Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Time's Up

I could feel the wings of history on my tweets. The last Welsh Question Time at Westminster before the general election featured farewell appearances from MPs on both sides of the chamber.

If it was to be Peter Hain's last Question Time appearance as Secretary of State then he could not have wished for some softer questions to smooth him on his way.

Tom Watson kicked off with a penetrating "Can my right honourable friend assure me that he has no plans to axe or cut tax credits?" which prompted Peter Hain to claim there is a Tory "sword of Damocles" hanging over tax credits.

Sian James put him on the spot with her follow-up: "Can the Minister tell me how many families in total have benefited through the policies of this Government on this important issue?"

Mr Hain looked pleased although hardly surprised to be asked a question that allowed him to claim that the Conservatives would axe free school breakfasts.

Betty Williams wanted to know whether he agreed with her constituents that "the tax credit system is certainly not a gimmick?" Tough one, that.

Tory Peter Bone, late of Islwyn but now of Wellingborough, wanted to know how many constituents Mr Hain had had in tears in his office because of the tax credit system.

Mr Hain told him there were people in his constituency office in tears about the threat to their tax credits, although the sight of people in Neath weeping over an opposition party's manifesto is as yet uncorroborated.

There was barely a dry eye in the House as Ministers paid tribute to three Labour MPs taking part in their last Question Time - Betty Williams, Martyn Jones and Don Touhig.

Plaid Cymru's Adam Price bowed out with: "Why is it right for an ENGLISH Minister to sit as judge and jury on the question of bilingual juries?"

The shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan accused Peter Hain of delaying preparations for a referendum on Welsh Assembly powers until it could be taken by an in-coming Conservative government?

It may be a rare example of an in-coming Minister hoping that Labour will take a decision before it arrives in office, allowing Cheryl Gillan to remain on the fence ("neutral") on an issue that divides her party more than most.

Peter Hain told MPs: "This is a matter for consideration after the general election. All the parties agree with that."

And that was more or less that. Historic or otherwise, it was probably an accurate rehearsal of the campaign to come.

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