Plaid bid to devolve air passenger duty rejected by MPs

You have three MPs. How do you get noticed in a parliament of 650?

Plaid Cymru's strategy is to highlight issues where there are differences between the Welsh Labour government and Welsh Labour MPs. Plaid put themselves on the side of the Welsh government and call votes on which Labour MPs are unlikely to support them. The vote is usually followed by a "Labour betrayal" press release expressing Plaid Cymru's shock that their opponents failed to support them.

So last night, as MPs debated the Finance Bill, Plaid forced a debate and a vote on the devolution of air passenger duty. The party's Treasury spokesman, Jonathan Edwards, told the Commons that the absence of APD from the Wales Bill currently going through parliament was - and this may not surprise students of the Plaid Cymru thesaurus - "a slap in the face to Wales". Perhaps only time considerations prevented it from being called "a snub to Wales" too.

Plaid had no expectation of winning last night's vote but hoped to highlight differences between Labour in Wales and Westminster.

Mr Edwards and his colleagues pointed out that First Minister Carwyn Jones has said: "Air passenger duty is another tax that should, in my view be devolved. While London struggles with where to build additional airport capacity, we in Wales face a very different problem. Our national airport in Cardiff has not enjoyed the growth in passenger numbers and destinations that we need to help drive economic growth. Devolution of air passenger duty would give us a useful tool to incentivise the growth of Cardiff airport and other smaller facilities, such as Anglesey in north Wales. APD has already been devolved to Northern Ireland for long-haul flights; at a minimum, I believe Wales should have parity."

The UK coalition government has rejected that appeal, rejecting the advice of the Silk commission. There is little sign that a Labour UK government would do things differently. Labour Treasury spokeswoman Catherine McKinnell told last night's debate: "We have been very clear on numerous occasions that Labour remains to be convinced of the merits of devolving APD. We do not believe that it is necessarily the correct way forward at this stage."

Plaid MP Hywel Williams intervened: "You says that Labour remains to be convinced about devolving APD. Have you told Carwyn Jones?"

That question was met with a pause so long it convinced MPs that Ms Ms McKinnell didn't know who Carwyn Jones is. She eventually replied: "As I said, the Wales Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, contains a number of devolved tax powers for Wales and is the appropriate place to debate these issues."

Plaid Cymru lost the division - by 254 votes to 9 - and their "Labour betrayal" press release arrived within two hours. It had three different photographs Jonathan Edwards attached. A cynic might suggest the press release had been written some time earlier.

Catherine McKinnell's statement was, said Plaid Cymru, "an extraordinary announcement". Newspaper colleagues rushed to hold their front pages as Jonathan Edwards added: "The vote was a test of the authority and credibility of the first minister and the ability of the Labour Welsh government to follow through on its rhetoric.

"The first minister has repeatedly said that his Welsh government is in favour of devolving APD. But that position has been blown apart by his own party's shadow Treasury ministers who said the Labour party is yet to be convinced of the merits of devolving APD.

"As I said during the debate: if the First Minister's own party colleagues don't take him seriously, then why should the people of Wales? The authority and credibility of the First Minister is in tatters."

As "extraordinary announcements" go, it really wasn't that extraordinary. But the party of three MPs got itself noticed. MPs are now off for their Easter break and so am I. Bye for now.