Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:08 pm on 13 May 2021.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 4:08, 13 May 2021

My Lords, I follow the diversity theme of the right reverend Prelate and join in welcoming and congratulating our two maiden speakers.

A week ago—it seems a long time ago now—we had elections in Great Britain. I personally sought solace in turning again and again to the Welsh results. But, in retrospect, the big story from the elections may not be the performance of the parties but what the polls revealed about the deepening diversity in our country. Of course, the polls were influenced by the pandemic, and the incumbency factor played a role, but it does only continue a trend. The polls in Scotland and the north-east dominated the headlines; by contrast, Wales was relatively neglected. Obviously, the pressure for independence in Wales is much less than it is in Scotland, but it has doubled to just about one-third over the past seven years. However, the different national and regional responses are not reflected in this Queen’s Speech.

The Prime Minister promised a levelling-up process. The so-called red-wall seats were addressed, with more public money and more decentralised government departments. New assurances were given, and it is hoped by the Government that the same tactics will now succeed in Scotland. However, they ignore the problem of identity, which in my judgment goes much deeper. It is not just about increasing the flow of public money from the south to the north; it is not even about looking for greater flows from the south to the west, although that is of course important.

In that context, I invite your Lordships to examine the indices of poverty and deprivation in the nations and regions as a whole. In that examination, your Lordships will see that Wales is worse off than the north-east and certainly far worse off than Scotland. The facts speak for themselves. Wales has a lower GDP per head than any other country or region of the UK, the lowest growth rate of any region in the UK, the lowest proportion of taxpayers in the additional and higher rates, and the joint-highest proportion of low-income households. It is also the poorest region in terms of gross household disposable income per head. So much for levelling up. Should we shout louder? Should we have more marginal seats to be addressed? It is not just about the money side of things. Wales deserves better. It should not be taken for granted by a Prime Minister who plays for time in Scotland and has increased centralisation by taking to Whitehall powers and money that were repatriated from Brussels.

However, resources are not everything. The Prime Minister, an English nationalist to the core, ignores the problems of identity. Wales has clearly taken up the mantle of Welsh identity and the SNP dominates in Scotland, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, emphasised. Are we in the UK now sleep-walking into a quasi-federal state without the constitutional institutions and safeguards that support it? Today’s debate has been set aside for the question of our constitution and the union, but in fact says little of relevance about either. The Minister mentioned only electoral reform and judicial review.

Her Majesty said:

My Government will strengthen and renew democracy” and

“promote the strength and integrity of the union.”

That was wholly vacuous and without specific proposals. If the Prime Minister wishes to save the union, he must adopt a more imaginative and sensitive approach. He should let the former European Union money flow directly to the devolved Administrations. He should consider new powers of devolution, such as those in the Welsh Labour manifesto. He should open the debate on the nature and composition of your Lordships’ House. He should seek to be more responsive to the nations and regions, perhaps through direct or indirect elections, and take note of what the latest Lord Speaker’s committee said about his ignoring the Burns report. Most importantly, beyond calling a meeting of the leaders to discuss the results of the pandemic, which is in itself welcome—