Welsh Secretary rejects St David's Day Bank Holiday calls backed by Senedd Conservatives
David TC Davies was giving evidence to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee for the first time since being appointed to the cabinet last week. Credit: Parliamentlive.tv
The UK Government’s new Welsh Secretary says he's "on balance" against having a bank holiday to mark St David's Day in Wales.
David TC Davies' stance marks a change of approach from that of his predecessor in the role, and goes against recent calls from Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd.
Speaking to MPs, he also refused to back calls for Wales to get extra rail funding as a result of the controversial HS2 project in England, another key demand of Andrew RT Davies.
They’re two of three big policy "asks" set out by the Welsh Tory leader in recent months.
Who wants to make St David's Day a public holiday in Wales?
During the Conservative party leadership campaign in the summer, Andrew RT Davies wrote in The Sunday Times that making St David’s Day a public holiday was "a no brainer".
He’d already been knocked back by Boris Johnson who told him: "I salute your campaign for St David’s Day. I don’t know what we’ll do with it but I definitely salute it."
And in March, the former Welsh Secretary Simon Hart dismissed the idea, saying that: "I have to say that of the many representations I get on every subject known to man, the one thing that nobody ever asked me is can we please have more bank holidays? Literally no one...
"And as I say, Andrew and I have this very friendly and quite amusing and light hearted exchange every year. And one day much it may change but at the moment it doesn't look like it."
It looked as though that position might be changing when Sir Robert Buckland took over as Welsh Secretary and said he was "very sympathetic" to the idea.
In an interview with S4C’s Y Byd yn ei Le programme last month, Sir Robert Buckland said: "My personal view would be get rid of May Day and have St David's Day as our bank holiday and it would be a nice quid pro quo."
"Some advantages to not having a bank holiday"
His successor was asked his view during today’s meeting of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee.
David TC Davies told the committee that the idea "isn’t government policy at the moment" and that while it wasn’t something he felt strongly about, "on balance" he supports the current position "because actually I think there are some advantages to not having a bank holiday".
"I have three children who all went to a state school in south Wales and they always used to celebrate St David's Day in school," he said.
"I think I've been there a few times to watch them dancing, singing and stuff.
"And I suspect that had they not been in school, rather than celebrating this wonderful part of Welsh culture and enjoying a little bit of the language and the dancing that there might have been a tendency to flop down on a sofa and mess around with a PlayStation and I'd much rather they were celebrating Welsh culture.
"So on balance I'm happy with things as they are.”
Divide over extra rail funding in Wales
Perhaps a more serious divide is over the question of extra rail funding for Wales as a result of the HS2 project in England.
Even though none of the planned rail lines are in Wales, the scheme is designated as an "England and Wales" project, meaning it doesn’t trigger extra funding for Wales (known as "consequential") through the mechanism known as the Barnett Formula.
In Andrew RT Davies’ Sunday Times article he called for that to change, saying that he hoped the next Prime Minister would show the importance of the Union of the UK by "delivering rail investment consequential to Network Rail to turbocharge a rail revolution for Wales".
Since becoming Welsh Secretary last week, David TC Davies has already rejected that call, saying that HS2 will benefit Wales by improving travel times from Crewe.
Asked about it again by members of the Welsh Affairs committee, the cabinet minister refused to agree to treating HS2 as an England-only project, and said that the UK Government has already spent £340m improving rail lines in Wales.
'Clear blue water' muddied?
The practice of highlighting different policies being backed by Senedd Conservatives and their Westminster colleagues is known as "clear blue water", a phrase which echoes the "clear red water" used by Rhodri Morgan to put distance between him and Tony Blair’s Labour UK Government.
It’s a phrase that’s been used by Andrew RT Davies and is seen by many Welsh Tories as essential to carving out a separate identity.
But it’s also controversial within the party here in Wales, with many feeling there should be no policy differences. They’re often the same who want to see devolution rolled back too.
Now it seems it is more troubled water than clear blue.
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