Wales politics

Silk road "constitutional neurosis" warning in Lords

To the House of Lords, where their Lordships have been discussing - what else? - the UK government's response to the Silk commission on devolution to Wales enabling the Welsh government to raise some taxes and borrow money.

Seventy two hours after David Cameron and Nick Clegg journeyed to what the prime minister calls "the bubble in the Bay" to confirm that spring is finally over, and that "in due course" moment had finally arrived, Plaid Cymru's former leader, Lord Wigley, raised the subject at question time.

He asked the Wales Office Minister Lady Randerson: "Would you accept that the Silk report represents a balanced package and that cherry-picking that package would unravel it? Will you therefore state by when the other 20 or so recommendations that weren't covered on Friday will be announced? Will they be in the statement you're making this afternoon and in particular will you give an assurance that the legislation necessary in order to enact all the commitments that have been made on Friday will be on the statute book before the next general election?"

She replied: "The Silk commission made 33 recommendations. The announcement on Friday did not go into the detail on many of those and there will be a full response to the Silk report in the next couple of months, so that we're dealing with this by the end of the year and the intention is that there will be a draft Wales Bill that will incorporate Silk recommendations that the government has accepted where legislation is necessary and the the government intends that that will be possible therefore to pursue that if possible in the fourth session of this parliament."

A Labour former Welsh Secretary, Lord Morris of Aberavon, questioned the commitment of his latest successor to devolution. Lady Randerson told him that David Jones had "worked extremely hard to ensure that this report has had a positive response from the UK government."

Lord Morris, who was in the UK cabinet which created the Barnett formula, used to this day to calculate changes in the Welsh budget, also queried the way Wales would be expected to fund major projects under the new deal. Lady Randerson reminded him there was an agreement between the UK and Welsh governments to review that process at each spending review.

Liberal Democrat Lord Roberts of Llandudno wondered when the referendum on the devolution of some income tax powers would be held. The minister told him: "We will provide for the referendum by primary legislation here in parliament but it will be the responsibility of the assembly to trigger the referendum. It is right that timing should lie in their hands."

For Labour, Lady [Eluned] Morgan of Ely wanted an explanation why the devolution of long haul air passenger duty wasn't included in last week's announcement. "The government," Lady Randerson told her, "is not yet persuaded of the case in relation to this."

Former judge Lord Elystan-Morgan, a crossbench or independent peer, suggested the current "piecemeal" approach to Welsh devolution could be replaced by a Scottish-style "reserved powers" model that would offer more cohesion and simplicity. He joked that a reserved powers model would have the bonus of "saving a whole generation of Welsh lawyers from constitutional neurosis".

Lady Randerson told him that was an issue for part two of the Silk commission's brief - "something on which they're already working". Constitutional neurosis may still be affecting Welsh legal minds for some time to come.