Welsh Tories flagging on energy: Minister rejects plea

How much clout do the Welsh Conservatives have with their counterparts in Westminster?

The question arose during this morning's debate on energy policy in Westminster Hall, the second Commons chamber and comes as their Scottish counterparts ponder whether to disband and re-brand themselves.

It helps to recall the Tories' pledge during the Welsh assembly elections to "continue to make the case for devolving power over energy projects up to 100 MW" - that is to allow Welsh Ministers to decide bigger power projects.

If you believe that was a manifesto commitment, you've probably already booked St David's Day off in anticipation of the Tories' promised new public holiday, but I digress.

Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards used the Westminster Hall to pursue the Welsh Tory agenda with Conservative Ministers here. He got short shrift.

Energy Minister Greg Barker told him: "We firmly believe that the right decision-maker for major strategic energy infrastructure in England and Wales is the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change".

That would be Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat who previously voted for Wales to be excluded from the current system.

"UK Ministers are as accountable to Welsh voters as they are to English voters," said Mr Barker. "The Government sees no evidence to reconsider our strongly held position".

The coalition government position, he pointed out, is "exactly the same as the previous Labour administration".

The referendum vote to give the Welsh assembly more law-making powers does not appear to have swayed the UK government.

Mr Barker said: "So soon after such an important referendum on the scope of the assembly's powers now is not the time to start unpicking and revisiting this question."

That prompted Mr Edwards to suggest that the Welsh Tory and Lib Dem manifestos were not worth the paper they were written on.

Mr Barker disagreed, telling him policy was "informed" by the coalition agreement published almost a year before the manifestoes - "that is the basis on which we make our important decisions and we stand by those".

So the Welsh Tories may have little clout with their Westminster cousins, but they are not alone in that.

And just to re-inforce the point, the Conservative Wales Office swiftly published a press release effectively dismissing the Welsh party's manifesto pledge.

UPDATE: A Welsh Tory spokesman said: "In light of today's debate at Westminster the Welsh Conservative Assembly Group will continue to lobby the UK Government on devolving energy projects up to 100 MW.

"What remains clear is that the Welsh Government's failed TAN 8 planning policy - for the development of wind farms - is the fault of no-one but Labour. It has proved disastrously ineffective and must be reviewed urgently. Pointing the finger at the UK government simply won't wash.

"Because Labour failed to keep to specific limits when attracting developers to Wales, communities now feel swamped by the ensuing mess."