Springwatch: Whitehall wait for powers deal goes on
- 10 July 2013
- From the section Wales politics
MPs on parliament's Welsh affairs committee have spent part of this morning grilling Secretary of State for Wales David Jones.
The session was televised and, as with many TV current affairs programmes, it began with a newspaper review. The MPs wanted to know if this story in The Independent is true. The Daily Mail has a similar version.
The UK government is considering its response to a report from the McKay commission on the consequences of devolution for the house of commons. Its report recommended a bigger say for English MPs on laws that affect England alone and today's newspaper reports suggest the UK government - or perhaps the Conservative half of it - is sympathetic.
Any solution to the so-called West Lothian question is fraught with difficulties. What is England-only legislation? Would the same rules apply to the next Wales act passed by Westminster?
David Jones told the MPs that the reports were "speculative" and "unattributed", which in other circumstances might be thought of as a "non-denial denial" although Mr Jones appeared genuinely unsure whether they were true or not.
The prime minister's official spokesman said: "We think Sir William's work is a positive step forward. The government is going to look very carefully and constructively at it and respond in due course."
Back at the Welsh select, MPs were concerned by the linking - in newspaper copy, at least - of the plans with other proposals to give the Welsh government more power to raise some of the money it spends as recommended by the Silk commission. Mr Jones insisted the two issues were not linked - and the UK government is looking at the Silk report as a "discrete" set of proposals.
Not every MP accepts this is the case and there are growing concerns among government backbenchers that ministers have chosen to link the Silk and McKay commissions in one package.
As you might expect, the committee wanted to know when the long-awaited (in some quarters) UK government response to that report will be delivered, a response various ministers promised would be delivered by the end of spring.
Mr Jones acknowledged that spring had indeed sprung but he hoped (my italics) that a response would be issued "very soon". He also offered the inevitable "in due course". Agreement had been reached on most of Silk's 33 recommendations but remains elusive on a few others.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told MPs yesterday that supporters of more devolution would be "pleasantly surprised" by the UK government's "forthcoming and forward-leaning approach".
The Independent suggested the Welsh government would (eventually) be given the power to vary income tax rates, alter stamp duty and borrow money backed by Treasury guarantees. That reflects what many at Westminster expect will happen - the Welsh first minister has said stamp duty would give him the £200m income stream many think would be enough to borrow the cash to pay for M4 improvements. Air passenger duty is unlikely to be devolved.
What the Independent didn't say was whether there would be a referendum before Wales get the power to vary income tax rates? David Jones gave a pretty big hint that there should be one, as there had been a referendum question on that subject in Scotland back in 1997 (a question that wasn't asked in Wales).
So when will we know for sure? Lib Dem MP Roger Williams tweeted: "Looking forward to the government response to Silk commission before parliament summer recess."
The commons rises for its summer recess a week tomorrow. I may be wrong but it looks increasingly unlikely that a response will come before then. Answering another question, Mr Jones suggested "a few more weeks while Silk is considered" shouldn't make a difference. A slip of the tongue or a clear pointer?
MPs return from their summer recess in September, or late spring as it is known on the UK government's calendar.