Barnett formula, tax, NATO and weather: Welsh Questions

The parliamentary sketchwriter Simon Hoggart once wrote of his trade: "We can do great resignations in our sleep. But we really earn our living when there's nothing on except Welsh Questions."

Sadly, Hoggart died at the weekend, missing today's challenge to Westminster reporters - the first Welsh Questions of the year.

It was the first Welsh question time since the passing of Lord Roberts of Conwy, for so long the source of much material to the press gallery, where he became known as the "bardic steamroller" for his ability to plough on with a brief. Tributes today came from Secretary of State David Jones, former Welsh Office Minister Jonathan Evans, and Labour opponents Albert Owen and Ian Lucas.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith, a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland Office, paid tribute to a former minister there, Paul Goggins, whose death was announced this morning.

Tributes aside, the questions were familiar ones. Owen Smith condemned the energy firm SSE for what he called a "con trick" in announcing a cut that meant householders would still pay on average £70 more this year than last year.

Monmouth MP David Davies condemned the Welsh government's funding of local government. David Jones suggested the Welsh government follow the English example and give local authorities enough money to freeze council tax (not that every English council has frozen bills).

Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd raised the future of the Barnett formula, which decides changes in the Welsh government's budget on the basis of population rather than need. Mr Llwyd said Plaid had campaigned on the issue "for over 25 years".

David Jones told him: "It is generally recognised that the Barnett Formula does not have an indefinite duration". The priority though was to stabilise the public finances.

Mr Llwyd wondered which was worse, the Labour Party applying "self-serving preconditions" to block further devolution or the failure by the coalition to put forward proposals for complete devolution. Unsurprisingly, Mr Jones replied: "I would always be first to condemn the self serving nature of the Labour Party."

More seriously, Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams, whose constituency includes Aberystwyth, wanted to know if Wales would get a share of UK government spending on the consequences of the severe weather. David Jones told him "if any additional funding is provided Barnett consequentials will follow in the usual manner".

Shadow Wales Office Minister Nia Griffith raised plans to give the Welsh government some control of income tax rates - after a referendum.

She told David Jones: "Whilst you've told us of your vision to use the Wales Bill for a one pence cut to all income tax bands in Wales, the leader of your party in Wales (Andrew RT Davies) has said that he would only cut the top band of tax. So can you clear up this complete muddle about your government's position on taxation in Wales?"

David Jones said the Conservatives were clear that competitive rate of tax was important for the Welsh economy. "However, I must remind you that the issue of devolution of income tax is a matter for the Welsh government, in that it would be the Welsh government who would have to put forward a referendum to the Welsh assembly."

So don't hold your breath on that one.

Labour MP Paul Flynn extolled the benefits of a NATO summit in South Wales, not a phrase I ever thought I'd write. He hoped visitors to the summit this September would enjoy "a rich, unforgettable experience in Newport" - taking in sights such as the transporter bridge and Tredegar House.