I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of Welsh Affairs.
I am delighted to open this important debate and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to hold it. I thank also Mr Llwyd, Glyn Davies, Roger Williams and every single Welsh Member of Parliament who requested a debate on Welsh affairs today, which is the feast day of the patron saint of Wales, St David. I have always thought there was a Monmouthshire connection because he was, I believe, the Archbishop of Caerleon for a couple of weeks but then he decided that was not the place for him and headed west to the lovely city of St David’s where he eventually settled.
The House has rightly deferred to the tradition of this place to have a debate on Welsh affairs on or near St David’s day. It is of course only once every seven years that it can come on a Thursday, as it has today. The tradition goes right back to the 1940s when Members from Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom were able to take part in a general debate on Wales. That was important because Wales and its business are an integral part of the business of the House of Commons in the same way that they are an integral part of the business of the British Government. I fear that over the past couple of years there has been a marginalisation of Welsh Members of Parliament and, indeed, of Welsh business, which is regrettable. Clearly, the fact that this debate did not happen last year is an example of that. I know that the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd will touch on these issues in his remarks.
The fact that the West Lothian question is being debated and looked at by a commission indicates that large numbers of MPs are clearly of the view that Welsh MPs should have a status in this Parliament that is different from the status of MPs from the rest of the UK. In addition, there is the depressing and unforgiveable reduction by a quarter in the number of MPs here in the House of Commons representing the 3.5 million people of Wales. That change was never debated properly and has now gone through, almost, but a quarter of our seats will disappear by the next election.
There was much force in the right hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks but would not his last point have a little more force if there were rather more of his Labour colleagues here for this debate? We are complaining about a reduction in the number of Welsh MPs but although he and those around him are here for this debate, others are not.
That is an interesting point, but it is also interesting that the House of Commons has, in effect, had no business to discuss for the past couple of weeks—[Hon. Members: “Months!”] Indeed. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that issue, the hon. Gentleman knows that what he says is not the reality behind the problem, which means that a quarter of us will lose our seats in Wales because they will disappear. It is a false, fallacious and appalling policy that has led us down that line because ultimately the business of the Union is about the representation of the UK’s four constituent parts within the UK Parliament and Government. There will be a very small number, in real terms, of 40 Welsh Members, as opposed to 500-odd from England, and the influence and say that Welsh people can have will be reduced by 25%. That is to the shame of the Government, and I am sorry that I have to say that.
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and he is absolutely right. He referred to the West Lothian question. Does he agree that there is something peculiar and disproportionate about Conservative Members’ support for changing the relative engagement of Members of Parliament because of devolution in Wales, Scotland and, possibly, Northern Ireland? They seem to ignore completely devolution to London, which, in some respects—economic and in relation to the police, for instance—
Indeed. In many respects, therefore, the impact of devolution to London has a greater impact on the United Kingdom than devolution to Wales and Scotland, yet that is ignored.
Indeed. That is the problem. We have this asymmetrical system of devolution in the United Kingdom—a different sort of Assembly in Belfast, a completely different Parliament in Edinburgh, a now enhanced Assembly in Wales and, of course, London—and as soon as we start tinkering with that sensitive constitutional balance, the Union itself is at stake.
I do not agree. In a few seconds, I will address, in particular, the issue of the Health and Social Care Bill as it goes through the legislative process. I do not think that there has been a positive approach to dealing with these issues from the Government and Conservative Back Benchers. I am not saying that there is a conspiracy; I just do not think that there is an understanding of how the constitution works. We are the United Kingdom. I will come later to the question of what will happen in Scotland and whether the United Kingdom will break up. Of course, some people genuinely have a separatist agenda, and that is the democratic right of those parties. I merely say to those of us who are unionists—with a small u—that what has occurred in this place over the past two years seriously weakens the Union.
On Government Members’ lack of understanding of the devolution settlement, may I give my right hon. Friend two specific examples from the Government Front-Bench team here today? When I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon.
Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) about the Welsh economy, he said that macro-economics had nothing to do with the UK Government. When I asked him yesterday about attracting Irish tourists to Wales, he said that it had nothing to do with the UK Government. VisitBritain is about bringing foreign tourists to the UK. There is a complete lack of understanding from the Government Front-Bench team.
I think that devolution actually strengthens the Union if it is dealt with properly, because it acknowledges the richness and diversity of the different nations and countries within the United Kingdom. When we cease to acknowledge that, we are in danger of heading down a separatist path. In Welsh terms, macro-economic policy, which my hon. Friend referred to, public services, economic policy and employment are all matters for the UK Government—often shared with the devolved Administrations as well.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to understand how problems appear across the UK, not just how they appear in England and English constituencies? For example, in the constituency of the Minister with responsibility for disabled people, Maria Miller, there are four claimants of jobseeker’s allowance looking for each job, whereas in the Rhondda, for instance, there are 49 chasing each vacancy. Understanding the difficulties and the impact of legislation across the UK is critical in hearing the Welsh voices here today, and perhaps the lack of Welsh voices on the Government Front Bench is part of the reason for this problem.
Whatever the reason, there is no question but that there is a lack of understanding of these things. The working partnership between a British Government in London and a Welsh Government in Cardiff is vital for the well-being of the people who are represented by those Members who represent Welsh constituencies.
David T. C. Davies asked why Welsh Members should deal with matters that affect England only, but it is difficult to work our what “England only” means. Considerable aspects of the highly controversial Health and Social Care Bill will directly affect my constituents and those of other Welsh Members of Parliament.
As I represent a border area, I know that, when it comes to health care, the border is not there, because 30% of my constituents go to Chester County hospital because it is the nearest. Equally, that hospital receives money from the Welsh Assembly to support its services, which is good for both Welsh and English patients.
Of course, if there is a fundamental shake-up of the English NHS and how it is configured, with foundation hospitals being developed right across England, that will all have an impact on cross-border services and will affect both English and Welsh patients and primary and secondary health care. Thousands upon thousands of Welsh people rely on English health services, and thousands of English people rely on Welsh primary services in mid-Wales and other parts of the border area.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an important point, because clearly many Welsh patients rely heavily on medical services provided in England. Equally, many English patients rely on medical services provided in Wales, yet they are not represented in the Welsh Assembly. Does he regard that as a democratic deficit?
I do not because, as I said earlier and as the Minister will remember, the purpose is to set protocols between the Welsh and United Kingdom Governments. Indeed, the Welsh Affairs Committee inquired into cross-border health issues not long ago. I merely say to the House that when legislation goes through Westminster, even if it ostensibly relates only to England, there are implications for Wales. There are other examples. A number of the health bodies that are to be abolished affect England and Wales; one relates to alcohol and another to health care of a different sort. There is also the training of medical staff, which obviously cannot be done solely in Wales. That has to be done in England as well.
Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern that the Minister of State, Department of Health, Mr Burns, when I tackled him on the cross-border issue, having heard whispers from the Secretary of State for Health, said that arrangements would be made to allow people on one side of the border to register on the other? He did not seem to be aware that people in my constituency currently travel to Liverpool and Manchester, for example, quite satisfactorily to receive specialist health care and that that is threatened by the privatisation that that lot are bringing in.
That is the sort of benign ignorance to which I referred earlier. I am not saying that the Ministers in the Wales Office are in that category, because they understand these issue. That is their job, as it was my job when I was a Minister. The issue is that other Government Ministers often have to be told about the sensitivities and complications that exist between Welsh and English issues. That is why it is not simply the case that the West Lothian question is the obvious thing we need to deal with. Not one Parliament in the world has separate classes of members who vote in the way the commission could suggest.
If my right hon. Friend took that to its logical conclusion for matters that affect Londoners, such as those he has already mentioned, and others such as Crossrail or some of the private Bills we have been looking at, it could be argued that whole sections of the House would not be affected and therefore should not be allowed to vote.
Of course. That is a truly important point, and it goes right to the heart of the debate that we are now having about the Union.
Dozens upon dozens of people have contacted me in my Welsh constituency about the national health service changes in England, not simply because of the points that I have just made about them affecting Welsh people, but because it is pretty clear that Welsh people do not like the so-called reforms to the health service in England. Only today, we have seen published in Wales an opinion poll indicating that almost 80% of Welsh people would prefer the Welsh health system’s structure to what is proposed in England, and that is hugely important. Although people may live under a devolved Administration, they too understand the difference.
On that matter, I want to bring to the House’s attention one final point: if the Bill goes through, it will have direct implications for the amount of money that Wales receives through the Barnett formula. A study published only a couple of weeks ago in Public Finance in relation to Scotland and Wales quite rightly stated that, if less money is spent on the health service in England because of money coming in from the private sector, under the so-called Barnett consequentials less money will go to Wales. So for all those reasons, it is important for us to understand that we cannot easily disentangle Welsh and English business in this place.
My final point, as I know that other Members want to speak, is on the Union and the forthcoming debate about Scotland, the referendum and whether that country becomes independent. I do not have the slightest doubt about the view of most people in Wales, which has been verified, again, by today’s poll: 7% want independence, and 12% would favour independence if Scotland seceded. That is still a very small percentage, and infinitesimal when compared with the numbers in Scotland itself, but what happens in the debate about Scotland still has huge relevance to us.
Of course I accept entirely that it is for the Scottish people to decide whether they want to become independent, because that is their entire prerogative, but the debate has to be for us in Wales as well—for those in England, too, but today we are discussing Welsh matters—because the implications of that debate and whether we want to keep the Union intact are as important to us as Welsh Members as they are to Scottish Members.
That is why the Secretary of State for Wales, her junior Minister and my Front Benchers ought to engage in that debate in the way that Scotland Ministers and shadow Scotland Ministers have. The implications are enormous. I do not think for one second that the people of Scotland will vote for independence, but the debate is on, and the problem is the point that I made at the beginning of my remarks, because some Members are pursuing the little Englander approach.
I exempt Welsh Members from that accusation, but many English Members, including some in my party, simply do not understand the threats that could amount to the break-up of the Union, not only because of what might happen in Scotland, but because of what has happened by marginalising Welsh Members and Welsh business in the House of Commons. I therefore urge all Members to take part in that debate, but I urge in particular my own colleagues in Wales and politicians in Wales generally to engage in what is a hugely important issue. Whatever their views or whether they agree with separation or not, it is a matter for all of us, not simply for those who represent Scottish constituencies.
It is a pleasure to follow Paul Murphy, who does sterling work in my neighbouring constituency. We work together on many issues, and he and I share a passionate commitment to the Union of the United Kingdom, but there we must part company for the moment, because his analysis of how to keep the Union safe differs markedly from mine.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the health service, and that is very interesting, because, as he said, thousands of people in Wales are dependent on the health sector in England and thousands of people in England receive health services in Wales. So the argument that has been put forward is that Welsh MPs should continue to try to influence what goes on in the health service in England. However, that is a rather fallacious argument, because Members of Parliament representing English constituents treated in Wales have absolutely no say over how their constituents are affected. The logical conclusion of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument is that we should have Welsh Assembly Members representing areas such as Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Chester in order to enable constituents in those border areas to have some say in how their health services are delivered. Of course, that will never happen. It is a nonsensical idea, just as it is nonsensical that Welsh Members of Parliament should be using their votes to try to influence policy in England in order to prevent the English from doing what they want with their health service.
We would have more moral grounds for getting involved in the English health service if the Welsh health service were a beacon that others wanted to follow, but it is not. I get a lot of complaints from people living in Chepstow and Monmouth who want to be treated in England—in hospitals in Bristol, for example—but are sent elsewhere in Wales because it is the policy of the Welsh Assembly Government, wherever possible, to treat people in Wales, not in England, even if that means constituents having to travel for hours in Wales when they could simply cross the River Severn to get treatment in Bristol or somewhere similar. It is a truly ludicrous situation.
The hon. Gentleman is missing the point made by my right hon. Friend Paul Murphy. He said that Welsh Members have an interest in the England-only Bill that is before this House because our constituents—and we are here to serve our constituents—need specialist treatments across the border in England. Many of those people from Wales work in the health service, as well. We are not talking about a theory, but practice—that is, serving the needs of our constituents when measures in this House affect them.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. It is also true, however, that many constituents in Wales who want to be treated in England are unable to be so treated because it is the policy of the Welsh Assembly Government not to treat people in England if that can be avoided. When the reforms to the NHS in England go through, the Welsh Assembly Government, if they really feel that the services are not good enough, will be entirely free to set up their own services in Wales and take their custom elsewhere, because they are, in any case, paying English health boards, or the equivalent, to carry out those services. They do not have to do that, because they can take their business elsewhere if they wish.
Surely the hon. Gentleman accepts that it would be absurd to build another children’s hospital in north Wales when there is a very good, renowned children’s hospital just over the border.
I accept that that would be absurd, and I do not think for one moment that it will happen, because I am certain that with or without these reforms—I very much hope that they go through—the services that are offered in England will continue to be of the highest quality. However, the Welsh Assembly Government could choose to do that if they felt that the necessary services were not being provided. It is a purely hypothetical situation, because the services in England will be as good as, if not better than, they already are.
Waiting lists in Wales are far longer than they are in England. While 90% of people in England get treatment within 18 weeks, the figure is about 68% in Wales. People in Wales are twice as likely as those in England to succumb to a hospital-acquired infection. One of the rare cancer charities has said that people who live in England are five times more likely to get drugs for rare forms of cancer than those who live in Wales. Our health service in Wales is no longer the envy of the world; it is certainly not the envy of other nations of the United Kingdom. We have no moral right to tell the English what they can do with their better-run health service when ours is running so lamentably.
I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s argument as regards political sovereignty, but the big issue about the health reforms in England is their effect on the Barnett consequentials, which have a direct impact on funding in Wales. For as long as the Welsh Government are funded by that very discredited formula, it is important for Welsh MPs to vote against Bills that reduce funding for the health service in Wales.
I respect the hon. Gentleman’s view, but it is not one that is shared by his political counterparts in Scotland, who take the principled position that they will not get involved in any issues that are completely devolved. Since he has mentioned funding, it is worth pointing out that in England the Conservative-led coalition Government are putting more money into the health service every year at a time when the Welsh Assembly Government are cutting health funding.
I was referring to the NHS in the context of the Union, as did the right hon. Member for Torfaen. We are both Unionists. My simple point is that it will not be possible to construct a stable Union if there are left-wing Governments in Scotland and Wales, which are generally left-wing places, with left-wing Members of Parliament who try to prevent the English, who are generally slightly more conservative, from carrying out the policies that they wish to carry out. The hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches are trying to have their cake and eat it.
And the hon. Ladies, forgive me. Opposition Members want Labour to be in power in Scotland and Wales, either on its own or in coalition, but they also want to continue to send large numbers of MPs here to prevent the English from doing what they want to do in their own country. That is not a recipe for a stable United Kingdom; it is nothing less than gerrymandering. It is high time that it was brought to an end.
If the hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies on the Opposition Benches have concerns, they should probably have thought about that before they opened the Pandora’s box of devolution in the first place. It was supposed to be a journey; it has become a magical mystery tour. It always ends in more powers for one of the devolved bodies, with the others immediately demanding more for themselves as well.
On the reduction in the number of MPs, has the hon. Gentleman noticed the slight change in the glums behind him since the Boundary Commission produced its proposals?
There were different ways in which the problem could have been addressed. I think we all agree that the constituencies ought to be the same size. For those who think that there has been gerrymandering, I can only say that had something been done about the situation during the 13 years of Labour Government, we would not be where we are now. Perhaps we would have had 650 constituencies of equal size instead of 600. That might have led to some slightly less glum faces in this Chamber.
I came here to talk about the report, “Inward Investment in Wales”, which is a relevant document for this debate. As Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, may I say what a pleasure it has been to work with Members from all parts of the House? Committee members have acted in the highest traditions of Select Committee work in leaving their political affiliations at the door, as I have tried to do myself. [ Laughter. ] Within the Committee Room, that is. We are not in the Committee now, so I am not necessarily in that mode.
I want to make it absolutely clear that the report is not meant to be a criticism of any Government or any political party. It simply aims to draw attention to certain problems. I will put the report down, having commended it, and talk about what we can interpret from it. Obviously, other people may interpret it in different ways. The main issue we faced was that inward investment in Wales over the past 20 years has fallen off a cliff. During the ’80s and early ’90s, Wales was getting 15% of all investment into the UK. The latest figures that I have seen suggest that it is now about 3%. I hear that it might be even lower, but I have seen no official figures for that yet. Clearly, there is a major problem that needs to be addressed.
I cannot go through the whole report, but something that will have leapt out at people is the recommendation for a dedicated trade promotion agency to go out and sell Wales to the world. That must not, of course, be the Welsh Development Agency, because although that brand is recognised around the world, I do not think that there would be much support for setting it up again as it was. We heard all sorts of evidence, some of it anecdotal but coming from officials, to suggest that this simply is not happening. We heard that International Business Wales is not cutting the mustard when it goes abroad, that people have been trying to sell Wales abroad who do not even speak the language of the country that they are working in, and that UK Trade & Investment has had little contact with Wales in comparison with other regions and nations in the United Kingdom, in particular Scotland.
Clearly there is a major problem. I am not laying the blame at any particular door. However, it needs to be addressed as quickly as possible and I hope that the
Welsh Assembly Government will take note of the strong recommendation that there needs to be one dedicated body within the Welsh Assembly whose job it is to go out and sell Wales to the world.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s commendation of the excellent Select Committee report. Does he agree with the recommendation in it, and the evidence that we heard from many bodies including Admiral car insurance, that such a body should have private sector experience among its members? One of the strengths of the old WDA was how it brought private sector experience to bear on the job of bringing inward investment to Wales.
I absolutely concur. There needs to be a mixture of skills in that body. There certainly needs to be a lot of private sector experience, but given the evidence that we heard, it is also important that the people involved can talk to different arms of government in different parts of the world.
Another issue that came out of the evidence that we heard was a general concern about skills. A lot of employers said to us in evidence and outside the Committee that people coming out of schools and universities simply were not equipped for the world of work. The recent programme for international student assessment report suggested that skills among Welsh school leavers in certain areas were well below the OECD average and the lowest in the UK. That ought to worry people.
I have expressed personal concern before about some of the university courses being offered. I do not know if it is still happening, but at one time Swansea was offering a four-year degree in surf studies. As somebody who has spent 20 years surfing, I do not think someone needs a degree in it. I did not get any degree in anything, but that is another story. I certainly do not think I missed out by not spending four years studying something like that. There are a lot of Mickey Mouse courses about, and people come out of them expecting to be able to walk into a £30,000 or £40,000-a-year job, having spent years of their life and quite of a lot of their money on such a course, and are surprised when it does not happen.
When the Committee went to GE Aviation, I talked to some of the directors, a lot of whom had come up from the shop floor. They were quite happy to take on hard-working, bright people who did not necessarily have great academic qualifications, show them all about the job and allow them to rise to the top.
It is interesting to think about the image of heavy engineering and manufacturing in Wales, and perhaps in the rest of the UK. Having worked at British Steel in the late 1980s, even I went into some factories with the Committee expecting loud and perhaps slightly dirty places. That is no longer the case, as those of us who went on the factory visits know. Some of them have to be so clean, to keep dust out of the atmosphere, that they are like hospitals. It was very interesting to talk to Tata and hear that it had taken it upon itself to bring school leavers on to the premises, and to hear how excited those school leavers had been. Some of them had gone on to work at Tata. Why are not all companies doing that?
My hon. Friend made a slightly negative characterisation of higher education, but will he acknowledge that we also heard some good stories about universities engaging with the business community and building spin-off companies in their locality? There is some good news in the PISA results on higher education rather than schools.
I absolutely accept that. There is a lot of detail in the Select Committee report, and I am just skipping through it in my speech. The hon. Gentleman will probably recall that when we were in Brussels we were told that some Welsh universities were not doing quite as much to get European Union research grant funding as those in England. The picture is mixed, as usual.
We should be very clear that if we are to sell Wales and persuade businesses that it is a good place to come to, we need to show co-operation. I was not going to mention this today, but I feel that I have to because of other things that have happened: the Committee was disappointed that the Welsh Economic Development Minister felt unable to come and give evidence. I can accept that slight once, but there seems to be a pattern of the Welsh Government not wanting to do anything with the UK Government.
For example, a tourism seminar was held recently, I believe at No. 10, to encourage the devolved regions of the UK to do more to get tourism going during the Olympics. Nobody from Wales came. I have heard that when a broadband grant scheme was set up and a special grant was made available for pilot broadband schemes across England and Wales, the Welsh Assembly did not really bother to fill in the forms, so we did not end up with one of the pilot areas.
The Welsh Affairs Committee was due to visit Cardiff next week to take evidence, along with a Welsh Assembly Committee, which had asked us to go there and told us when would be convenient. Of course, we were more than happy to do so. We enjoy going down to Cardiff to visit the Welsh Assembly and work with our colleagues in the devolved regions. We were not expecting Ministers, but we expected officials from Edwina Hart’s Department to give evidence about ports. Today, I have been told—I have e-mailed members of the Committee, so they will know this—that the officials will not turn up because Members of Parliament will be present. I find that extraordinary. The Welsh Assembly Government want to make speeches in the City, telling people to come to Wales and an Assembly Minister is calling for the green bank to be set up in Wales, yet they are not willing to send officials down a few flights of steps to come and see us at the Welsh Assembly. We are not asking them to visit us—we will go to them, at their convenience—yet they still do not want to talk to us. What sort of message are we sending the world through that complete lack of co-operation?
My hon. Friend has just made a serious point about a lack of co-operation that means that officials cannot give a Committee of the Assembly and a Select Committee of the House information that would help both Committees understand the issues better and make recommendations in the interests of Wales. Will he write to me so that I can take up the matter with the First Minister, because
I am sure that the Welsh Government will be disappointed to hear that? My understanding from discussions with the First Minister is that he is very keen on co-operation. Opposition Members are nodding, and I think it would be fitting for me to take up the matter urgently with the First Minister to see whether I can do anything to broker reciprocal arrangements.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that. Of course, I shall be delighted to write to her. Welsh Affairs Committee members were looking forward to hearing from officials about ports, but we still intend to go to Cardiff, with officials from the Department for Transport. We may not be able to see the officials that we had hoped to meet, but we are perfectly happy for Assembly Members to talk to British Government officials about the policy, because we believe in co-operation. I apologise to Committee members who will be let down by the lack of the second part of the meeting. Who knows—we might be able to find something else to do instead.
What a marked contrast there is between that lack of co-operation and the actions of the British Government. Last night, we had a superb reception, which was perfect in all respects bar one, in that somebody may have been left off the guest list who should have been there.
I was not responsible for the guest list. I look around the Chamber and see a few people whom I would dearly like to have been there. However, Members of all parties were there—I saw Mr Hain. I am sorry that he is not here at the moment; I do not know how he came by his invitation, but when he comes back, perhaps we will ask him. Let me tell those who were unfortunate enough not to be there that it was a wonderful evening. It was tremendous to talk to people from across Wales. There are so many worthy people in Wales that perhaps it would not have been possible to get them all in along with Members of Parliament of all parties.
Some of us were still carrying out our duties as Members of Parliament representing Welsh constituencies. Last night, instead of being in No. 10, having what I am sure was an excellent glass of wine, I was meeting Ford, talking about inward investment in Wales and the fantastic developments in engineering thanks to engineers in my Bridgend plant. They are responsible for brand new developments in engine manufacture that are leading the way. Wales leads the way everywhere. Our biggest problem, if we have one, is that we do not talk enough about our excellent firms. In my Bridgend constituency, I have AMSS—Aircraft Maintenance Support Services—which is a fantastic worldwide company, but it is not known.
I commend the hon. Lady for that, because she was doing absolutely the right thing. If Ford would like to relocate any of its factories on the Severn bridge industrial estate, I would quite happily stand up No. 10 to welcome it.
The hon. Lady is not entirely right about one thing: one reason why I was so keen to go along and enjoy the glass of white wine that she mentioned is that it came from the Ancre Hill vineyard in my constituency, which was set up as a family business in 2007 and which has won many awards. It now exports wine to Australia. I was proud to go along and support that business.
The only thing that saddened me about the whole evening was that when I watched “Wales Today” on iPlayer that night, I saw Betsan Powys saying that the Welsh Assembly Government had put out a statement saying that they wanted more than warm words and warm wine. May I say to the Welsh Assembly Government spokesman that that wine was not warm; it was superb. The Prime Minister wanted me to make clear today how much he and all those who drank the wine enjoyed it. The wine was chilled; I wish Members of the Welsh Assembly were.
I was there last night and it was a splendid occasion, but to be honest, colleagues from other parties should have been there. There were very few Labour Members, which may have been a mistake—[ Interruption. ] I was pleased to be there, but I am just making that point. Paul Murphy, an ex-Secretary of State for Wales, was not there, for example. In any event, I do not want to be boorish, and I have obviously bumped myself off next year’s guest list. Mr Deputy Speaker was there—[Hon. Members: “He wasn’t!”] Just to make absolutely sure that I am bumped off the list for next year, I think the St David’s day event could have had something to do with current politics. I hear rumours of a Rabbie Burns fortnight next year.
I congratulate my friend, Roger Williams and for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), on their assiduous pursuit of today’s parliamentary time. The St David’s day debate should be in Government time, as it always was prior to the Backbench Business Committee coming into being. I know that there is sympathy on the Committee for the proposal to take a day out of its basket to be allocated by the Government for that purpose. That is entirely appropriate, especially because we are likely to have fewer Welsh Members of Parliament, which was mentioned by my friend, the right hon. Member for Torfaen.
The right hon. Gentleman will know how bitterly disappointed I was last year when I found out that the St David’s day debate had been passed over to the Committee, which refused a debate despite requests from both sides of the House, including Front Benchers, who are of course not allowed to request debates. I am doubly pleased that we have at least a half-day debate today, but I join him in hoping that there is a way of removing that day from the Committee so that there is always a dedicated St David’s day debate. Because of how the House’s business has fallen, there are fewer opportunities to discuss Welsh matters on the Floor of the House. That is why I called a whole day’s debate on the Silk commission, which is so important for Welsh matters. I support the right hon. Gentleman and look forward to getting more details.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for her support. I am sure she is quite sincere. I remember the disappointment we all felt last year that the case was in some way not made for a Welsh day debate. I hope somebody somewhere reads the Hansard of today’s debate. There is sympathy on the Committee, so let us hope that Government Whips take that on board.
The right hon. Member for Torfaen has discussed his concerns about constitutional matters in Wales. He and I agree on many, many things, but it is fair to say that we do not always see eye to eye on constitutional matters, and he would not expect me to say otherwise. I respect his opinion, although we may diverge substantially on where we see the constitution going. However, it is right that we both agreed that the cuts in the number of Welsh seats was inappropriate and went much too far at this time. Frankly, I thought that a number in accordance with the Speaker’s Conference of 1944 would have been appropriate this time around—in other words, 45.
We might have lost five seats, which I think would have been more palatable under the circumstances. In any event, the cuts that we are likely to see are very substantial indeed. For example, although the seat that I currently represent—Dwyfor Meirionnydd—is small in terms of population, it is very large in terms of area. In days gone by, the Boundary Commission took into account cultural and linguistic connections, industrial connections and economic connections. Crucially, it also took into account the fact that Members such as myself, who might represent 45,000 people, would typically have to spend an hour and a half travelling to meet them and an hour and a half to return, whereas some colleagues can traverse their entire constituencies in 10 minutes or less.
The seat that I represent ranges from Llanberis in the north, through Caernarfon and the surrounding villages, the whole of the Llyn peninsula and the whole of Meirionnydd, to half the Conwy valley, from Llanrwst up to Capel Curig, in addition to the Dyfi valley from Machynlleth to Llanbrynmair, leaving me with a constituency that is roughly one fifth of the landmass of Wales. Incidentally, I also have an extra 31,000 constituents. I do not proclaim to be Superman, but I have always gone to my constituents. I do constituency surgeries, and I shall gladly do them all Friday afternoon—tomorrow—every week. I have no problem with that, and I have never taken the view that my constituents should travel to my office in Dolgellau; I travel to them, because I think that is reasonable. Public transport is perhaps not what it should be in some areas of mid-Wales, and I have always taken it upon myself to travel to them, which means going to roughly 30 villages and towns in all. In my respectful submission, the best that anyone will be able to offer in the new constituency will be the 10 main towns. Gone will be the visit to the local village and small town; the 10 main towns will be more than enough to service on that basis. At the end of the day, I am making a plea for our constituents.
The other point that worries me is this. We are always going on about the public’s disengagement from politics. There will be a review of our constituencies every five years. It is entirely possible that the boundaries will change every five years. How does that improve the relationship between the Member of Parliament and the constituents? It certainly does not, and we shall find further, substantial disengagement. People will not feel aligned to a constituency, nor will they necessarily feel any loyalty to it, still less will they bother to find out who is supposed to be representing them.
The theory behind redrawing the boundaries is that it equalises the seats. However, there are currently 6 million people unregistered, and if the Government’s proposals go ahead, there will be an additional 10 million people off the register, according to the Electoral Commission. The result will be 16 million of the poorest, most marginalised in society off the register. It is a political coup on the part of the Conservatives.
That, too, is a big issue, and the hon. Gentleman is right: it is a grave concern. The word “gerrymandering”, which was used by hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), comes to mind. Indeed, I was shocked to agree with some of the things he said. [ Interruption. ] He is not listening, typically; perhaps he might wish to listen now. I actually agree with the hon. Gentleman—[ Interruption ]—who is now twittering at a rate of knots—about inward investment. I agree with him that we need a Welsh Development Agency-type body, and that we need representation throughout the world. I also agree that not enough is being done. I have not yet read the report, but I shall do so in the coming days.
There was a time when we had the Welsh Development Agency—yes, it had some faults but, by and large, it put Wales on the map—and there was inward investment aplenty; the figures have been quoted already. Crucially, however, we also had the Development Board for Rural Wales, which specialised in dealing with small and medium-sized entities within a defined area of mid-Wales and up into north Wales. Glyn Davies chaired that body with great effect, and I say that to his face, even though it will not do his street credibility any good. He used to turn applications round in a matter of days, after going out to see the applicants if necessary. Things worked, and the economy of the areas of north and mid-Wales where the board operated was consequently quite buoyant, at a time when that was not the case elsewhere. People were calling for a similar entity to cover their part of Wales, and they were right to do so, because it was a helpful, useful body. I hope that, at some point, it will be reinstated in some form, following the hon. Member for Monmouth’s remarks.
No; quite the opposite. The whole point of the Development Board for Rural Wales was to assist existing businesses as much as to set up new ones. I remember going to help people and being told, “The bank says I have to borrow a minimum of £20,000, but I only need £10,000 to expand my business.” The board stepped in, and a solution was found in a matter of days. It was an excellent way of dealing with those things. That example related to an indigenous company that was hoping to expand, so no, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman.
There is some truth in what the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire said about university courses. At one stage, I was rather taken by a course in brewing at Strathclyde, but my father thought that a course in law at Aberystwyth would be preferable and he had the last word, so there we are. The brewing industry has probably lost someone who could have worked wonders. But I shall return to the serious matters.
The commission on devolution is chaired by Paul Silk, and it will report shortly. Everyone knows that it is to examine in two stages what further devolutionary steps could be taken. The first stage relates to fiscal powers. I note with great disappointment that the Labour party has apparently not submitted anything on fiscal powers to the Silk commission. I really cannot understand that. As I have said, I have the highest regard for the right hon. Member for Torfaen. He made the point about a very small minority being in favour of independence in the recent poll, but he did not mention the fact that 60% of those polled were in favour of fiscal powers being devolved to Wales. That is quite a large percentage, given the circumstances.
Sue Essex is the Labour party representative on that matter. Would the right hon. Gentleman accept that not making written submissions in advance gives her greater flexibility in the negotiations? Might not that be the way forward when trying to get four very different people to agree on something?
That is one interpretation of the matter. Others might include disinterest or being dead against any fiscal powers coming to Wales. Who knows? Without anything on paper, we do not know the thinking of the Labour party in Wales. I find that very disappointing.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to my remarks about independence, and he was right. However, I have no objection to tax-raising powers in Wales. My objection would be to the Government taking away the block grant and plugging the gap with taxes from the people of Wales, when the nature of our economy is such that we do not have the necessary resource base. That is the issue. Even parish councils in England and community councils in Wales have tax-raising powers, but such powers must not be introduced at the expense of spending cuts.
I take what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I do not agree.
Nobody can deny that the Holtham report was a very good piece of work, and I think that what needs to be done first is the reform of the Barnett formula. Surely, that is the first thing to do; then we can look further.
Without taking up too much time, I hope to develop a few thoughts about the fiscal powers that could reasonably be called for at this stage of the devolutionary process.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Yes, but then I will have to make some progress.
When we debated the Silk commission a few months ago Labour Front-Benchers were completely opposed to the transfer of any fiscal powers. The poll today shows that more than 60% of the people of Wales are in favour of such a step, so does it not prove that the Labour party is completely out of tune with the wishes of the people of Wales?
Well, yes; on this issue, that has to be right. If 60% of people are saying that fiscal powers are the next stage, that amounts to a large majority—and we should listen to them.
We have sent a submission, and we argued that significant tax revenues and powers should be transferred to the Welsh Government, including partial income tax, value added tax, corporation tax and resource taxes. We have also argued that powers to create and levy new taxes should be granted. We want ownership and control over the Crown Estates in Wales to be transferred in their entirety to the Welsh Government. We believe that taxation and borrowing powers play an important part in facilitating economic growth and ultimately in ensuring social justice. Such powers have been proven to work at a sub-central level throughout the world, but are lacking under the current devolution arrangements.
Half of the current rate of income tax could be paid to the Treasury in London, with half remaining with the Welsh Government in Wales, who could then adjust according to need. The Welsh Government should then have the power to set Welsh income tax rates without restriction. These would be additional to the remaining UK rates.
Powers over VAT would give the Welsh Government a significant source of revenue, as well as the opportunity to make adjustments to achieve policy goals. This could ensure that Wales would not be disadvantaged by any future decision of the UK Government to switch the emphasis of the tax system between direct and indirect taxes. I recognise that variation of VAT rates within a member state might be prohibited under EU law. If that is the case, we would wish to see a transfer of imputed VAT revenues to the Welsh Government. We think all corporation tax revenues should be transferred, as should the power to set rates.
If it is good enough for Northern Ireland, it is good enough for Wales.
I am coming to that in a moment. My hon. Friend did not write the script; it is just that we are ad idem on the point.
Corporation tax offers a powerful tool to facilitate increased performance. It would be desirable to transfer powers over structural elements of the tax, such as the definition of taxable profit. We know that devolution of corporation tax to Northern Ireland has been a hot topic of discussion in recent times—and the same arguments, it seems to me, are relevant to Wales.
Wales should be empowered to reap the benefits of its resources. The land and water of Wales should be used for the greatest environmental, social and economic gain. All powers and revenues associated with existing resource taxes, such as landfill tax and aggregates levy, should—subject to EU approval—be transferred. Wales should also have the power to create and levy new taxes on all aspects of resource exploitation, including water and renewable energy. Indeed, we should have the greatest possible devolution of taxation powers and revenues permitted by European law.
Some specific taxes, powers and revenues relating to taxes on property and land— such as stamp duty, land tax and capital gains tax on property and land—should, we think, be transferred to Wales, as should air passenger duty, which is being transferred to Northern Ireland under this year’s Finance Bill. The debate on that very measure is taking place in Westminster Hall as we speak.
We also support the transfer of alcohol and tobacco duties, including the ability to place a minimum price per unit on alcohol sales. We do not think that national insurance contributions should be devolved in the current circumstances, as they are notionally hypothecated for the funding of social protection services. Those services are reserved to the UK Government and are needs-related, with common treatment of citizens throughout the UK. However, although the lack of a devolved benefits system rules out the devolution of national insurance contributions at present, we would like them to be devolved in the longer term.
The commission will receive its oral evidence during the coming weeks. We look forward to its report on part I later this year, and hope for the swift introduction of any recommended changes that receive support across the political ground and from experts.
The Welsh Government recently opened their consultation on a Welsh legal jurisdiction, and I shall be responding to it despite the Secretary of State’s rather disappointing pronouncements on the matter last week. I shall also be giving evidence to the constitutional committee of the Assembly in a few weeks’ time. Great changes have taken place in the Welsh legal system which would have been unthinkable some years ago, such as the creation of Legal Wales and the establishment of the administrative court for Wales. There are regular sittings of the Court of Appeal—both civil and criminal—in Cardiff, and judicial review cases involving Welsh public bodies are routinely being heard in Wales.
Following last year’s successful referendum, the National Assembly for Wales now has the power to legislate in devolved areas without the interference of Westminster, and as a distinct body of Welsh law begins to be built, we shall inevitably need a distinct Welsh legal jurisdiction. However, that must go hand in hand with Wales taking full responsibility for justice matters. It is common sense that the right to administer the justice of laws that apply to the people of Wales should be placed in the hands of our own Government.
It worries me that the Legal Services Commission will shortly rule out the one Welsh commissioner representing Wales, given the developments relating to, for instance, legal aid. I am sure that that would not happen if Cardiff had any say in the matter. As I have said, a corpus of Welsh law is developing. Divergence between Welsh and English legal practice and procedure in family law, criminal law and, obviously, administrative law is taking place each and every day, and anyone who practises in those areas must know what Welsh law dictates.
I believe that the National Assembly for Wales is the only legislature in the world that does not have a distinct legal jurisdiction. That is an anomaly, but I think it is also a bit of a nonsense. We need only look at the introduction of elected police commissioners—which is likely to take place, despite the disagreement of our representatives in Wales and many Welsh Members of Parliament—the cuts in community justice through the courts closure programme and the continued failure to introduce either bilingual juries or a north Wales prison to see that the interests of Wales are not best served by its continuing slavishly to follow the line set down by London.
As Members will know from earlier debates and votes, we feel strongly about the devolution of permit powers for energy generation above 50 MW on land, and we believe that all powers in Welsh waters should be transferred to the Welsh Government. All parties have backed the change to some extent, and the question should be “how much” rather than “whether”. I am sure that the issue will be debated at some length in part II of the Silk commission. The media will also be discussed keenly, especially in view of the changes forced on S4C by the UK Government in the past two years and the interest of the Welsh Government in such matters.
As has already been said, devolution is not an event but a process, and I think it right to revisit and assess its workings. The people of Wales gave their opinion in the referendum last March, and they agreed to it. According to every opinion poll, they want more powers over policing, justice, energy and the media, at the very least. We look forward to the publication of the reports and their implementation as soon as possible, and we hope that the necessary Government time for any legislation that may be required will be found during the present Parliament.
I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to take part in the debate. I apologise for speaking for so long; I probably took too many interventions. I am also pleased that so many Members wish to contribute to the debate.
Order. To enable as many Members as possible to speak, we are now introducing a time limit of six minutes, with the usual injury time for two interventions.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr Llwyd. However, given the time limit, I hope he will forgive me if on this occasion I do not respond to any of the points he raised.
Yesterday, a very emotional event took place in Cardiff: the Wales football team played Costa Rica in the Gary Speed memorial match. Several great tributes were paid to Gary, but perhaps the greatest was the behaviour of those who attended the match. Those people were a credit to their country.
Indeed, over the past few days there have been several sporting events involving Wales or Welsh teams, all of which have been a great tribute to our country. I cannot pass up the opportunity to say in the Chamber that it was great news that Wales won the triple crown at Twickenham—that will unite the House on this occasion.
The Wales rugby team is captained by Sam Warburton. He attended a school in my constituency: Whitchurch high school. It is the largest school in Wales. I recently had an opportunity to remind the Prime Minister that, in this Olympics year, that school has won the award of state school of the year for sport. That is a great accolade for Wales and for that school. The school has also produced Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur and Geraint Thomas, the Olympic gold medallist, who we hope will again be an Olympic winner this year.
Following that rugby match, a WBO light-heavyweight fight took place in Cardiff, with Nathan Cleverly defending his title. In a week in which a boxer who was fighting for a heavyweight title embarrassed our country, Nathan Cleverly—a Cardiff university mathematics graduate—was a credit to it.
Cardiff City football club’s performance in the Carling cup final was also a credit to our country; that statement too ought to unite the House. I was at Wembley watching that game, and Lord Kinnock was sitting three rows behind me. He is a great supporter of Cardiff City, of course, but that is the first time I have ever seen him at a match when he has not been in the directors’ box. I want to be collegiate, however.
I am very concerned about football governance. It is worth bearing in mind that although Cardiff City was playing at Wembley for the fourth time in five years, during that period there have been winding-up orders in relation to the club. There have also been administrations in relation to Wrexham football club and several other clubs in the UK.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Will the hon. Gentleman also congratulate the Swansea City football club model? Supporters have a share in the club, and the team is doing Wales proud in the premier league.
I am very happy to note the success of Swansea City, which the hon. Gentleman has put on the record, but as I still hope to retain the support of my electorate, I will say no more on that subject.
Returning to the question of football governance, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee has produced a report to which the Government have responded. The Minister for Sport and the Olympics has said that football is the worst-run sport in the country. Sadly, that is true, and it is true not only in respect of the
Football League clubs: even the top teams, such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, have ownership structures that cause genuine concern.
My hon. Friend mentioned the administration order that caused Wrexham football club, one of the oldest clubs in this country, to leave the Football League. Does he welcome, as I do, the establishment of the Wrexham Supporters Trust as the governing body for that ancient and proud club?
I do, as I believe that supporters trusts have a big role to play. I give credit to Peter Hunt, with whom I work in my role as chair of the all-party group on building societies and financial mutuals, because he was the inspiration behind the creation of supporters trusts in this country—indeed, my own team has a trust.
I wish to expand a little on the concept of supporters trusts having much more of a governance role within teams, which has been raised today. If we are to see changes in football governance, it is crucial that we involve supporters, who are the core that keeps these clubs going for so very long. Clubs have a resonance across the whole community. Cardiff City used to play at Ninian Park, which was named after someone who has a plaque here in this Chamber, Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart. He acted as the guarantor of that club when it was first formed more than 100 years ago. No matter who has owned the club over the years, the supporters have retained their commitment to it, and they are not playing a sufficient part in football governance.
As my hon. Friend said, we have seen people coming together to try to create these supporters trusts. The Minister with responsible for sport has given a deadline to the football associations and, curiously, in the case of the Football Association of Wales a form of reverse devolution has been undertaken, whereby it has asked that in relation to some of these issues the Football Association answer for it. I certainly hope that the football authorities respond positively to the DCMS Committee report. The deadline for them to respond is today, which, curiously, is the day when Cardiff City and the other football clubs will publish their accounts. What those accounts will show is a mountain of debt for football clubs right across the country. Many clubs are teetering on the edge and, against that background, it is important that we improve the financial management of these clubs and deal with the issue of their ownership in a way that gives fans a real role to play. That is an appropriate way that we, as parliamentarians, can play our part, just as so many of the football fans who were at Wembley last Sunday did our country proud.
I am going to take things up a level by talking about the biggest issue in my constituency. I appreciate the words that have preceded my contribution, but everywhere I go in my constituency I encounter frightened people. They are concerned about the benefit cuts and about the information that they are receiving from Jobcentre Plus, and they are afraid. These are not workshy, feckless people; they are hard-working families in my constituency, and they are facing unparalleled threats to their future. Every day, wherever I go, people stop me to ask questions and talk about what is going to happen to them. I talk to families who now rely on bargain stores, no longer shop in the large supermarkets and put things back on the shelf because they can no longer afford them. They have to make serious decisions about what they need to have and what they cannot have, and I am concerned about future generations.
New food banks are being set up across the country at a growing rate of one and a half every week. A new one is being set up in Caldicot in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a real sign of growing food poverty in this country under the policies carried out by this Government?
I agree with my hon. Friend and I appreciate her words. We have a wonderful food bank in Swansea. It was the food bank for Gorseinon and was doing sterling work—I have supported it 180%— but it is now expanding to cover the whole city and I would like to praise it for its work and determination.
People are struggling, and when we realise that, on average, 25% of any family’s income goes on keeping a roof over their head and 20% is spent on food and essential items, we can see that that does not leave a lot at the end of the week. People are struggling and families have to make tough decisions. It does not take a genius to realise that that they end up robbing Peter to pay Paul, which results in even more problems for us to solve as a community.
Labour has always believed that the best way to tackle poverty is to provide meaningful work and to move families forward and out of poverty. Supporting mothers is a very important aspect of that and we must think about the effect that the introduction of the universal credit will have on such families, and in particular on women. Wales is one of 12 regions in the UK and will be the fifth worst loser in this.
There was a great fanfare on Tuesday about a new coalition of charities and organisations that have come together as Cuts Watch Cymru, including Oxfam and Save the Children—names which are well known in our communities and belong to reputable organisations. When we read their document, which talks about the momentous effect that the cuts will have on generations to come, we have to sit up and listen. This is not babble or chatter: low-income parents are facing potential losses.
I have read the report that the hon. Lady mentions and I am absolutely disgusted by its contents. The scaremongering within the report is utterly unacceptable, and the conclusion states:
“Despite the paucity of evidence”— the paucity of evidence—
“we can nevertheless conclude that welfare reform is likely to have a serious effect on people in Wales.”
That is not a serious report; it is Labour party propaganda disguised behind the charities that the hon. Lady mentioned.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comment, but obviously I do not agree. These charities are reputable, I have worked for some of them, and
I can certainly tell him that the families I represent in Swansea East meet the criteria and will be in difficulty in the future.
The hon. Lady is making some very important and pressing points, but how will the Labour party’s policy of a regional benefit cap help the situation?
We must consider this in the round, because we need to tackle some of the problems we have. It is not easy and I do not say that we have the answer, but we must look at all the avenues. I support that policy, but I am watching it very carefully. We need to do that and we need to see how it would work.
The minimum number of working hours has gone up from 16 to 24 a week, and what a problem that has created. It has created problems for the employers in my constituency who are willing to employ people part time but cannot increase their hours.
Is my hon. Friend aware that although there is a willingness to discard the increase in hours for people who have a disability, carers of people with a disability will still be expected to work 24 hours a week? It will be impossible for many of them to combine their caring responsibilities with working those 24 hours. They will lose their income and will be plunged into poverty.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and that, again, affects people with families. Not only is that unacceptable but we must ask: what about child care costs? Companies are already telling us that they cannot increase people’s working hours, so people and families will be penalised by losing payments. That brings me back to the following point: these people are not workshy or feckless—words that we hear so often now in the press and in this Chamber—but hard-working families.
I will not on this occasion because others want to speak.
I have been appalled by how child care costs have gone up. We asked the Library to check out the prices of child care in Wales and it found that the cheapest is, on average, about £90 a week and the most expensive is £190 a week, so there is an issue with getting access to child care. I am very concerned by the anecdotal stories I hear from mothers who are being told that they have to return to work when their child is five years old. When they explain that they have child care difficulties, they are asked—this is anecdotal and I am in the process of checking this out—why they cannot leave their children with older siblings. I am really concerned about that.
We have to make sure there is fair play for families. We have already got scared families and most of my constituents do not have the safety net of savings. They have always worked for an honest day’s pay, but that has not left them with a great deal to save. That, in itself, has been a challenge for them. They are left to worry and are concerned about all these things.
The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and Unison have recently issued information to their members and have asked them to come forward and get help from them as unions. We are all getting ready for a huge change in our society, which is going to have a long-lasting effect. I do not think that is being over-dramatic or putting things too strongly, and I remind the House that not everybody who claims help and receives benefit is not deserving of it. They are families who are under severe pressure and I see them every day in my constituency. They are out there and they are relying on us.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mrs James, who originates from my constituency and so has a lot going for her. I agree with her that the best way out of poverty is through work, and that is a huge challenge that Wales has to address. Although we have had the success of the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales, we have not made enough of our indigenous talent and business. I shall return to that point, but first let me say that it is a great pleasure to take part in this St David’s day debate. I commend the right hon. Members for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) and Glyn Davies for the part they have played in obtaining the debate, which is certainly worth having.
Our discussions so far have been very cogent and to the point. On the reform of the electoral boundaries in Wales, I have listened to everyone’s comments but I cannot believe that one can argue against having equal weight for equal votes. We should work towards a situation in which constituencies have the same number of electors. My constituency used to be far greater at one time. It was represented by great heroes such as Tom Hooson, Caerwyn Roderick and Tudor Watkins. [ Interruption. ] I shall not include Jonathan Evans because the three people I have mentioned represented it when it was a far bigger constituency and included heads of the valleys communities such as Llanelly Hill, Gilwern, Brynmawr, Cefn Coed, Hirwaun and Penderyn. People still talk about the tremendous work that those people did at a time when we did not have the communications systems that we have now.
I congratulate the Wales Office on having delivered the coalition agreement almost to full, but I add that there is more work to be done. The people of Wales engaged fully with the referendum on further powers for the Welsh Assembly and showed their determination to take forward the devolution settlement. I believe that that has contributed to the fact that, as seen in a recent poll, the appetite for independence in Wales is limited. The people of Wales see their role and that of the Welsh Assembly as increasing those powers, including the power to raise taxes and levies.
The second part of the coalition agreement that has been delivered concerns the setting up of the Silk commission. The representations from the Welsh Liberal Democrats are on the website and in a public document so I will not go into this in great detail, except to say that if the Welsh Assembly is to be truly transparent, it needs the power to raise taxes as well as to spend money. It must be able to borrow to address the large infrastructure problems in Wales, but without a stream of taxes, it does not of course have the power to borrow.
I turn to the Welsh economy and the importance of building on the quality, experience, skill and enthusiasm of people and business in Wales. Not enough is being done to encourage that and take it forward. I congratulate the university in Newport on beginning to think about a department dedicated to entrepreneurs and to encouraging their talents and enthusiasm.
I have obtained some statistics from written questions. Believe it or not, there are 210,000 businesses in Wales—a greater proportion than in the other devolved nations—but they are rather small businesses. Only 85,000 of them are VAT-registered but 125,000 are not, which means that their turnover is less than £70,000. Most of those businesses are not incorporated either. The Government pay a lot of attention to the reduction of corporation tax, but if we are to encourage business in Wales, we must encourage those businesses that are not incorporated as well. Wales has the business acumen and enthusiasm for business, but it needs to be encouraged, and those micro-businesses need to be encouraged as well.
I wish to talk in praise of the Bangor mindfulness centre in north Wales and the work that it does in my constituency with children and in helping people in work and to get people into work. The mindfulness centre is one of the top mindfulness research centres in the UK. For those who do not know what mindfulness is, I will explain that it is based on ancient practices but in a modern setting, and covers breathing and meditation techniques that are of known clinical excellence and which have been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence for recurring depression.
That is only the tip of the iceberg. It has benefits in all aspects of life, as has been realised in America, where mindfulness techniques are used in fire and police departments, to help reduce post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans returning from Iraq, in the education and health services, and even in Congress. However, they are underused in this country, and in my view Bangor university could make a big contribution, along with other universities—Oxford university is probably the leading centre in the UK and one of the leading centres in the world. The application of mindfulness has many positive effects. People who are more mindful are less likely to experience psychological distress, including depression and anxiety, and NICE has recommended it in favour of drug therapies for recurring depression.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the risks we will face if we do not use therapies such as the one he is describing so excellently is a cohort effect, leaving young people of this generation with a sense of failure and hopelessness and with poor self-image and self-worth?
Absolutely, and my next point leads directly to that. People who are more mindful have higher and more stable self-esteem that is less dependent on external factors, which is important in this day and age. Young people feel pressure from their peers, the media and, most significantly, advertising. They are told that if they do not have a particular type of trainers or shirt they are less than normal. There is a lot of pressure out there, and mindfulness is known to help young people rediscover the important things in life.
People who are more mindful enjoy more satisfying relationships, are better at communicating and less troubled by relationship conflict. Mindfulness is correlated with emotional intelligence. Being more mindful is linked to higher success in reaching academic and personal goals. If we aim to raise educational standards, this could be a good way of doing it—a point I will move on to in greater detail in a moment.
Practising meditation has repeatedly been shown to improve people’s attention. It can be used instead of drugs such as Ritalin to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. More generally, it has been shown to increase blood flow, reduce blood pressure and protect people from cardiovascular disease. People who use mindfulness and meditation are half as likely to see their GP as those who do not. Let us just imagine the benefits for the health service of cutting GP visits by 50%. These are all excellent initiatives.
To show the relevance of mindfulness, I will give some key statistics. Between 12% and 15% of children on any one day will declare themselves to be unhappy, and 29% of them were living in poverty at the height of the Tory regime. That figure was reduced to 20%. Around 10% of five-year-olds are obese, and the figure rises to 20% for 10-year-olds. Around 20% of children will experience mental illness during childhood, and the figure rises to 45% for looked-after children and 72% for children in institutional care. Mindfulness could play a great role in helping to reduce that.
Mindfulness can also be used in the workplace. I recommend to Members the book, “The Mindful Workplace”, by Michael Chaskalson. It contains recommended and proven therapies which have helped to stabilise people in work and have been used by the Rhyl city strategy. We have had training days in north Wales attended by 120 businesses, because they could see the relevance of mindfulness to them. They can spot the patterns in their workplace when a worker is off for one day a week, then two days, and then three days—and after six months they might be off for a lifetime. Mindfulness-based workplace techniques can be used to stabilise people in the workplace. Indeed, there will be another event this April, which I will attend, based on the work in that book.
I know that my hon. Friend David Tredinnick takes a great deal of interest in alternative therapies and medicines. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could help me. Are the courses run by experts in mindfulness and is it possible to train in those techniques in his constituency? Is there a school or training place there where therapists can train, or is mindfulness just being practised by a group of therapists?
A training day for education in my constituency three weeks ago was attended by Denbighshire’s director of education, who was very impressed by the statistics. There were also 56 practitioners from the health and education fields in Denbighshire, and they were highly enthused and wanted more training. There is no certification for mindfulness, which bothers me, and the course lasts only eight weeks. I believe that there needs to be more rigour and control over who goes out and practises mindfulness.
To return to the point that I was making, we will have a further training day in north Wales based on mindfulness in the workplace. When we look at the influence on productivity and the number of days that are lost through stress as a result of alcohol, drugs and lack of sleep, we find that the impact on the British economy is worth billions of pounds, but mindfulness can help to overcome that. That is not a recent discovery, and the Labour Government addressed well-being. At the New Economics Foundation in 2008, Nic Marks produced an excellent report, “Five Ways to Well-being”, and I recommend his excellent YouTube video on the TED channel, which summarises all that.
I pay tribute also—and Members might not believe this—to the Prime Minister for the work that he has done. He has recognised good practice. He discovered the issue of well-being in 2005, and that we should measure our nation’s wealth not just as economic wealth, but as personal and social wealth and as social capital. He has instructed the Office for National Statistics to come up with well-being indicators so that we can judge the success of our nation not just in financial terms, but by the impact on individuals, their families and their community.
I am not sure whether the Prime Minister has the support of his wider party, of wider society or indeed of Opposition Members, but he has taken a brave and bold decision in using well-being as an indicator of national success, and I congratulate him on that.
It is a pleasure to have an opportunity to celebrate Wales and, in my case, to celebrate Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire in the process. On the topic of celebrations, I thought it a little remiss of Mr Llwyd, the leader of Plaid Cymru, not at least to recognise yesterday’s engagement of Jonathan Edwards, my constituency neighbour, so in his leader’s absence I pass on the recommendations of Government Members for married life.
I, too, was looking for something unique to say about St David’s day, and I, like everybody else, delved into Wikipedia, discovering one thing that no other Member can claim, which is that St David was educated in Whitland in my constituency. I thought that that was a pretty good start in my relationship with the great saint, but I began to cool off when I discovered that he not only was a vegetarian but recommended abstinence from beer.
My hon. Friend is determined to claim rugby superiority over me, but he cannot claim, as I can, that at least three members of the Welsh squad were educated at the local school in Whitland, so he will have to try a little harder if he is to outdo me on that score.
In the brief time available to me, two things need mentioning. First, there is national tourism week, which is taking place for an obvious reason: its critical importance to the economy in Wales and, in particular, my part of Wales, south and west Pembrokeshire. I hope that the Chancellor will take a number of points on board in the next few weeks before he announces his Budget, because it is important to recall that there are 100,000 people in Wales alone who are employed in that industry, and that foreign people undertake almost 1 million trips to our country. That is SME territory if ever there was any, and I hope—perhaps through the Secretary of State—that even in these last few days leading up to the Budget we can make the case for any proposal that makes life easier for the tourism practitioners in our part of the country.
Pembrokeshire has a particular claim as far as that is concerned, because Members should not forget that it was recently voted the second best coastline—not in Britain, but in the world. There is no regional stuff for us, only the best or, as it turned out, the second best, but we should not underestimate the significance of that for our county and country.
Secondly, there is the significance of the Milford Haven waterway, and the proposal, in vague terms at the moment, for an enterprise zone covering that area. As hon. Members will know, Milford Haven waterway is the only thing that divides me from my hon. Friend Stephen Crabb. It is a centre of incredibly important economic activity. It has a number of companies, including RWE, which is about to launch the biggest gas-fired power station in Europe; Valero, the welcome new refinery in our area, which has taken over from the previous very good refinery, Chevron; Ledwood Engineering; and Mustang Marine. All those companies are doing important things but see themselves not as Welsh companies or Pembrokeshire companies but as UK companies competing in a UK context in a global market. Passionate though they are about their place in Wales, it is very important to them that they compete on the global stage as UK businesses. We must not do anything that undermines that or diminishes their status in the valuable work that they do, not only for the businesses in our area but across the whole UK and the rest of the world in their respective sectors.
If there is one message that we should pass on to those whose responsibility it will be to say yea or nay to an enterprise zone, it is this: let us not fixate too much on the money. So often in these cases, the money is tempting but comes with so many conditions and over such tight time scales that it is almost impossible for most reasonable people to comply. Let us focus a little more on regulation. If the enterprise zones delivered a more relaxed attitude to regulation, be it on the environment, where possible, or in planning, where that is possible given the extraordinary significance of the Milford Haven waterway, then that in itself would unlock entrepreneurial skills and business opportunities for everybody in the area and, equally importantly, for those who wish to move there to engage in beneficial activity. That is absolutely crucial in the message that we send about the enterprise zone proposals.
A less rosy story in Wales is the health service, which was touched on by Paul Murphy. I refer the House to a Mr Colin Ross and his wife Ann, who wrote to me only this week. Ann is a former NHS nurse who is suffering from a very serious form of cancer and requires the drug Cetuximab, which she and her family have had an endless struggle to obtain. She and her husband say:
“Politics should play no part in the care of the sick. The reality of political ploys in the Wales NHS are free prescriptions, free car parks and recently, the inequality of, where there is clinical need, PIP transplants will be remedied at the expense of the Welsh NHS. These are all transparent examples of the lack of judgement in the care and well being of the community in Wales and these ploys speak volumes as to the morality and self serving actions of our political representatives.”
It does not matter whether that is right or wrong; if that is what our nation is thinking, if that is what people are suffering when they are trying to deal with—
I believe that the person of whom my hon. Friend speaks is suffering from bowel cancer, and I want to make a couple of points about that with which I hope that he will associate himself. First, the Wales parliamentary team were successful not only in defeating England last Saturday before the big match on Sunday but in raising over £10,000 for Bowel Cancer UK. Secondly, there is the importance of awareness. Bowel cancer is a disease that can be caught early, and that is why I am enthusiastic about the screening programme that has developed right across Britain. If someone has bowel cancer and it is caught early, they can live an absolutely full life. They can not only set up and become captain of a rugby team, but may even become a Member of Parliament.
When it comes to this subject, my hon. Friend has no equal in this House and outside. We all recognise and respect the work that he has been able to do on behalf of so many people.
The moral of the story is that we should be very wary about the unforeseen consequences of devolution. We have discussed devolution as though it were the most important subject in itself, but the things that really matter are the health service, housing, jobs, and economic activity. However, devolution can have a profound effect on those matters, and often it has an adverse effect. I wonder whether Opposition Members agree with what the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, said when he expressed caution about devolution:
“You can never be sure where nationalist sentiment ends and separatist sentiment begins”.
That is a lesson for all of us. It was right when he said it and it is right now. We are here because we are proud to represent Wales and inspired by what it has to offer. Let us ensure that, in extolling the virtues of our country and supporting the aspirations of our constituents, we do so as part of the United Kingdom and are not marginalised by petty party political interests.
It is a pleasure to follow Simon Hart, who said that his coastline was the second best in Wales and in the United Kingdom. If he wants to see the best coastline in Wales and the United Kingdom, I suggest that he comes to the Isle of Anglesey. I will circumnavigate the 125 miles of coastline that surround my constituency with him.
I welcome the contribution of Jonathan Evans, who talked about raising the spirits of Wales through sport. It is important to do that, and there is no better way to do so than by beating the English at Twickenham. I want to put on record the excellent performance of George North from my constituency not just in the triple crown win, but at the World cup. He is an ysgol Bodedern boy and proud. He not only represents Wales, but is already a world-class player.
My remarks will concentrate on two matters. The first is enterprise zones, and in particular energy enterprise zones in Wales. I am pleased that the Welsh Assembly Government have chosen to focus the enterprise zones on particular industries. It is good to concentrate people’s minds and to get inward investment and build skills at the level of individual industries. It is important to show that Wales has the potential to be a world leader in energy, in particular in green and low-carbon energy. My constituency is a microcosm of that.
On green energy, is my hon. Friend aware that I switched on the 30 turbines of North Hoyle offshore wind farm eight years ago and that the shadow Secretary of State for Wales switched on Rhyl Flats offshore wind farm two years ago? In two years’ time, 200 turbines will be turned on at Gwynt y Môr. It will be the biggest concentration of offshore wind farms in the world. Is that not something to be proud of on St David’s day?
I have heard that my hon. Friend switched on the North Hoyle wind turbines. I have heard it 32 times and it is always a pleasure. I will come on to wind power later.
It is important that we have balance in our energy policy. I believe that this Government, like the previous Government, are working towards that. We all want to decarbonise the economy and electricity generation. The best way to do that is to have a balanced policy. We need base load energy sources, intermittent wind and tidal sources, and various other sources such as biomass. I believe that the base load needs to come from nuclear power. I am proud that the RWE and E.ON joint venture, Horizon, will invest billions of pounds in my constituency. That will create jobs, and not just short-term jobs, but quality jobs for life. In developing a low-carbon economy, it is important that we focus on the employment potential of green industries and green generation in particular.
I want to deal with the thorny issue of wind power. There is confusion over the Government’s policy. I will be less generous to the Prime Minister than my hon. Friend Chris Ruane, because I remember when he used to refer to wind turbines as “bird blenders”. He has now done a complete spin. In fact, he has done so many spins on this issue that he could generate electricity himself. He is now very much pro-wind power and says that it hard-headedness to say that it needs to be part of the policy.
I will argue that wind power needs to be part of the mix. With the peaks and troughs in electricity demand, we need to be able to shut off some of the supply. Wind is the most practical way of doing that. However, I believe that the large-scale nature of wind turbines means that they should be sited not on land, but offshore. Onshore, we should have microgeneration, which could bring community benefits by allowing schools and hospitals to get green energy.
My hon. Friend refers to community benefits. Is he aware that npower renewables currently gives £30,000 to Prestatyn town council and £30,000 to Rhyl town council every year from the North Hoyle site, and intends to provide £20 million in community benefits to the north Wales coastline over the next 20 years?
I am certainly aware of that, and Anglesey will make a bid for some of the money available from such companies. We had wind turbines on Anglesey early, and nobody can accuse the people of Anglesey of being nimbys. We have a good mix of energy—onshore, offshore, nuclear—and there are various plans at the moment. However, we have to get the balance right. The nature of renewables obligation certificates for onshore wind means that it is attractive to develop onshore technology. The Government are undertaking a review, which is why I have brought the matter to the attention of the Wales Office. It should ensure that developing offshore is more attractive.
There are some good plans for offshore developments that can benefit the north Wales region, particularly the Irish sea development, which is some 15 km off the shore of Anglesey and very close to the Isle of Man and Cumbria. I hope that the Minister is listening, because I want Wales, and particularly north Wales, to benefit greatly from that development.
We should also have port development. I have raised that issue before with the Wales Office. I lobbied the last Government to put port development into the equation, and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend Mr Darling, made £60 million available for ports. The current Government came in and changed that fund so that it was meant for economic development. When it was for ports, which are a reserved matter, funding could have gone to any port in the United Kingdom. As a consequence—I think an unintended consequence—of the Government’s changing it, it became subject to Barnett consequentials, leaving just £3 million for the whole of Wales.
Anybody who knows about port development will know that enabling ports to accommodate the manufacturing and maintenance of large wind turbines will cost tens of millions of pounds. Ports in England will have a distinct advantage over ports in Wales. Those in Barrow and the north-east, which will service the area that I am talking about, will be able to spend quite a bit more on development. There is a danger that many jobs will then drift to those areas. I hope that the Minister will take that on board and lobby hard for us to get our fair share. To say that it is up the Welsh Assembly is not on, because then money would have to be taken from health, education or various other areas. The original £60 million was for port development, and ports remain a reserved matter for the House of Commons. The ports of Wales should be treated equally to those of England.
The hon. Gentleman is trying to stir things up between members of the Labour party, but he knows that I am frank enough to say that I wanted the same Minister to come to the Welsh Affairs Committee when she was Health Minister. We should work together. However, the Wales Office must stand up for Wales, and on this occasion it has let Welsh ports down. Hartlepool is bidding for more than £10 million, yet Wales cannot bid for any more than £3 million from the same pot.
Wales has great potential to create jobs in green energy. I want it to be the pioneering centre for green energy in not just Britain but Europe, using our tidal streams. We should also bring the barrage plan back into the equation. We should look for ways of funding it, so that it can generate 5% to 6% of the UK’s electricity. We should put a road across it, so that we can link England and Wales physically, just as Welsh Members of this UK Parliament should talk for England and Wales.
As ever, it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Albert Owen. I concur with everything he said about the balance in wind policy—a shift away from some of the large-scale projects of the sort that are about to be inflicted on us in mid Wales to projects out at sea would be welcome.
I thank the right hon. Members for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) for securing the debate. It is wholly appropriate to hold it today—indeed, I think that it is expected. We lament the fact that we did not have it last year, despite the Secretary of State’s efforts, and I remember attending the Backbench Business Committee with Jonathan Edwards and others.
At that time, we were in the run-up to the referendum that brought an end to the unfortunate legislative competence order process and we had yet to hear about the Silk commission. I greatly welcome the action that the Secretary of State and the Wales Office took on both matters to ensure that they happened speedily in the early days of the coalition Government.
The challenge that now faces the Wales Office and the Government is to ensure that when Mr Paul Silk reports—on part I, which deals with fiscal powers and taxation, and part II, which covers the National Assembly’s powers—those matters will not be left on a shelf to collect dust or parked in some cul-de-sac, but be actioned. I sincerely hope that the Wales Office is successful when it comes to talking to Government business managers about legislative slots in the second half of the Parliament. There is an expectation that those matters will be carried further.
Devolution has been described as a process rather than an event. There have been memorable events along the route, not least the creation of the National Assembly, but the process is continuing and demands will grow. I should like briefly to take the opportunity to reflect on three issues that spring to mind from the past year as pointing, at least in my view, to the logic of rooting decision making in Cardiff bay, and to the need to move further in that direction.
The first issue is energy consents. The National Assembly has the ability to define strategic search areas through TAN 8 for the large-scale wind farm projects that the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) and for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and I are challenging in our respective constituencies. Although we have great concerns about the projects, it seems sensible that the Assembly defines the scale of those schemes, ensuring that they fit in with Assembly targets for renewables. Yet the ultimate sign-off of those policies happens in the offices of the Department of Energy and Climate Change in London. Welsh Liberal Democrats have supported recent ten-minute rule Bills on that matter to transfer powers for schemes of over 50 MW to be deliberated and determined in Cardiff bay.
The second matter—consumer advocacy and rights—might seem small. It arose during consideration of the Public Bodies Bill. Consumer Focus Wales is an excellent body, which has been sensitive to the needs of Welsh consumers. It has an excellent record of advocacy on behalf of the people of Wales. Yet that body is to be abolished under the Public Bodies Bill, and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Ministers in Whitehall rather than Assembly Members in Cardiff will determine the model that applies to Wales.
The third matter is broadcasting. I met S4C officials this week, and they are rightly determined to make the new model of governance work. They are clearing the agenda and want to move S4C forward. However, during consideration of the Public Bodies Bill, it became clear that—inevitably, I fear—there was a perception that the arrangement was a Westminster-BBC one, with which S4C would have to comply. Given the Assembly’s holistic approach in promoting bilingualism and a bilingual education policy, and its responsibility for culture and heritage, it is again wholly appropriate that Welsh language broadcasting should be devolved.
I cite those three examples, which will doubtless feature in Mr Paul Silk’s work. I am glad that all parties have collaborated in setting up the Silk commission. The Secretary of State worked hard to ensure that all parties would be involved in it. I will not enter the debate about whether we should have written submissions, but all four political parties will have to be held to account.
The Secretary of State will not be surprised that I had the same discussion, in that there was no specific request. I am mindful that there is a large section of opinion within Wales that S4C and broadcasting should be devolved. That is a matter for the Silk commission, and I hope we have that debate in the wake of Paul Silk’s deliberations.
I shall return to the point about tourism made by Simon Hart. I have the honour to chair the all-party Wales tourism and hospitality group, of which he is a member. We heard evidence last week from the British Hospitality Association and the Welsh Tourism Alliance on the critical importance of tourism and the huge potential for growth in all Welsh constituencies. In Ceredigion alone, 3,000 people are directly employed in hospitality and hotels. Those jobs can be protected.
One mission of those groups is on differential VAT rates. They are punching high—perhaps they are too high in their ambitions—and are pushing for a 5% rate of VAT on hotels and local attractions. There have been discussions with the Treasury, which I welcome. They believe that that could create some 80,000 jobs UK-wide. The Assembly and Westminster need to work together on those things.
Devolution is moving forward. In the last 30 seconds, I pay tribute to many people who campaigned vigorously for devolution over the years—great names in Welsh politics such as Clement Davies, Gwynfor Evans and Jim Griffiths. I should also mention Emlyn Hooson—Lord Hooson—who passed away last week. He did a great deal of work for Montgomeryshire and championed the cause of devolution in the House, introducing Bills for home rule and the creation of the Secretary of State for Wales. He was a good son of Montgomeryshire who worked very hard for his constituents. We very much miss him and send our condolences to his family.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr Williams, who is almost always a thoughtful contributor to debates in the House. I congratulate the right hon. Members for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) on their work to secure this debate.
I was slightly disappointed with the comments of Mrs Moon in relation to the event at Downing street last night. It was a great success, not only for the people who attended but for Wales. I would like to dispel the image she created that the MPs who attended were there to enjoy themselves. Of course we enjoyed ourselves, but we also worked.
For example, there is huge concern in my constituency about the impact on tourism of the north Wales railway line not having been upgraded. I discussed that in detail with members of the Llandudno hoteliers association last night. We want signalling on the north Wales line that will allow much faster and more frequent services. It has been said by many who are pitching for the new franchise that if the signalling could be improved, we could end up with a three-hour service from Llandudno Junction to London, which would give a great boost to the tourism sector in my constituency.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but electrification needs to be considered not just for but for energy efficiency. Diesel will be very expensive so we need hybrid and then electricity. Does he agree that there should be a cost-benefit analysis of electrification of the north Wales line?
I certainly agree with undertaking a cost-benefit analysis, but I am not a greedy man, and nor is the tourism sector in my constituency greedy. We want hourly train services to London from Llandudno Junction, which would be a great boost to my constituency, but I subscribe to the hon. Gentleman’s view that in the long term there should be electrification not just to Cardiff, which was a great coalition success, but to Swansea and across the north Wales line.
I also discussed at length in Downing street double-glazing windows in Llandudno. My local council has decided to go on a crusade against double-glazing windows without taking account in any way, shape or form the cost of replacement on the hoteliers in very difficult economic times.
May I reassure the hon. Gentleman—I said this in an earlier intervention—that I, too, was working last night? I was looking at innovation, skills, quality engineering jobs and engineering development in Wales. That was important. The fact that I was not at No. 10 was a matter of complete imbuggerance to me.
The Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee made it clear that he was congratulating the hon. Lady on her work, although I thought her earlier intervention gave the impression that she was working while those at No. 10 Downing street were not. In addition to discussing tourism in my constituency, I discussed the Air Training Corps in Llandudno with a senior member of the RAF—who happened to be a Welsh speaker from Denbighshire—along with the proposals from the Federation of Small Businesses for a fuel duty stabiliser to deal with petrol prices. Indeed, I put the Farmers Union of Wales in contact with the FSB, and they went away to discuss how they could make that proposal to the Treasury, to try to offer some relief from high fuel prices in rural constituencies such as mine. Last night was therefore effective in ensuring that the people of Wales had the opportunity to talk to politicians and to ensure that the messages they wanted to convey were conveyed in Downing street.
Last night was a success, but I would like to turn my attention to something else. I intervened on Mrs James in relation to the Cuts Watch Cymru report that was published on Tuesday. I was dismayed by the publicity that the BBC gave the report, because it made no mention whatever of the fact that at least 10 of the 19 organisations that subscribed to the report are in receipt of Assembly funding. I am also concerned that the report made no mention whatever of one of the most dangerous proposals that I have heard in this House, which is the Labour party’s proposal to introduce a regional benefits cap. I was in this Chamber when we debated the benefits cap, arguing in favour of a £26,000 cap, which is equal to £35,000 a year, which would be a high cap in Wales. However, it is important to point out that when that debate was held in this House—when the Labour party had proposed a regional cap—there was not a single Welsh Labour Member in attendance. I would like to know whether they were in favour of a regional benefits cap or opposed it. There is no mention of that in the Cuts Watch Cymru report.
What we get in the report, time after time, are statements that are frankly absurd, and which are in no way, shape or form supported by any facts. For example, when the report—which I have here—talks about the changes to jobseeker’s allowance, it says:
“The impact of changes to JSA are far from clear.”
It goes on to say that it is not clear how the changes to income support will affect claimants—and this is supposed to be a serious piece of work.
When we ring for advice or information, we are told, “We haven’t got that information yet,” so the position is indeed unclear. As I have said previously, we do not know what the facts are.
I am grateful for that intervention, but when the report was covered by the BBC—the people responsible for the report are the Bevan Foundation, a mysterious organisation funded by Blaenau Gwent council; indeed, I think the president is a certain Lord Kinnock, who used to have some political affiliation with the Labour party, I believe—its statements and predictions about the future of Wales under the welfare reform changes that we are proposing as a Government were presented as factual. Yet when one reads the report, one finds no evidence. My point, first, is that when those organisations—well respected organisations, as the hon. Lady pointed out—create such reports, they give credence to the scare stories about our welfare reform proposals. Those stories make people feel scared and vulnerable, even though they have no reason to feel that way because the welfare reform changes that this Government are introducing are long overdue, supported by the people of Wales and necessary in Wales. We want people to once again be better off working, but those who are unable to work to be protected. Our proposals will ensure that those who are unable to work will be protected.
For example, we hear time and again about the impact of the proposed changes on the sick and vulnerable in society. Yet the truth of the matter is that, for example, the number of cancer patients in the support group—which means that they will not be subject to any changes—will increase from 67% under the previous Government to 75% under this Government. That is a change that is a positive; that is a change that protects the vulnerable.
I will not take another intervention.
We have here a report that has been produced by a group of organisations that are, in my view, in the pocket of the Welsh Assembly. I believe that this report has been produced—dare I say it—in order to spout Labour party propaganda because the Labour party in Wales is not willing to argue its case honestly with the people of Wales. The people of Wales support the Welfare Reform Bill. They want work to pay. They want to ensure that people have the opportunity to work. The Manic Street Preachers once said that “libraries gave us power”. The next line was
“then work came and made us free”.
The Welfare Reform Bill will do that.
What a pleasure it is to see you here chairing the debate today, Mr Deputy Speaker, and sporting your daffodil. That is absolutely splendid. Before I begin, I should like to put on record the sincere apologies of the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Mr Hain, who has constituency commitments today.
I should like to thank my right hon. Friend Paul Murphy, as well as Mr Llwyd and the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) for making the case for a St David’s day debate to the Backbench Business Committee. I thank the Committee for agreeing to their request.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen opened the debate by emphasising the importance of Welsh MPs in Westminster, and the complexity of disentangling what constitutes an English matter. He also pointed out the fact that the UK Government’s Health and Social Care Bill could have major implications for the Barnett formula calculations and considerably reduce the Welsh budget. He referred to the importance of everyone, whatever their views, engaging in the discussion ensuing from the Scottish debate on independence.
The Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, David T. C. Davies, focused on the Committee’s recent report on inward investment in Wales. The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd made the case for devolving taxation powers to the Welsh Government. Jonathan Evans spoke of Wales’s sporting prowess and mentioned football governance. He managed to mention a school from his constituency—Whitchurch—as did Simon Hart, who mentioned Whitland. My hon. Friend Albert Owen then mentioned ysgol Bodedern. We certainly have something to be proud of in our schools in Wales.
My hon. Friend Mrs James reminded us of the reality of everyday life for the many less well-off people across Wales who are being badly hit by changes to tax credits and welfare reform. I should like to place on record the fact that my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms has made the Labour position clear on these matters. It is that there have always been different levels for housing benefit according to regional factors, and it is that part that would vary regionally, not the disability element or any other part of the welfare reforms. My right hon. Friend made that quite clear in the media and at the Dispatch Box during the debate on those issues.
I will not give way.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire spoke of the importance of small businesses in Wales, and my hon. Friend Chris Ruane praised the benefits of mindfulness. The hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire reminded us of the beauty of Pembrokeshire, only to be upstaged immediately by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the contribution of local companies to the UK economy, which is extremely important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn referred to the need for clear policies on energy, and I shall return to that matter shortly. Mr Williams made the case for devolving Welsh language broadcasting. Sadly, Guto Bebb spent a great deal of time criticising a report, when his constituents would probably have been more interested if he had taken up the very real issue of rocketing prices at the petrol pump, particularly in rural Wales.
If we are to see the economy in Wales flourish, we need economic policies from the UK Government that will stimulate growth. We need fiscal policies that will strike the right balance between paying down the deficit and getting the economy going. We need taxation policies that do not squeeze lower and middle income households so hard that they have no money to put back into the Welsh economy and are struggling even to pay the most essential household bills.
I was dismayed to hear the Secretary of State reiterate at Welsh questions yesterday that she was in favour of sticking to plan A. I am sorry to have to point out to her that her Government’s plan A is hurting but not working. Sometimes I wonder what planet she is living on. She only has to walk down any high street in Wales to see shops closing and the economy on its knees. The latest high-profile victim is Peacocks. We certainly welcome its takeover by the Edinburgh Woollen Mill and the jobs that that has secured, but 3,000 jobs will still be lost and more than 200 shops will close, including both the Peacocks stores in Llanelli.
No matter what initiatives the Welsh Government undertake—I point out two in particular: the excellent Jobs Growth Wales programme aimed at creating 4,000 jobs a year, with an emphasis on the private sector; and help for business in the form of some £55 million in grants and loans—UK economic policy is enormously important in helping or hindering the success of those initiatives. When it comes to inward investment to Wales from overseas, I certainly agree that there should be the closest possible collaboration between the Welsh Government and other relevant bodies such as UK Trade & Investment to avoid duplication and increase Wales’s outreach overseas.
We are not going to get anywhere, however, unless we have a UK Government providing the right economic and business climate to make the UK a preferred destination for investment to business and manufacturing. When Labour was in government, an additional 1.1 million new businesses were created. By the time we left office in 2010, the World Bank ranked the UK as the best country in Europe for ease of doing business and fourth best in the world, ahead of the US. While there is always room for improvement and we should seek to streamline wasteful bureaucracy, time-consuming duplication and form filling, to use cutting red tape as the main strategy for driving economic recovery, as this Government seem to be trying to do—and, indeed, as the Under-Secretary for Wales said yesterday at Welsh questions—is addressing the wrong problem. That is to avoiding the two very real issues of creating the right economic conditions to foster growth and creating the right political climate—that is, the certainty about policy that is needed to encourage long-term investment in manufacturing and jobs.
The Government’s attitude to business and industry matters—it matters very much to Wales. What business and industry need more than anything are certainty and confidence that the UK Government will not move the goalposts. It is extremely disturbing that this Conservative-Lib Dem Government have created so much uncertainty about their commitment to green policies that the UK has slipped from third to 13th in the world for investment in green growth.
The Secretary of State and her Cabinet colleagues need to restore business confidence and create a climate of certainty before they damage any more industries or frighten off any more potential investors. We have seen how the UK Government’s catastrophic imposition of sudden changes to the feed-in tariffs for solar panels is already putting hundreds of jobs at risk in Wales. Here was a scheme that gave a real boost to private industry in Wales—a scheme that was unlocking capital and attracting people to use their savings or borrow money to invest in solar panels. By investing that £10,000 or £20,000, they were providing private sector jobs in the Welsh economy. What other scheme do the Government have to unlock capital in that way and use it to stimulate growth in the local economy?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn mentioned, before the election Labour set up a £60 million fund to attract investment in offshore wind power. In 2010, the current Prime Minister promised to continue the policy, but nearly two years later just £1.2 million has been awarded and many companies are looking elsewhere to invest. Indeed, big investors in wind energy, such as General Electric, Vestas, Gamesa and Mitsubishi, are threatening to take millions of pounds worth of green jobs abroad because they are losing patience with this Government. They do not know where they stand, and they now seriously doubt the Tory Government’s commitment to renewables.
The UK has some of the best wind resource in the world. Indeed, the UK is the windiest country in the EU, and we have our fair share of it in Wales, but the signals coming from the UK Government are confused, hesitant and lukewarm. When companies are making big decisions about where to build energy installations or set up factories to manufacture the components, they need to know what Government policies are, what returns they can expect and what the financial incentives are—they need a climate of certainty. I urge the Secretary of State and her Cabinet colleagues to provide clear policies to attract green investment.
Moving on to UK Government policy that affects Wales, only a fortnight ago we heard the very worrying news that Britain could lose its treasured triple A rating—the very justification the Chancellor has used for his crippling austerity measures. Why would the UK lose its triple A status? Because this Government have forgotten that in order to pay back the deficit, they also have to think of stimulating growth in the economy to make the money to pay back the deficit. That is where this Government are failing. This Government inherited a growing economy, so it is no wonder that people are asking why we have seen almost no growth for a year and why the Government have had to revise their borrowing up by £158 billion.
We are seeing just what Labour has been warning of since 2010: the Chancellor is cutting too fast and too deep, and by hitting lower and middle income households the hardest, he is hitting the very people who spend their money most immediately back into the Welsh economy just to keep themselves clothed and fed. That is not only deeply unfair; it is economic madness. It is already having a direct effect on the Welsh economy, and we have only seen the beginning of the cuts. Let us make no mistake: over the next three years, the Government will—according to House of Commons figures—take £6 billion out of the pockets of people in Wales, and that will include £800 million in tax credits. Tax credits are money that families who are working hard and trying to do the right thing are given to top up their incomes, and they need to spend that money straight away in order to keep their homes warm and their children fed and clothed.
What else is the Chancellor cutting? He is cutting £7 million from health in pregnancy grants, and £113 million from child trust funds, and the freezing of child benefit is equivalent to a cut of £249 million. He is cutting £209 million from disability living allowance, and £43 million from lone parent benefits. All that is coming out of the Welsh economy, as is the £1.5 billion cut that will result from the use of CPI rather than RPI to uprate benefits, and all that is happening against the background of pay freezes—not to mention the more than £2 billion cut represented by the rise in VAT.
What we need now is a real economic stimulus from the UK Government to back up the Welsh Government’s initiatives on jobs and help for industry, and that is what I ask the Secretary of State to provide. I ask her to look at Labour’s five-point plan for stimulating the economy, and to cut VAT, boost jobs and stand up for Wales by doing something that will really help to get the Welsh economy going. People cannot see any help at all coming from the Secretary of State to us. They cannot see the Secretary of State standing up for Wales, and that is what they would like to see.
It gives me great pleasure to stand at the Dispatch Box on St David’s day, and I congratulate Paul Murphy and others on securing the debate. I will not be taking interventions, as Nia Griffith did not take any, and regrettably we have very little time left.
However, I will offer the hon. Lady, on St David’s day, a lovely bunch of daffodils from Dreams and Wishes, which I hope she will take home and enjoy.
I congratulate everyone who has taken part in the debate, particularly those on the Government Benches. I am exceedingly proud that we have had a 100% turnout —apart from my hon. Friend Alun Cairns, who, on behalf of the House of Commons, is on abroad on business with a Select Committee. We have certainly been standing up for Wales. I only regret that that there has been such a thin turnout on the other side, with the honourable exception of Plaid Cymru, which also had a 100% turnout. I also greatly regret that the shadow Secretary of State was not standing up for Wales in the House this afternoon.
This Government are tackling Britain’s problems head on. We recognised that deficit reduction and continuing to ensure economic recovery was the most urgent issue facing Britain, as it still is. After all, it was the Labour party, when it was in government, that left us, the coalition Government, with an interest payment of £120 million a day on the debt that it had racked up. That interest is being paid by every family in the United Kingdom, including families in Wales. We are dealing with those debts, we are securing the long-term stability and low interest rates that are the building blocks for creating prosperity, and we are making Britain competitive once more by reducing tax rates and lifting the deadening cloak of regulation.
The building blocks for recovery are in place, and, as the latest employment figures for Wales show, there are grounds for optimism about the economy, but we all know that this will not be an easy ride. The economic outlook remains very challenging, and the challenges are particularly acute in Wales. But, notwithstanding the naysayers on the Opposition Benches, we in Government are playing our part in making the conditions right for Britain to invest in Wales. We are delivering rail electrification to Wales as part of £1 billion of investment in the Great Western main line. We are investing £60 million in superfast broadband for Wales. We have lowered corporation tax as part of a package of support for business, and have lifted 52,000 lower-paid taxpayers out of income tax altogether. Those major investments demonstrate the way in which Wales benefits from being part of a strong United Kingdom, to which many Members referred. The right hon. Member for Torfaen confirmed that. Although we may not agree on some things, we certainly agree on Wales’s place in the United Kingdom.
Many Members referred to the relationship between the UK Government and the Welsh Government. Responsibility for the Welsh economy is shared between London and Cardiff. Our Government are getting the macro-economic conditions right, but the Welsh Government must also rise to the challenge. We must work to steer a clear course for economic resurgence in Wales through co-operation. The Welsh Government must meet the challenge set by this House’s Welsh Affairs Committee to work in closer collaboration, especially with UK Trade & Investment, to attract inward investment into Wales. Several Members made that point. We need the Welsh Government to grasp the nettle of public sector reform by taking off the blinkers of political dogma and upping the pace of reform. That point was also frequently made in this debate, especially in respect of health.
I am encouraged, however, by some recent Welsh Government initiatives, such as their response to the coalition’s establishment of enterprise zones in England by creating similar, and much-needed, zones in Wales. The Welsh Government must do more to make Wales an open and welcoming place in which to do business. I was saddened by the First Minister’s recent remarks supporting a financial transactions tax, as that would cost the UK 500,000 jobs. That remark shows that there is still a long way to go.
I want to respond to some of the many and varied points made by Members. The right hon. Member for Torfaen, a man of high distinction and service to Government and country, said we must work together, and his advice should be heeded by his own party. He was critical, however, of Ministers’ knowledge across Government, but the current system of devolution was created by a Labour Government. He should know that we now have a devolution Ministers’ network, with a Minister in every Department looking at how we operate and at levels of understanding of devolution. My officials and my excellent Minister work ceaselessly to educate people across the board on the meaning of devolution, in order to ensure that it works better.
The right hon. Member for Torfaen also mentioned the Barnett consequentials and health. He should know that the Government have protected the health spend for this comprehensive spending review period, which has benefited Wales, even though the Welsh Government have chosen not to offer similar protection. If in the longer term—post-2015—the provisions of the Health and Social Care Bill were to result in less spend on health, that might impact on the Barnett formula, but none of us knows whether that is going to be the case. It is also worth noting that the previous Government increased private sector involvement in health, yet spend per head in Wales rose and remains above the English average.
There was, once again, discussion about the initial proposals of the Boundary Commission for Wales. I think the right hon. Gentleman knows that they are based on the principles of equality and fairness; my hon. Friend Roger Williams made that point. The right hon. Gentleman has said several times that these proposals are partisan, but that is entirely wrong. There is nothing partisan in seeking a fairer basis for representation in Parliament. I would venture to say that it is the Labour party that is driven by self-interest, in seeking to preserve the blatant unfairness of the current arrangements. There is nothing unfair about making votes and constituencies more equal. It is the current arrangements that are unfair, with some constituencies being much larger than others and votes counting for more in some constituencies than they do in others.
My hon. Friend David T. C. Davies is my surfing hero and of the Beach Boys era, as he told us. The Select Committee he chairs has conducted an excellent inquiry. I congratulate him once again and note that he would like a dedicated trade agency to promote Wales. Although the Welsh Development Agency has recently hit the headlines and there have been attempts to rubbish it in the press, I do not think that what has been said is the case. The WDA is well known, if nothing else. It is a name that falls from our lips, it has made Wales a brand around the world and made us feel good about Wales. His comments about the wine at the reception last night are very well founded. I have visited the award-winning vineyard he mentioned and I can tell him that that white wine is absolutely delicious, although, sadly, I had none of it last night.
Mr Llwyd agrees on the point about the WDA and is a beauty to behold in his place; I think we are attending the same event this evening, but I may not have the opportunity to change. I was very interested in the list of taxes that he wished to see devolved. He must understand that the Silk commission is working on how the accountability of the Assembly and the Welsh Government could be improved. One way of doing that is to devolve powers over certain taxes to Cardiff Bay and it is open to the Silk commission to consider the devolution of any taxes, although in practice it will probably be considering the case for devolution of certain fixed taxes, such as the aggregates levy, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and the landfill tax. The commission is unlikely to recommend the devolution of more mobile taxes, such as VAT, because in certain cases, such as that one, we would need EU agreement. In addition, the mobility of taxes such as capital gains tax and VAT, and the porous nature of the England-Wales border, would probably militate against their being effective tools to enhance accountability.
My hon. Friend Jonathan Evans took us into an area of great celebration, mentioning not only the triple crown, but Cardiff City and of course the Swans, who are doing so well and will definitely stay up. May I just say that it was such a delight to see Sam Warburton and Warren Gatland at No. 10 last night and to be able to celebrate their achievements for Wales? I have comforting words for my hon. Friend on the licensing model for football administration, as that is certainly being looked at by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It is awaiting the football authorities’ proposals in response to the Government’s ideas for a licensing system and other reforms on supporter ownership.
I am not going to have time to cover everything from the legal system, tourism, enterprise zones, S4C and welfare even to the forthcoming nuptials of Jonathan Edwards, but I would just like to say that for me there is no more important debate in the calendar than the St David’s day debate. I very much hope that next year we will be able to have a full day’s debate, with more Members able to participate. It just remains for me to wish everybody a very happy St David’s day and a very healthy, happy, wealthy and successful Wales.
With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, may I say that you, as a Welshman, have presided over 13 speeches from Welsh Members of Parliament, together with contributions from other Members of Parliament who made interventions? We are grateful to Mr Williams for reminding the House of the death of that great Welshman Lord Hooson, and I am sure that every Member of the House sends their condolences to his family and friends.
We heard contributions from Members from all parts of Wales—that is a very important aspect of this debate—covering issues ranging from broadcasting to taxation, and mindfulness in Bangor to sport, benefits, borrowing, tourism, energy and transport. I urge the Secretary of State to follow up her point about the parliamentary calendar, and I urge the Leader of the House, who is sitting next to her, to consider the point that the St David’s day debate could well be scheduled by the Government rather than by the Backbench Business Committee. That is because it is so very important for Welsh Members to take part in this debate, which today, has been a highly successfully one.
The Secretary of State touched on the issue of the Welsh Government dealing with the economic situation. I simply say to the House that the Welsh Government have announced, among other things, a number of measures to support the Welsh economy, including £55 million to support business growth, £90 million for infrastructure projects and £75 million for job growth.
Finally, those of us who did not have the opportunity last night to taste the Welsh white wine in No. 10 Downing street—