notional “duty”. The greatest beneficiary of government assistance and ‘subsidy’ is road traffic: ‘The Highways Agency network is valued at about £130bn’ — if anything, that feels to me like a gross underestimate (one rail line, HS2, is estimated at £32.7 billion; Boris Johnson’s mad Thames airport is a cool £50 billion).

    So let’s just admit that all modes of transport are, and will remain, publicly subsidised.

    Meanwhile back to APD. Were I in the business I’d be arguing it is a tax which falls largely on leisure travel. Business travel is just another ‘on-cost’, to be passed on in the billing. In other words, another way to bleed the poor bloody, and well-blooded consumer.

    I’m happy with the notion of a high-tax, high-earnings economy (which was a Thatcherite promise). I’d be arguing to extend the tax base anyway: from each according to his ability, etc.

    With APD we now have a few too many anomalies. Travel from the Scottish mainland to the islands, no APD; travel from the rest of the UK to the islands, cough up. Fly from Glasgow to the US, pay up; do it by Continental from BFS, cough a bit less. Shall we APD flights to and from the Scilly Isles? — yes, no, maybe, and finally no (all within a coupe of months).

    I’d also not regard the airlines as innocents here. Ryanair has shamelessly retained unclaimed APD. Others require complicated reclaiming processes. Huge sums are flowing through the accounts of the the long-haul carriers — typically £15,000+ for each flight to the US. Now I’d foolishly assume many of those tickets are bought and paid for long in advance; but the APD needs to be paid only when the flight happens. Mmmm … quite a bit to bank there.

    Apologies to all. I needed to work that out of my system.