It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate at a particularly happy time for all Welsh Members, following Saturday’s sensational try by Josh Adams that propelled the Welsh team to the top of the Six Nations table. I have fingers, toes and, frankly, everything crossed for a Welsh grand slam, and I know the whole country is firmly behind our team and cheering them on.
I will be brief, and perhaps disorderly, in thanking the choir in the Public Gallery, Only Boys Aloud, for giving us a wonderful performance earlier today.
As others have done, I pay a personal tribute to our late friend and colleague, the former hon. Member for Newport West, Paul Flynn. His loss is a painful one, and it will continue to be felt on these Benches and across Wales for some time to come. Paul truly was a giant, both of Welsh politics and of our Welsh Labour movement. He leaves an unfillable space in this place, just as he does in the communities he served with such wit and passion across Newport West. We will miss his courage, his keen sense of humour and, above all, his determination to do what he believed was right for the people he served, however unpopular or unfashionable that may be.
Sharp, often outspoken, always articulate, occasionally contrary and of peerless intellect—Paul was all these things. This House, and our country, has lost a compassionate, independent champion for his constituents. I would argue that the term “honourable gentleman” could have been coined with Paul in mind. Even as his health was failing, he fought for his people and his principles with the zest, tenacity and effectiveness that were his trademarks. At a time when the public’s trust in politicians and our political institutions is so low, it is an even greater blow to lose someone whose ambition and achievements soared so high. My thoughts and deepest sympathies continue to be with his wife, Sam, and his friends and family at this difficult time.
Likewise, I know that colleagues from all parties in the National Assembly for Wales are still coming to terms with the immeasurably sad loss of Steffan Lewis. I first met Steffan when we were both young Assembly researchers and, although we were serving politicians of different political colours, he was unfailingly courteous and engaging, and even then he showed the gentle effectiveness that became his hallmark.
Steffan’s passing at such a terribly young age must remind all of us who are still fighting to improve the lives of our constituents that, through our common beliefs, passions and ideas, we can achieve so much more than through the “Punch and Judy” theatrics that too often typify our politics. That is the style of politics Steffan embodied in life, and it should stay with all of us in his passing. My thoughts continue to be with Steffan’s family, friends and Plaid Cymru colleagues in this Chamber and in the Assembly.
This year has seen a significant amount of change in Welsh politics, most notably with my friend and constituency neighbour Carwyn Jones stepping down as First Minister after nine years in the top job. Carwyn was that rarest of political beings, someone people not only trusted to run their country but with whom they would also happily enjoy a pint. An outstanding leader of Welsh Labour and the Welsh Government, his legacy is a strong one, rooted in Labour values and delivered against almost a decade of unremitting Tory austerity. I place on record my support and good wishes to our new First Minister and Welsh Labour leader, Mark Drakeford, in continuing the work of delivering for the people of Wales.
Members on both sides of the House will know that one of the issues I am particularly passionate about is rail infrastructure—I often bore Members to death with my constant talk of rail infrastructure—and one of Carwyn’s greatest legacies is the massive investment being pumped into the new Wales and Borders franchise through Transport for Wales.
The Welsh Labour Government are investing a whopping £5 billion in our rail network, with £1.8 billion invested to ensure that all trains are replaced with new rolling stock by 2023. Crucially, these are Welsh solutions, designed in Wales to benefit Wales. Half of these trains will be built in Wales, providing skilled employment opportunities and delivering a world-class service of which passengers can be proud.
This bold, innovative and well-resourced approach stands in stark contrast to the ongoing rail disaster being overseen by the UK Department for Transport and the Wales Office. From the scrapping of rail electrification to the meagre amounts of money being allocated to Wales for rail safety improvements and network upgrades, their “great train robbery” shows how little respect the Tories have for Wales.