Lopsided devolution, the NHS and a Plaid Cymru 'coup'

It's back! Three and a half months after Wales Office ministers last answered MPs' questions, they returned to the House of Commons today.

The cast had changed. David Jones was replaced as secretary of state for Wales by Stephen Crabb in July's cabinet reshuffle, and his old job as a junior minister taken by Alun Cairns.

The double debutants faced questions on, inevitably, devolution, jobs, the minimum wage and, equally inevitably, the NHS.

Mr Crabb began with a tribute to Mr Jones's "tireless" work in the role. The first question was about devolution. Glyn Davies said the Welsh government "cannot be regarded as a genuinely fiscally accountable body" until it's responsible for raising some of the money it spends. That was, he said, "much more important than devolving power in any more policy areas".

Stephen Crabb said the Welsh government should seize the opportunities offered by holding a referendum on income tax powers.

Delyn Labour MP David Hanson was worried about losing his say on English issues under "English votes for English laws" as many of his constituents use the NHS in England.

Stephen Crabb said Mr Hanson should recognise: "We have a hopelessly lopsided devolution arrangement where both he and I as Welsh MPs and Scottish MPs have a say on laws affecting schools and hospitals in England services in England but English MPs have no such equivalent voice on services in Scotland and Wales. That issue has to get addressed."

Mr Crabb thought giving the Welsh government responsibility for raising some of its budget would lead to a "much healthier" political debate in Cardiff. He thought that would be "a big step forward in the political development of Wales". But although he detected an appetite for further devolution he didn't detect much appetite for home rule.

Arfon MP Hywel Williams led for Plaid Cymru, prompting suggestions of a coup as he asked questions about the living wage. Where was Elfyn Llwyd? Had Mr Williams taken over the leadership mantle ahead of schedule? Apparently not. Mr Llwyd was in Bangor adjudicating the all-Wales debating competition for young people.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith once again raised what he called "the war on Wales". He told Mr Crabb: "We agree with you that devolution is not constitutional vandalism, but I will tell you what is: a prime minister for Britain describing Offa's Dyke as "the line between life and death", and a Tory health secretary hiring the Daily Mail to scuttle around traducing Welsh public services. That is constitutional vandalism and the secretary of state's record will be judged not by soft soap and warm words about devolution, but by what he does to condemn the war on Wales."

Stephen Crabb: "Not a single Member of Parliament with a Welsh constituency could stand up and honestly say, with their hand on their heart, that, when they get out and speak to people on the doorsteps on a Saturday morning, those people do not tell them that the quality of their health services is the No. 1 issue facing the people of Wales. It is wrong for the Welsh Labour party to seek to shut down debate about and scrutiny of the performance of its administration in Cardiff when it comes to the most important issue for the people of Wales."

Welsh Questions actually finished early, as no-one took up the Speaker's offer of a "free-hit opportunity on the agricultural sector in Wales" and Prime Minister's Questions started early.

Your can read the Hansard report of the exchanges here. That was the hors d'oeuvre for the main course of PMQs.

As I write, Mr Crabb is facing more of the same during his first appearance before the Welsh affairs select committee.