Blue-on-blue Welsh Tory action and a nervous Treasury

He's the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, and acknowledged as such by the prime minister.

But when it comes to questioning the UK government's plans to give Wales some control of income tax, Andrew RT Davies is merely expressing "very much a personal view of his own". That's according to Secretary of State for Wales David Jones.

Earlier today, Mr Davies criticised the UK government's proposed "lockstep" restriction on the way the powers can be used. He wants to cut the 40% rate but won't be able to do that without making similar cuts to the standard and additional rates.

This afternoon, opposition MPs on the Welsh affairs committee queued up to make hay. Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams asked Mr Jones : "Who speaks for the Conservative Party in Wales? Is it himself or yourself?"

Mr Jones replied: "I think that the view that Mr Davies is annunciating is very much a personal view of his own. It certainly doesn't represent the policy of the Welsh assembly group. Nor does it certainly represent the view of HM government."

So back to Cardiff Bay, where a senior Tory source responds: "We're delighted the draft Wales Bill is being brought forward. We're looking forward to setting tax policy once responsibilities rest at the home of the Welsh Parliament in Cardiff Bay."

As I understand it, those concerns about the lockstep are not just a personal view of their leader but are widely shared among Tory AMs in Cardiff Bay.

In other news this afternoon, Mr Jones rejected claims that the "lockstep" made the powers unusable. He told the MPs: "I disagree entirely with the suggestion that the powers proposed are unusable. I think that the powers proposed are extremely desirable.

"I think it's quite possible for the Welsh government to be brave and to decide to go for a modest reduction in the rate of income tax. I think that would be thoroughly good for the Welsh economy, it would give Wales that little competitive advantage and I think that is what they should do."

He said the partial devolution of income tax powers would render the Welsh government far more accountable to the people of Wales. "It would act as a strong incentive to the Welsh government to grow the Welsh economy because clearly the more the economy improves the more likely it is that the tax take from the devolved element of income tax would increase."

It would also provide an income stream against which the Welsh government could borrow - allowing it to borrow up to £1bn rather than the £500m currently proposed.

"I actually believe that Wales should be ambitious and I believe that it could give a strong competitive advantage to Wales if they were to go for a modest reduction in the level of tax that they levy on the people of Wales."

Treasury Minister David Gauke said differences between rates should be decided at Westminster elections on a UK basis. He said allowing Wales to vary rates independently of each other could lead to "tax competition" with ministers lowering the top rate of tax in Wales and trying to get people to move from England to Wales. He said that would be to the detriment of UK finances "so we're nervous about that".