Freeports

Wales – in the House of Commons on 23rd March 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on establishing a freeport in Wales.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on establishing a freeport in Wales.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Conservative, Redcar

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on establishing a freeport in Wales.

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

We have had constructive discussions with the Welsh Government on the importance of establishing our freeports programme, and we continue to work closely on that as a matter of urgency.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover

The east midlands freeport will see nearly £9 billion of new investment, and tens of thousands of new jobs created in our region. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Welsh Government really cared about the people of Ynys Môn, they would support the efforts of our colleagues to deliver a freeport, and bring more jobs and investment to the island?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

If nothing else, I think the Wales Office Parliamentary Private Secretary has won a bet in getting her constituency up in lights again on the question of freeports. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about something we have been campaigning on for some time, and this fantastic scheme will create long-lasting sustainable jobs across the whole UK. I hope he will forgive me, however, for not trying to prejudge what that process may conclude regarding the actual venues. We are expecting a number of very enthusiastic bids into the scheme once it is launched. I think we can describe that announcement as “imminent”, so my hon. Friend, and the residents of Ynys Môn, do not have long to wait.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

The flow of goods through free trade is a critical priority for prosperity, whether in the village of Wales in Rother Valley, or in the great nation of Wales. What role does my right hon. Friend see for freeports in that, and how might a freeport in north Wales—for example in Anglesey—help to improve the problems associated with a central corridor and the working of the Northern Ireland protocol?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The concept of freeports is indisputably positive, and others who have gone down that route with the launch of English freeports are already able to report inward investment, and good sustainable jobs that will contribute to our economic recovery as well as our net-zero ambitions. As I said, in Wales there will be a number of very high quality bids. We have committed in the manifesto to at least one freeport in Wales, and hopefully we may be able to expand on that over time. The long wait for a decision, and the many months of wrestling with the Welsh Government to reach a conclusion that we can all live with, are nearly at an end.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Conservative, Redcar

A freeport in Wales, especially in Anglesey, sounds like a great idea, just like in Teesside, where the UK’s largest and first post-Brexit freeport has already led to the announcement of thousands of future jobs in new green technologies. Does the Minister agree it is vital that we all get behind our freeport policy, which will help to level up and deliver the change we need in our areas?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

My hon. Friend makes a good point, which gives me the opportunity to highlight that freeports are already a resounding success in his area. We do not need to go any further than that, because the work that he and the Mayor, Ben Houchen, have done in that area is fantastic. Anyone who had any doubts about what freeports can bring to a region need only look at my hon. Friend’s area to see that they make a serious and positive contribution to future economic prosperity.

Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The Secretary of State extols the virtues of a freeport in Wales, but will he assure the House that he will not allow DP World, which is responsible for the shameful sacking of 800 P&O workers, anywhere near the construction or operation of any freeport in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Lady raises a timely point, and I hope that the comments made by the Transport Secretary, and others, will reassure her that we are deeply disturbed by the way that action was taken. As she knows, it has been referred to the Insolvency Service, and if there are demonstrable transgressions in that process, that could lead to criminal prosecutions. I can give the hon. Lady the assurance she needs as far as freeports in Wales are concerned.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

In the ongoing work and discussions on freeports with the Welsh Government, does the Secretary of State agree with the Welsh Government’s three basic and rather easy requests: parity over decision making; fair funding between freeports across the nation so that Welsh Government funds do not have to be diverted away from vital projects in Wales; and that the ethical standards of the Welsh Government—which are certainly higher than those of the UK Government—will be met if any freeport is delivered in Wales?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

I hope I can assure the hon. Gentleman. The fact that we are, I hope, imminently to make an announcement that involves the UK and the Welsh Governments, means that both parties in this long-running negotiation are satisfied. As I said, I do not want to prejudge the announcement or what the bidding process may conclude, but we can absolutely agree that there are a number of important issues. We have taken more than two years to reach this point, and I hope the Welsh Government, and everybody else involved in the process, will be satisfied by the outcome.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip

The Secretary of State has said that freeports in Wales will create 15,000 jobs, but where is his evidence that any of the economic benefits that flow from that will reach ordinary Welsh workers rather than the usual fat cats, such as DP World?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

The answer to that question, if the hon. Gentleman does not want to believe me, comes from port authorities, local authorities, stakeholders and others around Wales—people, including in his constituency, are looking at the evidence for freeports and the kind of upsides that my hon. Friend Jacob Young mentioned for Teesside a few moments ago. It might be a step too far for the hon. Gentleman to believe me, but he should believe his constituents and his community who believe this to be long overdue and are very anxious that we conclude it as soon as possible.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip

From welcoming Ukrainian refugees to safeguarding seafarers’ rights, the Government consistently disappoint. The Welsh Conservatives have now joined Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru to call for an expedited visa process to ensure simple, fast, safe and legal routes to sanctuary in the UK and to remove the requirement for Ukrainians to provide biometric evidence prior to leaving Ukraine. The Secretary of State is Wales’s man in the Cabinet: what is he doing to ensure that those jointly agreed Welsh humanitarian aims are achieved?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

I hope I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. Numerous conversations have been ongoing between the UK Government and the Welsh Government about the Ukraine refugee position. I stress that this is not a competition. We are working together to try to get the best outcome in a severe humanitarian crisis, and that means that we are putting our political differences to one side, and I hope that he can join us in that endeavour. We are incredibly grateful to local authorities, charities, the public in Wales and, of course, the Welsh Government for making this happen at the pace that it has. I spoke to the Ukrainian ambassador only last week, and he is also incredibly grateful for the way in which Wales, in all its different forms, has stepped up to the mark to try to resolve the problem. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support in our attempt to achieve those ambitions.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

Most of the focus on the freeport opportunity has understandably been on maritime ports. Can I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the merits of Barry port? In addition, can I ask him to pay particular attention to Cardiff airport, which is closely associated with Barry port, and assure me that it will be central to his thinking?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that. He is right to point out that freeports are not necessarily confined to coastal areas: some of the best examples of freeports in the UK are inland freeports. They are also not all identical, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for the whole of the UK. We are trying to be as flexible as we can in looking at all the different dynamics, including Cardiff airport, to make sure that when the bids come in we are not too prescriptive and we look at all the issues with the most open mind that we can.