Tory MP "grumpily agitated" over Welsh grand coverage

The morning after that Welsh grand committee, the fall-out is still being felt at Westminster and beyond (not a sentence I ever expected to write).

You can read the debate here. Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith's speech felt significant at the time, and feels significant today. It looks as if Labour have torpedoed any imminent prospect of the Welsh government acquiring the power to vary income tax. Good news perhaps for victims of referendum fatigue - it looks like it's off.

When asked, Mr Smith said borrowing powers were the one Silk commission recommendation he liked, and he accepted the transfer of stamp duty as a means to that end (although his colleagues in Cardiff Bay have been more enthusiastic about the potential to help first-time buyers).

He warned that (income) tax competition could undermine the UK (although Wales is getting similar income tax powers to those given to Scotland - including a "lockstep" - after the Calman commission).

Tory MP Guto Bebb tweeted: "Huge split emerges between Labour in Assembly and at Westminster but little evidence of that in BBC News coverage".

His "grumpily agitated" colleague Glyn Davies wrote on Facebook: "Labour make a monumental policy U-turn on granting income tax powers to Welsh assembly - torpedoing the recommendations of Silk commission, effectively declaring Labour opposed to fiscal accountability. Major story. BBC online hardly covers it. If it had been Tories, would have been top story for days."

The story was the main item on the BBC Wales politics page and the first politics story on Wales Today. I blogged on it too. But are they right? Was it a "monumental" U-turn?

First Minister Carwyn Jones had previously said Labour would support income tax powers only after "fair funding" (more money from Westminster). As recently as last month, he also described the powers on offer as "pretty useless".

After Mr Smith's speech, Mr Jones's spokesman said: "Owen Smith is echoing comments made by the first minister and he is right to say that this a trap being laid by the Tories. The new income tax powers being offered are effectively useless.

"This is not a model we can support and we want to see fair funding sorted as a matter of priority."

Voters will decide for themselves whether this is a monumental U-turn or huge split. Owen Smith certainly went further than Labour colleagues in criticising proposals from the cross-party Silk commission, which led one of its members - Tory Lord Bourne - to criticise his "incredible lack of ambition for Wales".

He added, via Twitter: "Disappointed in your approach Owen. Do you think it OK for Scotland to have inc tax powers? If so. Why should Wales' not have them?"

Welsh Secretary David Jones tweeted: "Astonished - given that Labour agitated so much for acceptance of Silk proposals - that they have now so comprehensively rejected them.."

He added today: "I wonder if Labour will be telephoning the Silk commission today to explain why they're content to have wasted a year of its time."

The issue was raised during questions to Commons leader Andrew Lansley today by Glyn Davies. He asked: "Yesterday's Welsh grand committee, the opposition completely torpedoed what we thought was an all-party agreement to grant tax-raising powers to the National Assembly for Wales and to make the Welsh government fiscally accountable. May we have a statement in this chamber on what was a stunning U-turn by the opposition so that we can expose Labour as an anti-devolutionary and anti-Welsh party?"

Andrew Lansley replied: "I am interested in what happened at the Welsh grand committee. In fact, the deputy leader of the house and I visited it yesterday morning for the first hour of the debate. Like you, I was astonished to hear the opposition saying that they were opposed to this major extension of devolution to Wales. We are in a position to give the people of Wales the opportunity, through a referendum, to decide whether they want devolution. The opposition seem to be against that."