The NHS, Roman baths - and a top tip from the Speaker

 

Something unusual happened during Welsh Question Time in the House of Commons today. Both sides wanted to talk about the same subject.

Today, it was the NHS in Wales, an issue that at Westminster tends to be the topic of choice for Conservative MPs. Indeed, five of the seven questions tabled by Tories were about the Welsh health service.

But today, Labour decided to join the debate with both shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith and his deputy Nia Griffith deciding to raise the subject. A Labour fightback on the NHS or a case of getting their retaliation in first?

Owen Smith said: "The Tory war on Wales has reached a new low in this House today: four questions from compliant Tory backbenchers, all suggesting that a higher proportion of Welsh patients are being treated in England when the reverse is the case.

"We spend more on cancer in Wales and we have faster-improving outcomes. This is a smear by a secretary of state and a Tory party that used to speak for Wales.

David Jones replied: "That is actually a smear from a Labour party that is in total dereliction of its duty to Welsh patients. Frankly, the Welsh government cannot afford to be complacent when they have not met the urgent suspected cancer waiting time since 2008. Furthermore, there is no cancer drugs fund in Wales. Instead of reacting so badly to criticism, you might wish to criticise his own friends in the Welsh government."

Owen Smith's intervention failed to put off other Tory MPs. Alun Cairns was told to resume his seat by the Speaker after a long intervention. John Bercow told the Vale of Glamorgan MP: "He has to work out his questions in advance. That question was far too long. He really has to practise."

Nia Griffith, the only woman MP to speak during question time, asked David Jones: "What do you think the priority should be for English MPs: scrutinising the NHS in their own area or making ill-informed comments about the NHS in Wales?"

David Jones: "I agree entirely with my hon. friends that they have a right to hold the Welsh NHS to account when opposition MPs are clearly incapable of making representations to their colleagues in the assembly who have failed the health service so badly."

Tory former Health Minister Simon Burns asked about figures he'd obtained which showed - he said - an increasing number of patients "fleeing Wales to get treatment in England" He asked David Jones: "Do you agree that that is a damning indictment of the administration of the NHS in Wales, and that Nye Bevan must be turning in his grave?"

Mr Jones, unsurprisingly agreed. Today wasn't all about the NHS - it just felt like it. It wouldn't be Welsh Questions without someone raising constitutional issues. Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd wanted to talk about the Silk commission on devolution and its reports suggesting the transfer of financial and (among other things) policing powers to Wales.

Mr Llwyd: "Why does the secretary of state not get a grip now and bring in the second tranche of recommendations in the new Bill that he has introduced? We have been treading water in Parliament for the past few weeks. There is plenty of legislative time. If the will is there, let us get on with it."

David Jones told him the latest Silk report would require "significant consideration".

For nine MPs, this was the first Welsh Questions since their fact-finding visit to Patagonia. I'm told that they received a warm welcome, with chair David Davies being referred to by the locals as "presidente", a term which has yet to catch on in Monmouth (give it time).

The MPs missed the chancellor's Budget, the publication of the Wales Bill and the last episode of Line of Duty. Sadly, none chose to share their experiences of faraway places with colleagues during question time, disappointing those of us hoping for a homage to Patagonia.

It was left to Labour MP Paul Flynn to remind MPs of attractions closer to home ahead of September's NATO summit. "Newport's magnificent Tredegar House trebled its numbers of visitors last year," he told MPs. "Visitors to the city's Roman baths, amphitheatre and museum are at a record high. What will the minister do to encourage more people to have the unique, enjoyable experience of a visit to Newport?"

Perhaps summit visitors should be advised: when in Newport, do as the Romans do.

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

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