Crabb skips Welsh debate for Tory ladies who lunch

Stephen Crabb watches as MPs debate
Image caption Out to lunch? Stephen Crabb (left) was present for later speeches but missed most of the Welsh affairs debate.

MPs refer to it as the Welsh day debate, the annual occasion when the House of Commons focuses exclusively on Welsh affairs.

In the age of devolution, it is shorter than it used to be and led by a backbencher rather than a government minister.

Unusually, in this year's debate the secretary of state for Wales didn't even speak. Stephen Crabb's absence was highlighted by Labour MPs, including his Labour shadow Nia Griffith.

"I am amazed to see that the Secretary of State for Wales is not in his place to respond to today's debate," she said. "This is despite him making an extremely important announcement about fundamental changes to the Wales Bill on Monday to journalists and not to thishouse, with the Wales Office tweeting at the time that MPs could wait until today to debate these changes."

Mr Crabb's deputy, Alun Cairns, told MPs he had "parliamentary business elsewhere". This was later updated to "an important telephone conversation" with Welsh Economy Minister Edwina Hart.

Caerphilly Labour MP Wayne David suggested Mr Crabb may have resigned or even died.

He said: "Not only am I concerned about the secretary of state being absent from this important debate, but I am also concerned that he was absent at a StDavid's Day reception hosted in Lancaster House earlier today.

"Perhaps he has died or perhaps he has resigned and not told the house?"

Shortly afterwards, as if to prove that reports of his demise were premature, Mr Crabb did appear in the chamber, but did not speak during the debate.

There was another possible explanation for his absence - he was photographed at the Conservative Women's Bexley lunch, where guests tweeted photographs of him speaking to them.

A Wales Office spokesman said "It is very common for junior ministers to respond to backbench debates and the secretary of state was there for the closing speeches".

Asked about the "parliamentary business elsewhere", the Wales Office said it would not discuss the secretary of state's diary (although Mr Crabb himself retweeted photographs from the lunch).

Mr David accused Mr Crabb of showing "disrespect" to MPs and to First Minister Carwyn Jones, whose reception he failed to attend.

The debate itself, led by Aberavon Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, was a largely consensual affair, with little to trouble the headline writers. You can read the exchanges (including the ones Mr Crabb missed) here.

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