Welsh Affairs

Part of International Women’S Day – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 2nd March 2017.

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Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn 3:00 pm, 2nd March 2017

The hon. Gentleman is right. In fact, I was just coming to businesses. I welcome the Digital Economy Bill. I have been arguing for some time, like many other Members, that we need universal coverage in the UK, and it has been resisted for too long. Now it is in the Bill. United as Welsh MPs, we can take the lead and have the universal service obligation rolled out in Wales first. The Secretary of State, who I know is paying attention on the Front Bench, could be pivotal in taking this up in Cabinet. The Welsh Government, as a single body, are working with BT to roll this out in Wales, unlike in England, where there are several roll-out bodies. We can be ahead of the game, as we have been on many other big issues that have united us, so I hope he will listen and respond positively.

Like many Members, I have worked with BT Openreach and the Welsh Government, and I have worked to get individual businesses connected with fibre to their premises. The Welsh Government are moving forward, but according to the Library, many constituencies in Wales are behind the UK average when it comes to superfast broadband roll-out and the minimum of 10 megabits per second in the universal service obligation. We need to move forward on that. I say to the Secretary of State that we should have a cross-party group. We can be pioneers and lead the way. Wales, with its peripheral areas, rurality and sparse populations, can be a microcosm of the rest of the UK. I urge him to work with me and others on that. Many of the rural areas without superfast broadband also do not have mains gas, pay more for fuel and are greatly disadvantaged and socially excluded, so it is a serious issue I raise when I talk about broadband being a step forward for those areas. I hope that Members will work with me on that campaign.

We also need a transport system that works for the whole UK. I know that the Government have been pushing the case, with the Welsh Government and others, for better cross-border facilities, particularly in the south and north of Wales. It is important that we are an integral part of the UK network. The Secretary of State will get the backing of the Opposition if he pushes not just for electrification of the north Wales line but for better connections between north Wales and Manchester and Liverpool airports. That is essential. Many of my constituents, such as Guto Bebb, do not come down to Heathrow or Gatwick if they can get to Liverpool or Manchester. Making that easier for them will be a good deal for the people of north Wales.

I was in the Chamber for the beginning of the International Women’s Day debate, and was very moved by the comments in the opening speech of my hon. Friend Jess Phillips about our colleague Jo Cox. Jo’s maiden speech will go down in history, not because she so sadly left us, but because she talked then about uniting people and highlighted that there is more that unites us than divides us. We need to go forward with that as an emblem.

One of my predecessors, Lady Megan Lloyd George, moved the first St David’s day debate, and she was one of the first pioneers: she stood up for women across the United Kingdom; she stood up for Wales as an integral part of the United Kingdom; and she was not afraid to talk about high unemployment and to fight for the national health service and social insurance. She had the good sense to move from the Liberal party to the Labour party, and she was a pioneer on those very big subjects. Wales can be very proud that in this House of Commons we have an annual debate, and also that throughout the year we are pioneering Members of Parliament across the parties, and that we work together for the best for our constituents, and work best for Wales within a United Kingdom as outward-looking internationalists. I am proud to open this debate, and—