ST David’S Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:21 pm on 28th February 2019.

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Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales 2:21 pm, 28th February 2019

I am grateful to Tonia Antoniazzi for securing this debate, and for the support of the Backbench Business Committee in making time available for it. It has been a wide-ranging debate, as was pointed out by the shadow Secretary of State, Christina Rees. Unfortunately, I will not have time in the time permitted to respond to each and every point made, but if I do not have the opportunity to respond to them, I will happily continue to engage positively with colleagues in all parts of the House on the issues they have raised.

Among some disagreements, there has without doubt been unity and lots of agreement on a number of issues, but I want to underline the comments by every Member of this House about our friend and former colleague Paul Flynn, the past Member for Newport West. I had the privilege of knowing him before I was elected to this House, and I remember that he was particularly supportive of me at a difficult time. My hon. Friend David T. C. Davies pointed out his exceptional constituency work, and I can speak about that from experience because my parents-in-law live in his constituency. As I mentioned yesterday, I think there is a significant gap on the Labour Benches, and Paul will be missed. We pay tribute to him, and we pay our respects to his family.

I would also underline the comments that have been made about Steffan Lewis, the former Plaid Cymru Assembly Member. Without doubt, he was an exceptionally bright talent. He had a significant influence in his short political career, and I think Wales will miss him and the influence he brought to bear during that time.

The rugby also brought significant agreement across the House. As my right hon. Friends the Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) and for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) pointed out, it is a great time to be Welsh, particularly in relation to the rugby that took place at the weekend.

Listening to this wide-ranging debate, it is hard to believe that in 2010 Wales had a formula that underfunded its needs, a legislative consent order model that meant we did not have a full law-making Assembly and a rail franchise that was not fit for purpose—we did not have a single mile of electrified rail track—while unemployment was rising, economic inactivity rates were stubbornly high and manufacturing jobs had gone into quite a sharp decline.

Now, however, I would point out that Wales has a fair funding settlement—there has been enhancement on the funding settlement—and we now have a full law-making Assembly that is to become a Senedd. Major upgrades of the railways are taking place, with investment both in south Wales and in north Wales, and a will and a commitment to open new stations. Unemployment is at record low levels, and economic inactivity rates that have been stubbornly high for decades are now better than England’s. A remarkable transformation has taken place in the Welsh economy, and the manufacturing sector is growing faster than in any other part of the UK. Without doubt, one of my proudest moments has been the abolition of the Severn tolls, so people do not have to pay to come into Wales any more, which provides a great opportunity to bind together the United Kingdom.