Wales politics

Welsh Conservatives: Party 'cannot turn clock back on devolution'

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Media captionAndrew RT Davies said devolution could not "be simply put back into the bottle"

Conservatives cannot turn the clock back on devolution, the party's leader in the Welsh assembly has said.

Andrew RT Davies said he shared the concerns of Tories who feared for the future of the United Kingdom, but they could not ignore the process of devolving powers to Cardiff.

He told the Welsh Conservative conference in Swansea that the union "went deeper than politics".

Mr Davies also announced a policy commission into childcare.

In his speech at the Liberty Stadium, he said the Conservatives had reached "our Clause Four moment" on devolution.

"There are some who are still fighting the battles of the devolution referendum of 1997," he said.

"Devolution cannot be simply put back into the bottle."

'Family of nations'

He added: "I fully understand the concerns of some who think devolution is about moving towards a breakup of the United Kingdom.

"I didn't go into politics to break up the United Kingdom. I am a proud unionist. We are proud to say that we are Welsh and British.

"These are concerns that I share too, but ignoring the process and not engaging in it will not make it go away."

His speech comes as the UK government considers the findings of the Silk Commission which recommended that the Welsh government should acquire some tax-varying powers.

The commission, set up by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in Westminster, has now embarked on the second part of its work into the future of the devolution settlement.

Mr Davies described the UK as a "family of nations" and said the economic arguments in favour of it were "unquestionable".

"We know that the union goes deeper than politics - it goes to the heart," he said.

And although the Tories had campaigned for a no-vote in the 1997 referendum, he stressed: "We can do Conservative things with devolution."

"We as Conservatives might not like what this lazy Labour government is doing in Cardiff Bay, but let us not oppose devolution because of what is being carried out in lazy Labour's name."

Affordable childcare

In a reference to the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence he said those who wanted to preserve the union "have a battle to fight".

Mr Davies, who leads the biggest opposition party in the assembly, said the Tories needed a policy platform that showed voters they were "the party that gets it".

A policy commission into affordable childcare will report to his education spokeswoman Angela Burns in the autumn.

It will listen to professionals and to businesses "to see how we can help parents across Wales to be as aspirational for themselves as they are for their children", Mr Davies said.

Earlier, the prime minister urged Welsh Conservatives to fight a "battle of ideas" on the deficit, welfare and the economy.

David Cameron told the conference that Wales and the UK were being tested a "global race" to determine whether the country would be "a success story or an also ran".

Meanwhile Welsh Secretary David Jones has accused the devolved Welsh government of establishing a "Soviet-style" system of enterprise zones which is "holding Wales back".

He told the conference that Labour ministers have created bureaucracy for the zones but "nothing is happening" on the ground.

Mr Jones contrasted the approach of Labour ministers in Cardiff to setting up enterprise zones with the way they were established by UK ministers in England.

In England, he argued, the zones were created as partnerships with local business people and structured to suit local areas.

But he accused the Welsh government of using a "top down" approach to setting up the zones in Wales which he said was damaging economic prospects.

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