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Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:22 pm on 27th February 2020.

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Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 4:22 pm, 27th February 2020

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.