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Government responds as Carwyn goes on attack; FIRST MINISTER ACCUSED OF TRYING 'TO STIR UP CONFLICT'.

Byline: GRAHAM HENRY Senedd Correspondent graham.henry@walesonline.co.uk

THE UK Government last night defended the record of David Jones as Welsh Secretary after a pointed attack by Carwyn Jones on what he had achieved in office.

The First Minister launched the stinging attack on the record of the Welsh Secretary in an interview with the Western Mail - saying he could not name "a single thing" that had benefited Wales after he succeeded Cheryl Gillan.

He said that while Ms Gillan could claim credit for bringing rail electrification and the referendum on lawmaking powers to Wales, the UK Government's policy now appeared to be one of "constant blocking".

He also claimed he couldn't give any examples of devolution working effectively in Wales - saying ongoing delays to the publication of the UK Government's response to the Silk Commission were a "gift" to the independence movement in Scotland and were undermining support for the union.

In response the UK Government said it was "regrettable" that the First Minister was looking to "stir up conflict" and defended David Jones' record in office, saying he was instrumental in achievements such as bringing a prison to North Wales and securing the future of the nuclear site at Wylfa.

In the wake of a Joint Ministerial Council meeting this week with the Prime Minister and devolved UK leaders, Carwyn Jones claimed Wales suffered a lack of representation around the Cabinet table. He said: "I don't think Wales is represented at the Cabinet table. I don't think Wales' voice is heard at all. I think Scotland's voice is. And I very much regret that.

"I have to say when Cheryl Gillan was the Secretary of State, even though we had our differences, she did deliver in some areas.

"She did deliver a referendum. She did deliver the UK Government's commitment to pay for electrification west of Cardiff and on the Valley lines. But what we're having now is constant blocking.

"I can't think of a single thing that has been done to Wales' benefit, certainly in the last year or two."

The UK Government was originally due to respond in the spring to the first part of the Silk Commission inquiry into future Assembly powers - which recommended a referendum on the introduction of tax-varying powers, as well as borrowing powers.

But it delayed its official response and subsequently launched a consultation on the proposed devolution of stamp duty, which it said was necessary as there could be cross-border implications for the housing market.

The First Minister has previously claimed the Silk process could be held up as an example of how further devolution could be achieved within the UK, but said the ongoing delay was now effecting the opposite.

He also claimed the "vagueness" of the devolution settlement could be used by the UK Government for its own advantage in future after accusing the coalition of "stealing" back powers from Wales through an amendment of a proposed law on anti-social behaviour.

The First Minister wrote to the Home Office and David Jones over the amendment of an exemption to Welsh powers over anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs), which he claims would mean the UK Government would assume competence in devolved areas including health and education. The UK Government has said its view is the amendment does not modify the Assembly's legislative competence.

He said delays over granting powers were bolstering support for the Yes campaign in Scotland and amounted to a "gift" to the SNP.

A UK Government spokeswoman said in response: "Only last week the Prime Minister and the First Minister had the opportunity to discuss the Silk recommendations, which are under active consideration by the UK Government.

"It is therefore regrettable that Carwyn Jones should seemingly be seeking to stir up conflict over constitutional issues at this time.

"Wales is the poorest part of the United Kingdom, with productivity levels only three quarters of the average for the country as a whole, and the people of Wales want their two governments to work together to improve the economy, not engage in constitutional squabbles."

She said the Secretary of State had been prominent in efforts to secure a new nuclear development at Wylfa and established committees to work on the business cases for electrification of the North Wales coast railway line and the link between Wrexham and Bidston.

She said Mr Jones was also "instrumental in bringing a new prison to North Wales, which will boost the local economy by PS28m a year".

He added: "It would be good if the First Minister could work with the Secretary of State and other colleagues at Westminster to help make Wales a more competitive and prosperous place.

"That is undoubtedly what people in Wales want to see."

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 21, 2013
Words:795
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