Twiddles, slogans and Welsh grand-standing

Parliament operates its own calendar. The chancellor delivered his autumn statement on December 5. Today, January 22, almost seven weeks later, MPs got around to discussing its impact on Wales.

The forum was the Welsh grand committee, a chance for MPs from Wales to discuss the big economic issues in depth while trading statistics and exchanging slogans. So Welsh Secretary David "year of hard truths" Jones came up against his shadow Owen "one nation Labour" Smith.

David Jones said wages in Wales had risen by more than four per cent last year, ahead of inflation. Owen Smith said real terms wages in Wales had fallen by an average of £1,600 since the coalition came to power.

Mr Smith had his own suggestion for increasing wages - the hope that the Low Pay Commission will raise the minimum wage of £6.31 an hour to the living wage of £7.65: "I hope they will at least conclude it should be £7, in fact I hope they might think we should go for a living wage."

The Pontypridd MP suggested a rebalancing of the economy (with growth currently concentrated in the south of England) could be achieved by macro-economic policy "not the twiddles that the assembly may be able to do".

David Jones praised the Welsh government for "doing remarkably well" in spreading broadband but criticised it over education. The recent PISA results in Wales were a huge disappointment. Children in school in Wales today will be the workforce of our future and the standards identified by PISA were simply too low, shamefully low.

"However, the PISA results in Wales do not show this, and only give reason for investors to look at our competitors. Simply put, Wales risks being left behind in the global race if young people do not have access to an education system that provides them with the qualifications and skills training they need to compete for the jobs of the future. Wales must make that link."

He said education qualifications in Wales were increasingly "unportable" and not recognised anywhere else.

As if to test the qualifications in modern history of those watching, Mr Jones began his speech "when this Government came to office in 2005....."

Back to school, secretary of state?