Welsh Questions: Jones rejects quasi-colonial job

It's one of those stories that fills newspapers (and these pages) on quiet days: PM to merge Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish cabinet jobs.

One day it might even come true, but not just yet, much to the disappointment of English Tory MP Philip Hollobone.

He turned up at question time today to suggest to David Jones a money-saving job-share involving the other territorial departments.

This was his question: "Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland now have assemblies or parliaments of their own. Many of us would like to see the three territorial departments rolled into one to save taxpayer funds.

"Given that that's not part of the coalition programme, will you look at more joint working and shared services between the three departments so as to save money for the taxpayer?"

Mr Jones told him that Wales benefited from having a Wales Office in Westminster: "I would not want to see it submerged in a quasi-colonial office."

Mr Jones said the Wales Office planned to cut 10 per cent off its administration budget next year to save £550,000.

Mr Jones's Labour shadow, Owen Smith, focused on last week's Silk commission report, using one of his two questions to ask why the report won't be debated in the Commons itself (rather than the slightly less populated Welsh grand committee).

He followed up with a suggestion on how Wales could acquire borrowing powers without (or before) acquiring some responsibility for income tax.

Mr Smith's idea was that the Welsh government would be able to borrow against a £200m "independent income stream" from other taxes that could be devolved to Wales, such as stamp duty land tax, air passenger duty and aggregates levy.

Mr Jones told him that was "under active consideration between the Wales Office, the Welsh government and the Treasury.

Mr Smith's suggestion would also avoid the potentially divisive issue for Labour of having to sign up for income tax-raising powers to get the borrowing powers it wants for Cardiff.