Nick Clegg commits to further powers for Wales

Nick Clegg said the Silk Commission will be a manifesto blueprint

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Nick Clegg has committed his party to devolving new powers to Wales, including policing, youth justice and big energy projects.

The Liberal Democrat leader told his party's Welsh conference the plans will be the "blueprint" for its election manifesto.

The proposals were recommended by the Silk Commission.

He also accused Carwyn Jones of trying "to re-invent history" about rail electrification funding in south Wales.

The Liberal Democrats' final manifesto will need approval from party members.

'Fully commit'

Start Quote

...I will be the first party leader to fully commit my party to including those proposals in our 2015 manifesto”

End Quote Nick Clegg MP Lib Dem leader

On Saturday, the opening day of the two-day spring conference, Mr Clegg said it was "no secret" that his Conservative coalition partners in government at Westminster are "not the strongest advocates of further devolution".

"But it doesn't matter because we are," he insisted.

Mr Clegg accused Labour leader Ed Miliband of making a "half-baked promise" on devolution at his party's Welsh conference, last weekend.

Mr Miliband pledged to clear up confusion over what the Welsh assembly can and cannot do, saying a Labour government would legislate so powers are assumed to be devolved "unless specifically reserved", known as a reserved power model.

On Saturday, Mr Clegg told party members: "The Silk Commission challenged all parties to include wording in their manifestos committing to moving to a reserved power model and transferring powers from Westminster to the national assembly on transport, S4C, teachers' pay, sewerage, energy consents, youth justice and policing.

"Where Labour failed to meet those challenges, the Liberal Democrats will rise to them, and I will be the first party leader to fully commit our party to including those proposals in our 2015 manifesto.

"The Silk Commission recommendations will be the blueprint for our 2015 manifesto.

"Unlike other parties, we are a democratic party and the final manifesto will of course be approved by our members, but I am clear that, just as the Silk Commission has recommended, I want us to fight the next election proposing that we take on the recommendations of the Silk Commission to give you the tools you need to get on with the job."

'Really matters'

Mr Clegg accuses Carwyn Jones of "trying to reinvent history" over which government pays rail bill

Before his speech, Mr Clegg told BBC Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones had been "cynically" trying "to reinvent history" about funding of rail electrification for the south Wales valleys.

Mr Jones accused the UK government of going against a pledge to pay for the upgrade of the valleys network, as well as the upgrade of the Great Western mainline from London to Swansea.

UK government ministers say an agreement was made two years ago for Welsh ministers to cover the cost.

Mr Clegg said: "It is rather cynical of the first minister now to turn round and somehow claim that promises were made to cover the expense of that electrification when it was clearly, unambiguously and explicitly stated that this would be something where the UK government would play a role, not least the electrification of the mainline, but the financing of the valleys lines would be a devolved matter related to the franchising of those lines."

In response, a Welsh Labour spokesperson said: "We are surprised by the deputy prime minister's lack of knowledge on this issue. This is the man who recently thought there was no rail main line between Bridgend and Cardiff.

"He now also seems to be unaware there are ongoing discussions taking place between his government and the Welsh government to resolve the problem"

In his speech, the Lib Dem leader highlighted the raising of the threshold before people pay income tax to £10,000, on the eve of the change taking effect, as a triumph for his party's battle to help people on low earnings.

"From tomorrow, over one million Welsh workers will get £700 back in their pockets," he said.

"144,000 low paid workers will be paying no income tax at all.

"Our Liberal Democrat tax cut, for the many not the few. That's Liberal Democrats in government, making sure that work pays."

He said the threshold would rise to £10,500 by the end of the parliament, and £12,500 if his party was in government again after next year's general election.

Mr Clegg explained he had challenged UKIP leader Nigel Farage to live televised debates on Britain's EU membership "so that, just for once, people could hear both sides of the argument, in versus out."

Looking forward to the European elections on 22 May, Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems "didn't pick this fight because it's easy, we picked it because it really matters".

"Because remaining in Europe is the only way to protect three million Welsh and British jobs," he said.

'Paralysed'

The deputy prime minister accused Labour and the Conservatives of being "missing in action" from the battle over Britain's future in Europe, of being "paralysed by their own internal divisions".

"It's party before country from leaders who sort of half say they're in, but who don't have the guts to actually come out," he said.

With Wales lacking a Liberal Democrat MEP, to loud applause Mr Clegg said it was the party's responsibility to get one elected "to deliver for Wales and for the rest of the United Kingdom".

"Liberal Democrats, I want us to continue speaking out for what we believe in, I want us to continue delivering for the people we serve, be it from within government, or in opposition.

"Not being scared to challenge the status quo, constantly pushing for our ideals.

"In short, we must fight and fight again to create a liberal Britain and to create a stronger and fairer society."

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