The Economy and Work

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 26th May 2016.

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Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire 3:35 pm, 26th May 2016

It is a pleasure to follow Ms Ritchie. On this occasion, I sadly did not agree with everything she said, but I enjoyed her contribution.

The Gracious Speech contained many encouraging Bills for the coming parliamentary year, but I would like first to welcome the small charitable donations Bill, which innumerable sports clubs and charities in my constituency will welcome with open arms. For too long, our local charities have been hampered by the lack of gift aid on their bucket and other small donation collections, so I am pleased that this will now be addressed. The fact that the Government want to allow local sports clubs the opportunity of gift aid on their small donations might be a saving grace for many local sports teams, but for some it might do more than put a little extra money in their pockets; it might go as far as to give them another season. Young farmers clubs might also benefit from the Bill. For those who do not know, young farmers clubs are groups of young people who get together and organise a wide range of events and community activities throughout the year, encompassing everything from barn dances to rural skills and debates on current affairs. My local Brecknockshire federation recently held a hustings on the EU, though I shall not go further into that one.

For me, however, the Queen’s Speech is not all plain sailing, as I have concerns over the economic consequences of the Wales Bill. Wales does not need further devolution to Cardiff Bay. At a time when the UK economy has chugged back into life and is now on track to further prosperity, owing to the hard work of the Westminster Government, giving further powers to the Labour Cabinet in the Welsh Assembly will slam the brakes on in Wales.

If we truly care about the Welsh economy, we have to ensure that powers over tax and other economic measures are held where the people of Wales want them. With the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to abolish the need for a referendum on giving the Assembly tax-raising powers, I am concerned that constituents will not get a voice over whether this important power is placed in the hands of the devolved Government. It is not just my constituents who are worried. Many local businesses are concerned about the effect on them. Ultimately, the future of Wales and the devolved settlement should be for the people of Wales to decide, but the commitment in the Queen’s Speech does not give them a voice.

That voice is important. I hear a great deal about the importance of the northern powerhouse and the southern powerhouse, but where in this cacophony is the rural powerhouse? As I am sure many are fully aware, farming is one of the UK’s staple industries. In my area—but not just in my area—it is also the main driver behind the local economy. The agri-food sector employs more than 10% of the total UK workforce, and the food and farming sector is worth more than £100 billion to the UK economy. Farming is a great job creator. Farmers need a workforce of labourers and contractors of all descriptions. Sheep and cattle need feed grown by other farmers. When livestock are taken to market, there is an auctioneer—I was one before I entered the House—and auctioneers need clerks and staff. Finally, when livestock are taken to slaughter, the abattoirs need expert butchers and high-tech machinery, which has to be designed by someone—the list of jobs goes on and on. Yet farming is facing hard times. Milk and lamb prices are falling, and farms across the country are facing grave difficulties. We must do all we can to help support this vital industry, which does so much for the rural economy. I hope that the better markets Bill will include assistance for farmers by cutting red tape for the farming community and that other vital rural industry—tourism.

Finally, I would like briefly to touch on the digital economy Bill and how it will be of great benefit to my constituents and businesses and to the rural economy more widely—[Interruption]—but I will have to leave that to somebody else because I have run out of time.