Election countdown, railways & Barnett formula boffins
- 7 May 2014
- From the section Wales politics
One year to go. So where better to start the countdown to the next general election than the Welsh grand committee?
The "grand" has been discussing the chancellor's Budget, almost two months after George Osborne delivered it. It's a chance for MPs to rehearse their election slogans - the Tories' "long-term economic plan" versus Labour's "cost-of-living crisis".
It is also a chance to recap political arguments that have been bubbling under for the last few weeks, such as the spat over who pays for electrification of the Valleys lines in South Wales. Welsh Secretary David Jones said the Welsh government had abandoned its "pretence" that the UK government is responsible for paying the whole cost of electrification in South Wales.
Mr Jones told MPs: "As a government, we are committed to playing our part of the bargain to electrify the Great Western mainline all the way through to Swansea.
"The Welsh government had a part to play in that bargain and the Valleys Lines element of that electrification was something that the Welsh government was responsible for. There was an exchange of letters between Justine Greening (former UK transport secretary) and Carl Sergeant (her Welsh counterpart). It was clear from that agreement that the Welsh government would be responsible for the Valley Lines element of electrification."
He added: "It's become very clear now that the Welsh government has thought better about its contribution to the cost of that project. There was a meeting a few weeks ago between the Welsh Business Minister Edwina Hart and Patrick McLoughlin at which I was present. It would appear that the Welsh government has now dropped the pretence that the UK government was to be responsible for the entire cost of electrification. That was never on the cards.
"Negotiations are currently taking place between the department for transport and Edwina Hart's department. Frankly, matters were not helped by the pretence that they were never going to make any contribution to the cost of the project that appears to have been abandoned now. I'm glad to hear that."
Mr Jones's Labour shadow, Owen Smith, asked him: "I'm sure all you have just said is true. Do you therefore regret the impression that he and the prime minister gave to the country that it was his government, and I quote from the prime minister, that was paying for the electrification of the main line through to Swansea including the Valley Lines. That's a direct quotation from the prime minister. Did he misspeak or did he mislead?"
David Jones sidestepped that question, but the answer appears to be the first of the two alternatives, even if the one could have led to the other. The Welsh government insists its position hasn't changed.
Whenever two or three Welsh MPs are gathered together, the Barnett formula must be discussed. This morning, it fell to Plaid Cymru's Jonathan Edwards to complain that Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran opposed reform of the Barnett formula (as do Plaid Cymru's SNP allies). Owen Smith said Ms Curran had said Labour would address the issue of under-funding for Wales.
Jonathan Edwards told him: "I did follow that and I have to admit the Barnett formula is extremely complicated. I wouldn't profess to be an expert in it. There's probably only about three people who actually do understand it.
Challenged to name them, he replied: "Gerry Holtham, Eurfyl Ap Gwilym and probably Ian James Johnson."
You can watch this today's sessions here. If that doesn't satisfy your craving for Welsh politics at Westminster, here's yesterday's lengthy debate on the Wales Bill. If that's not enough, and you're wondering about the impact of Hinterland on tourism, here's today's Westminster Hall debate on S4C and Welsh identity.