Welsh Questions, where no-one mentions the weather

Something rather strange happened in the House of Commons today.

Welsh Secretary David Jones and his deputy Stephen Crabb fielded questions from MPs for more than 20 minutes before anyone raised the issue of the Welsh assembly's powers. It is possibly the longest Welsh MPs have gone without mentioning constitutional reform. An entire question time passed without reference to the Barnett formula. Perhaps it was a collective parliamentary dare, bet or they were being sponsored.

Labour's Susan Elan Jones broke the silence on the Silk commission on devolution in Wales. The Clwyd South MP asked David Jones about his maiden speech as an AM - the one I highlighted yesterday in which Mr Jones indicated his opposition to the assembly having tax-raising powers.

Ms Elan Jones asked: "Isn't surely the reason that you now want income tax devolved to Wales is to cut public services and cut taxes for the rich?"

David Jones: "Rather than concentrating on what I said in 2002, she ought to listen to what [Shadow Welsh Secretary] Owen Smith said only last week. The Labour government do not want income tax devolved to Wales. The Conservative and Liberal coalition government here in Westminster do."

Mr Smith used his questions to ask for an apology for the "political motivations" that lay behind the miners' strike and the pit closure programme of the 1980s "and poured thousands of Welsh people onto the dole". He told Stephen Crabb a miner in his constituency had not worked for 30 years as a result: "The papers should be published in full so we can know the truth".

Mr Crabb told him: "I'm not going to be drawn on this specific issue. The minister acknowledged there was problem with long-term unemployment but said welfare reform would help the people affected. He admitted: "The recovery is a patchy one but there's a positive picture emerging for Wales."

Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd raised long-term youth unemployment, which he said had quadrupled in recent years. He wanted the UK government to access European funds to tackle the problem.

Tory Simon Hart raised access to mental health support for military veterans. One veteran in Carmarthenshire, he said, had been told he would have to wait up to eight months for "urgent mental health treatment" he would get in seven to 10 days in England. David Jones said the military covenant gave veterans early access to treatment.

Labour's Geraint Davies complained that the nearest inpatient care available for veterans was in Shropshire, Surrey or Scotland. He suggested care could be based in St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Otherwise, Welsh questions followed its regular path. Tory MP Michael Fabricant mentioned his Mam (she speaks Welsh, you know). He criticised the Welsh government's record on education. So did Redditch Tory MP Karen Lumley, whose children went to primary school in Wrexham. David Jones said he hoped Welsh Education Minister Huw Lewis would "emulate" reforms implemented in English schools.

Another English Tory, Southend's Tory David Amess said his "Welsh relatives" had noticed the economy was improving. SNP MP Angus McNeil asked for a reduction in VAT from 20% to 5% to help the tourist industries and "scenic" constituencies such as his own as, to pluck one from thin air, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

Curiously, no-one mentioned the weather or raised the earlier announcement, via Twitter, that David Jones (who earlier attended the UK government's COBR emergency committee) had called Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones "to offer military assistance should [it] be needed in Wales" to deal with flooding.

No-one questioned this apparent coup at the Ministry of Defence or the apparent devolution of the Army; or indeed why the offer wasn't made during the extreme weather that battered Aberystwyth and other parts of Wales early last month.

Welsh question time even finished prematurely, as MPs ran out of questions, delivering an early kick-off for prime minister's questions. The Speaker hid his disappointment well.

You can read the Hansard record here.

David Cornock Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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