I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Welsh affairs.
Let me welcome everybody to this St David’s Day debate, where we have some veterans and some first-timers. I have to apologise in advance, because I need to leave to entertain some visitors from Wales in No.10 during the course of this debate, so if I slip away, there is a good reason for my doing so. [Interruption.] I apologise to Opposition Members who have not received their invitation quite yet.
This is a fantastic opportunity to champion Wales at a national level, and to highlight the potential and resilience of our constituencies. I wanted to start by discussing resilience, because there has been no greater example of it than the response to the recent flooding events in Wales and further afield. I have visited communities in Carmarthen and Pontypridd, and the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies, has been around and about in the Monmouthshire area, where the Rivers Wye and Usk have caused such devastation. We have spoken to emergency services, agencies, MPs, AMs, local authorities and the Welsh Government on numerous occasions. It is encouraging to see that when things such as this really matter, there is a such a widespread degree of co-operation between those agencies.
I am surprisingly grateful for that intervention, because it allows me to say that the Under-Secretary will wave a letter from the head of his local authority that asked us specifically not to interfere and get under the feet of emergency services by going to these areas before the moment was right. I have spoken to a number of local authorities and they echoed that view, so rather than make this a political stunt, we let the experts get on with what they wanted and needed to get on and do.
I will continue, if I may. The most important people we have spoken to during this incident have been the families and businesses affected. This has been horrendous for them and it remains so, because these weather patterns have not completely worked their way through.
The Secretary of State will know that Carmarthenshire has a history of flooding. There were big floods there about a year ago, and even now some of the families and businesses affected are still recovering. One big issue is that they cannot get insurance after having been flooded. There is a huge market failure in that insurance market and public intervention will be needed. Will he press his colleagues in the UK Government to come up with a UK Government insurance scheme to support families who cannot get insurance because of flooding?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, this issue has come up a number of times in the decade in which we have been in this House. The answer to his question is yes, but it is never as simple as it seems. All sorts of contributory factors are involved, with planning being one, but I assure him that we will take that issue seriously and look into it.
I had wanted to mention financial assistance, because it was raised during yesterday’s Welsh questions and Prime Minister’s questions. It is an important moment to restate what the Prime Minister said yesterday about money being “passported through” in relation to this. Chris Bryant is not here, but if he were, he would talk about this as being a Union issue, as he did yesterday. We agree that it is a Union issue, which is why we are working so closely with the Welsh Government to make sure that we know precisely what they need and when they need it, while not interfering with the devolution settlement.
We will respond in the way we always do to Welsh Government requests for assistance, in whatever form it might be requested, by taking it extremely seriously and respecting the views that they express. However, in the two meetings I have had with the First Minister so far, it is clear—this is no criticism of him—that we are a long way off being able to measure precisely what that request might consist of. When it comes, we will take it seriously.
Not at the moment, thank you. It is nothing personal, obviously.
At this time, I just want to mention the potential for landslides, which, obviously, has caused almost as much concern as some of the flooding risk. In the past few days, that issue has become particularly significant, and I wanted to update colleagues by saying that I have met the First Minister to discuss it. We have brought all the relevant stakeholders together, either by way of conference call or in person on Monday this week. Just so that those co-signatories know, I should say that we have also received a letter from the hon. Member for Rhondda which asks some of the questions that I hope to be able to answer now.
The First Minister and I have asked for an up-to-date database of the sites involved—it may surprise some to learn that no such thorough document exists—as we want to know precisely who owns them. We have asked for a risk assessment to be undertaken as a matter of urgency as to the integrity of these sites and what exactly the legal liabilities are and where they lie. We have also asked for an outline of a potential timescale and cost for addressing problems associated with these sites, bearing in mind that it is difficult to get on to them at the moment because of the weather conditions that caused the problems in the first place. I also assure colleagues in the House that we will update them just as soon as we have information that we think is viable and useful.
I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; he knows that this issue is of huge concern to those of us who represent Rhondda Cynon Taf constituencies, as I do. May I press him a little? He spoke about the liabilities, but will he assure me and other Members that no matter where responsibility lies, the UK Government will provide funding to ensure that the coal slips are safe? He will agree that we do not want a repeat of what has happened in the past, when Governments have argued over maintenance, controls and safety, and we have had situations like Aberfan.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. My referencing liability was not to pre-warn him that we will somehow try to excuse ourselves from liability; it is just so that we understand exactly what the legal position is regarding ownership, because there may be things such as access issues, which we need to understand. These things are always frustratingly complicated.
I wish to use this opportunity to be positive about Wales, because there is much to be positive about. This discussion is about opportunities, jobs, growth, culture and identity—
It will also be about an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to intervene—in a minute, but not yet. I have been waiting 10 years for the opportunity to be able to turn the hon. Gentleman down. I am not going to lose out on that.
In Wales, there are now 144,000 more people in work than there were in 2010 and 90,000 fewer workless households than there were in 2010. Before anybody sticks up their hand and says, “Ah, but they’re not real jobs,” or, “Ah, but they’re zero-hours contracts,” even if we take the most pessimistic view of those figures, it is still a remarkable testament, not necessarily to the Welsh Government or even the UK Government, but to the businesses and individuals in Wales and their resilience in being able to create and sustain that positive economic picture.
Since 2010, GDP per head in Wales has grown by more than the UK average, and in the past year alone 51 foreign investment projects have come our way, creating 1,700 jobs. We have institutions such as INEOS Automotive in Bridgend; Admiral and GoCompare; Airbus and Toyota in Deeside; Aston Martin in St Athan; Bluestone and Valero down in my part of the world, in west Wales; Tata, Celsa and Liberty Steel; numerous successful holiday and leisure small and medium-sized enterprises around the coast; agri-tech in Aberystwyth; a cyber-security hub in Newport; Zip World in north Wales; and a growing renewables hub in the Milford Haven waterway. I know that every single colleague present will have a fantastic example of people who have created interesting, diverse and profitable businesses.
The Secretary of State mentions many companies, including some in my constituency. It is crucial that through a great education system we equip the younger generation to prepare for the opportunities in those companies, so will he join me in congratulating the Welsh Labour Government on the investment that they have put into my constituency? We have new schools in the east of Cardiff and in Penarth, and a new further education college—Cardiff and Vale College—and we have seen the improvement of a whole series of educational facilities at every level.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I will always congratulate any Government of any colour if they do the right thing by jobs and growth.
On renewables, which I have touched on, Wales’s electricity is already 50% powered by clean energy, and I am committed, as I know colleagues are, to seeing that figure rise. This is of course the Prime Minister’s year of climate action, building up to COP26, and Wales has a role to play in that, just as it does in a low-carbon economy.
The Secretary of State is making an important point about Wales’s potential contribution towards meeting renewable energy targets. Does he agree that one of the big constraints we face in Wales is grid capacity? I know that he has not been long in the job, but has he had a chance to have any discussions with Western Power or National Grid, for example, about how we can enhance grid capacity so that more renewables projects can be taken forward?
The answer is a partial yes. As my right hon. Friend knows, businesses in the Carmarthenshire element of my constituency in particular are constrained by grid capacity. In my capacity as an MP, my answer is yes; in my capacity as Secretary of State, my answer is that it is on the to-do list. It is an urgent issue that colleagues from Plaid Cymru raised with me towards the back end of last year.
My right hon. Friend has mentioned the importance of clean energy in Wales; would he be willing to meet me and other colleagues, together with the proposed developers of the Colwyn Bay tidal lagoon, and preferably with the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, to discuss the possibility of developing that very important contributor to clean energy in Wales?
My right hon. Friend is right, and yes I would of course love to do that. There is a feeling in some quarters that perhaps we have turned our back on tidal lagoon energy; no, we have not. On anything like that project, which has good potential and offers value for money for taxpayers, I will of course meet my right hon. Friend and any other colleagues who may have similarly encouraging projects to promote.
This is not all about the traditional industries that I have already listed; it is also about innovative business: artificial intelligence, virtual reality, compound semiconductors, cyber-security, FinTech, InsureTech—lots of stuff with tech in the name—and many more cutting-edge new industries dotted around, not necessarily in the centres of Wales where people would expect to find them. These businesses offer long-term, well-paid, skilful, green jobs and keep home-grown talent in Wales.
The Secretary of State has mentioned the impact on Wales of climate change in terms of flooding, and he is now mentioning the opportunities; will he reconfirm that he is looking again with fresh eyes at the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, including at its financial structure and its cost relative to the price of future energy, which will go up? We cannot use all the coal and oil, because we will all burn up. It would be a pathfinder for new opportunities for export growth, not just in Wales but throughout the UK.
In answering that, I want to avoid giving the hon. Gentleman the impression that we are just going to dust off the original tidal lagoon proposal, because that would possibly build up false hope. I can say that tidal lagoons as a concept were and remain something of significant potential for Wales and the rest of the UK, but any project obviously has to meet the right value-for-money criteria.
We have talked about the traditional industries; Wales also has a fantastically expanding creative industry offer. Who would have thought it? Not many people know—apart from those in this Chamber, obviously—about “Doctor Who”, “Hinterland”, “Keeping Faith”, “Casualty”, “Gavin & Stacey” and, of course “Sex Education”, which is filmed in my ministerial colleague’s—
I pay tribute to that programme, but apart from the brief sight of a Welsh flag, one would not know that it is filmed in Wales. We need to look at Netflix and the new creative industries and think about reminding people that we have these great facilities.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend should raise that question with the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, because it would seem to me to be the subject of an inquiry that that Committee might enjoy.
On the subject of culture, we have a fantastic, rich and vibrant heritage. The fact that we have more than 600 castles—more per square mile than any other part of the world—is a source of great pride. We have world-class museums, we have galleries, and even the slate landscape of north Wales has been nominated for UNESCO world heritage status.
In sport, we have won a grand slam since the previous St David’s Day debate. I will not make any further predictions on that score. In Tenby in west Wales we host Ironman Wales, the only competition in Wales that attracts more than 2,000 competitors from 35 countries. Last year, Loren Dykes of the Welsh national women’s football team was honoured with her MBE, and Wales has again qualified for the Euros.
Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming to the House a very good friend of mine, Lowri Morgan, a woman I used to play rugby with back in the day, who is renowned for her ultra-marathons and adventurism? She is here to join the Secretary of State in Downing Street this afternoon. I also welcome her father, Dr Morgan, who is also my constituent.
Lowri would love us to be there this afternoon. I had to explain the order of events; unfortunately we will not be able to join the Secretary of State. Sport is a massive industry in Wales—it is very important and very close to our hearts. It is important that we raise the profile and importance of sport for everyone, especially women.
I very much look forward to meeting Lowri in No. 10. We will, of course, have a drink together and think of you all in here as we do.
Let me return briefly to our economic prospects. No St David’s Day debate, certainly in recent years, would be complete without mention of our departure from the EU, which was voted for in Wales by a margin of 5%. The result of the election towards the end of last year confirms the Union ambitions and Union values of our residents.
That leads me neatly to the shared prosperity fund, which is the subject of much discussion in this House and elsewhere—what it means, where it is going, what it will include, who will be responsible for it and so on. I have always said, and I said it on the day I was appointed, that this is a nice problem to have—large sums of money to be distributed by politicians elected in Wales by Wales for the first time in nearly 50 years. The shared prosperity fund for me, and I am sure this view is shared by the Welsh Government, too, is about jobs and growth. It is about priorities that benefit everybody across the country, not just specific parts of it. It is not about vanity projects and ideas that may sound good and even look good, but that do not deliver on those two core objectives.
One of the reasons why the EU referendum vote went the way it did, why there was such a heated debate about it, why there was such frustration sometimes about the knowledge that there were large sums of money that never quite reached the places that they were meant to go, is because there are examples—admittedly not many—such as the funicular, a £2.5 million EU-funded project in Ebbw Vale. It broke down more than 250 times between June 2015 and November 2017, and it cost Blaenau Gwent Council £52,000 a year. I have not been aware at any time in recent years of residents of Wales campaigning for more of that kind of thing. Techniums are another example. I have one in my constituency. The 10 innovation centres, costing £38 million of EU funds, failed to meet job targets, and six centres closed after nine years. They were even described by the Lib Dems as a white elephant.
No, no, hold tight. I liked the idea of a £20,000 dragon statue in Ebbw Vale, but the test of these things must be how they have contributed positively to jobs and growth. My challenge to the Welsh Government is for the UK and Welsh Governments to work collaboratively on the shared prosperity fund to make sure that those objectives are met and are driven by local demand.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. It really is a travesty for him to attempt to depict European funding in this way. European funding has been a huge boost to the Welsh economy. We need only look at road infrastructure, the colleges, the voluntary sector that has benefited and the training that we have put in place. All those things are very positive, but what he has presented is a gross caricature of reality.
It is in fact quite the opposite. I suspect that what I have done is cause a certain amount of embarrassment. We all know and understand that the funding does not always work in the way that it should. I made it absolutely clear that the examples I gave are the exceptions, not the rule. My point is very clear. There should be a collaborative approach by the Welsh and UK Governments to prioritise jobs and growth. If the Welsh Government or Welsh Labour cannot live with that, that is their problem, not mine.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; he is being generous—but also uncharitable. My hon. Friend Wayne David made his point; I can point to examples in my constituency. In Butetown, EU funding went to the community centre, the youth pavilion, and regeneration in one of the most deprived areas in Wales. The Government have not given answers as to where funding will come from to ensure that the so-called levelling up agenda can be delivered. They need to answer those questions.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Those questions will be answered. Whether they are answered now or at a future stage is a matter for him to judge. I am conscious that I have been super generous with interventions, and that I must now get on with my few remaining comments.
As the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned, levelling up and strengthening the Union are our buzzwords. That means road, rail, air, and digital infrastructure improvements. It means mobile phone coverage in the most hard-to-reach places and cross-border connectivity. If we want an argument in this place, let us have one about the M4 relief road. Let us hear from Opposition colleagues about what pressure they are putting on the Welsh Government to remove that blockage and unleash economic potential throughout south and west Wales. Not a single business from the west coast of Pembrokeshire to the Severn Bridge does not believe that the project is a good idea. The blockage appears to come from the First Minister’s Office, so if colleagues share our ambition for the project, let us hear from them. I will take any intervention from the Opposition confirming their enthusiasm for that improvement. [Interruption.] Okay, perhaps not.
We also want a more reliable rail service and charging points for electric vehicles. For those who say, “What has HS2 ever done for us?”, I would say this—
No, I will not give way, because I must get on. I was talking about the benefits of HS2. Whether it is by direct connection to a new form of rail infrastructure, the like of which has not been seen since Victorian times, or whether it is by being able to tap into the supply chain opportunities, HS2 benefits not just those on the route that it will follow, or in the cities that it will join. It will help link up the UK, which will be good for the economic prospects of Wales.
No, I will not give way. My mood has changed. I am no longer co-operative and collaborative.
On defence, we have, in our ministerial team, two people who have worn a military uniform—that of the Royal Artillery in the case of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, and that of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry in my case. We have an instinctive love, affection and respect for the defence industry, our soldiers, sailors and airmen, and we want to see more of them in Wales. We want to ensure that their veterans’ railcard is delivered in exactly the same way by the Welsh Government as it will be by the UK Government in November, and we want to preserve and enhance the Ministry of Defence footprint in Wales.
Let me turn to the question of steel, which is of huge significance to a number of constituencies, including mine. I reassure the House that the UK Government recognise not only the economic value of steel, but its social and cultural importance in Wales. We are working with steel companies to find out, and be absolutely clear in our minds about, what they see as a sustainable steel industry, and what UK and Welsh Government support they need to be able to develop that. I will be at Tata Steel Port Talbot tomorrow. I hope to meet Stephen Kinnock there to discuss these issues further.
I want to end on a cultural matter to do with the Welsh language. I am very proud of the fact that S4C moved its headquarters from Cardiff to Carmarthen. It is, of course, the only Welsh language broadcaster. As somebody who has, as Jessica Morden knows, a limited grasp of the Welsh language—she would argue that I had a limited grasp of any language—this is of real significance. It is about far more than viewing figures. I am anxious to make sure that the language is seen as approachable, fun, and significant. The moment it becomes politicised, it turns off people who might be taking their first steps with the language—whether they are already residents of Wales, or are moving to Wales, perhaps for work. The vibrancy of the language and its future are important.
The Welsh Government ambition, which I fully support, is to have 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050. That will be achieved only if that is seen as something that we can aspire to achieve without fear of political retribution if we somehow fall short. Inserting the odd word of Welsh into a speech or article does not do the trick. It is a lazy way of attempting to do our duty by the Welsh language. We have to go further than that, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will say more about that later.
On that point, Madam Deputy Speaker, I think it is time for a gwin coch mawr over in No. 10. Those are the three words of Welsh that I have learned and have carried me through the most difficult situations over the past 10 years. This is a great occasion. It is a brilliant opportunity for us to speak about the positives of Wales. I look forward to hearing the rest of the contributions.
I thank the Government for bringing forward this debate on Welsh affairs. Of course, the calendar dictates that we are unable to hold the debate on St David’s Day, as
I also thank the Government for granting the debate in Government time, which has not happened for many years; not, I think, since Dame Cheryl Gillan became Secretary of State—I am sure that my hon. Friend Chris Bryant would be able to correct me on that, were he here, as his knowledge of the House is far better than mine. Certainly, since I have been taking part in St David’s Day debates, they have been Backbench Business debates.
Yesterday I bumped into my good friend Albert Owen, the former Member for Ynys Môn. We were reminiscing about Welsh affairs debates, among other things. Seeing Albert reminded me just how much I miss him, Ian Lucas, David Hanson, Susan Elan Jones, Owen Smith, Madeleine Moon, Anne Clwyd and, last but not least, my former shadow ministerial colleague, Chris Ruane. Those dedicated Welsh MPs have given years of service to the people of Wales, and their work should be celebrated for all that is good about being a Welsh Labour MP. We have two great new Labour MPs, my hon. Friends the Members for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) and for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), who are already making their presence felt and will be fantastic additions to our Labour Team Wales.
Not many hon. Members know this, but in my constituency of Neath we celebrate not only St David’s Day, when the children dress up in Welsh costumes to celebrate our Welsh culture, but St Patrick’s Day. Patrick was born in Banwen, at the top of the Dulais valley, but he was kidnapped as a child and taken to Ireland. Every year we hold a fantastic celebration at a stone we have erected to his memory in Banwen. Schoolchildren, residents and special guests come along to hear the great Roy Noble giving one of his memorable speeches about St Patrick. We are indebted to the famous local historian George Brinley Evans, now 93, who researched this phenomenon and was the leading protagonist in establishing the St Patrick stone and the annual event. Please join us. We have a leprechaun who comes all the way from Ireland to take part too. I look forward to seeing Members there on
It is regrettable that I must begin my proper address in sombre tones, as we reflect on the impact that recent events have had on our great nation. Two storms and unprecedented flooding have taken their toll on communities across Wales, including, but not limited to, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Llanwrst, Monmouth and parts of my Neath constituency. From severe damage to bridges and iconic landmarks, such as the national lido of Wales, to the destruction of the entire contents of family homes, these floods will cost Wales dearly.
The First Minster, the Leader of the Opposition and, indeed, the Prince of Wales have visited households and communities right across the country, but alas the Prime Minster could not find the time to visit just one of the flood-damaged areas of the UK. He has said many times that he would not “die in a ditch”, but perhaps he was missing in action because he fell into the moat surrounding his holiday castle, or perhaps he could not find his wellies.
The community spirit and response in our devastated Welsh communities has shown the world the best of Wales: compassion, kindness, humour and solidarity have shone through the contribution of volunteers, emergency services, council workers, welfare halls, miners’ institutes, Royal British Legion branches, rugby clubs, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and so many more.
The hon. Lady missed that the source of the Severn is in Montgomeryshire, in mid-Wales. Although I will not politicise this or make tribal political points about missing one of the biggest floods in Wales, will she reflect on the fact that we have to work together to ensure that people recover as soon as possible from this tragedy, and that does not include cheap political shots of the sort she has made thus far?
Many local authorities are pulling together to support those who are most severely impacted by the floods, working in the most demanding of circumstances to get the quickest possible support to those in need. However, the UK Government must now step up and recognise the disproportionate and intense impact that the floods have had on Wales. We need additional funding for Wales. We need protection for emergency household payments. We need immediate help for those who do not have insurance. We need support for those who have lost their jobs and livelihoods.
My hon. Friend is probably aware that more severe weather conditions are expected over the coming seven to 10 days, so is she as concerned as I am about the saturation of coal tips and the like? We need an urgent assessment of whether there is an imminent risk to villages and hamlets in the valleys, which are susceptible to flash-flooding and slides, because of the topography of the valleys and the increased risk from climate change. We need urgent action, immediate help and long-term solutions; we cannot just wait for a report to come back.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. When I have visited homes that have been flooded or affected by landslips over the past few weeks, it has broken my heart. People who do not have insurance have had their homes destroyed yet again. Yes, we need action, and we need it now, because the weather forecast is definitely not favourable for the next few weeks.
A quarter of all homes and businesses were flooded in Rhondda Cynon Taf alone, with a potential bill of £30 million—twice the council’s annual capital budget. I must commend the work of the Rhondda Cynon Taf MPs and AMs and the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, Andrew Morgan, who is also leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, which has done some fantastic work.
There is so much to celebrate about our great nation, some of which I will discuss in a moment, but there are also a great many challenges and a level of uncertainty in our communities, against the backdrop of Brexit and the negative effects of austerity on so many Welsh communities and families.
These challenging times make it more important than ever to have a strong Welsh Labour team of MPs here in Westminster, working with the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, and the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff Bay. It remains a huge privilege to serve as the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, supported by my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds, our Welsh Whip, my hon. Friend Jessica Morden, and our wonderful Welsh Labour MPs.
This Tory UK Government have continually failed Wales, and unfortunately the Wales Office continues to fail to stand up for the people of Wales. We were promised the electrification of the Great Western main line to Swansea, but the UK Government changed their mind. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon was recommended by this Government’s own inquiry, but they ignored it, and Wylfa Newydd has been paused. The people of Wales hear loud and clear the UK Government’s promises to our country, and the people will hold them to account for their failure to deliver. We demand more, and we demand better.
The UK Government must recognise the folly of continuing to frustrate efforts to launch a major new domestic market for Welsh steel. The pathfinder tidal lagoon in Swansea bay requires around 100,000 tonnes of steel, much of which could be sourced in Wales, against a very clear commitment from the investors and businesses involved to buy Welsh. The past 12 months have seen the loss of hundreds of jobs in the steel industry, in Tata’s Orb steelworks in Newport and in Liberty Steel in sites in south Yorkshire and south Wales. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Newport East and for Newport West (Ruth Jones) for their tireless campaigning on behalf of our steelworkers.
Wales needs investment, as the UK as a whole needs investment, and the people of Wales will judge this Government harshly if they continue to fail to deliver it. Opposition Members will continue to speak up for Wales—for Welsh families, communities and businesses— and for the devolution settlement itself. It is not for any UK Government unilaterally to rewrite the rules of devolution by attempting to power-grab and centralise functions set out in law and agreed through the ballot box, using Brexit as a cover for those actions. Despite what the Secretary of State has said about the UK shared prosperity fund, it is still a mystery to me. We continue to wait and wait for the much anticipated consultation, and for any details whatever on how the fund will be implemented. It must respect devolution and be overseen by the Welsh Government, and we must not see a penny less or a power lost. I commend the report produced by the all-party parliamentary group for post-Brexit funding for nations, regions and local areas, led by my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock.
The people of Wales have a right to see a UK Government acting in their best interests, protecting their jobs and investing in the public services they rely on and the infrastructure we desperately need to secure Wales’s future. Despite a decade of austerity and a 7% real-terms cut to funding per head of the population, the Welsh Government have continued to lead the way in delivering landmark legislation and progressive policy making. The Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 and the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016 are groundbreaking examples of a modern legislature creating laws that make a difference for the people of the nation.
The Welsh Government have also introduced policies such as free bus travel for the over-60s, free swimming for children and older people, free school breakfasts, free prescriptions and free hospital parking, as well as being the first nation of the UK to introduce the 5p carrier bag charge. They have banned smoking in cars carrying children, and Wales has the third highest recycling rate in the world. That is just a brief glimpse of what has been delivered during the past decade. The achievements of the Welsh Government are, quite honestly, nothing short of remarkable.
I could not resist intervening at this particular moment—I rather thought it was
No, of course —that road is going ahead. It is only the UK Government who have prevented it from going ahead faster. I do not know where I am now; the hon. Members have completely lost me. [Interruption.]
Will the hon. Member take a friendly intervention before she moves on?
I am sure the hon. Member will also have some concern about the negotiating mandate set out today by the British Government in relation to the second phase of Brexit and the trade negotiations. Indeed, the Welsh Government have issued a stern statement indicating that they were not consulted at all about the mandate. I fear that the best we can hope for is a bare-bones free trade agreement. The Welsh economy will be more exposed because of our reliance on exports into the single market. What does the hon. Member think the Welsh Government should do now, since the British Government clearly are not taking any notice of Wales’s position?
The hon. Member makes some very good points. It has been a concern of mine for a long time that the Welsh Government have not been involved in the negotiations. They have to be involved; this is the future of Wales that we are talking about. I am really disappointed that they have not been involved to the extent that they should have been.
Now I come to the good bit. The House will know how passionate I am about sport. Wales is a sporting nation. When Wales wins the people of Wales are very happy. When we lose it is the end of the world. I went to the Wales versus Italy match, which was a great result, as the House knows—I don’t think I want to talk about the other matches, so I will move swiftly on.
My constituency of Neath has a proud sporting history. The Welsh Rugby Union was created in the Castle Hotel in Neath. The best player in the world, Gareth Edwards, was born and bred in Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen. Dan Biggar’s family was born and bred in the Dulais valley, where I live, as was Dennis Gethin, who recently stood down as chair of the WRU. Of course, Neath RFC are also called the All Blacks—a great tribute.
In a former life I was a squash player and played for Wales over 100 times. It was a great honour to pull on the red jersey of Wales. I became national coach for Squash Wales, and one of my roles was to develop squash for all ages and all standards throughout Wales. We have a superb junior development structure, which has produced some great players. I am very proud to say that on St David’s Day we will have two senior players ranked in the top 10 in the world, and they have both come through the junior structure: Tesni Evans, based in Prestatyn, is two times British champion and bronze medallist at the last Commonwealth games; and Joel Makin from Aberdare, a member of the Welsh men’s team who came third in the last world championships. Wales is again showing that we are punching above our weight.
Of course I will. Jade is fantastic advocate for women’s sport, and I am glad that the hon. Member intervened to mention her.
Coming back to squash, there is a great injustice. We have been campaigning for many years to get squash into the Olympics. It has never been included, despite having championships at every national and international level. I have been banging on about this for quite a few years, so I ask all Members to join me to ensuring that squash becomes an Olympic sport.
I am not the only Welsh Labour MP who has represented Wales. My hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi is a Welsh rugby international. I must say that that game is far too tough for me; one good tackle and I think I would be done for, so I will stay off the rugby field.
That is enough from me. I look forward to all Members’ contributions and wish the whole House a happy St David’s Day for Sunday.
I will begin by congratulating the new ministerial team at the Wales Office, who have made a really superb start, with energy and a sense of purpose; they are doing a really good job. I also thank all Members on both sides of the House who nominated or supported me to be the Chair-elect of the Welsh Affairs Committee. I am conscious that I have very big boots to fill, given that the previous Chair of that Committee over the last two Parliaments is the current Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies. It has been made clear to me in no uncertain terms by different colleagues that they expect me to continue his collegiate and constructive style of leading the Committee. I will endeavour to do so while also relishing the prospect of scrutinising the work of the previous Chair and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.
There has been something of a fresh mood in this place since the start of the year, on the back of the general election and other changes. That sentiment is not only felt on the Government Benches; I think that all Members, in different ways, have been feeling the fresh atmosphere around this place over the past couple of months. So my first thought is this: how do we—as 40 Welsh Members of Parliament from different locations and parties, and with different sets of interests and backgrounds—make sure that Wales shares that sense of a fresh start for this Parliament? The Government are absolutely clear that this is going to be a changed Parliament—a Parliament where things get done and get moving—so how do we work together to make sure that Wales can be part of that in a very positive way? There are some major opportunities ahead for Wales which, if we can work together, can be harnessed for the benefit of all of our constituents. There are also challenges ahead, and we should not be shy about discussing those.
Regardless of all our individual perspectives, one thing that I think we can agree on is that the general election that we all went through in November and December did not result in a vote for things to carry on as they had been. It was not a vote for more of the same, and it certainly was not a vote for more of the same in Wales. Those of us who were here in the previous Parliament, particularly in the past couple of years, will look back on the sheer sense of frustration that we were all feeling week by week, with nothing happening and nothing moving—the sense of everything being gummed up and stuck. When we went back to our constituents we would hear and feel the anger from constituents who had also sensed that feeling of frustration. We have now turned that corner, and it is incumbent on all of us to be able to demonstrate to our voters, who have put us all here, that we can get things done in this Parliament. I am not just talking about big issue of Brexit and all the practical issues that follow from the Brexit vote. I am talking about other issues as well—some of the themes that other Members have raised, such as infrastructure and other projects. Perhaps we in this Parliament can do a little better at working together in the years ahead.
I mentioned the work of the Welsh Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament. It did brilliant work, on a cross-party basis, to bring forward practical recommendations that even led to the very good decision of the previous Welsh Secretary to remove tolls on the Severn Bridge. Right on cue, Jessica Morden has walked in. That proposal started off as a recommendation from the Welsh Affairs Committee. It was due in no small part to the efforts and lobbying of members of the Welsh Affairs Committee that that change got through. So working together, I believe that we can get things done for Wales.
Another thought I would like to share is how we, as Members of Parliament, address the issues in this place that affect our constituencies. Those of us who have been around for the bulk of the past 20 years, during the era of devolution, have rather got used to delineating in our heads between devolved issues and non-devolved issues, being careful not to speak about devolved issues and carefully treading with sensitivity on the right side of the devolution boundary. However, the truth—I saw this during the election campaign when talking to voters on the doorstep—is that voters do not care whether an issue is devolved or non-devolved, or whether it is a local authority issue. They just care about the issue and expect us, as someone standing to be a Member of Parliament, to care too, and to have something meaningful to say about it when, if we are fortunate enough to be elected, we come up to this place. We are not trying to blur the devolution boundary or be clever with it; we respect where the different responsibilities lie.
We should not be shy, as Welsh Members of Parliament, about talking about education and healthcare. I am really pleased to see Beth Winter here today, because some of her predecessor’s most powerful contributions in recent years were on the state of the NHS in Wales. We remember that very keenly. I think that many of our voters do now understand very clearly the devolution split. When we explain to them the different responsibilities of Cardiff Ministers and Ministers here in Westminster, they nod their heads and show they understand, but they are still, as I say, looking to their Members of Parliament to demonstrate that we care, that we understand, and that we have a view.
Over the past 20 years, during the course of devolution, there has been something of a process of the diminishing importance of Westminster, or an attempt to diminish its importance in the eyes of Welsh voters, and an increasing emphasis on the importance of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay. One of the ways that I interpret the Brexit vote is that it was about voters saying that they value what goes on in Westminster. It is not about saying that the Welsh Assembly is less important, but Brexit is partly about restoring this place to its rightful prominence as the key arena of UK-wide debate and the contesting of different ideas.
As Welsh Members of Parliament, we stand as equals in that. I have made my views known about the—
I raised this issue in the Chamber the other day when we had the English-only votes and I was unable to express my view on funding for Countess of Chester Hospital. That hospital was built to serve Deeside and Chester and the area around it. An English Member of Parliament miles from that area is allowed to express a view on it, whereas I am not, even though many people in Alyn and Deeside go to it.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and it was exactly the one I was anticipating. He intervened at exactly the right point in my speech where I was about to mention English votes for English laws. I have made my personal views about this known. I strongly believe that Welsh MPs are not second-class. Our role here is as important as everyone else’s and we have a really important job to do. Wales does have a face here. Wales has a voice here, and we are it. It is the particular role of the Secretary of State for Wales to be those things at the Cabinet table, but we have a job to help to strengthen his hand when he goes there to represent Wales. All of us, in the different Select Committees that we sit on, the different all-party parliamentary groups that we belong to and the Question Times that we take part in, are a face and a voice for Wales. There is nothing second-class about our role here, and we should get stuck in as much as possible. Yes, there is a role for party political debate and conflict at times, but there is also a strong role for co-operation and a Team Wales approach from all 40 of us.
I will finish by talking about a practical issue that has already been discussed in part—the shared prosperity fund. I very much hope that the new Welsh Affairs Committee will take an early decision to get its teeth into scrutinising the progress in Government on making decisions about the shared prosperity fund. In the eyes of many colleagues, this is fundamentally a constitutional question of who gets to make the decisions—where the balance of responsibility lies between Cardiff and Westminster over that pot of money. For me, it is primarily an economic issue of how we put that money to good use to benefit the economy. I tried to intervene on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on this point. I do not think that he or anybody else questions the fact that previous rounds of EU funding have gone to useful causes and good projects—we see that in all our constituencies where this money has been received—but the fundamental point is that the primary objective of EU structural funds is to close an economic gap between poorer regions and areas and an EU average, and if that economic gap has not been closed, there are some hard questions to be asked about whether the money can be used to better effect to achieve stronger economic growth. That is the opportunity that I want the Welsh Government and the UK Government, working together, to take with regard to the shared prosperity fund. I very much hope that the new Welsh Affairs Committee will get its teeth into that.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, while it is imperative that we have control and use the money effectively, we must not lose the overall amount of money that we are allowed to spend? The shared prosperity fund must grant Wales the quantum of money that we got from convergence funding so that we can use it better but do not have less.
I do agree. I am concerned about three things: first, the size of the pot; secondly, who gets to make the decisions about how the pot is used; and, thirdly—crucially—how the pot is used.
It is forever about money, money, money, but the Government have made that clear. It is incredibly sad that we qualified for that third round and that nothing was done over that period to sort out the huge inequality that Wales has faced.
I agree with my hon. Friend. It has been said before, but it is not an accolade for Wales to achieve this status, and all politicians in Wales should have a restless ambition that Wales should not qualify for that kind of funding in future.
The right hon. Gentleman is making some very relevant points, but will he add one more consideration to his list? One of the great benefits of the way the European system worked was the multi-annual financial framework, with a five, six or seven-year programme. That will be difficult in the UK context, because we will not be able to bind the next Government, so we will be looking at five years at best, but it must be for the maximum length of the Parliament, not determined every year in the Budget.
That is an important point, but I do not share that sense of pessimism that we will not be able to achieve multi-year agreements for funding, regardless of changes in Government.
Before bringing my remarks to a close, I will make two quick points. One is a local point for the Secretary of State as he is discussing Budget issues with colleagues in government, regarding a small piece of rail infrastructure in Milford Haven, the largest town in my constituency. Its railway station is merely a slab of concrete with a portakabin. We can do better than that, surely. I would be grateful if he would take up that issue in discussions with colleagues. Finally, given that a tradition seems to have been established this afternoon of paying tribute to strong Welsh women in sport, I will pay tribute to Jasmine Joyce from my constituency, who this week was selected again for the Great Britain rugby sevens squad.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or diolch; it is a great pleasure to be called to speak in the debate and to have the opportunity to wish everyone, on behalf of my group in this place, a very happy St David’s Day when it comes. I also want to pass on my best wishes for the rugby on
My perspective in this debate is one of looking from afar, from the north-east of Scotland. If the House will permit me, I want to share some personal recollections. One of the first major political campaigns I got involved in was the devolution referendum of 1997, campaigning for a yes-yes vote in Scotland. I well remember the delight that my colleagues and I experienced that evening and the sense of the bright future that was beckoning, whatever it held. The following week, there was the vote in Wales. I remember a considerably more youthful looking Huw Edwards—I am sure he would not mind my saying that—anchoring the results programme. I went to bed that night quite despondent at the way the result appeared to be panning out, then woke up to find that the final result in Carmarthen had delivered a sufficient margin to ensure that it was a yes all round.
In Scotland, we had a significant task after that, because it was very difficult to live up to some of the unrealistic expectations that had built up around the institution. To those of us watching from Edinburgh, it seemed in those early years that Wales was doing devolution rather better than we were. Scotland’s First Minister at the time, Jack McConnell, had a much mocked ambition of trying to do less, better. It often seemed to us—in those early years, at least—that Wales was doing considerably better with less than we were.
If we fast-forward to the referendum on legislative powers in 2011, the contrast between the result then and the result in 1997 was striking. The vote to transfer legislative powers was supported the length and breadth of Wales by a margin of two to one. That seemed to be not only a vote to transfer legislative powers but a vote of confidence in that institution—here was an institution that was now firmly embedded in the democratic and political landscape of Welsh life.
I well recall the then Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, describing the period to follow as
“the decade to deliver for Wales.”
Others in this place will have strong views, and they are perhaps better qualified than I am to decide whether that was in fact lived up to. Looking from afar, I remember the Government led by Carwyn Jones commendably being prepared to speak out on what he thought were the shortcomings of the UK Government—he certainly put many of his Scottish colleagues to shame in his willingness to do so—but the perspective is one of drift rather than delivery. Post Brexit, the UK Government are in their pomp at the moment—I hope they do not think me unkind for saying that—about getting Brexit done and the need to level up. We will measure over time how the rhetoric matches up with the reality, but there is no doubt for me that considerable levelling up is required in Wales.
HS2 has been mentioned by several Members. My constituency, in the north-east of Scotland, is forecast to lose out as a result of HS2 being constructed, as parts of England become more competitive at our expense. I have to ask: where is the equivalent benefit for Wales out of this, other than the crumbs that will come from the table? I understand the argument about being able to bid into the supply chain and that process, but where are the transformative projects to balance that out and do some of the levelling up? For example, why will electrification of the Great Western line stop at Cardiff, instead of going on to Swansea? What about the full electrification of the valleys lines? We all know we have a climate change crisis that we need to tackle, and this is just one of a number of transformative projects that could benefit everyone in Wales and help to level up.
In that vein, where is the investment in the A470? When we look at a map of Wales, it is clear that considerable priority has been placed on east-west links, but where is the corresponding investment in north-south links? Where is the investment in digital connectivity? Since the UK Government retain regulatory responsibility for that, where are the coverage guarantees for 5G, so that it does not just hit the main population centres, and the main lines of communication and, crucially, rural areas are able to enjoy the same level of connectivity as their urban counterparts? It is clear that there is a need for that sustained investment in physical and social infrastructure in order to deliver the sustainable growth that Wales needs and the productivity increases that will allow all parts of Wales and all the people of Wales to reach their fullest potential.
In hopefully drawing my remarks to a controlled and orderly stop, as I tap the dashboard I would like to make one further observation on politics in Wales. If we can measure the democratic health of a country by the state of its Opposition, Wales seems to be in a rather better condition at this point in time than Scotland. Several years and a few jobs ago, I had the great pleasure of working here as the head of research for the Scottish National party group, although it was a considerably smaller group then. During that time, I had the great pleasure of seeing the former Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Adam Price, at work. I have to say that I am also very impressed with the current Member for that seat.
I well remember the contributions that Mr Price made in this Chamber and the way he used to light it up with his ideas, his eloquence and his clear passion to make Wales a much better place. I am delighted that he has made it back into active politics and to see him in his place in the Senedd. The people of Wales are incredibly fortunate to be in a position where they can choose him to be their next First Minister; they would be incredibly well served if they did so.
Finally, a point often made is that for all that Wales now has the significant legislative powers that came in in 2011, it lacks some of the institutional architecture that might help to make sense of those laws and allow them to be used to their fullest extent, particularly when we compare Wales with some of the institutions and the institutional architecture in Scotland, which are able to implement and monitor different policy choices. I urge people not to be frightened of or to feel inhibited by that, but rather to press ahead because self-government, if it means anything, absolutely means not just having the opportunity but having the right and indeed the obligation to make the best choices they can for the communities that have elected them to sit in whichever democratic institution they are elected to.
Looking from afar, as I say, it seems very clear that Wales is on something of a journey, and that journey goes on in terms of resolving its relationship within the United Kingdom and looking outwards to the rest of the world. Whether or not the end point of that journey is full national status, it is pretty clear that the people of Wales should be constrained only by the limits of their own talents, the limits of their own resources, the limits of their own imagination—and by the limits of nobody else.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in this House during the general debate on Welsh affairs. For me, it is a great honour to be the first Conservative MP elected for Bridgend during my lifetime. This is especially so, given that for most of my life I have lived in Bridgend, the wider borough of Bridgend or within just a few miles of it. I grew up in the area, and while the constituency is called Bridgend, it is so much more than just Bridgend town—such as the beautiful seaside town of Porthcawl, where I went to school and lived for many years. Therefore, this moment feels like a special privilege and honour for me to be standing here as the newly elected Member for a place I care deeply about.
I am sure my colleagues will agree, especially those who are newly elected, that when we arrive for the first time at the Palace of Westminster as an MP, it can be a particularly overwhelming experience. This was especially so in my case, as when I arrived in mid-December, it was my very first time here. I had not been here on a visit, a school trip or anything. Experiencing the aura and magnificence of Parliament for the first time as an MP made those first few days particularly special. I have to say that my general feeling of being overwhelmed and daunted was perhaps enhanced by all the Members on this side of the House who introduced themselves to me by telling me how much they liked and respected my predecessor.
Like those colleagues, I would also like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Madeleine Moon, who was the Member for Bridgend for 14 and a half years, since May 2005. Madeleine Moon first caught the attention of the national press during the tragic spate of suicides in Bridgend during 2007 and 2008. She spoke up eloquently for the town in one of its darkest hours, and fought against the negative media narrative that was developing at the time. After these terrible events, she often spoke about mental health issues—and this is an area I hope to pick up and continue—campaigning for increased awareness of mental health and related issues, and additional support for all those who suffer such illnesses. As well as service as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Madeleine Moon was a member of the UK delegation to NATO since 2010, and she was elected as President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in November 2018, for which colleagues on all sides of the House will commend her and pay tribute to her.
The armed forces are incredibly important to the people of Bridgend. While out campaigning during the last election, you could hardly get through a single street without meeting a military family or a veteran, and when you spoke to them about their experiences with the armed forces, it was clear early on just how emotive and important that part of their past is to them. These strong links with our armed forces go back many years. It was only in October of last year that we learned of the fate of HMS Urge, a world war two submarine that we now know was lost with all souls off the coast the Malta in April 1942. She was constructed in 1940, partly using funds raised by the people of Bridgend town and was later adopted by the town, and many of those serving on board had close ties to Bridgend or lived there. I am pleased that Bridgend Town Council is sending a delegation to Malta in late April to take part in a commemoration service, at which I hope to be present as well.
My constituents are a proud people, and proud of their communities. Every part of the constituency is touched by strong community spirit, which is seen so often in the hard work and dedication of so many community groups and volunteer-based organisations, some of which I have had the pleasure of meeting in my first weeks as an MP. As well as fantastic national organisations, such as the YMCA—it is, unfortunately, having to find new premises in Bridgend town now—and the Bridgend Dogs Trust, Bridgend is full of small local groups that give up their time to help make our communities even better.
I have had the pleasure of visiting the Badgers Brook allotments in Brackla, a site which was previously derelict, but the hard work of a small group of community-minded volunteers has been turned the area into a place for everyone nearby—from children to pensioners—to learn about growing their own food and taking pride in their community. Likewise, the Memory Lane Friendship Group in Pyle is an entirely volunteer-run group that meets weekly to give people suffering from dementia an opportunity to spend time and socialise with trained volunteers. These are just two examples of the huge number of such groups in Bridgend that typify the strength of community spirit in my constituency.
Such pride and spirit is perhaps why so many people speak out passionately about the state of Bridgend town centre. Those that live in the older parts of Bridgend such as Oldcastle, Newcastle, Litchard, Cefn Glas and the more established housing estates of Brackla and Wildmill often recall when the town centre was vibrant, active and full of life. With so many new developments in Bridgend, such as estates in Parc Derwen in Coity and Broadlands near Bryntirion, bringing new homes, new families and new residents to Bridgend, many are confused as to why the town seems to be suffering quite as it is. This once thriving market town has seen a decline that is more pronounced than many have observed elsewhere. While the centre is still home to wonderful small businesses and has an array of offerings for visitors, there can be no doubt about the level of concern at the number of empty premises, the decreasing footfall and the overall state of the streets, especially at night.
I recently met occupants of the indoor market who, true to the spirit of Bridgend, have given up their time to improve the market, and I enjoyed seeing all the wonderful progress they have made in recent times. However, it is clear that much more needs to be done. I congratulate the Government on getting straight to work on levelling up, with their £3.6 billion towns fund. Unfortunately, this fund applies only to towns in England, and I know that the people of Bridgend eagerly anticipate similar measures being taken for the towns of Wales by the Welsh Government.
While media reports that Bridgend is home to the highest levels of rodent infestation in the UK might perhaps explain why I feel so at home here in the Palace, they typify why the proud people of Bridgend are so passionate about seeing immediate and substantial improvements to the state of the area. However, I can assure the House that this is not the only wildlife in the constituency. Indeed, we are the proud home of the award-winning Kenfig nature reserve, one of the country’s top sand dune reserves, with an array of beautiful wild fen orchids, which birds and unique species of insects depend on for their survival. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the volunteers, who come not only from Kenfig and the surrounding communities of Pyle and Cornelly but from afar, to support and protect the reserve, especially those that endured a difficult recent campaign to clarify the reserve’s future, following the end of the lease held by the local council.
Close to the nature reserve are some of the most wonderful beaches in the country—in Porthcawl, which I mentioned earlier. People come from far and wide to surf at Rest bay, where I often go to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet away from Westminster, but that is not always possible, as I am sure my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies will agree. I often see him there, with surfboard in tow, and I am grateful for every encounter we have. Porthcawl offers even more than this, with the nearby Coney beach and its fairground being enjoyed by people from all over the country. Even being a tourist hotspot, however, one of the main attractions that brings people to Porthcawl is the annual Elvis festival, attended by up to 35,000 people. If Members would like to attend the next festival, there will be no risk of their being “lonesome tonight”.
As a newly elected Member for a constituency that has had Conservative representation after only one other election in its history, it is fitting that I close my maiden speech by acknowledging the need to repay the trust placed in me, particularly by those who voted for my party for the first time. This begins with listening. My first priorities have centred around engaging with as many people as possible, and I will continue to keep my promises to hold regular surgeries, to be present in the constituency, and to meet as many residents as possible. I look forward to engaging with our local schools, our excellent Princess of Wales Hospital and its fantastic hard-working staff, as well as with businesses and our community leaders, and I will ensure that I am fully equipped to represent their views in this House. As I said earlier, Bridgend is home to a proud people who do not expect the earth, but they do expect an MP who is on their side and fighting their corner, and that is exactly the kind of MP I hope to be.
I congratulate Dr Wallis on his excellent maiden speech. I am sure he will make many more worthwhile contributions in this House. As someone who comes from a small village near Bridgend, I wish him well, and I look forward to his future contributions to the Elvis festival in Porthcawl.
I wish to refer to the flooding that has afflicted a number of areas in my constituency over the past couple of weeks. In Bedwas, Machen, Llanbradach and Bargoed, homes and businesses—and in Bedwas a rugby club—have suffered flooding, in some cases quite severely. For many there is no insurance, and everyone who has suffered physical damage to their properties has also suffered emotional trauma. It is appalling when someone suffers the consequence of their home flooding with dirty water. Everywhere, the community has shown exemplary resilience and pulled together, with people helping each other. In Bedwas, where I live, volunteers have cleaned the local rugby club, and an amazing sum of money has been collected. On Sunday night, I will attend a sell-out concert in Bedwas workmen’s hall, to collect money for local people who have been affected by the floods. I pay tribute to the workers of Caerphilly County Borough Council, who have worked tirelessly to help people and deal with situations that are unprecedented in recent times.
Tomorrow I will meet parliamentary colleagues, Assembly Members, and the leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council, Councillor Philippa Marsden. We will review the situation, and I am sure we will agree to reinforce the representations already made for additional central Government funding for the areas hit by flooding. Those extra resources are required from London so that the Welsh Government, and our local authorities, can continue to respond effectively to this unprecedented situation.
I wish to raise a couple of other issues. We have heard about the proposal to build a third runway at Heathrow airport, and about the Court of Appeal ruling against those plans on the basis that the expansion would breach environmental legislation. Be that as it may, it does not alter the fact that Heathrow expansion, if correctly done with appropriate legislation, could bring enormous benefit to the British economy, and especially to the economy of south Wales. I hope that the Government will get their act together and come forward with appropriate legislation that protects the environment, so that the expansion can go ahead and bring economic benefits to the country, including in Wales.
The independent Airports Commission has concluded that an expanded Heathrow will mean an extra 8,400 jobs in Wales, and up to £8 billion more in economic growth. The economy of Wales is largely based on exports, 60% of which go to the European Union. With an expanded and enhanced western rail link to Heathrow, expansion of that airport will bring tremendous economic benefits to Wales. It will mean more visitors to Wales, more destinations that Welsh tourists can reach, and, crucially, more opportunity for Welsh businesses to get to those all-important new markets. That is why the Welsh Government are firmly in support of the new runway, and I desperately hope that the Government manage to get their act together.
I also wish to mention the growing importance of UK defence contracts to the Welsh economy. In the last financial year alone, the Ministry of Defence spent more than £1 billion with industry in Wales, directly supporting more than 7,500 jobs. That is welcome, but we need much more of that. Last autumn, I went to the Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition in London’s Docklands, which is the largest exhibition of its kind anywhere in the world. I was especially pleased to see an excellent stand from Wales, organised by the Welsh Government. These things give huge opportunities to small and medium-sized businesses from Wales, which are increasingly benefiting from defence contracts. Those contracts also have a huge knock-on effect on the supply chains in Wales.
I was especially pleased to see a company from my constituency represented on that stand in the defence exhibition. Drone Evolution from Caerphilly is a small company that recognises that there are opportunities in the defence sector, as well as in the civilian sector—it is important to recognise that these days, those two things go very much together. I am also pleased about the investment by Thales in Blaenau Gwent. In 2009 Thales—again, with the support of the extremely proactive Welsh Government—launched its National Digital Exploitation Centre. That is in the heads of the valleys, where it is especially welcome. As we know, the heads of the valleys in south Wales continue to suffer economic and social deprivation, and a lot more sustained work is needed to ensure that those communities are rehabilitated and given the dynamic future they deserve.
I was also pleased at the significant investment by General Dynamics in Merthyr Tydfil—an area not dissimilar from Blaenau Gwent; it is just along the heads of the valleys from it, and it has seen far better times. The decision by General Dynamics to assemble and test the Army’s new Ajax vehicles in Merthyr has been extremely successful, and a huge fillip to the Welsh economy. Before long, however, that contract will come to an end, and it is important for the community and the workforce that a significant new contract be secured.
The multi-role vehicle protected programme will be a significant addition to the Army and to the country’s very high readiness forces, and the troop-carrying vehicles and battlefield ambulances could well be built in Merthyr Tydfil. A procurement process is under way at the Ministry of Defence, but I urge the Government to make real the principles and arguments advanced so articulately by Philip Dunne in the Dunne report.
We must recognise that defence contracts are not simply a matter for the Ministry of Defence to consider in isolation. If we are serious about developing a sovereign capability, and I believe all of us should be, defence contracts must take into account the social and economic contribution they can make to the country as a whole and to hard-pressed regions like the south Wales valleys. That is the essential message of the Dunne report. I hope the Government will make it real, beginning by ensuring that General Dynamics secures that contract in Merthyr Tydfil.
These are not easy times in Wales, but it is very clear that Wales today is a nation with very special values. I end as I started: by saying that the response of people to the floods shows that the nation of Wales is essentially a community of people with strong co-operative and collective values. Long may that continue.
It was the greatest honour of my life to be elected MP for Clwyd South. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Susan Elan Jones. Susan served Clwyd South with distinction for almost 10 years as our MP, and I have always much admired her strong sense of integrity, kindness and concern for others. It is fair to say that Susan and I can take comfort from the fact that we have at different times achieved a result in Clwyd South that eluded my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who famously said about his experiences in the 1997 general election:
“I fought Clwyd South and Clwyd South fought back.”
That said, there is no doubt in my mind that I would not be standing here but for the inspired leadership of the Prime Minister in the general election campaign.
The past two months have been eventful for me, to say the least—settling into Parliament, and attending events and holding surgeries in Clwyd South, combined with the unexpected death of my mother on
Over the past two months, Clwyd South has seen more than its fair share of exceptional events; there was the fire at the Kronospan factory in Chirk, and the effects of Storms Ciara and Dennis. I have tried to make myself available to the people affected by these events. For instance, after the fire, I held an eight-hour surgery in Chirk to listen to people’s concerns. On
There is so much to celebrate in the businesses, organisations, sports teams, volunteers and communities of Clwyd South. As an MP, my job is to listen to people’s problems and to do my best to resolve them, but it is also to support and promote people’s successes. I attended my first event in the constituency on the day I was elected,
Clwyd South has a proud industrial and mining heritage, seen not only in the Llangollen canal and its magnificent aqueducts, but in projects such as the Brymbo heritage centre, which is raising funds to create a visitor attraction to celebrate the buildings, machinery, landscape, industry and people of the former Brymbo steelworks. This remarkable heritage lives on in the large number of businesses that thrive in Clwyd South today, from larger companies such as Ifor Williams Trailers in Corwen and the Village Bakery, based in Coedpoeth, to smaller companies in the Vauxhall industrial estate between Johnstown and Ruabon, where my constituency office is located. Wales, of course, was the powerhouse of the industrial revolution and is now a country with cutting-edge innovation, inventive entrepreneurs, and an increasingly successful record of selling itself and its products abroad.
Tourism is also a major industry in Clwyd South—an industry I grew up in. My father ran Lake Vyrnwy hotel, not far away in the very north of Powys. We boast a wide range of hotels and bed and breakfasts, from which visitors can explore our beautiful countryside and heritage, including two of the most visited National Trust properties in Wales, Chirk Castle and Erddig Hall. They can take part in the many cultural activities in the constituency, particularly those celebrating the Welsh language, which is widely spoken across Clwyd South and taught in our thriving schools. The Llangollen international musical eisteddfod, of which I used to be a trustee, draws many visitors, as do the concerts given by the Rhos, Fron and other local male voice choirs.
We need to provide strong support to our farmers, who care for the countryside, which people flock to visit, from the upland farms in the west to the lowland farms in the east, in the Maelor, on the border with Cheshire and Shropshire. As we know, farmers work long hours and have major problems such as bovine TB to contend with. We must ensure that they can make a decent livelihood if we are to protect our environment and wildlife and combat global warming.
But above all, Clwyd South is special for the warmth, good humour and kindness of its close-knit communities. A key part of health and wellbeing is the NHS, which could be run better in Wales, but that is the subject of another speech. Strong communities are also a vital part of ensuring that people are happy and feel supported. This has been a particular interest of mine through the charity, Concertina—Music for the Elderly, which I set up with my wife Maggie over 20 years ago to provide live music for older people in care homes and day centres across Wales and England. Music is often the only mode of communication that can penetrate deep dementia and Alzheimer’s, and these concerts bring people together and combat loneliness, which is one of the aspects of modern life that we must work much harder to alleviate.
St David’s Day is a time of celebration of all that is unique and inspiring about Wales. Clwyd South represents the very best of these qualities, and I look forward to serving my constituents to the very best of my ability in the coming years.
I extend my congratulations and condolences to Simon Baynes: I congratulate him on his excellent maiden speech but offer my condolences, and I am sure those of every Opposition Member, on the loss of his mother. I am sure that his mother would have been immensely proud of him not only for being elected to the House, but for the speech he has just made. He is just starting out on his parliamentary career—he is almost exactly the same age as I am; in other words, just about reaching his prime in life. I take this opportunity to declare that I think I am now officially the longest-serving Welsh MP from any party in this House. I think I signed in before my hon. Friend Wayne David in 2001, and I am therefore claiming the title Tad y Tŷ— “Father of the House” in Welsh—at least for this gathering today.
I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the charity that he set up, Concertina, and I very much agree with what he said about the power of music and its impact on older people. Having volunteered for a charity in a care home to play music to older people, I look forward to talking to him more about the work that he has been undertaking. I also thank him for paying tribute, quite properly, to his predecessor, Susan Elan Jones, who really was the best of us as a Member of Parliament, from any party, and who was a great champion in this place for Wales and particularly for the Welsh language.
It is a great pleasure to speak in today’s debate from the Back Benches, having served almost continuously for 15 years on the Front Benches, both in government and in opposition. It is quite a relief to have the freedom to roam and talk about anything I want. Today, I want to talk about the future of public service broadcasting in Wales, in particular BBC Cymru Wales, ITV Wales and Sianel Pedwar Cymru—S4C—not least in the light of the publication this morning by Ofcom of its five-year review of public service broadcasting, “Small Screen: Big Debate”. The key finding in the report is that public service broadcasting remains extremely important and relevant to the UK as whole, but I think that is especially true for us in Wales.
On St David’s Day 1967, BBC Wales opened Broadcasting House in Llandaff in my constituency. After 53 years, it recently moved to a brand-new, high-tech, modern headquarters just over the River Taff in the city centre. It remains a major employer for my constituents and residents of many other constituencies across Wales. Of more than 1,000 employees, many live in Cardiff West. BBC Cymru Wales is a key community partner in my constituency for the new state-of-the-art Cardiff West Community High School, which the Labour council recently built with funding assistance from the Welsh Government. That partnership provides exciting opportunities for students from the communities of Ely and Caerau who badly need them. Indeed, Caerau boy and top BBC talent Jason Mohammad was at the opening of the school, which was built on the site of the school he attended, to promote its partnership with the BBC.
I say all that to remind the House that public service broadcasting in the form of BBC Cymru Wales, ITV Wales and S4C, and the many producers and other ancillary services it supports, plays a huge role in Welsh culture, Welsh society and the Welsh economy. That includes Welsh language television and radio programming, which plays a key part in promoting and building the language and will make a vital contribution to achieving the Welsh Government’s aspiration of having 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050. Part of the licence fee now funds the Welsh language channel S4C, so proposals to scrap or even, as I understand someone from No. 10 said, to “whack” the licence fee without properly examining the consequences threaten the culturally and socially vital programming that is so important to Wales as a nation. A purely profit-drive subscription system would destroy public service broadcasting, in particular S4C.
The Prime Minister likes to make a big point about his undying love for the Union, but it is strange how cavalier his Government are about Wales’s presence and influence within the Union. There seems to be a complete lack of understanding of the importance of the licence fee, the BBC charter and public service broadcasting more generally to Wales’ place as one of the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom. The BBC, ITV Wales and S4C are major Welsh employers, both indirectly and directly. They have brought many programmes we are all familiar with—“Doctor Who”, “Pobol y Cwm”, “Casualty”, “Torchwood”, “Life on Mars”, “Sherlock”, “Hinterland”, “Keeping Faith” and “Gavin and Stacey”—to UK-wide and indeed global audiences. Today, the Ofcom report shows that public service broadcasting production in Wales has risen threefold since 2010. It is still only 3% of the total, so there is room for further growth, but it is hugely important in our economy and a growing sector.
BBC Wales and S4C play huge roles in promoting Welsh music, employing musicians and composers not just through things like the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, but through Welsh language music on Radio Cymru and S4C. I say to some colleagues on the Government Benches, who seem to be playing with the concept, that they should resist the temptation to pull at the loose threads of a carefully woven shawl that has been bequeathed to us, just because it looks slightly frayed at the edges. They risk unravelling something precious that can never be recreated.
Quite rightly, there is a debate at Welsh and UK level about the role that public service broadcasting can play in a new world in which we consume our media from a variety of different sources. The founders of the BBC in the 1920s could not have imagined a world in which people could pick up a mobile phone and watch whatever content they cared to choose—as the old Martini ad used to say, “any time, any place, anywhere”. The underlying question for this new world, however, is “Does the concept of public service broadcasting still have relevance?”, and I would argue that, more than ever, it does. In this information free-for-all, the original founding values of the BBC resonate more loudly than ever. In an era of fake news, when conspiracy theorists thrive and journalistic integrity is routinely questioned and undermined by, I have to say, all sides in the political debate, the BBC’s mission to “inform, educate and entertain” has never been more important.
Some ask why public service broadcasters need to entertain when entertainment can be supplied by the market. There are times, I agree, when those broadcasters can be legitimately criticised for straying too far in the direction of content of questionable public value, but we have to realise that in a world of high-tech global corporations hoovering up data and monopolising gateways to content, our cultural sovereignty will suffer without the public service broadcasting framework. It would be ironic if, having supposedly voted to take back control, we handed over the remote control from Cardiff West or Westminster to the west wing of the White House and big tech’s west coast of America.
We therefore need new, flexible regulations to guarantee continuing prominence for public service content, even when the gateway to that content is through a set-top box, a smart TV or a smart speaker. In a world in which Amazon determines what is on the home page of a deliberately discounted loss-leader television monitor, there is a danger that public service content will be locked in a dark cupboard with no key easily available. S4C already suffers from that on the electronic programme guide, having been relegated to channel 166 on Virgin Media and multiple clicks away from the home page of a Sky+ box.
It should be obvious that we need to ensure that trusted, curated information is available to young people in particular, and that they can distinguish between fact and fake, between informed opinion and hateful prejudice. What future is there for democracy without an informed next generation in Wales and beyond with the skills to navigate the deluge of information in the digital era? Public service broadcasting and streaming, through content such as BBC Bitesize, “Newsround” and “My World”, can help to thwart the penetration of untrustworthy news sources to younger generations.
In fact, Ofcom is currently consulting on changes proposed by the BBC to reinvent the service that “Newsround” provides for young people by replacing its evening bulletin with more online content, which already has nearly 1 million users a week compared with the 35,000 six-to-12 year-olds who currently watch the televised 4 pm bulletin. The fact that younger people watch less linear television does not mean that they will not consume public service content, provided that it is made available to them in places where they look for their content.
I was going to say something about sports rights and, in particular, the need for the Six Nations to be put on the category A list, but I do not want to detain the House for too long, so I will just say a bit more about the licence fee. The Government have launched a public consultation on the so-called decriminalisation of non-payment. That proposal was not in the Conservative party’s manifesto. It has been launched within a few years of a previous review which provided clear evidence that decriminalisation would not help those in Wales struggling with their bills, would draw more people into the courts, and would undermine the funding of the BBC.
That review, the Perry review, clearly concluded that the current system was the fairest, and that any move towards decriminalisation of non-payment of the fee would undermine the BBC’s ability to enforce the licence and would not remove the risk of imprisonment. In any case, imprisonment is not an available punishment for non-payment of the licence fee; it is a penalty available to the courts for wilful refusal or culpable neglect on the part of the offender to pay any court-ordered fines. Often, those who are caught for non-payment are fined the value of the fee itself and no criminal case is brought. When cases are brought, the only directly available penalty is a maximum fine of £1,000 and no criminal record, with actual fines served averaging £176.
Furthermore, the Perry review outlined that the current regime serves as an effective deterrent, maintaining the offending rate at a very low 5%. One has to question the Government’s motives in reopening this issue now, in the light of that very recent evidence. If they really want to ease the burden of the licence fee on any group of people, why do they not reinstate free television licences for those over 75 rather than passing the buck on to an already underfunded BBC with no means of sustaining it, and simultaneously undermining BBC finances through this bogus consultation?
This is all part of an agenda by some to undermine, to cut and eventually to privatise large swaths of the BBC, including BBC Cymru Wales. It is also a direct threat to employment in Wales, particularly in my constituency of Cardiff West. As this proposal is not a manifesto pledge, the House of Lords would have every right to reject it if, as expected, the Government decide to ram it through for ideological reasons using their Commons majority. If ever there was an instance in which the Salisbury convention would apply, this is it. The method of enforcing licence fee collection should not be changed before the next charter renewal in 2027. Labour and the Conservatives, and the other parties, can set out in their manifestos for the next election—probably in 2024—where they stand on this issue.
Public service broadcasting through BBC Cymru Wales, ITV Wales and S4C plays a huge part in the lives of our constituents. They are major employers and cultural leaders, and they produce trusted quality television, radio and online content. Back in 1964, Wales got its very own TV service. It was our service and our programming, reflective of our talent and our culture, with content made in Wales by Wales, for Wales and beyond and recognised worldwide. In fact, the Union is stronger for our role in providing some of the UK’s leading TV, film, radio and online exports.
Public service broadcasting might need to be renamed in the age of digital streaming, perhaps as “public service media”, but whatever we call it, we should value and nurture it. We should ensure that it is not locked away in that dark cupboard where it is difficult to find. We should ensure that it has a sustainable source of funding—either through advertising, in the case of some public service broadcasters, or through the licence fee for others—that allows it to remain independent of Government. We should acknowledge its relevance in a world of fake news, and for Wales we should fight to protect, preserve and enhance it so that it can continue to play a positive role in the language, culture, life and economy of our nation.
May I say what a great pleasure it was to hear the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Dr Wallis? It was also a particular pleasure to be here to listen to the maiden speech of my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Simon Baynes. The place names that he reeled off when he paid tribute to his fine constituency were something of a gazetteer of my childhood. I am particularly delighted that he has put his constituency base in Ruabon. As an old boy of Ruabon Grammar School, I can tell him that there is no finer location for his constituency headquarters. Both of my hon. Friends are going to be great Members of Parliament and a great asset to this House.
May I also say how pleased I am that the Government have made time for this traditional St David’s Day debate? This is an important event, if only for giving me the opportunity to wear my favourite tie, which has an annual outing on this occasion. It is important, too, because it is essential that Welsh affairs should be debated in this Chamber, even in the post-devolution era. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is even more important now, because, as my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb said, it is frequently hard to differentiate areas of government in Wales which are devolved and those which are not. The people of Wales frequently have great difficulty in understanding who is responsible for which element of public policy.
I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman. In recent weeks, I have twice asked questions of the Government about non-devolved matters and have been told that they are in fact devolved, but the Government have been wrong. I would therefore welcome any education on devolution that we can give to Members on both sides of the House, as well as to the wider world.
That is an excellent illustration of the problem. I am sure that many Members were berated frequently during the recent general election campaign about the poor quality of health services in their part of the world, and had to tell people that that is the responsibility not of the Westminster Government, but of the Welsh Assembly Government. The hon. Lady is quite right to raise that issue.
Wales is changing. Nowhere are the changes more apparent than in north Wales, and the poll of
Broadband is an important element of that infrastructure, as Richard Thomson pointed out in his contribution. Much work has already been done, and superfast broadband is indeed present in north Wales and enjoyed by a large section of the business community and some householders. However, it is barely there at all in some parts of north Wales. Take the village of Pandy Tudur in my constituency. I had a complaint from a resident only a couple of weeks ago that she was unable to get broadband speeds of more than 800 kilobits per second. That is completely inadequate for business purposes or leisure purposes and barely adequate to send an email.
Pandy Tudur is certainly a remote village. It is about 12 miles from the nearest town of Abergele, but it is not so remote as, for example, Pitcairn Island. I mention Pitcairn because I happened to watch a TV documentary about it a few weeks ago. Pitcairn is 3,400 miles away from the nearest significant land mass of New Zealand, and yet its residents enjoy speeds of 5 megabits per second, which is enough to enjoy streaming video, so they enjoy a luxury presently denied to my constituents in the village of Pandy Tudur.
The north Wales growth deal, which is an extremely important initiative of the Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, has digital infrastructure as a major plank of its policy and is rolling out faster speeds across north Wales. The 2019 Conservative general election manifesto undertook to bring full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the whole of Wales by 2025. That, of course, is highly welcome, but those promises will be judged by what happens on the ground. In the case of the residents of Pandy Tudur, who are looking with envy at the residents of Pitcairn Island, that cannot come fast enough.
The next piece of north Wales infrastructure that needs attention is the A55 expressway. The A55 is a vital arterial road that links north Wales to the great cities of Liverpool and Manchester and to the main motorway network. It was first developed about 30 years ago, but it is already creaking. The area around the Dee crossing, as my hon. Friend Rob Roberts will attest, is particularly in need of urgent attention. Some 10 years ago the Welsh Assembly Government promised an upgrade of the area around Aston Hill, which was never carried out. The area remains a significant bottleneck for travellers along the A55 in both directions, particularly at holiday times.
I was therefore delighted to see the commitment in the Conservative manifesto:
“we will, working with the Welsh Government, upgrade the A55 as the main…transport artery for North Wales—improving its capacity and resilience to build connections between Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom.”
The commitment acknowledges that road infrastructure is the devolved competence of the Welsh Government. However, it is a remarkably generous statement of intent to assist the Welsh Government in upgrading that road, and I cannot stress too strongly how much we need that road upgrade in north Wales.
North Wales voters will want to see positive action with a view to early delivery, which is a challenge not only to this Government but to the Welsh Assembly Government. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister touched on that in his winding-up speech and indicated what progress has been made so far on agreeing a plan of action with the Welsh Government for the upgrade of the A55.
The third piece of infrastructure in urgent need of attention is the north Wales rail system. High Speed 2 is very popular and very welcome in north Wales and, contrary to the assertions of some Opposition Members, it will benefit north Wales by cutting journey times between London and north Wales. At the moment, the journey from London Euston to Colwyn Bay, for example, is some two hours and 40 minutes. That will be reduced by about 30 minutes as a consequence of HS2 and the new hub that will be constructed at Crewe, so there is a benefit.
However, HS2, which as I say is tremendously welcome, should not blind us to the need to improve regional connectivity. Journey times from north Wales to the great cities of Liverpool and Manchester are extremely poor, and particularly poor are the journey times to Manchester airport, which is the principal air hub for the north-west of England and north Wales. It takes two hours and 20 minutes to travel from Colwyn Bay to Manchester airport. The journey time by car is approximately half that: one hour and 10 minutes.
Of course, I realise there is a problem in that there is no access to the airport from the west, but there is also a huge problem in the poor quality of the rolling stock. The north Wales line has been operated by Transport for Wales for the past two or three months, and it uses obsolete rolling stock that is well past its sell-by date. There is no reason at all why the people of north Wales should be expected to put up with such rolling stock. Again, although this is a devolved competence of the Welsh Assembly, I urge my hon. Friend to confirm that pressure is being put on it to upgrade the rolling stock so that the people of north Wales can see the improvements that are already being seen in the Cardiff and south Wales area.
Finally, before my voice completely gives out, I would like to refer to a piece of infrastructure that I mentioned in my intervention on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State: the north Wales tidal lagoon. It will be a tremendously important piece of infrastructure, if the Westminster Government will support it. It would have the capacity to generate some 2.6 GW, which is twice as much as a nuclear power station. It would generate that completely cleanly and predictably, as nothing is more predictable than the tide. I appreciate that we had an unfortunate experience with the Swansea lagoon proposal, which was much smaller, but there is great backing in north Wales, from not only its people, but my hon. Friends the Members for Aberconwy (Robin Millar) and for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) and myself, for seeing this proposal progressed. May I therefore urge the Wales Office to facilitate a meeting between the proposed developer, the Members of Parliament for the relevant area and the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth to see whether this project can be moved forward? Let me repeat, in conclusion, that north Wales is changing and its people will embrace that change. They want that change, and I believe that this transformational Government can deliver it.
Diolch yn fawr, Madam Dirprwy Lefarydd. It is an honour to follow Mr Jones, and I join him on many of the issues he has raised about infrastructure and the potential for a tidal lagoon in north Wales. I am sure he would join me in asking the Department and the Ministers to consider the funding required and the potential for an innovation power purchase agreement in relation to funding tidal lagoons, as was presented to the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth yesterday.
Of course, I should say: Hoffwn gymryd y cyfle hwn i ddymuno Dydd Gŵyl Ddewi hapus iawn i chi i gyd. I am sure all Members will realise from the context that I was, entirely appropriately, wishing everybody a happy St David’s Day in Welsh. For Welsh people and those of Welsh descent all over the world, no matter where we happen to be St David’s Day is a chance to come together to celebrate what it means to bear the mantle of being Welsh, whether by birth, luck or design. Many hon. Members will have taken part in excellent events this week to celebrate St David’s Day as part of Wales Week London. The best in Welsh music, art, food, tourism and heritage is proudly on display here in this city for Cymry tramor—the diaspora of Wales—in London to enjoy. This is an opportunity to showcase what we have to offer to the world. This year, for the first time, Wales Weeks are occurring in 21 places around the world, including New York, Ohio, Paris and Melbourne.
Of course, this is the first St David’s Day since our departure from the European Union, which makes flying the flag for Wales the world over more important than ever. Leaving the EU demands a discussion about what the future holds for Wales; and with our position in the world being redefined around us, we owe it to the people of Wales to set out a positive vision for the future. In the last few years, the political tectonic plates have shifted dramatically across these islands; in Ireland and in Scotland, we have seen a radical realignment of identity and politics. People are no longer willing to accept the old notion that the Celtic fringes are a colourful, cultural indulgence, humoured at best and otherwise tolerated, with the meaningful powers—I say that with an element of sarcasm—shored up where they have always been, in south-east England. With both Irish reunification and Scottish independence now discussed more widely and in more forums than ever before, it is important for us, Welsh politicians of all colours, to be under no illusion about what the future holds for Wales. In the event of the reunification of Ireland and an independent Scotland, the default setting will be the emergence of an England and Wales entity that would surely be the most imbalanced, inequitable so-called Union in the world: one nation would comprise 56 million people, the other 3 million. One would have its devolved Parliament, which would inevitably feel the strain without a wider context of devolution across the state, as Richard Thomson mentioned powerfully earlier.
Even as things currently stand, despite 20 years of devolution there are those who seek to mock, denigrate and deny the people of Wales the institutions and the powers that normal countries take for granted. There is clearly a failure on the part of the current Welsh Government, whose Ministers have failed so spectacularly to capture the hearts and minds of the people with whose Parliament they have been entrusted for 20 years. They are a Government marked by a lack of ambition, by managerialism and by a reluctance to face scrutiny—all tragically evidenced by a decline in education standards and a failing health service. Welsh Labour were given the tools to build a nation; it has kept those tools in the toolbox.
The recent floods raise questions about the performance of both the Welsh and British Governments. There has been chronic under-investment in flood-defence infrastructure and a shameful lack of response. The Prime Minister failed to call a Cobra meeting in response to the floods. The Welsh Government do not even have a Cobra-style national emergency response system. Our First Minister deemed it “too dangerous” to send in the Army to flood-stricken areas, despite their being called in to help in Yorkshire three times in seven months. It is 30 years to the week since the Towyn floods in north Wales, and the message that only preparation can prevent an emergency from turning into a disaster remains unlearned in those 30 years.
The UK Government are already acting to claw back powers to Whitehall. Take, for example, the UK shared prosperity fund. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister said that there should be a strong Conservative influence over how money that replaces EU structural funds is spent in Wales, despite the Welsh Government having controlled that EU funding over the past two decades. The Secretary of State said earlier that shared prosperity investments have to be meaningful and not vanity indulgences. Let us recall Boris’s bridges: the garden bridge in London and the bridge to Northern Ireland. To put this in context: investment in Wales must be decided in Wales. I put it to the Government that not only is the precedent intolerable, but they are setting down a short-termism precedent that may return in future. Investments for Wales should be made and decided in Wales.
Of course, an England and Wales entity already exists across key policy areas: despite 21 years of devolution, our national Parliament has no powers over policing and justice and we still lack a legal jurisdiction—the only nation in the UK to do so. I therefore wish to explore how treating Wales as an appendage of England in this respect is bad for the people of Wales, because that is exactly how we should look at and evaluate it. The issue is particularly timely because we have the upcoming police and crime commissioner elections in May, when the two excellent Plaid Cymru PCCs, Arfon Jones and Dafydd Llywelyn, will be seeking re-election.
Let us look at some specific problems in Wales in relation to policing and justice—problems to which the solutions are out of the hands of the people of Wales until the powers are devolved. Since the creation of the system of PCCs, we have seen the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice hiving over more and more responsibilities to commissioners to carry out new functions. But—this is the important point—rather than seeing a corresponding level of additional funding, we have for 10 years seen an abdication of duty on the part of the UK Government to fund the police service. It is all very well to talk about additional thousands of police officers now, but we are talking about 10 years of underfunding and what politicians with the interests of the people of Wales in mind have had to do in Wales to provide some remedy.
The PCCs have been forced to rely on raising the local tax precept. The precept for the four Welsh forces as a proportion of the overall funding increased from 32% in 2008-09 to 47% in 2019-20. They did that for good reason: to keep the police on the streets and to keep the public safe. This increase in police precepts meant that Welsh police funding was £34 million greater in 2018 than it would have been had it risen in line with that of England. We have had to find the means to do it ourselves without the sufficient powers to do so, but we have done it anyway. That is a message for all of us. None the less, this is clearly an unfair funding system, demanding a stark choice between increasing the precept and cutting services, neither of which would need to be done if the Home Office addressed the issues with a comprehensive and equitable funding formula.
The prison system in Wales is also let down by the current framework. Research carried out by Dr Robert Jones of Cardiff University’s Welsh governance centre found that in 2017 Wales had the highest prison population rate in western Europe, with 154 prisoners per 100,000 population. That is equivalent to one in every 650 people, and this is despite the fact that recorded crime in Wales was lower than in England in every year between 2013 and 2017. I wonder whether this is something to do with the fact that we have had to put our money where our mouth is in Wales. We have had to do that, and it has had an effect.
Women are more likely to receive an immediate custodial sentence than men. That is despite the fact that there are no women’s facilities in Wales. In 2016, 623 women were sentenced to immediate custody, 86 of whom were convicted for non-violent offences. They were sent to facilities in England, far away from their families—and we know the effect that that has on the children—when a more rehabilitative programme based in their communities would have been better for everyone. Wales was promised a residential unit for female offenders back in 2018, but we have yet to see it even in 2020.
Imprisonment rates among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are even more disproportionate relative to population in Wales than in England. For every 10,000 white people in Wales, 14 are in prison. For every 10,000 black people in Wales, 91 are in prison. Further to that, BAME people have the highest average sentence length. Therefore, a person of colour in Wales is both more likely to be imprisoned and to receive a longer sentence.
Prisons are perhaps the clearest example of how an England and Wales approach simply does not work. We need to build a system that fits our purpose and is suitable for the people of Wales. Devolving policing and justice for Wales must now be a priority if we are to do better for the people of Wales, and we will, of course, be arguing for that strongly. At the same time, we will also be arguing about the specific ways that we can improve the lives of the people of Wales with the powers that we already have, because that is part of being ambitious. This includes the establishment of an economic crime unit for north Wales, dedicated to investigating fraud against the most vulnerable, and protecting those who are being increasingly exploited by fraud. That would include things such as implementing the victims’ code of practice and implementing changes to systems to provide a seamless service and support, so as to give victims increased confidence in coming forward with evidence. We will have a focus on reducing reoffending—by mainstreaming Checkpoint Cymru and the Early Action Together team, which relates to adverse childhood experiences, in the work of North Wales Police. We will also pledge, across Wales, to increase the capacity of our rural crime team to address rural criminality and wildlife crime, which is something that I am sure every Member here would agree should be a priority in Wales.
No matter what one’s position is on devolution, it is clear that designing policy on an England and Wales basis does not work at the moment. There is a chance that, in future, more policies will be designed without Wales’s specific needs taken into account—that irresistible urge to centralise powers here in Westminster.
We often hear about Brexit being a chance to bring power closer to the people, but I do fear, whatever the Conservatives say, that the reality will be the exact opposite. None the less, let us look to the future. This is Saint David’s Day. Let us look to our future and our role—all of us—in growing a stronger, more confident, more wealthy, more equitable Wales. That is what we can do here until we get the powers back home to do it properly. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Order. We should be able to get everybody in if Members keep their contributions to just under seven minutes. I would prefer Members to do that voluntarily, if possible.
I will be mindful of that time limit, Mr Deputy Speaker.
It is a great privilege to follow Liz Saville Roberts, my constituency neighbour. I agree with much of what she said, although we often disagree on how to deliver what we want. I pay tribute to the two Members who made their maiden speeches this afternoon. It was a privilege to listen to my hon. Friend Simon Baynes, my constituency neighbour, and my hon. Friend Dr Wallis. It is truly delightful to have a flock, a team, a gang of Conservative Members from across Wales. We also heard from my right hon. Friend Mr Jones—it is a delight to see that tie come out at this time of year. I agree with much of what he said about the feeling of change in north, mid, south and west Wales. I will touch on that later.
At the start of the week, the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and I were on the Wales Week London podcast. Much of the debate focused on what is great about Wales, but specifically what is great when people work together—Members of Parliament, Assembly Members, those in local authorities and those in the private sector. I pay particular tribute to Dan Langford OBE for his work pulling together the Welsh Government, the UK Government and the private sector to put Wales on the map this week, in London and across the world. Wales Week now lasts for two weeks, and next year it will possibly be three. That growing passion for Wales is really taking flight. The more we can work together, the better—the private sector is captaining that movement—but it is something we have struggled to do in Wales; it would really be cause for celebrating St David’s Day.
I associate myself with the remarks made by most Members about the recent flooding across the UK, but especially in Wales—people would expect the Member for Montgomeryshire, which is the source of the Severn, to touch on flooding. I pay tribute to our farmers—they have not yet been mentioned—who throughout these crises have stood up and delivered for our communities yet again. It always amazes me how, with such little warning, they can protect their livestock and prevent them from islanding by getting them safely away from the floodplains in Montgomeryshire and across the UK. They have also looked after our roads and constituents, saving many of them in their beautiful farm vehicles as they drive across what at times looks like an ocean.
I want to touch on devolution in relation to flooding, because some of the tone of this debate has been amiss, particularly given the change that I felt for the first time on devolution. I am one of the most passionate advocates for strengthening the Welsh Assembly—a badge that does not always win me a huge number of friends—and I believe in making devolution work. While I have huge problems with the Welsh Government and with the managerial style that we have heard Labour Members talk about over the past 20 years, we really need to look at the way that cheap political points are being chucked around at a time of crisis.
I know that we will have an Opposition day debate next week, and we can have this out again then, but the Prime Minister said yesterday that he would passport funds, and the Secretary of State has made it clear that he is working with the First Minister. My constituents—and, I detect, constituents across Wales—are really getting annoyed at the rhetoric. I fear that unless those of us who care passionately about devolution work together, that change could mean looking at devolution, and I fear what that would mean.
I am reminded of the EU referendum, when many Labour Members of Parliament and Assembly Members were delighted to help campaign for the remain side in Cardiff—they looked at their constituency and thought, “Hmm, I’ll go and help in Cardiff today, because it’s showing 70% for remain.” We need to look at what is happening across Wales with this rhetoric of, “We don’t have the powers; we don’t have the money; it’s not our fault this time.” Twenty years on, if we do not take this seriously, and if both parties do not look at the competences and delivery, working with the Welsh Government, then next year that wind of change could mean that we look at the fundamental constitutional settlement of the United Kingdom.
Let me move on to a happier note: Montgomeryshire. What is great about this debate is that we can talk about the infrastructure that we require, want and campaign for in our constituencies. Montgomeryshire is a cross-border county. We look east and west, and we work with our neighbours. I am conscious that Members, from my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski onwards, do not want us to send any more water their way, but they certainly value the businesses and expertise—in public and private life—that go back and forth over the border.
I turn to the Montgomeryshire canal. I should actually say the Montgomery canal; I will receive countless letters and emails for having called it the Montgomeryshire canal. Volunteers have kept alive the vision of reconnecting our canal to the national network. They have put in a terrific amount of hours, physically rebuilding the canal, getting the technical documentation ready, and getting the grants and funding in place to reconnect Montgomery canal to the UK national network and to Llangollen canal in the constituency of my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South. I pay tribute to them for that work.
As well as the Montgomery canal, which we want to go from Newtown right out of Wales to the rest of the UK, there are people setting up and building their visions across Montgomeryshire, including organisations such as the Centre for Alternative Technology. We can argue about funding models and vehicles for delivering renewables, but looking at organisations such as the Montgomery canal, the Welshpool and Llanfair light railway and the Centre for Alternative Technology, one cannot help but admire the spirit of the people getting involved locally and those who travel from across the UK—and, indeed, the world—to help out and take part. In fact, such is the ambition of Montgomeryshire that the Welshpool and Llanfair light railway just lent one of our great steam trains to Taiwan; the growing global network of our heritage railways continues. But we do not have to look far to see what makes Wales stand out, and to understand its great tourism potential. Welshpool’s Powis castle, the canal and other aspects of the area really do put us on the map.
I am conscious that I should wind up, but I quickly want to mention a couple of issues on which we need to work together. The national development framework sets out where we should build our next tranche of wind and solar energy infrastructure. We need to work together to ensure that these frameworks and policies are right for our communities and for national grid connections. We need to ensure we do not overly concentrate that infrastructure on our beautiful rolling hills, or industrialise them, and so affect tourism. The scheme should not go near areas of tourism. I will end on that point about Governments and parties working together. If we are to change our energy mix and deliver the next phase of renewable energies, we need to get electricity out of Wales and connect it to the grid, while being mindful of the need to take our communities with us. Over-concentration will not work.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you have nodded at me more than once, so I will sit down, having given that caution about devolution and been over-dramatic on occasion, but let me also say how great it is to be Welsh on St David’s Day. Happy St David’s Day!
It is a privilege to follow Craig Williams. I fear that I am going to break the consensus on cross-party working—something that he knows that I am keen on—but I am afraid that I need to highlight some of the inequalities as I see them, because they come within matters that are the responsibility of the UK Government. It is a privilege to speak in this debate, and I wish all Members across the House a happy St David’s Day for Sunday.
We are just two months into a new decade, and the start of a new decade should be a time to reflect on the past 10 years and think about the progress we have made. It is the aim of every Member of this House to ensure that, as the decade rolls on, the lives of the people in our communities improve, there are more chances for our children, better services for our families and an ever-increasing number of better, well-paid jobs, enabling people to live secure and satisfying lives, but it is not that simple, because the UK has had a decade of Tory rule at Westminster. We have had 10 years of relentless cuts and Tory disdain for communities such as mine. Sadly, my party’s failure to win the general election means that we are set for more of the same, or indeed worse, because behind the bluff and bluster of the Tories harping on in 2020 about levelling up our country, the Prime Minister and his now rather famous adviser are among the most divisive teams we have had in Downing Street since Mrs Thatcher—and we all know how that ended for Wales.
What is different now, though, is that since the advent of devolution in 1999, delivered by Tony Blair’s Labour Government, we have had a devolved Labour Government in Cardiff Bay. Over the past 10 years, they have strained every sinew to protect our communities from the brunt of austerity, but in the face of the savage cuts to funding from Westminster, there is only so much the Welsh Labour Government can do. I will outline a few areas for the Chancellor to focus on in his upcoming Budget, and a few of the things he could deliver in Wales, in return for a few Welsh cakes to go with his Yorkshire tea. Failing that, I am happy to drop the Welsh cakes off at No. 10 when Mr Cummings redrafts the Chancellor’s work.
First, I want to talk about infrastructure. Since Christmas, we have had talk of bridges to Ireland; HS2 was given the go-ahead; and dead cats about moving Government Departments across the country seem to have been flung about on a daily basis. One thing has been missing in this apparent funding frenzy: yet again, as has happened ever since the Tories came to power, we have had nothing —not even a crumb—for Wales. But should we even be surprised by this? The UK Government scrapped rail electrification to Swansea. They put to bed the idea of delivering the world’s first tidal lagoon in Swansea bay—although I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State is U-turning on his predecessor’s decision on that—and they completely and utterly fail to give Wales fair funding to improve infrastructure.
Contrast this with the Welsh Labour Government, who are investing a whopping £5 billion in our rural rail network through Transport for Wales, and providing a £1.8 billion investment to ensure that all trains are replaced with new rolling stock by 2023. Half those trains will be built in Wales. This is bringing skilled job opportunities for workers across Wales and ensuring that we have a transport system that is fit for the future. Meanwhile, despite our having 11% of the track across England and Wales and 20% of the level crossings—yes, I am back on that complaint again—over the past 10 years Wales has received only 2% of the available funding from the UK Government. The Government’s great train robbery is a scandal and shows just how little the Conservatives care about investing in the future of the Welsh economy or the communities who support it.
Whether it is transport infrastructure, digital infrastructure or renewable energy infrastructure, the Tories are failing Wales at each and every turn. Looking to the economy more widely, Members across this House will be all too aware of the low pay crisis we face across too many of our industries.
The Silk commission identified the issue about rail infrastructure development. Following that, we had the so-called St David’s Day process, in which Labour and the Conservative party agreed to take measures on that recommendation out of the Wales Bill. The failure therefore falls on the hon. Gentleman’s party as well.
The failure falls on the Government. The hon. Gentleman knows that. His party has been in government as well. My party created devolution—something that Plaid failed miserably to do, despite all its years of campaigning for it.
Unemployment is at a historically low level in Wales, thanks to the hard work of the Welsh Labour Government, but sadly, for too many, this work is not paying. I am pleased that Welsh Labour is delivering on, and surpassing, our promise to create 100,000 all-age apprenticeships to give our young people skilled and well-paid jobs long into the future. It is also great to see Welsh Labour’s commitment to make Wales a fair work nation, which means that companies wanting Welsh Government support must sign an economic contract helping to boost the number of people who are being paid the real national living wage. What have we seen instead from the UK Government? A fake living wage that people under 25 cannot even be paid, a backs-turned approach to the future of our steel industry, and a “couldn’t care less” attitude to the universal credit crisis that has plunged thousands of people into poverty across Wales.
While the Prime Minister and Chancellor are busy making No. 10 and No. 11 a joint office, perhaps they could take just a moment—I plead with the Minister—to stop and think about what a grave impact their party’s policies have been having on communities in Wales since 2010. Ogmore cannot take another five years of the same old stale Tory policies, and he has heard that from those on his party’s Benches today. Ogmore needs a pay rise.
More widely, Wales needs a pay rise. The Welsh Government’s budget is around 5% lower in real terms than it was in 2010. If the Welsh budget had risen in line with the long-term trend of public expenditure, it would be £6 billion higher than it is today. That is around £1,800 per person. Just think what we could spend that on. It could build on the Welsh Government’s work to tackle homelessness; it could be pumped into local government, which has been pushed to breaking point because of Government austerity; and it could save lives in our NHS.
I ask the Minister to impress on the Chancellor the need for reinvestment in Wales, because levelling up our country is not about trying to buy the trust of the so-called red wall seats the Conservatives won in the north of England; it is about providing a fairer future for everyone across our United Kingdom. I stand here as a proud Unionist; I will staunchly defend our Union while I am in this place and long into the future, but under this Tory Government, Wales is too much of a tick-box exercise that does not even matter; the box often does not get ticked at all. The people of Wales do matter. I plead with the Minister to reverse these 10 years of austerity and start investing in Wales.
Celebrated Welsh poet T.H. Parry-Williams wrote in his famous work “Hon”:
“Beth yw’r ots gennyf i am Gymru? Damwain a hap
Yw fy mod yn ei libart yn byw. Nid yw hon ar fap
Yn ddim byd ond cilcyn o ddaear mewn cilfach gefn,
Ac yn dipyn o boendod i’r rhai sy’n credu mewn trefn.”
Unfortunately, that is sometimes how the people of Wales think. The translation of the words, which does not quite encapsulate the feeling of the piece, is:
“What do I care of Wales? It is by accident and chance
That I am living here freely. She isn’t on a map
And is nothing but a piece of land in a hidden creek,
And a bit of a nuisance to those who believe in order.”
In the rest of the poem, Parry-Williams was searching for the “Welsh way”, questioning the relevance of Welsh culture in society and the blaming of the country’s problems on the English, when in fact sometimes our problems can be closer to home and generated by ourselves.
What a neat segue into devolution that is! Who would have thought that this theme would be repeated so often at the Senedd in Cardiff? Every week at First Minister’s questions and other departmental questions, inquiries are made about transport services in Wales, where the providers are asked to make changes such as making it possible to get from Holyhead to Cardiff in four hours on the train, but they can only do so by cutting out a raft of local stations from the programme, and they then have to take the complaints imposed on them by the requirements of the Welsh Government. Inquiries are made about educational standards in Wales, where our hard-working teachers are asked to do more with less and feel more disenfranchised and unsupported. Inquiries are also made about health in Wales, where four out of the seven health boards are in special measures or have some form of targeted intervention, with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in north Wales having been in that state for almost five years. Our health boards have some of the most dedicated and caring professionals, who come in every day to fight fires and battle against a system at breaking point.
Every week, when those questions are asked in the Senedd, there is only one answer from the First Minister and his colleagues: “Westminster doesn’t send us enough money.” That is the stock response every time, yet for every £1 spent on the NHS in England, there is around 15% more available to be spent on the NHS in Wales—it is just poorly spent and targeted in the wrong ways. T.H. Parry-Williams was right: we cannot just keep blaming the English for all our ills. We need to look closer to home.
Like my right hon. Friends the Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) and for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), I was amazed during the campaign just how few people I spoke to on the doorstep realised which services are devolved and which are not. A lot of people complained to me about the health service in north Wales without realising that it is the responsibility of the Welsh Government. A&E waiting times have been the worst on record for two months in a row, and in education, 2019 GCSE results were no better than in 2007, but the number of people who continually blame Westminster for those challenges is staggering. I consider it very important over the next 14 months, in the run-up to the Welsh elections in May 2021, to highlight to people just who is responsible for what, so that their frustrations—and, indeed, occasional praise—can be directed to the appropriate places.
The Wales Act 2017 delivered a clearer and more stable devolution settlement for Wales by devolving important powers to the Senedd on energy, transport and local government. At the 2018 Budget, the UK Government announced plans to increase the Welsh Government’s budget by £1.2 billion, including a 5% Barnett boost of £67 million over the next five years. Subsequently, at the September 2019 spending round, the Government increased funding for the Welsh Government by a further £600 million. They cannot keep complaining that they do not have enough funding; they just need to make better choices.
There are still issues and problems with the funding formula for Wales. The Barnett formula—that short-term measure designed in 1978—is not fit for purpose and needs wholesale reform. Demographics are the key, and they are not properly considered under Barnett. By way of example, my constituency of Delyn has a median age of 46 compared with a median age of 40 across the rest of the UK, and 23% of the population are over 65 compared with 18% nationally. These figures may not seem hugely substantial, but they are statistically significant, as they indicate the ageing population in my constituency, which therefore has an increased need for health and social care. The calculation of funding based on headcount, which does not take into account different needs or costs, is flawed, and that should be addressed as a priority.
Devolution is here to stay and is not going away. There are many in north Wales who feel it has never worked: funding coming from Cardiff is just as detached from the north as it was when it came from Westminster, and we have just switched one funding body for another, while adding an extra level of governance and cost in the middle. In many ways, they are right, but let us be very clear: it does not need to be that way. The calls for the abolition of the Senedd are not fair and are unreasonable. Honestly, I used to be one of those who called for its abolition, and then my mind was changed by hon. and right hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend Craig Williams, who, sadly, is no longer in his place.
If the Labour party had won the election here in December, nobody would have been calling for the abolition of Parliament just because there was a useless party in charge—nothing of the sort. They would just have campaigned harder next time and highlighted the weaknesses in that Administration, and so it is with us. We need to get over the fact that we do not like it and feel that it is not working, and recognise that it is not that the structure does not work, but that the problem lies with the party in control of the structure.
In closing, I urge my constituents and the wider society across Wales to recognise that these will be the issues next May, and to make sure they install a Welsh Government who are focused on levelling up across the whole country, remembering that a huge amount of Wales exists if they happen to look north of Newport.
Order. The wind-ups will begin at 4.40 pm, and seven Members are wishing to catch my eye, so I am sure they can do the maths. Please be generous to your colleagues, starting with Alex Davies-Jones.
Dydd Gŵyl Dewi—St David’s Day—is an important day for everyone in Wales, and I wish everyone a very happy St David’s Day for this weekend. I will be spending the weekend celebrating with a paned and a welsh cake or two, and I also look forward to celebrating with my son for his first St David’s Day. It will come as no surprise to colleagues that I am extremely proud to be Welsh, and the Welsh valleys do truly run through my veins. I am Ponty born and bred: I was born in Church Village in my constituency, and I spent my early years training to be an air cadet in Pontyclun. I sang in the National Youth Choir of Wales, and my teen years were spent socialising with friends at the Rhondda Bowl in Tonyrefail.
We have so much to celebrate in Wales, including our proud musical heritage and our rugby teams’ prowess—as others have done, I will quickly move past the scores last weekend—yet there is so much more to home in Wales than the traditional stereotypes may suggest. In recent weeks, it has become clear that Wales really does not receive its fair share of funding from this Government. I hope colleagues will indulge me as I briefly touch on the Barnett funding, which we have just heard about, and on why I believe that the recent events, such as the unprecedented flooding in my constituency, are simply more evidence that Barnett consequentials are no longer fit for purpose.
Last year, the Public Accounts Committee published its assessment of the Barnett formula and found that there is a lack of transparency about how funding is allocated. I find it utterly staggering that the formula is not set out in law, but is instead up to interpretation by the Treasury. This clearly outdated method left spending per head in Wales last year at the lowest of the devolved nations, and I truly believe that my constituents and the people of Wales deserve better. The Welsh Labour Government are doing some fantastic and pioneering work, yet with not enough funding. I specifically want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my colleagues in the Senedd, who are leading the way on a range of issues from climate change to investments in new construction technologies to help with the apparent housing crisis.
The effects of Storm Dennis and the subsequent flooding that hit Pontypridd and the wider Rhondda Cynon Taf area just over a week ago are a key example of where the UK Government’s funding for Wales is falling short. The floods in my community were completely unprecedented. The River Taf’s levels rose to over a metre above all previous records, and the flood defences that were in place were simply unable to cope. I would like to pay tribute to all the hundreds of volunteers and people from across our communities who have pulled together to help in these awful circumstances. We have raised considerable amounts of money, and many have donated clothing or food to help others. That is what our communities in Wales do. We are always there for each other when times are hard, and we will always continue to be there.
I am extremely proud of how our local authority and First Minister responded to the crisis in my community. Others may say that we are making cheap political points, but I would argue that this situation basically shows that the UK Government do not care about Wales. The Prime Minister’s absence last week was utterly staggering. It is clear that the Barnett formula is simply not designed to cope with the financial impact of natural disasters such as this, and that problem affects all of us in Wales, including colleagues across the House. The Barnett formula requires urgent attention, and I hope Ministers will do all they can to find a way forward—a way forward for Wales.
It is such a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones. She has made a real impact since coming to Parliament some months ago, and she is also in the process of organising the Welsh parliamentary Labour party social. That is an excellent role and a task for which she is perfectly qualified, and I am glad she has taken it on.
I want to look forward to this year, because I think 2020 promises to be truly memorable. That is not because it will be the first year of this Tory Government—far from it—but because having waited 58 years to reach a major tournament in 2016, the Welsh football team, just like a London bus, is now back at the Euros. Let us cast our minds back to 2016—what a summer that was! Great memories. Who can forget Gareth Bale’s free kicks against Slovakia and particularly England, or Hal Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn in the comeback win over Belgium, en route to the semi-finals? Euro 2020 may be even more extraordinary and unforgettable—I certainly hope so.
The summer of 2016 typified what it means to be Welsh: a proud nation, punching above its weight, with everybody coming together. Indeed, that was summed up by the team’s motto, “Together Stronger”, and over past few weeks, as Wales has been buffeted by truly terrible weather—first Storm Ciara, and then Storm Dennis—“Together Stronger” has felt appropriate. More than a month’s worth of rain fell in just 48 hours, and despite being left to fend for ourselves as usual by the part-time Prime Minister and the Tory Government, communities across Wales stepped up to the plate. I pay tribute to them, and to our wonderful emergency services and brilliant council workforces who have worked tirelessly in these challenging circumstances.
We have always been tough and resilient in Wales, but we are experiencing more and more extreme weather, and such events bring into sharper focus the need to do more to address the climate and environmental crisis that we face. Out of every crisis should come an opportunity—an opportunity for Britain to lead the world in renewable energies. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon would have provided heat to thousands of homes, using clean, green, reliable and sustainable energy, and saving almost 0.25 million tonnes of carbon during each year of its operation. If the Government are serious about tackling climate change, they should reconsider that opportunity and back that game changer for the industry. What an opportunity to “level up” the country, as the Prime Minister likes to put it, by putting the Swansea bay area at the forefront of that clean, green, energy technology.
In reality, while the Tory Government talk a good game on caring about Wales, they are not willing to put their money where their mouth is. Just look at rail electrification to Swansea. In 2016, the then Secretary of State for Wales gave me a categorical commitment on national TV to electrify the line to Swansea. It was even a Tory manifesto commitment in 2017, but it has fallen foul of one of those famous, or perhaps I should say infamous, Tory U-turns. The entire budget for electrifying the main line to Swansea would be less than 1% of the vast sums that will be spent on High Speed 2. Will the Secretary of State do what his predecessors have failed to do, and stand up for Wales by committing to electrify the main line to Swansea?
This is not just about rail infrastructure. For decades, wealth, power, opportunity and talent have been agglomerating in our major cities at the expense of industrial, rural and coastal areas. To truly rebalance our economy, or level up as the Government like to say, we need the Government to back a modern manufacturing renaissance, starting in places like Aberavon. Part of the package must be a sector deal for steel. Steel is a 21st-century industry and is integral to our everyday lives—to transport, to infrastructure and to our defence industry. It underpins our entire manufacturing base. HS2 will use 2 million tonnes of steel and is a real opportunity for the Government to back British steel through a patriotic approach to procurement. The Government need to strike a sector deal for steel if they are going to foster growth. Automotive, aerospace and construction all have sector deals. Why does the steel industry not have one? Action on energy prices is essential. UK steelmakers are paying prices that are double those of our German competitors and 50% higher than in France. UK steelmakers are fighting with one hand tied behind their back.
Industrial towns need clarity on replacing EU funding. The UK shared prosperity fund—I am proud to chair the all-party group—is set to replace EU funding, but it has taken on near mythical status. What has happened to the promised consultation? Everything about the fund is still to be worked out and the clock is ticking down every day towards
The Welsh Government must also give Wales a voice in the EU trade negotiations. The First Minister today made clear that the Government’s negotiating position would almost certainly result in a loss of jobs in Wales and a diminishment of livelihoods. He made it clear that there has been no consultation on the UK’s negotiating mandate and that we are not represented in the talks.
Labour is a proud party of devolution, but devolution only works if the UK Government respect the devolution principle. The Welsh Government have suffered a decade of diminishing budgets. Even with the previous Chancellor’s extra £600 million for Wales, the Welsh Government’s budget for 2021 will be £300 million lower in real terms than it was in 2010-11. As a result, my council, Neath Port Talbot Council, has had to remove more than £80 million from its budget since 2010 and is expected to find a further £42 million in cuts between now and 2023. Despite the sterling efforts of the Welsh Government and Welsh councils to shield our communities from the worst of the cuts, my constituents have suffered due to the Conservatives’ dismissive attitude towards Wales. They are quick to devolve blame, slow to devolve resources. The first step must be to junk the Barnett formula and replace it with a fair funding formula for Wales.
This year marks 35 years since the end of the miners’ strike, which will be marked in mining communities across Wales and in coalfield communities across the UK. During the strike, we saw the true meaning of community spirit. That has not left us and it never will. As the grandson of a coalminer, I know that that never-say-die attitude and commitment to local community has been passed down through the generations. It is with that spirit that I will continue to fight for Aberavon in Westminster. My Aberavon constituents deserve better than what is being offered by the current UK Government. They need a Government who deliver on their promises to Wales and recognise the potential of our fantastic, vibrant and talented communities. We in Wales know that together we are stronger. It is high time that the Government realised that, too. Diolch, and happy St David’s Day.
Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lefarydd, am y cyfle i siarad yn y ddadl y prynhawn yma. Mae e’n gyfle pwysig i ni drafod materion o bwys i ni fel Aelodau Seneddol o Gymru. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak today, as it is an important opportunity to deal with matters of importance to us as Welsh MPs.
Two recent events that have affected my particular constituency, Cynon Valley, and the local authority area of Rhondda Cynon Taff, have given me food for thought on a more general level. One has obviously been the devastating floods we have suffered and the other is the future of services in one of our local hospitals, the Royal Glam—the Royal Glamorgan Hospital.
The flooding has been a tragedy for individuals, with over 650 homes and 500 businesses seriously affected, roads and bridges damaged and individual lives traumatised. I have been in tears seeing how people have lost so much that was precious to them. I also pay tribute to all the local residents, councillors, the fire services and the First Minister for the work that they have done.
Dealing with the aftermath of that event is going to be hard on an individual constituent level and on a wider scale, in terms of local authorities and the Welsh Government having to deal with the immediate and longer-term consequences of what has happened. However, this is happening after 10 years of Tory austerity policies and the underfunding of the Welsh Government since the Barnett formula was set up. Our Welsh Government get less money than they did 10 years ago. My local authority, Rhondda Cynon Taff, lost £90 million in funding over the last years of Tory austerity policies, but if I say that, I am accused of playing politics with the flooding. I am not ashamed of or going to shy away from the reality of inadequate funding—the underfunding —of Wales over these years of Tory Government. It is not me who is playing politics with the lives of the people of RCT; the Tories have done that with their policy of austerity. That was their political choice.
If that argument does not work, the Tories come back with, “Ah, but flood defences, or the health service, are devolved—nothing to do with us folks”. Rubbish—neu swbriel yn Cymraeg! Yes, those services are devolved and the Welsh Government take their responsibility seriously, with progressive policies to combat climate change and on free prescriptions, and having introduced organ donation changes seven years before that was considered in England. But who holds the purse strings? Westminster, and our health and social care system throughout the United Kingdom is straining to survive, and we will strain even further to do so if the immigration policies being proposed get through. All this is happening against the backdrop of Wales being one of the poorest areas of the United Kingdom, where people have to use food banks to manage and where benefit cuts mean that families must decide whether to eat or heat their homes. This is unacceptable.
My final thought is that we need to make our politics here in Westminster relevant to the people we represent. This argument about devolved services is used by the Tory Government to wash their hands of their responsibility and we need to make it clear that we will not let that happen. One of my grandfathers was a miner and the other was a steelworker. What little they had, they earned by hard work. They did not make millions by speculating on the stock exchange. We have a responsibility to the people of Wales at every turn to argue that the wealth that exists in this country, much of which was created by them, needs to be shared out so that we reverse the position where 10% of the population owns 45% of the wealth. As I said in my maiden speech, we need state intervention to help our people. It has helped wealth and privilege for far too long. A alla i orffen trwy ddymuno Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus i bawb? Diolch yn fawr.
It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate ahead of St David’s Day this Sunday. The designers of this place were very much aware of the significance of a reminder of who we are and our story. Central Lobby is adorned with beautiful mosaics of the patron saints of the four parts of this United Kingdom. To get from Central Lobby to the Chamber, Members pass underneath the mosaic of St David. One of my Scottish colleagues, who shall remain nameless, pointed out to me that the mosaic of St Andrew sits above the route to the bars.
Coming from Scotland, I am used to our patron saint’s day being a national holiday. I think it is something to be celebrated and I do not understand why we cannot make St David’s Day a national holiday in Wales. Craig Williams, who is no longer in his place, commended the increased prominence of St David’s Day, so hopefully he and Government Members would support the call for the Government to give the Welsh Government the power to do just that.
Last weekend, I attended the These Islands conference in Newcastle and contributed to a panel on the work of the Constitution Reform Group, members of which included the CRG member, Carwyn Jones, the former Welsh First Minister. We need to examine the powers that have and have not been devolved to the Welsh Government and whether the current arrangements deliver the best outcomes for the people of Wales. Justice is not currently devolved in Wales, unlike in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the Commission on Justice in Wales, which was set up by Carwyn Jones when he was First Minister, was designed to review the operation of the Welsh justice system.
The report of the Commission on Justice in Wales was unequivocal. It said that the justice system should be devolved for Wales. That was the evidence-based finding of an independent commission chaired by a former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas. I come from a policing background in Scotland, where these matters are devolved, and although I have concerns about the structure of Police Scotland, which are being highlighted in the Scottish Parliament today, I believe that the Welsh Government should have the same devolved oversight of their police service. There are clear difficulties in managing the different governance arrangements of different public services, and ultimately those difficulties fail the people of Wales. I call on the Government to engage properly with the report and not to reject it outright, as they appeared to do in the recent Westminster Hall debate secured by Liz Saville Roberts. The findings of that impartial report should be implemented and Welsh devolution arrangements in this area be brought into alignment with those of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Ahead of St David’s Day, I pay tribute to my Welsh Liberal Democrat colleagues, in particular their leader Jane Dodds, the former Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire. It is a matter of personal sadness that Jane and I did not have the opportunity to sit together on these Benches, and it was a privilege to campaign with her last year in the villages dotting the Wales-England border. In her brief tenure as an MP, she fought on behalf of her constituents to stop a no-deal Brexit, which would have been damaging to the communities she represented. I am confident that she will return to this House in the future.
I know that Jane has been visiting those affected by the recent flooding caused by Storms Ciara and Dennis, and it is on that subject that I will make my final remarks. Throughout this week, we have heard from Members in all parts of the House about how flooding has affected their constituents. The impact in Wales has been particularly severe, with areas that have no history of flooding experiencing it for the first time. I therefore find it deeply disappointing that the Prime Minister has not visited and listened to the people whose homes, workplaces and lives have been devastated. Visible leadership is an obligation, whether you are seeking votes at the time or not. I have been heartened by reports of communities coming together in response to flooding. The hon. Members for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) have set up crowdfunding pages, and Welsh rugby international George North donated a number of personal items to raise money for Lydney rugby club in Gloucestershire, which demonstrates the close connections and bonds of friendship that exist across the border of England and Wales. In that spirit of friendship, I conclude by wishing all in this place a happy St David’s Day this Sunday, and say “Sláinte!” to all those raising a glass in toast to the Welsh patron saint.
As ever, it is a huge pleasure to speak in today’s debate on Welsh affairs, in honour of which I sound as if am impersonating Bonnie Tyler.
As deputy leader of the Welsh Labour party, I thank every candidate who put their head above the parapet and stood as a candidate in Wales in the last general election, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter). It is not easy to stand in an election, and it was especially difficult at the last election because of the unpleasant atmosphere that, sadly, characterised the campaign, but together Welsh Labour took our strong campaign into the communities up and down Wales in very challenging circumstances. Although I was and continue to be devastated by the result of the election, I remain immensely proud to be the deputy leader of a party I love, and I have no doubt that our strong Welsh Labour team will bounce back. I am confident that we can unite and show that another future is possible as we campaign together ahead of next year’s Assembly elections.
The St David’s Day debate is always an important opportunity to showcase what we love about Wales, as well as to shine a light on the challenges facing us in the future. Far too often, what happens in Wales goes under the radar. Put simply, to have one debate a year is to pay lip service, at best. Wales deserves far, far more. Labour Members know the truth: where Welsh Labour leads, others follow. In so many areas, Welsh Labour policies are improving the lives of people across Wales and setting the bar for the rest of the United Kingdom. Presumed consent organ donation has been saving lives in Wales since 2015. Hospital car park charges were scrapped by the Welsh Government in 2018. Social housing stocks plummeted, so right to buy was scrapped by Welsh Labour in 2018. Nursing bursaries were scrapped across England, but in Wales, Welsh Labour protected them to invest in the future of the NHS and the workforce.
Schools in England were stripped of funding, with children forced to learn in crumbling buildings devoid of resources. Welsh Labour delivered our most ambitious housing programme in history, giving pupils across Wales a 21st-century education in new buildings with state-of-the-art facilities. The Conservative Government scrapped rail electrification, but Welsh Labour is investing £5 billion, which is making a difference even with the problems posed by a backlog of legacy issues. We have already talked about the tidal lagoon, and the House will know my feelings about that.
While the Conservative Government push more families into poverty through universal credit, Welsh Labour is delivering the most generous childcare offer for working families anywhere in the UK. When I called for a children’s funeral fund, it was the Welsh Government who responded almost immediately, although I am grateful to the UK Government for following suit eventually.
The truth is that when it comes to standing up for Wales—against the background of Plaid Cymru’s reborn obsession with independence, which diverts attention from the pressing challenges that our communities face, with dogma always triumphing over delivery—it is Welsh Labour that delivers. All too often, however, those outside Wales, and far too many in it, could be forgiven for not knowing much about that. In far too much of our political discourse and in our media, both public service and privately owned, what happens in Wales stays in Wales; or sometimes, apparently, it does not happen at all.
This is not the disgraceful “fake news” bandwagon that has poisoned so much of our public debate. This is not me pointing the finger at politicians from across the UK. This is about my wish to end the blasé and too frequent approach of too many people in this place, in the media and in UK public life who are not discussing or reporting effectively on politics in Wales.
How many Members have heard Ministers stand at the Dispatch Box and forget about devolution when it suits them? How many times have we, as a UK Labour party, repeatedly missed opportunities to shout loudly and proudly about the achievements of our party in the only nation of the UK where we still have a Labour Government? How many times have the Government—and all too often, sadly, the Opposition of late—announced plans for “England and Wales” which are clearly for England only? How many times have we seen news articles circulate online about policy areas that are fully or partially devolved, making zero—literally zero—reference to the Welsh Labour Government? How often does the “Today” programme, or the front pages of the newspapers, or the discussions on our political panel shows, give Wales, our Government and our civic society the respect that they deserve? Hardly ever, and it makes my blood boil. We have to do much, much better.
So I am throwing down the gauntlet as ballots go out in this crucial Labour leadership contest, which is responsible for my loss of voice. Whoever the next UK Labour leader is—and yes, I will happily declare an interest—will need to bang the drum for Labour in Wales, for Wales in Labour, and, quite simply, for Wales. I am fed up with people spending so much time debating whether we should be proud of the last Labour Government, while apparently forgetting to take seriously the record of a Labour Government who we are still running to this day. Our UK and our Welsh media have a role to play as well: to hold to account, to expose failures where they exist, and to hold our collective feet to the flames.
It is about time that our national broadcasters and national newspapers acknowledged that Welsh government exists, and should get a look in from time to time. How many times, on big, UK-wide issues, do we hear from Nicola Sturgeon but not from Mark Drakeford? How many times do we hear about the financial impact of something on Scotland, but not about its impact on Wales? If we are truly to be a country of four nations, and if we are to prove that we value our precious and threatened Union, we need this to start being reflected in our national debate.
We should not be the “And finally” segment at the end of “News at Ten”. We never get an opportunity to see Wales on a national platform, and it really is pitiful. I am not looking at this through the lens of narrow party self-interest. The way we see our media, particularly our broadcast media, being degraded by the trolls on social media and the special advisers in Downing Street, should make us take back a step back and pause for thought. Our free and crusading media, which I work with, respect and value, is the envy of much of the word and often a courageous force for good. That is why it infuriates me when they so often ignore one of the most important parts—to me—of the United Kingdom.
I want Wales to be centre stage, and I want a UK Labour leader who is committed to putting us there. I want us to celebrate and value Wales every day in this Chamber, not just for three hours once a year. We need to do better. I do not want to stand here in a year’s time trumpeting achievements no one had heard about to a Press Gallery that treats this debate like a primary school bring-your-toys-to-school day. I want us to do better and I am marking the homework. I am saying that we must do better. We should do better. We have to do better.
In the brief time available, I want to touch on the need for support for Wales in terms of both climate change and Brexit. In relation to climate change, we are all aware of the catastrophic impacts of flooding in Pontypridd and Rhondda Cynon Taf. As the former head of flood risk management across Wales with executive power to invest in flood defences, I know that the needs of Wales are dictated by its topography. The steep sloping valleys give rise to fast flash flooding, and over time climate change is increasing that risk. We also have the legacy of coal tips. Meanwhile on our coasts, in certain parts of north Wales and also in Swansea, there is a great deal of tidal flood risk, which is also increasing as a result of climate change.
The UK Government need to respect the fact that those things need to be sorted out sooner rather than later, and that they are not linked to our population or to the Barnett formula. They are linked to the actual risk; the number of people living in an area is just a fluke. We need that money now. I very much hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister will take that forward as a matter of great urgency because there is great risk as the weather continues to deteriorate.
In relation to Brexit, Wales has benefited from convergence funding, particularly in the valleys and in south and west Wales, and it is important, given that that funding has been awarded on the basis of need, that we get replication of the finance. I respect the fact that people might argue about value for money and the targeting of the funding, but the Secretary of State needs to stand up for Wales. We need that money in Wales, and if we get it, we can then have an argument about where it should be spent, rather than having an argument about how it should be spent and ending up with less money. For example, Swansea University is doubling in size by investing in the Bay campus. It is a massive engine for economic growth, and it has a great need for those stimuli.
Speaking of Swansea naturally leads me to talk about the railways. We were promised rail electrification, which would have put us on the pan-European network, with all the advantages that would have for business communications, industry and exports, but that was denied us. In addition, Network Rail took out an extra £1 billion, and we now face HS2, which will get between £80 billion and £100 billion of investment. That will mean it will take one hour and 10 minutes to get from London to Manchester instead of two hours and 10 minutes, but it will still take three hours to get to Swansea. This is a problem. We need to think about a strategic plan that will link Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea, which have a population of 3 million people—the same number of people as Manchester and Leeds. The difference is that Manchester and Leeds have connectivity six times an hour, and we have it once an hour. We need to make that regional economic cluster work for us.
In the short term, Great Western Railway has already changed the timetable, so instead of having two trains an hour out of Swansea that go to Paddington, one changing at Cardiff on the Manchester Piccadilly route, we now have only one. Instead of leaving at 28 minutes past, it now leaves at 23 minutes past, meaning that people cannot connect at Cardiff. If someone randomly arrives at Swansea station, the average wait is now half an hour instead of a quarter of an hour. To reduce a waiting time by quarter of an hour would normally cost hundreds of billions of pounds, but the alternative in the short term would be for the Secretary of State to write to Great Western Railway and tell it to look again at the timetables, so that we can get connectivity with Transport for Wales and have not only two trains an hour out of Swansea, but two trains out of Paddington to Swansea to encourage inward investment. It is a simple thing that would not cost much, so I urge the Secretary of State to get on with it.
On trade deals and our relationship with Europe, it has been mentioned that 60% of our trade is with the EU. Whether someone is producing lamb, steel, cars or aerospace products, frictionless trade is massively important. It is all very well the Prime Minister saying, “It’ll all be all right on the night. It is all about our sovereignty,” but it is not all about sovereignty; it is all about people’s jobs, livelihoods and future. The people who voted to leave the EU did not vote to leave their jobs.
Finally, I am reassured to a limited extent that the Secretary of State is again using warm words about the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon and, indeed, the lagoon in north Wales. Climate change is really hitting us for six. We know that 80% of fossil fuels cannot be used if we are to avoid irreversible climate change, and the spot price of oil is deflated due to excess production and fracking, which produces enormous amounts of excess methane that is making climate change even worse. Fossil fuel companies are basically sitting on stranded assets, and the financial markets will belatedly move out of that sector, so we need to invest now in green, climate change-compatible energy projects, such as the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon.
I will attempt to condense my speech in the brief time available. I obviously want to echo what other hon. Members have said about the terrible flooding that has taken place in communities across south Wales. Newport East was fortunate not to be directly impacted, although nearby Monmouthshire was, and we sympathise and stand in solidarity with those whose homes and businesses were affected. I thank all the emergency services and everyone who helped.
We have had difficult news again this week for the Orb, with Tata announcing that no suitable buyer has been found for the steelworks. Hon. Members may know that the site was mothballed before Christmas, and Tata is now considering offers to use it for other purposes. Fewer workplaces are more ingrained in the history of Newport than the Orb, and I have spoken at great length about its history, but it also had a fantastic future as the only producer of electrical steels in the UK. With investment, it could have played its part in the electric vehicle revolution and electrification generally, so this is a huge shame. We went to the Government for help, and the Welsh Government did what they could, but help was not forthcoming. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock, who said that we need far more action than warm words from the Government on steel if the industrial strategy is to mean anything.
Given that today has been a time for maiden speeches, I felt the need to renew my vows and talk at great length about the brilliant things going on in Newport, but there is not much time to do that. However, the CAF railway factory in Newport was officially opened by the Prince of Wales last week. It has the capacity to provide trains for HS2, so I hope that Ministers take that on board, because we would really appreciate it. I fully support the excellent “We’re Backing Newport” campaign launched by the South Wales Argus to promote our city as a great place to live, work and bring up a family, which I know that because I am bringing up my own family there.
Brilliant opportunities are coming to Newport. It is the ninth-fastest growing city in the UK. We have experienced the fourth highest rise in property prices. We have the international convention centre and amazing things going on in the city centre, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend Ruth Jones. We have had help from the Welsh Government, and Newport City Council has a new visionary leader in Jane Mudd, who is doing a fantastic job.
It is not all about urban regeneration either. We have the fantastic RSPB Newport wetlands, which will feature on BBC “Countryfile” on St David’s Day, so please watch that. Lots of great things are going on.
My hon. Friend Christina Rees mentioned colleagues who, since the general election, are no longer with us for a variety of reasons. They played a fantastic role in this place and their work will continue. I, for one, have inherited the all-party mindfulness group from Chris Ruane. We will continue with that and with Madeleine Moon’s campaign to scrap the six-month rule for those with terminal illnesses, on which the Government have been silent—we need to press further on that.
It is a privilege to close this debate. Of course I wish all hon. Members a happy St David’s Day.
I also wish the Under-Secretary of State, David T. C. Davies, well. Today is his long-awaited and long-anticipated Dispatch Box debut in a St David’s Day debate. By my count, he is the ninth Under-Secretary of State for Wales since 2010. I am sure he will support my argument that the revolving door approach to Wales Office Ministers now has to stop.
I congratulate Dr Wallis on his maiden speech. All of us who grew up in south Wales are familiar with the beauty of Rest bay, and he spoke well about the importance of the armed forces to his constituency. He also paid an entirely appropriate tribute to his predecessor, Madeleine Moon, whose fantastic campaigning on mental health and motor neurone disease and, indeed, her achievement as President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly gained her respect on both sides of the House.
I also thank my hon. Friend Wayne David, who spoke with his usual authority and erudition both on the floods and on the wider issues of the Welsh economy.
I pay tribute to the second maiden speech of the day, made by Simon Baynes. I was interested to hear about his musical work for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and I send my condolences on the unexpected death of his mother in January. He, too, paid a very appropriate tribute to his predecessor, Susan Elan Jones. I entirely share his view about her strong sense of integrity and care for others, which brought so much to this House during her time here.
My thanks go too to my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan. He and I attended the same school in Pontypool. He was the first MP from that school and I was the second. When he says he is now the Welsh Father of the House, I guess I will have to accept that he has beaten me to another title. He made a powerful contribution on public sector broadcasting, which will certainly be an issue in this Parliament.
My thanks go also to the right hon. Members for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) for their contributions and, indeed, to Craig Williams on his second coming to this House. I certainly agree with what he says about the efforts of our farmers in recent days.
I also thank my hon. Friend Chris Elmore, who spoke extraordinarily powerfully about the impact of the UK Government over the past 10 years. He also reminded us that of course it was a Labour Government who first brought devolution to Wales.
Rob Roberts spoke well about Welsh culture in society. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones, and it is clearly a very special St David’s Day for her this year as it is her son’s first one. She spoke powerfully about the proud musical and sporting heritage not just of Pontypridd but of the Welsh nation.
I share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock for the Welsh football team, and I very much hope that 2020 will be a repeat of the summer of 2016. I pay tribute to his work on the all-party parliamentary group on post-Brexit funding for nations, regions and local areas, which will be looking at post-Brexit structural funding for Wales.
My hon. Friend Beth Winter spoke passionately about the politics of austerity. Like hers, my grandfathers were both miners, and the industrial heritage of south Wales is a timely reminder that we always achieve more together than we achieve alone.
I thank Wendy Chamberlain for her contribution, and my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris for her contribution and for her work as deputy leader of Welsh Labour. Nobody could ever accuse her of not shouting loudly and proudly about Wales. My hon. Friend Geraint Davies spoke powerfully and passionately about the need for urgent action on climate change, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend Jessica Morden was able to make a contribution, particularly on steel, to which I shall return in a moment.
The impact of flooding on our communities, which is the backdrop to this debate, has been devastating. Our thoughts are with those families who have lost everything. As the water recedes and the national media interest fades, the human cost will remain, as will the damage to the Welsh economy. The Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has acted quickly and decisively. It is not a cheap political point to say that the Prime Minister is not just a party leader, but the national leader; he is the Prime Minister, and at times of crisis above all, it is for those who hold that office to show leadership to the communities affected. I am sorry to say that the Prime Minister simply has not done that.
In the Prime Minister’s absence, our communities certainly have shown their extraordinary resilience, of which we can all be proud. I pay tribute to all my colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), for Pontypridd, for Ogmore and for Cynon Valley, who have shown that leadership in their communities. I also pay tribute to the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, Andrew Morgan, and to all the council workers and emergency workers who have done us proud in recent weeks.
At this moment, as we leave the European Union, it is also so important to stand up for the manufacturing sector in Wales, particularly the steel industry. I was sad to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East said about the Orb steelworks, which was mothballed before Christmas; it now seems that it will not be used by the steel industry at all. That is a good example of why we need better long-term planning. The Government are committed to a transition to electric vehicles by 2035, yet this is happening to the Orb plant, which could have provided an end-to-end supply chain for the electric vehicles industry. We would then not have had to import this kind of steel. It is crucial that the Government step up and support our steel industry.
We have heard about the go-ahead for HS2. This is a timely moment to revisit the procurement rules. I hope that on every big project in the UK, the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary will push for the maximum use of UK steel. Today the mandate for the trade talks was published; if there are to be jobs and growth in that sector, it is vital that we ensure that our manufacturing sector does not face tariffs in accessing the single market, and that regulatory alignment remains. It is also vital that the shared prosperity fund ensures that none of our communities loses out, with not a power or a penny lost.
On all these issues, we are asking the UK Government to step up to the plate. Let us not forget that devolution is about partnership. Where the Welsh Government lead the way, the UK Government need to follow. We have heard so many times in this debate in the past 10 years about the scale of austerity cuts in Wales; we can see that, but none the less, the Welsh Government have sought to deliver for our people. They have funded hundreds of police community support officers. Wales was the only part of the UK recently to see improvement in all three programme for international student assessment scores—reading, maths and science.
I have heard a lot about the Welsh NHS today, but health spending per person is 6% higher in Wales than it is in England. I have been pleased to see that Wales has led the way with a single cancer pathway, meaning that all suspected cancers are treated the same. Wales was the first nation in Europe to legislate for safe nursing staffing levels, and it has led the way on organ donation. On the environment, Wales has the best rates of domestic recycling in the UK and has banned fracking, and it has produced the leading Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, putting the interests of future generations first, with sustainability at the heart of policy. As we talk about generations of the future, it is fitting to recall that 16 and 17-year-olds will have the vote in the next Senedd elections. Ultimately, though, it is for the UK Government, working with the Welsh Government, to deliver for the Welsh people.
We have had many excellent contributions from Members of all parties on many, many issues. The Labour Government in Wales have continued to invest in our communities, in health and in our schools, seeking to advance the lives of our constituents. My message to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales is that the UK Government have to step up and do the same.
I thank all Members for their contribution to the debate. I will do my utmost to try to address as many of those contributions as possible.
I thank my friend and constituency neighbour Nick Thomas-Symonds for his comments. We may disagree on rather a lot, but on the issue of revolving doors in the Wales Office I stand with him 100%. Perhaps at another time we will discuss some of the other issues.
A third member of the Wales Office team has just been appointed: my hon. Friend Sarah Atherton. She has in common with the other two members of the team the fact that she, too, has worn the uniform of the British Army, although I believe for rather longer than either I or the Secretary of State did, and in a full-time capacity. I thank her for her help.
Carolyn Harris made a powerful contribution, as she always does, and channelled her inner Bonnie Tyler. She made a very good point: she achieved a change in the law, not just in Wales but in the rest of the United Kingdom as well, because people were willing to listen to what she had to say, and she was willing to work with members of other parties. That is something we must continue to do.
I thank my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb, who will take over as Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, for his comments. I am sure that he will do an outstanding job and continue the tradition of ensuring that members of that Committee are willing to travel the length and breadth of Wales to find out anything that may be of importance to that Committee’s inquiries.
Let me turn to the flooding that has devastated Wales. We heard about the issues from my hon. Friend Craig Williams and the hon. Members for Caerphilly (Wayne David), for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) and for Newport East (Jessica Morden). I echo the thanks that all Members gave to the emergency services—to the police, the fire service and the rescue services, including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Severn Area Rescue Association and others.
Various Members also mentioned perhaps forgotten heroes. Like a few other speakers, I pay tribute to local authority workers. I was privileged to be able to thank those who helped out recently in Monmouthshire at a depot, where they had worked 24 hours a day to fill thousands upon thousands of sandbags and get them out. I have to say that when I got a complaint from one constituent that somebody’s bin had not been put back in the right place in the garden, I had to restrain myself from sending a rather strong message, given what workers in Monmouthshire and across Wales had been responsible for.
I also pay tribute to other forgotten heroes: the workers of Dŵr Cymru—Welsh Water. The water treatment centre in Monmouth was inundated over that terrible weekend. As soon as it was safe to do so, Welsh Water went in there and took out all the pumps, dried them out, replaced them, and put in more electrical fittings. Again, they were working 24 hours a day, although in 12-hour shifts. At the same time, Monmouth and its surrounding areas faced running out of water within 12 hours, so 40 tankers were sent in to make sure that water was still pumped into homes—ironically, it came from England—and there was bottled water ready. The chief executive of Welsh Water, Peter Perry, did an absolutely outstanding job. He was on the phone to me, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and others at all hours of the day and night. He made himself available, and I absolutely pay absolute tribute to him and to Welsh Water—
Indeed, and I will not query that decision at the moment. I remember that taking place 20 years ago in the Welsh Assembly, and if Members are asking me to praise a nationalised, mutual industry, I am very happy to do it in the case of Dŵr Cymru today. I am a pragmatist.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has obviously been meeting the various people involved, and we will continue to do that, but I should gently point out that the leader of Monmouthshire County Council made it clear to me that he did not want politicians going into the flooded areas during the emergency.
Far be it from me to criticise the royal family; that would be a bit above my station. I was simply saying that the leader of Monmouthshire Council made it clear to me that he did not want me or anyone else going into the flooded area while the floodwaters were still there.
Let me move on to other matters. The Secretary of State for Wales and I have been thinking very carefully about the importance of ensuring that when Wales leaves the European Union, we continue working with the Welsh Government, the local authorities and businesses, so that Wales maintains its position at the heart of a strengthened United Kingdom. We are looking forward to negotiating the cross-border Welsh Marches growth deal, and to developing schemes for improving cross-border infrastructure.
My right hon. Friend Mr Jones spoke about the importance of good broadband, and compared Pandy Tudur rather unfavourably with the Pitcairn Islands. Some £200 million has been promised by the UK Government to ensure that areas across the United Kingdom that are not properly connected become so, and we recognise the importance of that. Rail connectivity was mentioned by Geraint Davies. Again, I absolutely recognise the general point that he made, but I will have to get back to him on the specific point.
Yes, I will get back to the hon. Gentleman on that point. On the general issue of rail services, as he will know, we are spending £1.4 billion on rail infrastructure over the next control period. We could do even better for connectivity if we could persuade colleagues in the Welsh Government to support the M4 relief road, and to accept the borrowing that is being offered to them to build that much-needed road.
I congratulate Liz Saville Roberts, my hon. Friend Rob Roberts and the hon. Member for Cynon Valley, who all had in common an attempt to see who could use the most Welsh in the Chamber. Dydw i ddim yn siwr pwy sydd wedi ennill y wobr. I will not push my luck. I was on the Welsh Affairs Committee when we changed the rules to allow Welsh to be used at all times. It was right that we should do that. We now allow Welsh to be used, of course, in the Welsh Grand Committee, and it is quite right that we should do that as well. There is more to be done in the Chamber and around the House of Commons. I would be perfectly amenable to supporting further changes and reforms to allow Welsh to be used even more widely in the House.
I am told by the Secretary of State that I cannot at the moment, but I am sure that it will be coming soon.
I suspect that I may have left out some hon. Members. If I did, I apologise. I say to Richard Thomson that like me, he remembered the referendum, but I was on the opposing side at the time. There may be those, as the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd said, who now oppose devolution in Wales, but I am certainly not one of them. I recognise that the people of Wales have spoken not once, but twice on this, and they have made their views very clear. We have a Welsh Assembly, and it has the support of the people of Wales. It would be utterly wrong for anyone, in my opinion, to try to undermine the Welsh Assembly. That is not something that I or the Secretary of State for Wales will do. I am pleased to put on record our support for the principle of having a Welsh Assembly, and of course we will do what we can to ensure that the Government of the Welsh Assembly change.
As we leave the European Union, we stand on the brink of a new chapter—a potentially glorious chapter—in the history of Wales. As we regain control in the United Kingdom of our laws, our borders and our taxpayers’ money, there will be enormous opportunities to ensure that Wales prospers and develops. I very much look forward to being a part of that. I wish everyone a very happy Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant. Diolch yn fawr iawn.