Cairns: 'I want to be a pragmatic secretary of state'

New Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb speaks to DWP ministers and staff. Image copyright DWP
Image caption New Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb speaks to DWP ministers and staff.

I'm told it's a question that's been gripping some of the brightest ministerial brains at Westminster: when, if ever, were there last two MPs with Welsh constituencies sitting in a Conservative cabinet?

Nobody seems to have come up with a definitive answer, which confirms that we do indeed live in unusual times.

Stephen Crabb has spent Monday talking to DWP staff in their office at Westminster before confirming the UK government's U-turn on personal independence payments.

The U-turn was welcomed by his Labour shadow - Owen Smith - who welcomed him to the new job in Welsh and reminded MPs: "He and I have history at the Wales Office."

I interviewed Mr Crabb's successor, Alun Cairns, at Gwydyr House in Whitehall, where three vacant picture hooks confirm the ministerial flux.

I asked him how he would do the job differently. "I plan to follow the pragmatic approach that Stephen Crabb followed as secretary of state. I think that worked well both in his relationship with the Welsh Government but also in his relationship with the business sector, with local authorities, with communities across Wales. I want to be a pragmatic secretary of state."

The Welsh Government might dispute that view of their relationship but Mr Cairns was later grilled by MPs on the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, of which he was once a member.

Its chair, Bernard Jenkin, pointed out that he once wanted to merge the Wales , Scotland and Northern Ireland roles in a single office of constitutional affairs - a point that prompted a gulp and nervous laughter from the new cabinet minister.

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