Welsh Secretary takes flak for 'pathetic starter beard'

Those of you suffering from withdrawal symptoms after yesterday's Welsh grand committee will be glad to know that the transcript of the debates is now available.

It featured the debuts in their new roles of the Wales Office ministerial team Stephen Crabb and Alun Cairns. I covered Mr Crabb's contribution here yesterday.

Mr Cairns told the committee: "It is fair to say that the tone of today's debate has been constructive, which has been welcomed on the government benches. Several themes have come out, but without question the overwhelming theme has been facial hair—with the exception of the shadow minister [Nia Griffith] there has not been a member who has not mentioned it.

"It may have caused some humour but has obviously contributed to the way in which the debate in today's Welsh grand committee has been heard and the tone of the contributions."

The debate was ostensibly about the government's legislative programme. Mr Cairns did plan to address the most controversial aspect of plans to give the Welsh government some tax-raising powers - the lockstep - but ran out of time. It is an issue that will doubtless feature another day. Indeed, the House of Lords will debate the Wales Bill next Wednesday.

Few spoke as passionately on the beard issue as Paul Flynn, whose face last saw a razor before Mr Cairns was born and was not impressed with what he called Mr Crabb's "starter beard".

He said: "The fuss about the beard! I am sure that the Beard Liberation Front was aghast at the idea that those pathetic whispers of hair can actually be designated as a beard. I do not know if there is a British standard definition of a beard, but the secretary of state's is more 7 o'clock shadow—"I have forgotten to shave this morning"—and not a beard in any reasonable sense of the word."

One consequence of the reshuffle is a change in the membership of the Welsh grand. New solicitor general (for England and Wales) Robert Buckland is now excused from attending its debates.

Mr Buckland is MP for South Swindon but grew up in Llanelli and was a Dyfed county councillor. He fought the Islwyn by-election in 1995 and Preseli Pembrokeshire in 1997.

In his new job he will have a big role in legal conversations with the Welsh government and other devolved administrations.