Thursday, 21 February 2008

The Pope, Paul Murphy & Ed Balls

The decor in the Wales Office has certainly changed since Peter Hain handed over to Paul Murphy.

There's a blank wall where the ANC poster once hung and no Nye Bevan statuette on the mantelpiece.

Instead, there's a gallery of photographs of the new incumbent with various famous faces - from Hillary Clinton to Pope John-Paul II, via Mo Mowlam and Bertie Ahern.

The man himself was keen to dampen expectations that the Prime Minister's support for the Scottish Constitutional Commission could lead to tax-raising powers being transferred to Cardiff Bay.

Mr Brown told the Politics Show Scotland: "There is an issue about the financial responsibility of an executive or an administration that has £30 billion to spend but doesn't have any responsibility for raising any pounds of that."

For Scotland, see Wales? The Assembly Government's budget is around half its Scottish equivalent but it lacks even the basic tax-varying powers held in Edinburgh.

Mr Murphy insists the significance of Mr Brown's comments is confined to Scotland.

But there is, or was, support in the Brown camp for the principle of the Welsh Assembly acquiring tax-raising powers.

The man tipped to succeed Alistair Darling as Chancellor at some time in the future, Ed Balls, revealed his own views in June 2005 when he was a humble backbencher.

He told the BBC: "Personally I'm in favour of more powers for the Welsh Assembly. If you are going to have an elected assembly, then it's important that you get the powers for it right... I think that should include tax-raising powers too.

"If you are going to have people elected and accountable it's important they have the power to make decisions for which they can then be accountable and if they get the decisions wrong they can be thrown out.

"But the worst thing is to have a talking shop which is simultaneously elected but doesn't have the power to make any decisions."

Something to ask Mr Balls about if and when he makes it to No 11 - some Ministers would like the Assembly Government to be able to reduce business taxes.

Mr Murphy says any proposal for tax-varying powers should await the verdict of the people in a referendum.

He says he's yet to be deluged by constituents demanding more taxes levied from Cardiff.

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