Is the Swansea tidal lagoon about to hit the rocks?

Alun Cairns and Guto Bebb
Image caption Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns (left) and his deputy Guto Bebb give evidence to the Commons Welsh affairs committee.

Well I wasn't expecting the Spanish inquisition but with one or two exceptions Welsh MPs' grilling of Alun Cairns over the Swansea tidal lagoon was more David Frost than Jeremy Paxman.

Monday's Financial Times reported that ministers have gone cold on the £1.3bn project and quoted an unnamed cabinet minister who said it failed to stack up economically because it was "eye-wateringly" expensive and would only directly create a handful of jobs in the local economy.Perhaps that day's FT didn't arrive in the committee's office but no-one asked Alun Cairns if he was the minister quoted or whether he agreed with another government figure who said - "It's hard to see which ministers if any are still championing this at a ministerial level." We emerged from a 90-minute grilling little the wiser about the lagoon's prospects. No FT, no comment?

Cardiff North Labour MP Anna McMorrin did her best, suggesting Mr Cairns was a lagoon supporter who didn't have the ear of his prime minister. He agreed he had been a supporter but warned (again) that the scheme had to be value for money and its future depended on "the numbers".

He said: "This has got to be value-for-money and none of us really should ever want it if it's not value for money because ultimately it's consumers and taxpayers that have to pay for it so on that basis.

"We are doing everything possible to try to make it fit but it has got to be down to the numbers eventually otherwise it's your constituents and my constituents and business investment will pay the price."


It's almost a year since former UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry recommended that the project go ahead but the UK government, which commissioned the Hendry review, has yet to respond to its findings. It is almost two years since David Cameron said his enthusiasm had been cooled by the cost.

There is a tradition at Westminster of "bad news" announcements being dumped in the last week of term - think rail electrification from July - but it appears any lagoon news will not come until the new year. The developers say they remain optimistic.

The secretary of state wasn't questioned solely on the lagoon - which ultimately is another department's call - but faced a range of questions on Brexit, the railways, Severn Bridge tolls, prisons and S4C.

At one stage there was so much jargon flying around - from LCM to JMC (E) and APD - that even veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn appeared confused.

Mr Flynn then engaged in a debate with committee chair David T.C. Davies about whether he could describe other MPs as mercenary and having been bribed by ministers. The transcript of the hearing will record that he got away with comments that might not have gone unnoticed by the Speaker had he made them in the House of Commons chamber.