Clegg praises devolution report but will he enact it?
- 8 January 2013
- From the section Wales politics
Yesterday, it was our turn. Today, MPs got the chance to follow the media and question the deputy prime minister on his many responsibilities.
Curiously, a Liberal Democrat and a Conservative MP had tabled identical questions to Nick Clegg: "what assessment he has made of the work of the Commission on Devolution in Wales?"
Mr Clegg praised the Silk commission report as "radical", "thorough and thoughtful", "a thorough analysis". So good that he'd want to implement it ASAP and give the Welsh government tax-raising powers?
Lib Dem Mark Williams asked for a guarantee that it would be implemented before the next general election in 2015. He didn't get one. Mr Clegg praised the report but said: "I can certainly confirm that we will respond in full well before part 2 of the Silk commission proceedings is concluded. We aim to provide our full response to part 1, about the fiscal aspects of further devolution to Wales, by spring this year."
Tory Glyn Davies suggested there would be no need for a referendum on the devolution of income tax if the four main parties included the idea in their election manifestos (although conversely, you could argue that the absence of policy choice was an argument for a referendum). Mr Clegg told him: "The Silk commission has on it representatives of all four parties in the Assembly, and it was a unanimously supported recommendation that the change in income tax recommended in part 1 should be implemented only once a referendum had taken place. Obviously, we will look at this very closely. We are acutely aware that it represents a cross-party approach within Wales itself."
Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd asked Mr Clegg a question along the lines of that asked by Mark Williams. He got a similar response: "As I said, we all need to take a careful look at part 1 and take a collective decision within the coalition government on how we respond to it. As ministers in all parts of the coalition have said, it is an extremely thorough and thoughtful piece of work representing a cross-party approach in Wales, and we will respond to it with similar seriousness before the spring of this year."
So plenty of warm words, but no indication of what the government's response to the report will be - although Mr Clegg has set himself a firm deadline with that "before the spring of this year" line.
The shadow Welsh Secretary, Owen Smith, accused Mr Clegg of ignorance. In a statement, Mr Smith said: "The deputy prime minister clearly hasn't read the report as he inaccurately claimed that Silk 'suggests devolving up to about a quarter of total money spent in Wales to the Welsh Assembly', whereas in fact Silk suggests devolving just £2.2bn, or six per cent of the total £35.3nn spent in Wales.
"And he was equally unclear about when the Government might legislate for Silk Part 1, refusing to confirm that the Government intends to do so before the end of this parliament. This degree of uncertainty is completely unsatisfactory, as the government has already agreed that Silk should unlock access to the borrowing powers which Welsh Labour feels are essential to enable the Welsh Government to invest in economic growth, and the Welsh secretary must now clarify the government's commitment on this point."
You can read today's Commons exchanges here. If that leaves you little the wiser then fortunately, Labour and the government have now agreed to hold a meeting of the Welsh grand committee to discuss the subject "as soon as possible", after which all will doubtless be much clearer. Book your seats now.