Cairns on Welsh cakes, Hezza and Guto Bebb

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns Image copyright ITV
Image caption 'It is pure speculation within the article that is there in order to develop the debate' - Alun Cairns explains his deputy's thinking on Scottish independence.

The traditional first wedding anniversary gift is paper. Appropriately enough, Alun Cairns got two pages of Wales on Sunday to mark his first 12 months as secretary of state for Wales.

On the UK government's own website, he highlighted five "key achievements" - the Wales Act 2017, the fiscal framework, Severn tolls, mobile coverage and business support.

Politicians will argue over the merits of the Wales Act but given the bumpy journey it had onto the statute book it is understandable why Mr Cairns would want to claim the credit.

On the fiscal framework, the Wales Office believes the package has ended the debate over the way Wales is funded. That might be a little optimistic.

The planned halving of Severn tolls was announced by George Osborne, days before Mr Cairns took office so listing that as a "key achievement" might be re-writing history slightly.

On mobile coverage, and tackling mobile "not-spots", he believes a UK government/Ofcom summit saw commitments made to improve the situation.


On business support, he highlighted the inaugural Wales Business Export Summit, attended by more than 80 companies on March 6.

On the latter two, it is probably too soon to measure success - or failure but Mr Cairns can add a sixth achievement as of on Monday - the signing of the Swansea Bay City Region deal, even if the model has been challenged.

The Welsh secretary marked his anniversary with a grilling by ITV's Robert Peston on his Sunday morning show. It started well - Mr Cairns brought along Welsh cakes.

It then got trickier. He was put on the spot over comments by his deputy, Guto Bebb, over Scottish independence and the Budget.

On Mr Bebb's apparent suggestion that Scotland is heading the way of Ireland, Mr Cairns said: "It is pure speculation within the article that is there in order to develop the debate."


A disbelieving Peston pressed Mr Cairns for a clearer explanation. He got this reply: "He's trying to underline that we're getting to the position where everyone, no matter where you live in the United Kingdom, you recognise that we achieve more together so whether you're in Scotland, England Wales or Northern Ireland as we negotiate to exit the European Union when we're focused on getting the right agenda that works for every part of the country, when we're focused on our plan for Britain we will all gain so much more but we need to recognise that as the debate develops."

On Guto Bebb's suggestion that he would apologise to every voter who had read the Conservative manifesto Mr Cairns said: "There was a lot of irony in that comment in the Welsh language and an awful lot was lost in translation." (Knowing Guto Bebb, and as one of the few people who does read manifestos, I can see his point there).

Downing Street has given its response to Mr Bebb's comments here.

Mr Cairns was also asked about Lord Heseltine's involvement in the Swansea city deal - and whether he signed letters without reading them. He said it had been an administrative error.

"Absolutely lovely having you with us today," said Peston. Apparently, the Welsh cakes were good too.

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