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Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 27th February 2020.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West 4:31 pm, 27th February 2020

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.