Crabb: we'll put differences aside and work together

A political anorak could be forgiven for thinking they've died and gone to heaven.

In the House of Lords this afternoon, peers have been scrutinising the Wales Bill, which will give the Welsh government the ability to vary income tax for the first time (after a referendum "yes" vote).

A few hundred metres away at Gwydyr House in Whitehall, Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb met senior Welsh MPs from other political parties to see if they can agree on the way forward for Wales in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum.

They talked for 90 minutes in what politicians invariably describe as a "positive and constructive meeting". Tea and coffee was served. Mr Crabb told me the "main achievement" of the meeting was an agreement that politicians from four parties could put aside their political differences to "strengthen and improve" the devolution settlement for Wales.

He said: "We're going to be meeting now on a monthly basis. We've agreed to work together to put aside our political differences to work up some specific proposals using the work of the Silk commission previously, but not just limited to that, to try to develop some proposals that we can show the people of Wales ahead of the next election that we're serious about strengthening devolution and making it work for all the people."

Mr Crabb's ambition is a devolution settlement that lasts, rather than one that has to be revisited every few years. There is now a consensus among the four parties that Wales should move to a "reserved powers" model with the law clearly setting out what is reserved to Westminster and what is not to avoid legal disputes. There is less of a consensus on the detail of what should be reserved but the meeting did suggest there was flexibility on all sides.

His Labour shadow, Owen Smith, gave his take: "I impressed on the secretary of state the need for his government to deliver fair funding for Wales and am pleased that he seemed prepared to address this issue.

"I am also pleased that the secretary of state's new found enthusiasm for devolution extends to the issue of reserved powers and the principle that the people of Wales should receive the opportunity to have the same degree of devolution as Scotland - if they so wish. Finally, Labour made clear that further devolution for Wales and Scotland, must not be used as an excuse to reduce the voices of Wales and Scotland at Westminster."

Stephen Crabb hopes that the monthly meetings will feed in to the UK government's cabinet committee on devolution, chaired by William Hague, and will proceed alongside the Smith commission's work on Scottish devolution.

Back in the Lords, Mr Crabb's Liberal Democrat deputy, Baroness Randerson, resisted pressure from Plaid Cymru to move to the "reserved powers" model - even though she is in favour of it.

Lady Randerson warned that peers would put the Bill at risk by trying to widen its scope at this stage. She said ministers were working proactively on the second set of Silk recommendations dealing with reserved powers and the referendum result had ensured that a new devolution settlement for Wales was "very much on the agenda".

She accused Plaid Cymru of trying to "leapfrog the manifesto process" by trying to press ahead with "far-reaching" change before next year's general election.