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Leaving the EU: Wales — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:58 am on 25th October 2016.

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Photo of Byron Davies Byron Davies Conservative, Gower 9:58 am, 25th October 2016

I am delighted, as the real Byron Davies, to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate, Mr Bailey. I congratulate Stephen Kinnock on securing this debate. I am pleased that we are all here contributing to what should be a wider and national conversation about what happens to Wales post-Brexit. I am sure that we here today recognise the importance of ensuring Wales gets the best possible deal from Brexit. The UK Treasury has of course guaranteed European structural and investment funds in Wales for projects signed before the UK leaves the EU. The Treasury has also guaranteed funding received directly from the European Commission: for example, the universities participating in Horizon 2020. The guarantee also includes pillar 1 of the common agricultural policy, so the agricultural sector in Wales will receive the same level of funding it was expecting under the 2014-2020 programme. The access of the UK, and consequently Wales, to the EU funding programmes will be subject to negotiations during the withdrawal process. Even once outside the EU, it is possible that the UK will receive funding from it.

Although it is essential that we support the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister, who are ensuring we have funds for important infrastructure projects, as part of this process we must scrutinise how the money is spent. I must admit that I was shocked that Carwyn Jones did not have a plan for Wales after Brexit and failed to lobby the British Government prior to the referendum. Apparently, it was too political. That means he did not obtain any guarantees about having funding matched. That is staggering, given the importance of the current funding to Wales. The fact that the First Minister, of all people, did not think of that or secure it is beyond me. It could be argued, however, that it is part of a deeper undercurrent of thoughtlessness and evidence of the Welsh Government’s blasé attitude to the spending of public money. Unfortunately, Wales’ lack of scrutiny is part of the problem. It is due to myriad factors, including a lack of a competitive national media, which leaves the public with an information deficit, and the processes in the Assembly, which mean that many parts of Welsh policy and spending decisions have received a woeful lack of scrutiny. It is no longer good enough to say that the Assembly will get there or that things will change. It has been two decades, and in this place and the Assembly we must seriously start to look at and tackle the problems that the Assembly and Wales face post Brexit.

Wales has received three rounds of EU funding worth almost £4 billion in less than two decades. In the heady early days of devolution, the then First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, said that the first round of funding was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape a new Wales, shake off the shackles and take advantage of the myriad opportunities and the booming years of the early 2000s to create a hi-tech, trading nation that is proud of its industrial past. We were told that it would grow to become a confident, outward-looking nation once again. Two decades on, we are on our third round of funding.

The Welsh Government’s wasted spending includes a £7.5 million Government procurement card for luxury hotels, iTunes, Victoria’s Secret underwear, yacht wear and other vital uses of taxpayers’ funds for Welsh Government officials. Some £1.6 million was spent on a martial arts centre that never opened in north Wales. Tens of millions of pounds in business loans went from the former economy Minister to firms that went bankrupt, despite warnings about their viability. Some £1.8 million was spent on chauffeur-driven cars; £20 million was spent on properties on the M4 relief road, without a spade in the ground; £3.4 million was spent on a heritage centre that closed within three years; and hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on major road projects that a 2010 Wales Audit Office report said cost 61% more than estimated and hampered wider transport objectives. My point is that, although it is of fundamental importance that we debate and discuss the future of funding for Wales and support the Wales Office in achieving that—