Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns refuses AMs' committee invitation

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Alun Cairns
Image caption,
Alun Cairns promised to engage with the committee at the "earliest opportunity"

The Welsh secretary's refusal to give evidence in person about the replacement of EU funds post-Brexit "shows a worrying disregard for Wales", an assembly committee chair has said.

Alun Cairns told the finance committee he did not feel it necessary to attend.

Simon Thomas accused Mr Cairns of failing to engage "appropriately and respectfully".

The Wales Office said the Welsh Secretary was accountable to Parliament.

The assembly's finance committee is conducting an inquiry into the preparations for replacing EU funding for Wales after the UK leaves the 28-nation bloc.

Mr Cairns has been criticised previously for not attending the committee to give evidence.

In a letter to the chair, the Welsh secretary said he "did not think it necessary" to attend the inquiry in person but pledged to engage with the committee at the "earliest opportunity".

He said he recognised the importance of the funds to Wales.

Image caption,
Simon Thomas said Alun Cairns showed a "worrying disregard for Wales"

Mr Thomas, a Plaid Cymru AM, said Mr Cairns "also failed to provide the committee to date" with any written evidence.

As one of the poorer parts of the European Union, Wales will have received more than £5bn in so-called structural funds by 2020 - roughly £370m a year.

Wales also receives more than £300m annually from the EU's main agricultural funding scheme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Both funding streams are set to come to an end after the UK leaves the EU, with UK and Welsh Government ministers working on successor programmes.

Responding to the letter, Mr Thomas said: "Refusing to attend such an important inquiry, including refusing to provide any evidence in his absence, shows a worrying disregard for Wales.

"This failure is part of a pattern of behaviour by Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, to engage appropriately and respectfully with the National Assembly.

"Hiding from scrutiny makes me wonder if he has any ideas at all about what will replace these valuable funding streams," he added.

'Accountable to Parliament'

A spokesperson for the Wales Office said Mr Cairns had "given evidence to National Assembly committees on several occasions in recent months on Britain's exit from the EU".

"As a UK minister, it is important to note and widely recognised that the Secretary of State for Wales is accountable to Parliament and in particular to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee," the spokesperson said.

"We have also committed to future engagement with stakeholders including the Welsh Government and the National Assembly on Brexit issues, but did not consider it the right time to give evidence on this occasion."