Wales v Westminster: round 94 - this time, on farming

Another day, another row between Wales and Westminster: more precisely between Labour in Wales and the coalition at Westminster.

This time the argument is over the Agricultural Wages Board which fixes minimum wage rates and terms and conditions for agricultural workers in England and Wales.

The UK government wants to abolish the board as it believes it is obsolete when there is a national minimum wage covering every other industry. Ministers at Westminster believe removing restrictions could create jobs.

The Welsh government wants the board to continue to operate in Wales. The simplest solution, one that would keep both governments happy, would presumably be to abolish the board in England but let it continue in Wales.

Except. Agriculture may be devolved to Wales, wages control is not. David Heath, a (Liberal Democrat) Farming Minister, said it was "perfectly proper" for UK ministers to abolish the board. They do not appear to require the consent of the Welsh government to do so.

Mr Heath met Welsh (Labour) Agriculture Minister Alun Davies yesterday and promised to continue talking to him about the issue.

He told a debate in the alternative Commons debating chamber, Westminster Hall, this morning: "We will continue to discuss with him and with the Welsh Assembly Government (sic) what they have in mind. There are constitutional issues which I'm not going to go into. This is not a devolved matter at the moment - agriculture is but wages control is not.

"That doesn't stop us having a perfectly sensible dialogue with Welsh colleagues to see if we can find a way forward".

Labour spokesman Huw Irranca-Davies said: "If they abolish the AWB in Wales without consent and against explicit wishes of the Welsh government it shows complete disrespect for Wales & devolution".

Mr Heath said he was prepared to talk to the Wales Office (the UK government department representing Wales) about the constitutional issues - which may offer a way around the problem if it requires a tweaking of the devolution settlement.