Devolution top of the agenda at Labour Conference

What powers Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland could get are among the topics being discussed at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester.

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Rob Osborne reports.

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First Minister reiterates call for same powers as Scotland

  1. Nick Powell

First Minister to address Labour Party Conference

First Minister Carwyn Jones and Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith are to address the Labour Party Conference in Manchester later.

Carwyn Jones follows Ed Miliband into the Welsh night conference reception but the Labour leader says the First Minister was ahead on constitutional issues Credit: ITV News Cymru Wales

In his speech, Carwyn Jones will welcome what he sees as the adoption of his call for a Constitutional Convention as Labour Party policy. The First Minister had wanted voices from all parts of the UK to be heard before the referendum in Scotland but he's pleased that his idea has now been taken up by Ed Miliband.

The Labour leader has acknowledged that Carwyn Jones was right and "ahead of the game". Mr Jones will use this speech to argue that it has been wrong all along to try to reform the UK through what he'll call a bilateral conversation between Westminster and Scotland.

After all, David Cameron tried that and was so badly out-witted by Alex Salmond that he almost lost the union. We must honour our promise to refound the UK in a way that ensures the strong identities of our nations are recognised within a common bond of solidarity. I don't want to see anymore panicky responses from David Cameron to placate the Ranting Right in his own party, and the narrow nationalism of Nigel Farage.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

The Shadow Welsh Secretary will also attack David Cameron's wish to link more devolution for Scotland -and potentially for Wales- to a ban on Welsh and Scottish MPs voting on England-only matters at Westminster. Owen Smith will claim that the Prime Minister is making a "shabby attempt" to expolit English desires for less centralisation of power at Westminster.

Instead of some tawdry trick to buy off backbench critics with the Balkanisation of Parliament and the purge of Welsh, Scottish and Irish influence. David Cameron should heed the words of Carwyn Jones and Ed Miliband and call a Constitutional Convention to forge a new Union for Britain. Because we’re not going to stand by and let Cameron short-change the Scots or deny power to the people of this city [of Manchester] and others across England. And I’m certainly not going let this, or any other Tory Prime Minister, silence Welsh voices at Westminster

– Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith MP

Mr Smith will also emphasise the importance for lower paid workers in Wales of Labour's proposal to increase the minimum wage. The Labour leadership are determined not to let constitutional questions, however important, stop them getting their economic messages to the electorate. But they know that they have to address both issues. Ed Miliband was particularly struck by meeting a Scottish voter on the minimum wage who couldn't decide whetherer or not to back independence

Calls for Wales to have same powers as Scotland

Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith has backed the idea that Wales should be entitled to whatever powers are devolved to Scotland. In an interview at the Labour party conference in Manchester with ITV Cymru Wales, Mr Smith was asked if he backed calls by First Minister Carwyn Jones for the Welsh Government to be able to choose which of the Scottish powers it wanted.

Owen Smith has called for more powers to be devolved to Wales. Credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire

"Yes. We've been very clear that we need to make sure that in future we've got a more symmetrical devolution settlement, certainly between Wales and Scotland."

– Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith MP

Scotland already has more powers than Wales and was promised more during the independence referendum campaign. However, Mr Smith suggested that there were not that many more powers to devolve.

He said "the next big step" was tax powers, where there would have to be a referendum. But Wales would be "afforded the same option as Scotland" although a Westminster Labour government would need to be certain that Wales would be better off as a result of a new deal on tax and funding.

  1. Nick Powell

Devolution dilemma for Labour

The pledge of more devolution to Scotland by the main Westminster party leaders is credited with ensuring the defeat of independence in Thursday's referendum. Any doubt that it was made in haste to save the United Kingdom from break-up has been dispelled by events since the result was declared.

Labour leader Ed Miliband faces difficult questions about the constitution when his party's conference gets underway today. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Most attention so far has been on the demand from many English Conservative MPs for what they see as England's poor treatment in the present devolution settlement to be put right in tandem with more powers for Scotland, That led the former Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to insist yesterday that the promises to the Scots must be delivered without delay.

His successor as Labour's leader, Ed Miliband, faces having his party conference, which opens in Manchester today, overshadowed by arguments about the constitution. He wants to take the opportunity to project himself and his party as understanding voters' economic woes and being ready to tackle them if Labour wins the Westminster election next May.

The last few months have been about keeping our country together. The next eight months are about how we change our country together. And we know that yearning for change is there right across our country. Constitutional change matters, but we know that something else matters even more: this country doesn't work for most working people and we, the Labour Party, are going to change it.

– Labour Leader Ed Miliband MP

It's a theme that was taken up by the Shadow Welsh Secretary, Owen Smith, as soon as the referendum was won. Although he welcomed what he saw as recognition that it was better to stick together, he claimed as well that the Scots had sent a message of rejection to the coalition government in Westminster.

The result also shows that the people of Scotland are sick to the back teeth of the Tories. They want a government that both understands Scotland and gets that we need far more equal distribution of wealth and opportunity across Britain. That is a feeling that many people in Wales share and it will be up to a Labour government to deliver on their expectations. That is what Labour intend to deliver, when we win back power next May.

– Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith MP

Mr Smith has said that there must be more devolution for Wales but he has not yet endorsed the call from the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, for Wales to be offered everything that Scotland gets, leaving the Welsh Government to decide what to accept and what to reject.

The danger for Welsh Labour in particular is that such a debate could be a distraction at best and runs the risk of re-opening old divisions about devolution at a time when the party needs to be united around its core economic message in the run-up to May's election.

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