1. ITV Report

Taxing times for the Tories

Disagreements between the Welsh Conservative Leader and the Welsh Secretary and some of his own Assembly Members have become public in a way that political parties try to avoid.

The divisions have been exposed following comments made by Andrew RT Davies during a meeting of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons on Thursday.

The committee was looking at the draft Wales Bill which, amongst other things, prepares the way for the transfer of some control over income tax to the Welsh Government, dependent on a referendum.

Ministers in Cardiff would be given the power to vary income tax but only if all three rates were altered by the same amount at the same time.

It's what's known as the 'lockstep' model thanks to the latest gift from Treasury officials to the language.

It's not what the Silk Commission recommended but the UK Government thinks it's important that Wales has the same income tax powers as Scotland.

When he was questioned by MPs on the Committee, Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies stuck to his long-held position that Wales should have the more flexible power over income tax recommended by Silk. He said he'd heard no argument that the lockstep model 'could be used imaginatively.'

Unfortunately, that's exactly the opposite view to the Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones and when he gave evidence to the same committee he dismissed Mr Davies' comments as 'very much a personal view' adding that not only was it not the view of the UK Government, but it was also not the view of the group of Tory AMs.

The Opposition Leader took to twitter to restate that it WAS the view of the Assembly group because they'd all voted to back all of the Silk Commission's recommendations:

And a Senior Welsh Conservative source made it clear that the point of devolving power over tax, however limited, is to allow politicians in Wales to decide what to do with it:

We're delighted the draft Wales Bill is being brought forward. We're looking forward to setting tax policy once responsibilities rest at the home of the Welsh Parliament in Cardiff Bay.

– Welsh Conservative source

Despite this, several Tory sources have approached me to express their concern about the situation and their belief that Mr Davies' position isn't the view of the group.

They told me there'd been no discussion about taking a stance. One said they were 'disappointed' that their leader had made the statements without any such discussion.

Another said the group's official position was to support the UK Government's position on income tax devolution!

However a senior Welsh Conservative source reiterated the point the leader made on twitter that ALL of the group voted to support ALL the Silk recommendations last November.

Next Tuesday's meeting of the group should be a tense one. I'll try to get a glass to the wall.

Andrew RT Davies has now written to the chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, David TC Davies, to suggest that the Secretary of State had given the wrong impression to members. He even quotes David Jones to be make absolutely clear which evidence he's taking issue with.

Letter from Welsh Conservative leader

This is one of those political disputes over something arcane which looks completely baffling to people outside the bubble (and even most inside), in this case amongst members of a party who are unlikely to be in a position to use a power the Welsh Government doesn't even have.

Of course, it's really about something else and that is who's in charge of the Welsh Conservatives. It's between two men who, as one source put it, 'both think the other's job shouldn't exist.'

Andrew RT Davies has claimed the right to call himself Welsh Conservative Leader and won the support of David Cameron who told me in an interview in Swansea in April 2013 that ) is the leader of the Conservatives in Wales.'

But a UK Government source reiterated this week that the Welsh Conservatives aren't a separate entity, that the party has a leader and the leader is David Cameron.

In the interests of fairness, I should say that Labour is in a similar position. Welsh Labour doesn't exist as a separate entity to the UK party. It mostly tends to disguise that situation better although there have been times when sources sought to 'remind' Carwyn Jones that Ed Miliband is in charge of the Labour party.

That's for another day though. For now, as you'd expect, Labour's enjoying its opponents' difficulties. Cardiff South and Penarth MP, Stephen Doughty said:

The strange public power struggle between the Tory Welsh Secretary and his Assembly members has descended into utter chaos.

The anonymous briefings have now been replaced with an out-and-out, and very public war between Andrew RT Davies and David Jones.

Whilst the Laurel and Hardy of Welsh politics continue to embarrass themselves in a battle about how much tax to cut for the richest people in Wales - it's clear that only Labour will stand up for people and ensure fairness in our tax system.

– Stephen Doughty MP, Labour