Wales politics

Tory MPs warn chancellor of tax devolution opposition

George Osborne Image copyright Wales News Service
Image caption George Osborne met Westminster's Welsh Conservative group on Wednesday

Some Welsh Tory MPs have warned the chancellor they oppose his plans to devolve some income tax powers to Wales without a referendum.

BBC Wales understands four MPs spoke out on the issue during a lunch with George Osborne in Downing Street.

Byron Davies, Chris Davies and David Jones raised their objections while Craig Williams defended the plan.

Steel jobs, a city deal for Cardiff, Swansea's Tidal Lagoon and rail electrification were also discussed.

One MP said income tax devolution was "an issue that splits us down the middle".

'Fiscal responsibility'

Five Welsh Conservative MPs opposing the plan - Byron Davies, Chris Davies, David Davies, James Davies and David Jones - have also written to Mr Osborne urging him to reverse the announcement, made in November.

Before the meeting, Cardiff North MP Mr Williams insisted there was no "big row" in the party and the assembly needed "some fiscal responsibility".

Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb has said devolving income tax powers would mean "better government for Wales".

The letter said that during the general election campaign Tory candidates "were able to reassure people that the assembly would not get tax raising powers without the consent of the people of Wales".

"To drop the commitment to a referendum would put us in breach of a clear manifesto commitment," it continued.

The Welsh Conservative 2015 general election manifesto referred to an "expectation that the Welsh government will hold a referendum on income tax powers".

The five MPs said people in Wales should not be "treated differently in this respect from the people of Scotland, who did have a separate vote on the issue of tax varying powers" in the 1997 referendum on devolution.

"We frankly feel that to impose such powers without a referendum would be disrespectful to the Welsh people," they added.

Image caption Craig Williams says did not get 'overly excited' about constitutional issues

Mr Williams responded: "You're going to have cases with business rates being devolved to areas like Manchester, where Manchester City Council might have more fiscal responsibility than the entire Welsh nation.

"It's about time they [the assembly] had some responsibility for income of money as well as spending it on their pet projects."

In December, Mr Crabb said he thought public opinion was "fluid" on the matter, but there were "very, very strong reasons for why we need to press ahead" for Wales and the Welsh economy to get stronger.

Splits within the Welsh Conservative group in Cardiff Bay on the devolution of income tax led to the party's leader Andrew RT Davies sacking four members of his front bench team in February 2014.

They were re-instated in the summer.

Mr Davies said he would use income tax powers to take 5p off the higher rate and 1p off the basic rate in Wales if he was first minister.

'True colours'

A Welsh Conservative spokesman said: "The position of the UK government and chancellor is very clear on this matter and we have long called for the Welsh government to be more accountable for the money it raises and spends."

A Plaid Cymru spokeswoman said: "This latest development shows the Tories' true colours when it comes to empowering Wales.

"They support transferring substantial powers, including policing, to English cities without a referendum and yet are trying to block Wales having powers over small proportion of income tax which could be of benefit to the Welsh economy."

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