Peers promised more devolution as Wales Bill nears end

The Wales Bill returned to the House of Lords this afternoon.

The bill, which paves the way for the Welsh government to get responsibility for raising some of the money it spends, is nearing the end of its parliamentary journey.

At times today's proceedings had the feel of a constitutional seminar. The most significant moments were not the amendments debated or voted on but what a Wales Office minister said about the UK government's plans.

Baroness Randerson revealed that the Welsh government would be able to give 16-year-olds the vote in the proposed referendum on income tax powers. Her government plans to amend the bill when it makes its next visit to the Lords later this month. The Welsh government would get responsibility for lowering the vote age in the referendum alone; the voting age in elections will remain at 18.

The Lib Dems have long been in favour of votes at 16, but the Conservative side of the coalition argued that - on the referendum - it should be left to AMs to decide. A two-thirds majority - 40 of the 60 AMs - would need to agree.

Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb said: "New income tax powers are a valuable tool to help the Welsh economy become more dynamic and make the Welsh government more accountable. I want to make sure that the Welsh government gets these new powers.

"I know that there are strongly held views on allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in a referendum but I have listened to the views in the House of Lords and decided that this is a matter on which the Assembly should decide.

"The assembly has the power to call an income tax referendum - and it is right that they decide the age of those who can vote on this issue." It might ultimately be hypothetical - the Labour-run Welsh government is in no hurry to call a referendum.

Lady Randerson also confirmed that the UK government hopes to publish the framework for what's known as a reserved powers model of devolution by St David's Day next year. (This falls on March 1 despite the assertion from former Scottish Secretary Lord Forsyth that it is in April).

The government would produce a "reserved powers framework and a set of commitments to further devolution agreed by all the parties" by that date. "This will be a comprehensive look at the whole picture," she said. "It is the intention by moving forward on a cross-party basis to ensure that there is commitment across four parties in Wales to ensure that a bill can come forward inthe early stages of the next parliament."

She added: "This is an historic opportunity to achieve a major step towards a lasting and fair devolution settlement for Wales so we are not constantly having an ongoing discussion about what are the next powers to be devolved to Wales."

There may be a consensus in favour of a reserved powers model. It will be interesting to see how far that consensus extends to the detail of the powers to be reserved to Westminster.