Steel jobs, ministerial debuts, tolls and royal regalia

Alun Cairns and Guto Bebb
Image caption The new Wales Office team of Alun Cairns (left) and Guto Bebb answered MPs' questions for the first time.

So what did we learn from Alun Cairns's Commons debut as secretary of state for Wales?

As expected, the half-hour question time was dominated by the crisis in the steel industry. And as expected, Mr Cairns defended the UK government's handling of that crisis.

He told MPs ministers had been in close dialogue with Tata Steel for many months and the government's action had averted the immediate closure of the Port Talbot plant, Britain's biggest steelworks.

"It is due to the government intervention that Tata have agreed to a sales process rather than an immediate closure of its operations in Wales," he added.

But Mr Cairns was criticised by Plaid Cymru's parliamentary leader, Hywel Williams, for not attending last month's crucial Tata Steel board meeting in India, at which the decision to sell off its UK assets was taken.

Mr Williams asked: "What stopped you? Was it the Cabinet pecking order? Was it indolence? Or was it just plain ignorance?"

But Mr Cairns told him: "Surely what the steelworkers want to see is where the government and the opposition work together, where the company and the unions work together in order to secure that long-term future."

'Welder'

Shadow Welsh Secretary Nia Griffith demanded assurances that Tata Steel wouldn't syphon off its most profitable lines to its plants abroad.

Mr Cairns said a "positive engagement" between the government and Tata had led to the decision to sell off the assets as a whole rather than to dispose of some of the more profitable assets. He also managed to mention the fact that his father was a welder at Port Talbot.

Ms Griffith revealed some news of her own in calling for the scrapping of tolls on the Severn Crossings once they revert to public ownership.

This is now apparently official Labour policy, with maintenance of the bridges to be paid for, I understand, "from general taxation". Current government policy is to halve them from (approximately) 2018.

'Regalia'

Mr Cairns is a relative veteran of question time, having been Stephen Crabb's deputy for more than a year. But it was the first appearance at the despatch box for the new junior Minister, Guto Bebb.

The Aberconwy MP got to field the most unusual question - from Michael "My Mam's from Aberavon" Fabricant. He wanted to pay tribute to Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies and his former chief of staff, Anthony Pickles, who apparently came up with the idea of bringing the Prince of Wales's regalia - the Welsh "crown jewels" to Wales.

Mr Bebb agreed. "I would say that bringing the regalia back to Wales would be the right thing to do and I'm quite certain that my constituent in the castle of Conwy would be delighted to host the regalia."

The plan is for the regalia to go on display at a new heritage centre in Llandovery.

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