Welsh Questions: "Secretary of State on the line"

Fans of Welsh Questions in the House of Commons brace yourselves: there won't be another until the autumn.

MPs seized with enthusiasm their last chance to question Cheryl Gillan before Parliament rises for its summer recess.

Labour's Susan Elan Jones was first to highlight the Secretary of State's local difficulties over high speed rail (HS2) and her threat to resign over the issue:

"I have heard of trains cancelled because of snow on the line and leaves on the line, but never before because of the Secretary of State on the line."

Labour frontbencher Owen Smith joined in the fun: "We in Wales are very grateful for the offer but when will the precise date be to trigger it?

"We are a generous people, we would very much like to give her a good send off."

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Image caption Alun Cairns believes Barry would be an idea candidate

Wales Office Minister David Jones pointed out that Labour had failed to electrify a single centimetre (I thought he was a Eurosceptic) of track in Wales during 13 years in power whereas the Conservative-led coalition plans to electrify the line between Paddington and Cardiff.

The Wales Office says it has yet to see evidence of any benefits to Wales from HS2 but UK Transport Secretary Philip Hammond told MPs yesterday: "The proposed first phase of the HS2 line will allow classic compatible trains to run at high speed from London to the west midlands and at conventional speed beyond.

"HS2 classic compatible trains running a high speed to Lichfield and then at conventional speed via Crewe could help significantly reduce journey times to Chester and North Wales from London."

Railways aside, there was the usual proliferation of jargon - one "Barnett consequential" from each Minister - although Cheryl Gillan seemed more comfortable referring to the newly re-branded Welsh Government than her deputy who made a reference to the Welsh Assembly Government (its legal title).

One of the "Barnett consequentials" (money given to Wales as a result of spending in England) relates to enterprise zones which are being set up east of Offa's Dyke.

Mrs Gillan told MPs that the First Minister had confirmed to her that Wales would benefit from enterprise zones - a policy announcement that had passed me by. "Having zones in Wales will provide much needed boost to businesses and make Wales more attractive to inward investment."

Tory backbencher Alun Cairns suggested Barry in his constituency would make an ideal candidate. Mrs Gillan was grateful for his question - "he punches above his height" she said of the MP for the Vale of Glamorgan.