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Devolution and Growth Across Britain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:04 pm on 3rd June 2015.

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Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth 5:04 pm, 3rd June 2015

It is a pleasure to follow Anna Turley, who made a superb maiden speech. We have a connection —our interest in steel. Tata Steel is located just outside my constituency, and I started my career as an office boy at British Steel many years ago, back in the 1980s. Perhaps she and I will share a future interest in ensuring that the costs of producing steel in this country are brought down. That will require all parties to think about the policies they introduced that increased the costs of energy for large manufacturers, such as steel companies, because of misplaced concerns about climate change.

I wish the company that the hon. Lady mentioned all the very best in building further extensions to airports across the United Kingdom. We desperately need more airports in the United Kingdom. Air travel is vital for Britain’s future as a global economy. I do not know whether the extension will be to Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick or somewhere else, but I very much hope that it will happen somewhere and that the decision comes soon.

During this debate, I have felt some connection with members of the Scottish National party, because I, too, have been on the losing side of a referendum on the future of our nation on no fewer than two occasions. In my case, I was opposing the Welsh Assembly and then opposing further powers for the Welsh Assembly. I suspect that, at some point in the near future, I may well be opposing further attacks on Wales, which is quite a catchy phrase for a campaign that I would be happy to front up if there is a referendum on tax-raising powers for the Welsh Assembly.

Each time I have lost, I have decided that the best thing to do is simply to accept the will of the public and get on with the job at hand. That is why in 1999 I was proud to be one of the first Members of the Welsh Assembly—the only Conservative at the time elected to a constituency. Since then, I have been proud of the way in which the Conservatives, while not embracing the Assembly, have decided that we have a duty to work with it and to do the best for our constituents. We have quite rightly highlighted the problems over the health service in Wales, where we have longer waiting lists, longer ambulance response times, less access to cancer drugs and less funding than constituents in England have.

We have quite rightly taken up the issue of education. It is a disgrace that Wales has the lowest PISA—programme for international student assessment—results in the whole of the United Kingdom and that there is no sign of improvement. I welcome the fact that Labour Education Ministers have recognised that fact. If anyone wants to google “education apology”, they will read that, a year or so ago, Labour’s own Minister for Education and Skills, Huw Lewis, issued an apology on the front pages of the Western Mail for his own colleagues’ lamentable failure to drive up education standards in Wales.

We have worked constructively over the need to improve transport links with Wales, and we will want to work constructively with the Economic Development Minister in the Welsh Assembly to support a new M4 relief road, which is vital for people in my constituency. We also want to have discussions with Ministers in the Welsh Assembly and in this Government about the future of the Severn bridge. I was absolutely delighted to hear the announcement that the bridge will be nationalised—yes, as a pragmatist, I support nationalisation on occasion.

Nationalising the Severn bridge will mean that VAT is no longer payable, owing to some obscure EU regulation that I do not have the time to go into at the moment. The Government could be even more generous. The costs of maintaining the bridge could be covered by tolls of only about one third of what they currently are. The Government may want to look at some sort of decrease in those tolls as that would drive forward economic growth in Wales, leading to even more people paying more taxes.

May I assure the hon. Member for Redcar that we want to see everyone across the country having access to good, well-paid jobs? That is why we delivered 1.9 million extra jobs over the past five years, and our commitment in that regard will continue as before.

A number of Members have expressed concern about the issue of English votes for English laws. As someone who is proud to be a Welsh-speaking Welshman and who has served Welsh politics for 16 years, I say that I absolutely support the principle of English votes for English laws and believe that there is a strong Unionist case for doing so. Members of the Opposition talked about people working in one country and living in another, and using the health service on different sides of the border. I raised those issues 16 years ago. There are many constituents of my right hon. Friend Mr Harper who have to use the health service in Wales, but are unable to raise their concerns about it with their local Member of Parliament. There is a strong argument for saying that MPs across both sides of the border should be able to raise issues with the Health Minister in the Welsh Assembly. If someone would care to come up with a plan to do so, that would be good, but the problem is that we have a Parliament for Scotland, an Assembly for Wales and nothing at all for England.

The arguments for an Assembly for Wales and a Parliament in Scotland were intended to the keep the genie of nationalism in the box. I would therefore take that argument and say that, if we want to keep the genie of English nationalism in the box, we have to recognise that English voters have exactly the same right to have exactly the same say over issues that affect them as people in Wales and Scotland do. That is why, as a Welshman, a Unionist and a Conservative, I fully support my Front-Bench colleagues’ drive for English votes for English laws and look forward to seeing the details shortly.