Welsh Questions and the Secretary of State's sidestep

 

That's it then. MPs have had their last opportunity to question Wales Office ministers in the commons before parliament rises for its long summer break.

You can read the Hansard report here. It was, as we hacks say, a wide-ranging half hour, with no recurring theme unless you count gratuitous references to Anglesey.

Stephen Crabb found himself being questioned about Plaid Cymru's nuclear policy in an exchange that somehow escaped the speaker's insistence that ministers be questioned solely on government responsibilities.

Welsh Secretary David Jones got to share his memories of the Paris air show and faced a gentle enquiry from his own side on aviation matters: did he think it was a good use of taxpayers' money to buy Cardiff airport?

Mr Jones gave a cautious response: "That's entirely a matter for the Welsh assembly government who have purchased it at a cost of £52m."

Is is entirely a matter for the Welsh government? Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies has not been as reticent. Nor has Welsh Tory MP Kay Swinburne.

Having sidestepped that question, Mr Jones sidestepped two more on whether businesses in Wales wanted Britain to stay in the EU.

He later sidestepped a question on whether he was concerned that Gwent chief constable Carmel Napier had claimed she was forced out of her job by a "bullying" police commissioner.

Mr Jones said the home affairs committee would report "in due course". Any more sidestepping and the secretary of state could have squeezed into the Lions' team for the final test in Australia.

Long-awaited and oft-announced plans to improve the M4 motorway around Newport featured, as did tolls on the Severn bridges, Stephen Crabb told MPs: "We are absolutely committed to working with the Welsh government to deliver the funding solution required to deliver that motorway." Politicians and motorists has "every reason to be optimistic".

And that was the closest we came to the issue that crops up whenever two or three Welsh political anoraks are gathered together: the delayed UK government response to the report of its commission on devolution - the Silk commission - which recommended that Wales be given taxation and borrowing powers. Treasury Minister David Gauke helpfully told MPs last night: "The Government will respond to the report in due course. Further details will be provided at that point."

Mr Jones's Labour shadow, Owen Smith, challenged him over his comments that Wales had got off lightly in the chancellor's spending round. They exchanged figures - Mr Jones claimed the average cut across Whitehall was 8 per cent - and points of view.

By way of retaliation, he tried to exploit differences between Labour in Wales and Labour at Westminster. Mr Jones cracked a joke, telling Mr Smith: "You are in a terrible quandary. On the one hand, you want to support your Westminster boss and accept coalition spending cuts; on the other, you want to obey your Cardiff boss who says, "Enough is enough," and borrow more: one man, two guvnors." (Get it?)

The next Welsh question time in the commons is scheduled for October, although Mr Jones will face his annual grilling by MPs on the Welsh affairs select committee next Tuesday. Or "in due course" as it is probably known in Whitehall.

 
David Cornock, Parliamentary correspondent, Wales Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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