We now come to the Backbench Business debate on Welsh Affairs. I remind hon. Members that the debate is very oversubscribed. If we can try to start off with five-minute speeches, I will try to give everybody equal time. If there are interventions, I will have to drop that straight away.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Welsh affairs.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for selecting this debate. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Craig Williams) for joining me and others in putting the case for securing it.
I am proud to be a Welsh MP, proud to serve in the House of Commons, proud to be Welsh, proud to be British and proud to be an internationalist. Wales has made an enormous contribution to Britain and the globe. I was hoping to make my opening remarks as the Welsh team were on the way, as Triple Crown winners, to winning the Six Nations championship. That is not so, but we are still a very united country and it is unity that is the theme of my speech today.
Yesterday, as Welsh people, we celebrated with patriotism. We had an excellent service in the House of Commons, where the Speaker’s Chaplain officiated in both English and Welsh. It is now on the record that we are allowed to use the Welsh language in future Welsh Grand Committees. I say to Mr Deputy Speaker that he should take a leaf out of the book of the Speaker’s Chaplain. He should attend a Welsh Grand Committee debate and, as a great visitor to my constituency and many other parts of Wales, speak in both Welsh and English.
Before I move on to some of the issues that have shaped the past 12 months, I want to say that there has been some good news. I remind the House of the excellent performance of the Welsh football team in Euro 2016, when we led the way for the United Kingdom. I remind Members, particularly those on the Labour Benches, that Labour was returned to government in the Welsh Assembly and that we again have a Labour First Minister of Wales.
Since St David’s day 2016, there have been some issues that have divided the country and the world. Brexit divided many of our constituencies—it divided Wales and the United Kingdom—and Bush was elected President of the United States. To talk of building walls—I said Bush, but I mean Trump. I have made that mistake before, but he is worse than Bush. The serious point is that Trump talks about building walls. To talk about building walls is to ask on which side of the wall people belong. We need to put an end to that kind of divisiveness. Of course we need political debate, critical thinking and broad opinion to shape our future, but we need to stop talking about Brexiteers and remainers. We need to talk about the 100% we are elected to represent. In Scotland, they still talk of the 45%, but if we are to move forward we have to move away from tribalism and towards unity.
As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, Welsh MPs have played a pivotal role in the House of Commons. They have introduced policies and concepts that have united the United Kingdom. I am talking about Nye Bevan and the national health service—something we all support, because it has helped all our people—and Jim Griffiths, the former Member for Llanelli, who introduced the National Assistance Act 1948, again to give social protection to everybody in the UK. Those things have helped to shape the politics of the UK.
We must now build a consensus across parties on the big themes that can unite Wales and the UK. For one, we must provide social care for all our people, and we should have that debate here in the House as Welsh MPs. Over the last few years, I have been saddened to see divisions over the health and social care service being used politically by parties to divide us, when it should unite us and help the most vulnerable in society.
The digital revolution is something else that can unite us. We need to find 21st-century solutions, and one of those is superfast broadband. [Interruption.] Does my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) want to intervene? No? Superfast broadband liberates communities and families—I know of Welsh families with sons, daughters and other relatives around the world who now speak to them regularly because of the digital information technology facilities available—yet many people in rural and peripheral areas of Wales do not have the same facilities as those in larger towns and cities.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for spearheading the effort to secure this debate. Does he agree that it is not just a matter of householders’ rights and opportunities? We also need to get broadband right if we are serious about developing the economy in those peripheral areas.
The hon. Gentleman is right. In fact, I was just coming to businesses. I welcome the Digital Economy Bill. I have been arguing for some time, like many other Members, that we need universal coverage in the UK, and it has been resisted for too long. Now it is in the Bill. United as Welsh MPs, we can take the lead and have the universal service obligation rolled out in Wales first. The Secretary of State, who I know is paying attention on the Front Bench, could be pivotal in taking this up in Cabinet. The Welsh Government, as a single body, are working with BT to roll this out in Wales, unlike in England, where there are several roll-out bodies. We can be ahead of the game, as we have been on many other big issues that have united us, so I hope he will listen and respond positively.
Like many Members, I have worked with BT Openreach and the Welsh Government, and I have worked to get individual businesses connected with fibre to their premises. The Welsh Government are moving forward, but according to the Library, many constituencies in Wales are behind the UK average when it comes to superfast broadband roll-out and the minimum of 10 megabits per second in the universal service obligation. We need to move forward on that. I say to the Secretary of State that we should have a cross-party group. We can be pioneers and lead the way. Wales, with its peripheral areas, rurality and sparse populations, can be a microcosm of the rest of the UK. I urge him to work with me and others on that. Many of the rural areas without superfast broadband also do not have mains gas, pay more for fuel and are greatly disadvantaged and socially excluded, so it is a serious issue I raise when I talk about broadband being a step forward for those areas. I hope that Members will work with me on that campaign.
We also need a transport system that works for the whole UK. I know that the Government have been pushing the case, with the Welsh Government and others, for better cross-border facilities, particularly in the south and north of Wales. It is important that we are an integral part of the UK network. The Secretary of State will get the backing of the Opposition if he pushes not just for electrification of the north Wales line but for better connections between north Wales and Manchester and Liverpool airports. That is essential. Many of my constituents, such as the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), do not come down to Heathrow or Gatwick if they can get to Liverpool or Manchester. Making that easier for them will be a good deal for the people of north Wales.
I was in the Chamber for the beginning of the International Women’s Day debate, and was very moved by the comments in the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) about our colleague Jo Cox. Jo’s maiden speech will go down in history, not because she so sadly left us, but because she talked then about uniting people and highlighted that there is more that unites us than divides us. We need to go forward with that as an emblem.
One of my predecessors, Lady Megan Lloyd George, moved the first St David’s day debate, and she was one of the first pioneers: she stood up for women across the United Kingdom; she stood up for Wales as an integral part of the United Kingdom; and she was not afraid to talk about high unemployment and to fight for the national health service and social insurance. She had the good sense to move from the Liberal party to the Labour party, and she was a pioneer on those very big subjects. Wales can be very proud that in this House of Commons we have an annual debate, and also that throughout the year we are pioneering Members of Parliament across the parties, and that we work together for the best for our constituents, and work best for Wales within a United Kingdom as outward-looking internationalists. I am proud to open this debate, and—
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. He raised a number of issues that he wants to put to the Government, and I want to ask if he would include among them the impact of the revaluation of business rates on businesses throughout England and Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government are helping businesses quite considerably, but I have, for example, only today received notice from one business that its business rates are rising from £22,000 a year to £66,000 from 1 April. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should be looking to address this in next week’s Budget?
I certainly do, and if we had had more time I would certainly have raised the issue, because we did have a revaluation earlier in Wales. We had a transitional period, and now that that has come to an end many of our friends in England are looking to Wales to see what is happening. We need to work together to help in particular rural businesses that are being evaluated on the size of their premises. There are many horse-riding schools in my constituency, one of which I visited on Friday—I did not ride a horse—and it is suffering due to that.
I conclude by saying that the UK Government must take the Welsh dimension to Brexit far more seriously; I hope, and am sure, that they will. The Joint Ministerial Committee is important in areas that are wholly devolved to Wales. That voice of Welsh MPs and the Welsh people needs to be filtered through to Government level. The Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and she represents Welsh interests, and it is important that the devolved Administrations have a firm voice in those negotiations going forward.
I will listen to, and respond to, the debate.
Order. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that I go to Wales; that is true, and I do like Trearddur Bay—I put on record that Ynys Môn is one of my favourite islands, and Holy Island as well.
I should also say that the Wales Rugby League came to Parliament this week to increase the profile of the Welsh rugby league and of this being the week for Wales. I want to make sure that everyone is aware of how important rugby league is, as well as rugby union.
I call David T. C. Davies, and introduce a five-minute limit on speeches.
Members will be aware of the plan by the Heads of the Valleys Development Company, led by Mr Michael Carrick, to build a racetrack at Ebbw Vale. Mr Carrick persuaded the Welsh Government to put £9 million into his company, Heads of the Valleys, in order to develop this, but has so far been unable to get the private sector to back the scheme without an assurance from the Welsh Government that they will provide over £200 million as a loan guarantee.
Mr Carrick claims to be an expert in building infrastructure. He has been involved in attempts to set up infrastructure projects in the Shetland islands and the Port of Ardersier in Scotland, as well two biomass projects in Africa and another in Ireland, and a river barrage scheme at Fleetwood. None of these projects has been successful. I have spoken to many involved who say that they feel let down and misled, and in more than one case that they are owed money. I could give some examples, but do not have the time. One that has been in the press, however, involved Mr Bob Long from Fleetwood, who tried to set up a river barrage. Mr Carrick told him that he had the funds available to develop the project, but the money never arrived, and Mr Long claims the project has been almost ruined as a result.
Aventa’s website, which Members can look at if they wish to, implies that it is responsible for managing a fund worth £350 million to build UK infrastructure, but Companies House records suggest that it has just £500 in the bank. However, with his £9 million of public money, Mr Carrick decided to buy a specialist motorcycle company based in Buckinghamshire. It was shown in the records as a dormant company until August 2012, after which it sprang into life. By August 2013, it was showing liabilities of £350,000. The losses grew, but when I met Mr Carrick in July last year, he told me that he would soon turn it around, that it would be an anchor business for his site and that it would lead to a Welsh rider winning a Welsh grand prix. A few months later, it was in administration, owing more than £500,000. If Mr Carrick cannot make a success of a small company turning over a few hundred thousand pounds, should the taxpayer be backing him in a venture worth several hundred million?
Mr Carrick’s publicly funded company has also bought the rights to hold the MotoGP championships at Silverstone, but so far he has made a loss on that of around £1 million. Many companies, including some local ones, have done work for the project but have not been paid—they have all done it at risk—but luckily, one supplier has been paid in full, again out of public funds. Mr Carrick decided to appoint a financial consultant to give advice to the scheme, and the company he appointed was Aventa, a company that he 100% owns and controls. In effect, he paid himself nearly £l million of public money to give himself advice. Civil servants in the Welsh Assembly raised concerns about this but were overruled. I have some written material to back all this up, by the way; I have the invoices. Among other things, Aventa spent £35,000 on landscape gardening. Those invoices were made out to the Heads of the Valleys Development Company, but Mr Carrick says that they were paid by Aventa. He also spent thousands of pounds on political events for the Labour party and, he tells me, for the Conservative party, although I do not have those invoices.
When I raised my concerns with Mr Carrick, he told me that he was entitled to spend Aventa money as he pleased and that it had sources of income other than the public money from the Heads of the Valleys Development Company. I asked for examples and he cited GE. I asked him whether he meant General Electric, and he said yes. I then contacted General Electric, which told me that he had asked for money but had not had any from the company. At the same meeting, one of Mr Carrick’s associates told me that BMW was planning to build a BMW world theme park at the site. I checked with BMW, which told me that that was absolutely ludicrous and that it had no plans to do so. Again, I have all this in writing.
Mr Carrick’s lawyers, who are in touch with me frequently, claimed that I had made all this up, but, fortunately for all concerned, I have a high-quality recording of the meeting, and they have now had to accept that all those comments were indeed made. I can share the transcript of the meeting with anyone who is interested, although I cannot share the recording without Mr Carrick’s permission, which he does not seem very willing to give. I asked him about the business plan, and I was told that he would be able to rent out the race track for between £18,000 and £35,000 a day. Industry experts tell me that that is absolutely ludicrous. But even if he did manage to do that, he would be pulling in revenue of only about £13 million a year on a project that is going to cost £430 million to build. I am intrigued as to why the project keeps increasing in cost, from £200 million in 2011 to £250 million in 2012 and to £380 million when I met Mr Carrick in July. Seven months later, it has risen again to £430 million.
I have two other documents of interest. The first is a quote from a construction company, FC, for £180 million for building the track—a project we are told is worth £430 million. Even with a few hotels chucked in, that would take a bit of explaining. The second is a business plan showing a developer’s profit of £13 million.
I commend my hon. Friend for his investigation into this episode. What broader lessons does he think should be drawn from this about Welsh Government Ministers’ attitudes towards the use of public money in the name of economic development?
The first lesson is that nobody should be able to make £13 million on a project before it has even been built. Secondly, this whole thing is an outrage. People are being sold a pipe dream. Politicians who support it are being taken out for lunch, and those who ask difficult questions are being threatened with legal action by a group of expensive City lawyers. Some £9 million of taxpayers’ money has been wasted. The only infrastructure we have seen so far has been the £35,000-worth of work done to Mr Carrick’s mansion in Grantchester, and the only sports car in evidence is the Aston Martin that he drives around in. It is time to pull this project.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Yes, I have contributed quite a bit to the Wales Audit Office, and I am looking forward with great anticipation to the result. It is time to pull the plug on this scheme. If the Welsh Government want to put £200 million of our money at risk, there are better ways of doing it and better people to be doing it with.
It is always a pleasure to follow my neighbour the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies). I hope that he and I will agree on the principle of the importance of investing and creating jobs in the heads of the valleys.
Economic development will be the focus of my remarks, and we have seen good news in recent days. Yesterday, on St David’s day, the Cardiff capital region city deal was signed, which is clearly good news for south-east Wales. However, there are also concerns about Ford workers in Bridgend, which underlines—if there is any need to—the need for a coherent strategy from the UK Government for the years ahead. Whether people voted leave or remain in last year’s referendum, nobody voted to become poorer. We must ensure that structural funding continues beyond 2020. Foreign direct investment, which was at a 30-year high last year, must continue, and the Welsh Government deserve great credit for continuing to attract such investment to Wales. Steel, which is a foundation industry, must also be central to Wales’s economic future.
The priorities are both immediate and long term. Immediately, we must secure tariff-free access to the single market. Indeed, the Welsh Government’s “Securing Wales’ Future” document, which was produced together with Plaid Cymru, sets out the importance of participation in the single market, and a balanced migration policy, given that over two thirds of Welsh exports go there.
In the longer term, we need a vision of what a post-Brexit Wales should look like. The European Union currently has more than 50 free trade arrangements, which will clearly need replacing. The Brexit White Paper produced by the UK Government contains a chapter on “Securing new trade agreements with other countries”. It has 19 paragraphs, but there is no mention whatsoever of Wales’s position or the Welsh perspective on such trade agreements. However, that same document sets out that some of the fastest growing export markets between 2005 and 2014 were places such as China, South Korea, Brazil, and Mexico. The UK Government must work with the Welsh Government, which already have 14 overseas offices ready to assist with the creation of new trade agreements.
My ears pricked up when the hon. Gentleman mentioned that the Welsh Government currently fund 14 overseas offices to assist with international trade. Given the extensive global network of embassies and high commissions that the UK Government fund from Westminster precisely to assist with international development, why should taxpayers fund these duplicate offices?
In a sense, the right hon. Gentleman makes my point for me: we need a Welsh perspective in the construction of post-Brexit trade deals.
In the teeth of opposition from Conservative Assembly Members, it was very important that the Welsh Government nationalised Cardiff airport, which is crucial to Wales’ economic future.
The constitutional arrangements of Wales in 2017 are different from those that existed in 1972 when Wales entered the then European Economic Community. When the rules currently set in Brussels on matters such as agriculture, the environment or certain parts of transport are repatriated to the United Kingdom, we must ensure that they are not exclusively returned to this Parliament when it would be more appropriate to base them with the Welsh Government in Cardiff. It is vital to bear that in mind in the debates to come.
There is a broader point, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), whom I congratulate on leading the campaign to secure this debate, put it well when he talked about working now for the 100%. What is in the best interest of the people? Of course it is vital that we retain workers’ rights, environmental protections and consumer protections as we move into a post-Brexit Wales, but let us have the ambition not only to retain those rights and protections but to build on them—to make our consumers better protected, to strengthen environmental protections and to build on the workers’ rights that our membership of the European Union established and deepened over the years.
Our focus on Wales’ economic wellbeing is vital. It is about ensuring that the voice of Wales is heard loud and clear in the negotiations ahead so that we are able to produce the prosperous post-Brexit Wales that we all want.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I shall focus on a number of key areas for Wales and Gower. One thing on which we can all agree is that we are at a historic point for Wales and the United Kingdom, and we must make all our voices heard to ensure that Wales gets the very best representation as part of the Brexit negotiations.
As part of that, the importance of infrastructure in creating economic growth cannot be overstated. If we do not have the right road, rail, freight and air networks, Wales will not fulfil its great potential. We cannot rely on the UK Government to keep supporting Welsh infrastructure while the Welsh Government sit back. Wales continues to grind to a halt every morning and every evening in a dazzling array of brake lights at Newport. Haulage companies carrying goods from our businesses, workers trying to commute and families going about their everyday lives are all bonded by that most Welsh of experiences: sitting in a car around the Brynglas tunnels or the Port Talbot bypass with the handbrake up as high as it can go.
As opportunities disappear to other areas of the UK, the Welsh Government continue to delay traffic relief for the M4 by engaging in a dazzling spectrum of task and finish groups, reviews and endless committees. I would be a very rich man indeed if I had £1 for every time I heard the phrase “task and finish group” when I was an Assembly Member—I certainly heard it more times than I heard any mention of actually undertaking and completing vital work on our infrastructure.
The overcrowded two-carriage train services that arrive every hour or so, the slow and ageing road network and the lack of bus services mean that many people are unable to travel for work or to create the businesses and commerce of which they are capable because the infrastructure is simply not adequate. We need to be bolder and more daring in our thinking.
My hon. Friend rightly focuses on transport infrastructure, but another key part of the infrastructure that Wales needs is energy infrastructure. He has been a great champion of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, as have I. Does he agree that it is vital that we keep pressing so that we see the project move forward?
If my hon. Friend bears with me, I will address that point in a moment.
There are positive points, of course. The Department for Transport has invested heavily in the great western line, and the new intercity express rolling stock, which will shortly be introduced on services to Cardiff and Swansea, will provide passengers on the line with greater capacity, a more comfortable journey and decreased journey times. I have already spoken to the Department, Ministers and others to try to ensure that we look at new solutions to our transport problems, such as greater services to west Wales or a complete reconfiguration of rail services with a Swansea parkway station and other solutions to try to unlock the vast untapped potential in south-west Wales. I implore Members on both sides of the House to work together and lobby so that we can make those positive changes for the people we represent.
On a slightly brighter note, I have previously spoken at length about the benefits of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project, but it really is a huge opportunity for Gower, south-west Wales and our nation. It is a world-first pathfinder project that could put Wales on the map as a world leader in renewable energy and its associated skills base. The tidal lagoon is exactly the sort of game-changing infrastructure project that Wales needs, and I know from my many meetings with Ministers across Government that it is being looked at extremely closely.
On a topic relating to the lagoon, it is vital for productivity and for the future prospects of our young people that, post-Brexit, we invest in and encourage skills development. ColegauCymru/CollegesWales is doing excellent work to provide skills, training and education for a wide age range that can make a real difference not just to individuals but to families and the country. The lagoon could be the catalyst that unlocks a greater level of skills training and development, which could encourage jobs and investment in engineering, thereby enabling companies to invest in other projects in Wales to benefit all our constituents.
Before I finish, I wish to bring up a local issue that has been worked on across party lines. The decline of the cockle industry has lost the economy around £23 million over the past 10 years. It was once an extremely successful industry in Gower that supported the community and was the livelihood of many people; now, 95% of cockles die at around one year old. The problem has existed for around 10 years, and the cockle beds have not recovered since the mortality started in 2005.
In 2000, the area had the best cockles in Europe and exported to France and Spain, bringing tens of millions of pounds into the region, but the cockles are no longer suitable for the high-end market, and there is a limit to how many small cockles can be sold. The local cocklers are unable to guarantee a regular supply of cockles to the processors. The season starts in May but is finished by July, whereas it used to be a year-round business. The local cocklers believe the cockles are being killed by sewage discharge, although the science around the issue remains a mystery. Natural Resources Wales should be working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because the problem affects other parts of the UK as well.
There should be further scientific work, and help from the Welsh Government, to save the cockle industry in Gower. Going forward, we can be hopeful about the future of the lagoon and improve skills in science, technology, engineering and maths, but we must not forget the great artisanship of the industries that our communities were built on. Although we face challenges, I firmly believe that by challenging our institutions to do more to find bold projects that will drive Wales forward, and with us elected representatives fighting the corner of our constituents in common cause, we can forge a better and more prosperous Wales that stands ready to embrace the future.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on his opening speech. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gower (Byron Davies); I am a great fan of Swansea cockles, so I was interested to hear what he had to say. I represent the university constituency of Cardiff Central. We have three universities—Cardiff University, Cardiff Metropolitan University, and the University of South Wales—so I shall focus my remarks on the importance of the higher education sector to Wales.
People in Wales have long understood the value of a good education, from the late 19th century, when working men pooled their wages to help to fund some of the earliest Welsh universities, through to today, when our seven universities are thriving like never before. They performed extremely well in the latest research excellence framework audit, when 77% of their submitted research was placed in the top two tiers of world research, and Cardiff University has been judged as the fifth best research university in the whole UK.
Welsh universities now stand at the cutting edge of research into renewable energy, new agriculture methods and new health research. In my constituency we have the brand new Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre, which brings together world-leading expertise in brain mapping with the very latest in brain imaging and brain stimulation. CUBRIC, as the centre is known, plays a pivotal role in the global endeavour to better understand the causes of neurological and psychiatric conditions such as dementia, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis, and to identify vital clues for the development of better treatments.
The higher education sector now accounts for almost 5% of Wales’s gross value added, generating £1.38 billion itself and powering £1.41 billion in other industries every year. Although universities in Wales are often portrayed as urban, they are in fact based in diverse areas and benefit the whole nation. Of the nearly 50,000 jobs created by the higher education sector in Wales, more than 11,000 are in local government areas that do not have a university based within their boundaries, which highlights how success in higher education helps to deliver success not only for its local communities, but for every community throughout Wales.
We know, however, that success is not inevitable. It has taken an incredible amount of work from teaching and research staff, students, administrators, and university managers and leaders to make our universities what they are. It has also taken a lot of hard cash, a major source of which has been the European Union, not only through research programmes such as Horizon 2020, but more generally through European regional development funding.
I am reminded of that every time I drive past CUBRIC, because without the £4.5 million of European funding that Cardiff University received for the building, the land where the centre now stands would have remained wasteland—a home for rats rather than researchers. Such examples explain why, during the referendum, the Welsh Conservative leader pledged that Wales would not get a penny less in funding after we left the EU, yet the Secretary of State has repeatedly refused to guarantee a replacement of the EU funding currently available to Wales and, by extension, to Welsh universities.
Given the Prime Minister’s quips about Labour cheques bouncing, it would be bitterly ironic for Wales if we discovered that the Welsh Conservative leader had been writing cheques that his boss could not cash. The refusal to offer guarantees to future EU students, the nonchalant attitude to pan-European student programmes such as Erasmus, and the general tone struck towards those seen as different echo far beyond our shores, and Wales is already paying the price.
Applications to Welsh universities from EU students are down by 8.45% on the previous year. Those students put more than £130 million into our universities and local economy. The reduction in the number of applications means that some of the brightest people in the world are now not choosing Wales—that is our loss.
The Government could take a simple step now to halt that decline and reduce the widespread and growing perception that EU students are unwelcome here. They could give a guarantee, as they have done for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 student cohorts from the EU, that EU students who start courses next year will have identical tuition fee status and access to financial support. Last week I heard from representatives of university medical students who are really concerned about NHS workforce planning, because while current medical students have been factored into that planning, many of them are from the EU and do not know whether, when they finish their degrees after we have left the European Union, they will be able to stay and work here.
Our ability to attract and retain the best academic talent is at risk. Some 17% of Cardiff University’s academic staff are EU nationals, which is why it is essential that the Prime Minister shows some leadership now—
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said, 17% of Cardiff University’s academic staff are EU nationals. Universities across Wales, and indeed across the UK, are concerned that we will lose not only EU national teaching staff, but UK national teaching staff who have EU spouses, because they will leave the UK to work abroad.
The Welsh higher education sector represents everything to which a global Britain should aspire—a world leader punching above its weight, and ready to work with its friends across Europe and the world. We need to applaud this success, but also to recognise that it is not inevitable. We have a responsibility—a positive duty—to provide an environment in which Welsh higher education not just survives, but thrives.
May I say what a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens)? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Byron Davies) and Opposition Members on securing the debate.
As I was thinking about today’s debate, I did a little digging into the life and achievements of St David, and I was amazed by how many aspects I could crowbar into my speech. As we all know, St David was born in Wales, but he travelled widely, visiting Ireland and Jerusalem among other places. However, the “tourist” always returned back to travel Wales more widely, seemingly preferring it to any other place in the world—and why not? Wales is still the most beautiful place to visit in the world, and my area of Brecon and Radnorshire is still the most beautiful place to visit in Wales. This message is getting out into the wider world, too. Visits to Wales are increasing year on year, with a 3% increase seen in the past year alone.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. When one stands on the beautiful Pen y Fan in the mountains of the Brecon Beacons, we look down on south Wales to the Gower, and what a pleasure it is to see it from a distance—or, in fact, from near or far.
The Welsh tourism industry provides excellent employment prospects in my constituency and is a great boost to the local economy, but it is under some threat at the moment. Business rate hikes, should they go ahead as planned, will harm the tourism industry’s small profit margins, and a number of owners have expressed concerns to me that they might have to close altogether as a result. I therefore very much look forward to hearing any measures that the Chancellor can put in place next week for England that can be replicated in Wales.
It is not just the tourist in St David who is well suited to my speech. As many hon. Members will know, St David set up a number of monasteries around Wales. They were very frugal in their operations; once set up, they farmed the land. Thankfully, farming practices have remained, and produce from Wales is now widely recognised as among the finest products available in the world. Welsh lamb is becoming a benchmark for quality, and our beef is second to none. I am therefore pleased that the Government are supporting Welsh farmers by protecting farm payments until 2020. Furthermore, with Brexit, we have the opportunity to free our Welsh farmers from the shackles of the EU so that we can better compete with produce from around the world.
St David was not just a tourist and a farmer; he was also an inspiration to the warriors of Wales—he was recognised as our patron saint at the height of the Welsh rebellion against the Normans. Support for our military is still very visible in Wales. For many years, we have had a vast number of training grounds and barracks for our military right across our nation, and our communities take great pride in welcoming servicemen and women to their towns. I know that from the infantry training camps in Sennybridge and the Brecon Beacons, and from the barracks in Brecon, in my constituency, which once housed soldiers who fought in the battle of Rorke’s Drift, which was made famous by the film “Zulu”. That history of community is very important to local people, so I am disappointed that the Government seek to close the Brecon barracks. I hope that they will reconsider that proposal, see how important the barracks is to the military and the wider community, and keep it open for generations to come.
Following my research, I felt that I could not speak in this debate without mentioning St David’s great miracle. As he was preaching to the crowd at the synod of Brefi, he raised the ground beneath him into a hill that his sermon could be heard from. There are times when I wish for just such a power, because of my height—so does the Secretary of State, I am sure. None the less, I was reminded of the beautiful, rolling countryside of Brecon and Radnorshire.
Just as when my right hon. Friend was Secretary of State for Wales, we are delighted to see Pembrokeshire people ruling over us, but we are also delighted to see them go back to Pembrokeshire on occasions, too—[Interruption] Even though he remains a great right hon. Friend.
My right hon. Friend stopped me as I was just about to mention that great institution that we call the Labour-run Welsh Assembly, which is proposing to litter not just Brecon and Radnorshire, but the whole of mid-Wales, with wind and solar farms by imposing measures on Powys County Council’s local development plan. Such a proposal would harm not only the excellent tourism industry that I mentioned earlier, but the attractiveness of mid-Wales for locals and those thinking of relocating there. It looks as if we will need one of those great St David’s miracles to prevent these plans from going through, but I can assure Members that I shall be fighting them all the way.
May I say again what a pleasure it is to see this House focusing on Wales issues?
The hon. Gentleman is one of many Conservatives in mid-Wales who do not want wind farms. What alternatives for generating electricity would they like in mid-Wales? Would they like gas power or open-cast coal? What other source of energy do they propose to keep the lights on in mid-Wales?
We would be delighted to see more hydro, and we are certainly delighted to support the tidal barrage and lagoon down in Swansea. Opposition Members do not seem to acknowledge that the tidal lagoon will benefit the whole of Wales, not just Gower, Swansea or south Wales—[Interruption.] I am delighted to have encouragement and support from across the Chamber for an agreement.
It is a pleasure to see this debate being held in the Chamber today. I look forward to working with the Government to build a stronger Wales long into the future.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and a belated happy St David’s day to you. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies), but he seems to have forgotten that St David’s mother, Non, went to live in Brittany in her later years. I hope that the Government will give some thought to that when they come to the reciprocal arrangements for EU citizens.
As we know, the ground around St David rose so that he could be heard by a crowd. But there is a second David of whom we must speak today: the David who thought that the ground around him would always rise, such was his belief in his great political gift to our country. With what Max Boyce would have called an incredible plan, this second David promised us a referendum on the EU, believing that his promises could never fail. Madam Deputy Speaker, I prefer the first David, our patron saint.
St David was quintessentially Welsh. He was almost always supported by followers, such as Aeddan, Teilo and Ysfael, and of course he also had the support of the great and the good—yes, even in the 6th and 7th centuries we had the great and the good in Wales—such as Deiniol, Dyfrig and the like. Across Wales yesterday there have been eisteddfodau, as indeed there will be today and over the weekend, such as the concert I will be attending in Rhosllanerchrugog tomorrow night, and there will be parades and other celebrations of culture. Let us therefore thank the great work of mentrau iaith, especially menter iaith Maelor across our borderland areas of Wales, for their promotion of Welsh language and culture.
I cannot let St David’s day—it is becoming St David’s week—pass without expressing my pleasure about the introduction of the Welsh language in this House in our Welsh Grand Committee, which is an historic change. I am pleased because I do not believe that there can be any understanding of Welsh political and cultural life that does not include an understanding of Welsh language rights. I am pleased because I think it goes some way towards righting an historic wrong. I am also pleased because I believe in a Wales that looks outwards, that does not beatify its borders—we hear so much nonsense on that subject today—and that does not want to create artificial walls between what is inside the Welsh border and what is Oswestry or the north-west of England. Those communities have been united with ours and there has been a relationship between the communities, not merely for decades, but for centuries. Let us leave the insular wall-building that separates people to the likes of Donald Trump in the United States, because it is so alien to our outward-looking vision of Welshness.
I know that every Member of this House—certainly every Welsh Member—will have in their constituencies heritage projects that should rightly be showcased and celebrated at this time. There are many such projects across the glorious 240 square miles of Clwyd South, but I will refer to only one today, the Brymbo heritage project, which has been set up by the Brymbo heritage group. The industrial village of Brymbo had a steelworks between 1796 and 1990—yes, its closure was another achievement of the great Mrs Thatcher. Today we are seeing the restoration of those buildings, with jobs being created and the community getting involved through volunteering, with oral histories, educational resources and various events.
I am delighted by the support that has been given to that project by the Welsh Government and the local council. I was even more pleased recently to see plans to convert the former steelworks building into a visitor centre, and a grant to fund architectural designs for an ambitious plan to convert a 1920s machine shop and regenerate the site further. I know that industrial sites in north-east Wales are not often what people think of when they think of our Welsh heritage. When we celebrate our Welshness, our culture and the two great languages of our nation, let us also remember the industrial heritage of north-east Wales and celebrate it. I wish everybody a happy St David’s day—I like saying this—Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus.
It was a great privilege to pitch this annual debate to the Backbench Business Committee with the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen)—my friend on this occasion—and the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams). I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ynys Môn not just for leading the charge on that occasion, but for the tone in which he opened the debate, which I want to echo.
It will not be a great surprise to the House that I will concentrate my remarks on the Cardiff city deal. As the Member of Parliament for Cardiff North in our capital city, I think the deal is a great achievement. This is an appropriate debate in which to talk about it because it needs cross-party and cross-governmental co-operation. Ten local authorities got together this very week to show their commitment of £120 million within the overall package of £1.2 billion. That is a great investment fund for south Wales and for Wales because when our capital city and engine house of Wales—the vast majority of the population live in south-east Wales—prospers, Wales prospers.
We have spoken at great length about tourism and the fantastic places all over the country. I have heard champions for Brecon and Radnorshire, Gower, Pembrokeshire, and constituencies represented by Opposition Members. When tourists arrive at our capital city—the international gateway—through the airport in the Vale of Glamorgan or through Cardiff Central station, which I will touch on in a moment, they come through a great, welcoming capital city that prospers through the research of our three universities. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) for championing the universities that cross our city. Only a couple of weeks ago, I visited the very department she mentioned, and I also call for the continuation of programmes such as Erasmus and Horizon 2020 during the negotiations for us to exit the EU. Those programmes, which prosper in our country, are great collaborations for EU states and non-EU states, which it is important to recognise as we go forward.
I mentioned the Cardiff city deal and the £1.2 billion commitment. That is not talk; it is real investment going into our economy now. The local authorities are getting together and agreeing a delivery framework. We need to hear the word “delivery” a lot more in Wales—not just committees or task and finish groups, but real delivery. The M4 relief road is a good example of where we need delivery. While I welcome the collaboration I have mentioned, we need to bring in the third and private sectors to leverage a lot more money than £1.2 billion to fix our infrastructure needs in south Wales. That brings me on to Cardiff Central station, which is our gateway to Wales.
The station is an incredibly important hub for my constituents who commute in to, out of and around Cardiff on a daily basis. I was delighted to join the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Transport in talking to operators and developers about what we can do there. We need to work together across parties and across Governments to look at the capacity. We are getting new rolling stock. For the sceptics in the House, I do not mean the great Tornado that visited to mark St David’s day yesterday, although steam had its time and it was wonderful to see it in Cardiff Central station on St David’s day. The new rolling stock is being built now and will be rolled out soon, on top of the electrification coming down the railways. That is huge investment with huge challenges. We should recognise that, rather than, as is traditional, bashing each other on the head about such projects, which take a great deal of thought and money.
I end with another great achievement of working together: securing not only the UEFA Champions League final, but also the UEFA Women’s Champions League final. It will be the first time that a city has ever managed to host both events, with one in our magnificent Principality stadium and the other in Cardiff City stadium. We will have the main Champions League final—the biggest sporting function in the world—and the Women’s Champions League final down the road. That underlines our nation’s potential, the incredible pull of Cardiff, and what we can secure and pay back to the economic development of our great country when we work together. Happy St David’s day.
I thank the hon. Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and for Gower (Byron Davies) for securing the debate, which is just about spot on, because, of course, it follows on from yesterday’s St David’s day celebrations and last week’s welcome announcement that we will be allowed, under certain circumstances, to address Parliament in Welsh. Mae fy nghyd-Aelodau Seneddol Plaid Cymru a finnau yn edrych ymlaen yn awchus at gael siarad Cymraeg am y tro cyntaf yn yr Uwch-bwyllgor Cymraeg. It is all right, there is nothing particularly terrifying in that: I am celebrating the fact that we will be allowed to speak Welsh in the Welsh Grand Committee—that is pretty much a spontaneous translation.
There is merit in embracing small victories here in Parliament, but while there is cause for celebration—after all, “Gwnewch y pethau bychai”, or “Do the little things”, is what St David advised us to do—I cannot help but think that, in the age of big and bold political decisions, Wales needs more than just the little things. By voting to leave Europe’s political union, people in Wales quite rightly voted to uproot the very foundations on which the Westminster establishment has rested so comfortably for so long. Contrary to the long-held small-c conservative belief, people want change—change with a capital C.
On the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, powers will be repatriated to the UK. A determination will need to be made about those powers that are to be in devolved areas. At the moment, there is little experience of shared competence as practised in the EU.
A St David’s day poll revealed that more and more people in Wales are demanding that power lies closer to them, with 44% wanting a National Assembly with greater powers. Brexit offers a unique opportunity for the Welsh National Assembly to satisfy that demand.
Let us take this opportunity to rethink drastically the UK constitution in a changing Europe. It is essential that the great repeal Bill, and measures taken under it at central UK level, give appropriate attention to the devolution settlement. It should recognise the continuation of EU measures already adopted in Welsh law for Wales, as well as the competence of Welsh Ministers to pass secondary legislation reviewing the post-Brexit acquis in devolved areas. The Bill may significantly impact, intentionally or not, on the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales. The UK’s exit from the EU must not result in devolved powers being clawed back to the UK Government. Any attempt to do that will be firmly resisted by my colleagues and me.
Managing these newly repatriated policy areas will require much more serious and intensive intergovernmental mechanisms and governance structures than those currently in place—a complete overhaul of the way the nations of these isles co-operate. Let us be frank: the current constitutional structures are already at fault. Dithering on UK infrastructure spend on energy projects, for instance, is serving neither rural communities nor the Welsh economy well. We need to realise the opportunities that await in potentia in such enterprises as tidal lagoons and new nuclear energy, and ensure that the people of Wales are equipped with the skills to make the best of such opportunities.
The Plaid Cymru spokesperson for external affairs in the Assembly, Steffan Lewis, has long been an advocate of transforming the existing Joint Ministerial Committee into a UK Council of Ministers covering the various aspects of policy for which agreement between all four UK Administrations is required. We are pleased that the Welsh Labour Government have adopted our position in the paper we worked on together, “Securing Wales’s Future”.
To finish, I will, like many Members today, return to St David. I urge the UK Government to do not only the little things he so famously preached. I urge them to rise above populist politics, just as St David did on the ground he caused to rise when people struggled to hear him preach. I urge them to rise to the challenge of Brexit in a way that will truly empower the Welsh people.
On 8 February, Bridgend College received the Association of Colleges beacon award for the development of transferable skills, in recognition of its amazing initiative “Be all that you can be”. That should almost be the motto of people who live in and around the Bridgend constituency, because Bridgend is a beautiful place. It has beautiful countryside; excellent schools; thriving faith communities; an inventive, creative business community; and wonderful people it is a privilege to live among and represent, and I want to talk about some of them today.
I live on the coast in Porthcawl, protected by our lifeboat station, Coastwatch lookout tower and coastguards, who watch the visitors, who do not know how dangerous the sea can be and who do not know its tides, its moods and its strength. Those visitors include the 31,000 who come for the Porthcawl Elvis festival, which brings in an estimated £6.7 million to our local economy over a weekend. I was never a great Elvis fan, but I must say that I am converting. I urge Members to visit the Porthcawl jazz festival in April and, while there, come along and see the Porthcawl museum, which is thriving thanks to a partnership between the excellent Bridgend Council, the museum, and the arts society. According to “The Source”, the museum’s regular newsletter written by Ceri, the carnival and Christmas swim committees, the Rotary club of Porthcawl and Porthcawl Town Council have all contributed money to make sure that the museum is a huge success. I know that the Secretary of State knows the museum well.
Drive out of town and come and meet another fantastic local character who, again, the Secretary of State knows well—Gwyneth Poacher at Sandville. This determined, dynamic woman brings love, compassion, care and hope into the lives of people who are very seriously ill, many terminally ill. She and her volunteers, taking no money at all from the state, make life in an impossible world worth living. My communities of Cornelly and Kenfig Hill are not “chocolate box”, but if people go to the luncheon clubs in the community centres, go to the churches, and go to KPC Youth & Community, they will see how strong and self-reliant these communities are. Come to Bridgend and see the local market. Meet the very wicked stallholders like Martin Nagell and Tim Wood, and see the quality of their goods.
Come to Wildmill and the meet the fantastic youngsters there, who, thanks to First Great Western, have tickets to come up to see this place. Visit my amazing local schools and see the education that they provide, because they are absolutely inspiring. Come to Bridgend because of our low crime. We have the lowest crime rate across south Wales, and the South Wales police force was today rated as “good”. Come for the Urdd Eisteddfod at the end of May, which is expected to bring in 90,000 visitors. Unemployment is low in my constituency: in January 2017, we had 985 claimants. We have a fantastic prison, Parc prison, rated by everyone as turning round reoffending. Reoffending rates among 80 high-risk families have been cut to 10%.
All those things, one would think, would be central to people’s view of Bridgend, instead of which, over the past 24 hours, most people have talked about the Ford plant. I do not underestimate the problems with the Bridgend Ford plant. The fear of job losses there is huge. There are issues that need tackling here in Westminster, particularly in relation to the value of the pound. The exchange rate change has cost Ford $600 million in lost revenue. The issue of tariffs is absolutely essential for Ford. It is vital to make sure that there is tariff-free access into Europe.
My hon. Friend is making a very important speech. She will know that the issue of the Ford factory and the prospect of losing 1,100 jobs there will have an impact right across south Wales. Will she join me in urging the Secretary of State to offer Ford whatever assistance he can, including the sort of deal that appeared to be offered to Nissan? Will she further urge him to make sure that we never see World Trade Organisation tariffs imposed on cars going out of the UK, because that would cripple the competitiveness of our car industry?
I have had assurances that Ford will have the same deal as Nissan. I have asked today for an automotive symposium that will involve the manufacturers, Ministers here in Westminster, the trade unions, and local Members to see whether we can move this forward. I hope the Secretary of State will support that. There are also productivity issues at Bridgend that we must deal with, and the GMB and Unite unions are working on that with the workforce.
I could spend hours giving Members 101 reasons to visit Bridgend. The Emmaus centre is changing lives. It is offering people who thought they had nothing a chance to get back on their feet, to have dignity and to start giving back to society. It is an amazing opportunity, and I am so proud that it is based in Bridgend.
There has been some discussion about alternative sources of heat coming into Wales. Bridgend is one of three local authorities selected to be deliverers of major renewable energy projects, involving the piloting of the latest heat pump technology through the smart system and heat programme. It is valued at £5.2 million and has been sponsored by Wales & West Utilities and Western Power.
Come and see Bridgend. There is so much there to be proud of—so much that exemplifies the best of Wales and explains why people and companies, once they get to Wales, do not want to leave. Our quality of life is amazing and our environment is fantastic, but, most of all, it is our people whom we should be proud of.
In the spirit of brotherly and sisterly love that characterises this debate, I will advance my main career task of adding to the glittering career of the Secretary of State for Wales. He had the good sense to marry into a family who live in my constituency, which shows that he is a man of ambition.
I urge the Secretary of State to challenge his Cabinet, who seem to use Wales as a kind of Aunt Sally for making comparisons. He could advance his career by promoting some of the great achievements of Wales, and particularly of the Welsh Government. He could start with the Welsh Government’s Bill that introduced presumed consent for organ donation, which has already saved lives and proven to be advantageous. There is a Bill to that effect before this House, and I urge him to persuade the Cabinet of the advantages of introducing the same system in England.
I want to ask the Secretary of State about one of the other great successes of the Welsh Assembly, which was buying Cardiff airport for the bargain price of £52 million. That was derided by some of his friends in Wales, but since the airport was bought it has paid more than £52 million in air passenger duty back to the Government. The hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), who is next to the Secretary of State, took a great deal of time in our debate on the Wales Bill and seemed to give more support to Bristol airport than to Cardiff airport. I say to him that Cardiff airport is another shining success.
In a Select Committee, I reminded the Secretary of State that he was born four years after Wales started paying double tax on the national road system and the Severn bridge tolls, and asked whether his ambition was to ensure that those tolls continued until he retired. That is the way that it is going. By next year, however, the bridge will be all paid for.
I asked the Secretary of State how the toll of £3.70 that he proposed at the time was 50% of £6.70. He and his officials went back to the Wales Office and recalculated, and the next figure I saw was £3. Recently, a question was asked here about how the £3 was calculated. The strange answer was that that was something equivalent to the Humber bridge. We are happy for it to be treated in the same way as the Humber bridge, where £150 million of debt was wiped off. That would give us 10 years at least. Now, the only justification for the tolls is that they are a cash cow, and the Government and the Treasury refuse to give them up.
When the Severn bridge was first opened, Harri Webb wrote a poem:
“Two lands at last connected
Across the waters wide,
And all the tolls collected
On the English side.”
If the ghost of Harri Webb is still about, he might write something along these lines:
“Now all the tolls are collected
The debt is paid in full
But Tory snake oil salesmen
Still rob us with their bull.”
The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) made several interesting observations, and I would like to know how they will be followed up.
There is a delightful picture, which I have produced with pride on my website, of the hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for Wales—a trio of snake oil salesmen—lined up against the background of the bridge, saying “Well, it used to be £6.70. Now, we’re going to make it £3.70.”; “No, we’re not—it’s £3”; and “We’ll charge you each way, so it’s £1.50”. These are the techniques of the fairground.
The charge should be nothing because we have already paid the bill. How many Members were in the House for the Severn Bridges Bill in 1992, when we were told by Wyn Roberts, “This is the end of it”? We have already paid £1 billion of public money. We pay our taxes for every road within the British Isles—we have to pay our share of that—and, in addition, we pay this extra tax to get into Wales. It is a barrier to Welsh life and it should go. I am looking forward to hearing how Ministers came up with the idea of charging £3. There is no justification for it. The largest element of it will actually go on collecting the tolls themselves. This is a totally unfair tax on Wales.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will announce, in under an hour’s time, that this is over and that he will now crusade on the issue and build himself up as the new symbolic or legendary figure of Welsh life, so that when he lays down his political role and joins the choir invisible he can discuss with Harri Webb his verses on the Severn bridge and contemplate the opportunities he has had in life, such as the ones I am sure he will take up after today.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) for securing this debate.
On 23 June 2016, the UK, Wales and indeed my constituency of Aberavon voted to leave the EU. I accept and respect that result, but not unconditionally. Brexit must be made to work for Wales. That means fighting tooth and nail against a crippling Brexit on WTO terms. The tariff barriers alone would cost £6 billion a year, destroying the automotive sector and crippling our steel industry.
Indeed, just yesterday, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) said, we heard about the job threats at Ford in my neighbouring constituency of Bridgend. This means that the UK Government must protect funding for Wales, so I call on the Government to commit to securing funds through to 2030, on a pound-for-pound match basis, based on current EU structural funding. The current guarantee up to 2020—the year after we are due to have left the EU—is simply not good enough.
The challenges facing my Aberavon constituency serve to demonstrate why the stakes could not be higher, and how desperately the United Kingdom needs a project of national renewal. Such a project must be rooted in the steel industry, because each steel job supports three others in the local community and the country; because each steel job supports a family and the community; and because each steel job supports a way of life and a way of being.
That is why, two weeks ago, the men and women of Tata Steel swallowed a bitter pill to secure the future of their industry, guaranteeing steel production at Port Talbot and across Tata’s operations for the foreseeable future. The vote to close the British Steel pension scheme, transferring it to a defined contribution scheme alternative, was a hard decision, but it was one for the workforce themselves alone. That is why Plaid Cymru’s crude attempt to score cheap political points, manufacturing conflict between the workforce and the unions with a view to securing votes in May’s local elections, was such a shameful spectacle. There can be no excuse for such political opportunism, and I deeply regret Plaid Cymru’s attempts to play politics with steelworkers’ livelihoods. Thankfully, our steelworkers are far too smart to fall for Plaid Cymru’s crass grandstanding and mind games, and they chose to ignore that ill-founded advice.
The workforce have shown their willingness to make real sacrifices to save their industry; Tata has made commitments to secure the industry; and the Welsh Assembly Government have offered £60 million in support and created an enterprise zone to help with business rates, but the Westminster Government have done nothing. They have done nothing on Chinese dumping, energy prices, procurement or skills retention or training, and nothing to help to secure the deal between Tata and the unions. I therefore ask the Government to commit unequivocally today to heed the cross-party “Steel 2020” report—amazingly, I have a copy here—and to a sector deal for steel.
My hon. Friend is talking about the Westminster Government’s inaction, but is the position not slightly worse than he suggests, in that when there were calls to reform the lesser duty rule, far from doing nothing, the Government were at the head of a blocking minority, which prevented that reform?
My hon. Friend is right. The British Government are notorious for being the ringleader of a group of member states that consistently blocked the European Commission’s attempts to give the anti-dumping regime more teeth. That is a matter of great regret, which reflects the “China first” policy, rather than a “Wales first” policy, that the Government have pursued.
A thriving steel industry must also be a catalyst for the regeneration and development that will happen if the Government get on and approve a city deal for the Swansea Bay area. That will help to regenerate and manage the impact of de-industrialisation. It also makes sense for the Government to give the green light to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, an idea whose time has clearly come. The lagoon would create and sustain thousands of jobs and meet 11% of Welsh energy needs with a clean, green, reliable source of sustainable energy.
The Government’s parliamentary boundary review has rather less support in Wales than elsewhere. It disrespects local communities. It proposes to slice Port Talbot town centre in two, leaving the high street and adjacent shopping centre in different constituencies. It is absurd. The review disregards the 2 million people who registered to vote in the referendum campaign and seeks to stifle the voice of Wales by removing more than a quarter of Welsh seats. All that is taking place while the UK Government seem intent on using Brexit to turn the UK into a European version of the Cayman Islands.
With all our constitutional problems—a grossly bloated House of Lords, not enough Members in the Welsh Assembly and the constitutional chaos that will flow from Brexit—is it not astonishing that the Government are interested in only one reform, which will give them more Members here?
Today I will talk about two issues that I have raised since I came to this place—I have also raised them in Wales—and the reaction to those campaigns: the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, and children’s funerals.
I call upon the Government to stop burying their heads in the sand and do the right thing by all WASPI women. Today I am talking specifically about Welsh WASPI women. Many of them are in work not because they want to be, but because they have to be. Although I agree that working is the ideal situation, the ability to work and the availability of work mean that is not an option for all Welsh women who find themselves in that predicament. As a result, many have to rely on the benefits system. Tens of thousands of women across Wales, including over 3,000 in my own constituency, have been unfairly treated by the changes to the state pension that have led to the birth of the WASPI movement. We on the Labour Benches are a voice for Welsh WASPI women. Indeed, Welsh Labour local authorities are stepping up to the plate and calling on the UK Government to make appropriate provision for the WASPI women. Local authorities such as Caerphilly, Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda, Wrexham and Swansea have all pledged their support for fair transitional arrangements. Many, many more are working towards replicating that pledge.
The Welsh Government give free bus passes to individuals over 60, which puts Welsh WASPI at an advantage in as much as they are able to travel free. This is especially important if they are expected to travel to benefit offices or work trial placements as a requirement of any of the benefits they may have to claim to survive. Talking of buses, next Wednesday the M4 will hopefully be awash with purple as WASPI women from Wales travel to London to join the WASPI demonstration. Women from across the UK will vent their frustration at the Government’s reluctance to engage constructively on this issue. There will be many, many Welsh women in that throng, including a coachful from my own city of Swansea.
The last subject I want to mention is a campaign that is very personal to me: the funding of children’s funerals. I am very proud that since I first spoke in this Chamber about my own son’s passing and the difficulties I experienced in funding the funeral, almost all Welsh Labour local authorities have responded by scrapping fees for children’s funerals. To name just a few whose reaction was extremely swift: my own city of Swansea, Torfaen, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf and, just this week, Bridgend.
Along with my hon. Friend, I welcome the news that Bridgend County Borough Council, and Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council in my constituency, have cancelled child burial fees. Does she not agree that it is very upsetting for families who lose a child that it has taken individual councils to change these rulings, rather than the British Government stepping up to the plate and providing the money to enable all local councils across the UK to do this immediately?
I certainly do, and my hon. Friend will appreciate that it has been very painful for me to expose myself in this way to get the right thing done.
I believe the commitments of those local authorities have been made with compassion. Until I raised it, many local authorities were unaware that the cost of a child’s funeral was an issue for many bereaved parents. I was able to expose the elephant in the room, which is that the privacy and intimacy of that situation are a social taboo. Very few people will open a conversation with an undertaker with the words, “We will have what we can afford.” Instead, they want a service and a funeral that reflect the depth of their love for the one they have lost. When you lose a child, there is no consideration of anything, including cost. Rational thought and basic common sense leave you as you try to come to terms with your own grief and how to get through each day. I am so grateful to those Welsh local authorities, as I am to authorities right across the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend will be aware that Bridgend not only discounts or removes costs for children’s funerals, but has built a dedicated children’s area in the crematorium so that parents have a private place to go. Does she think that that is perhaps the next step for her campaign?
I would of course want that to happen and I will certainly campaign for that, but at this moment I just want the costs to be covered.
The action of some local authorities does not mean that the Government are off the hook. I urge the Secretary of State to speak to the Chancellor. He has the opportunity next Wednesday to do the right thing: take the message back that Wales is leading on this but that the Government now need to act in the same spirit and establish a specific fund that can be drawn on by local authorities to allow them to waive fees for children’s funerals.
In conclusion, there are many things in Wales from which I derive pleasure and pride. We are a strong nation with a good heart and we always want to do the right thing, so I plead with the Secretary of State to take these messages back and to ask his Cabinet colleagues to do the right thing on children’s funerals: show compassion, show respect and show understanding.
I again thank the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) for spearheading efforts to secure this timely debate. If he will excuse me, however, I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on her campaign and what she has achieved so far. The work is unfinished, and I hope the Government are listening to her words, but no one can doubt her determination, off the back of a terrible tragedy, to pursue this issue. I salute her for what she has done, as I am sure does everyone across the House.
I had a long list of things to talk about, but time is against me, so I shall touch on them only briefly before talking at greater length about my universities—like the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), I represent a university constituency—in a European context.
I seem always to be talking about broadband in mid-Wales, as does the hon. Member for Ynys Môn. People acknowledge the huge achievements that have been gained through superfast broadband, but according to Ofcom, four of the 10 constituencies with the highest percentage of slow connections, and five of the 10 with the lowest fixed broadband speed, are in mid-Wales, and alas Ceredigion is on both the lists. There is therefore work still to do. It is not just about householders connecting either; it is about ridding ourselves of an impediment to business thriving in mid and west Wales. That is why we need more concerted action.
I have not had an answer from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport or the Minister about the DCMS future contribution to S4C’s budget. The former Secretary of State promised that the contribution would be frozen pending the outcome of a review, but we still have not had that review. Is there a commitment from DCMS to freeze S4C’s budget in the year ahead?
On transport connections, I will only mention the spirited campaign to reopen a railway line between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen. I am grateful that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), met campaigners last week. On business rates, I endorse what the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) said about how businesses will be grievously affected unless the UK Government, in addition to the Welsh Government, step in.
Indeed. I am not sure if the hon. Lady is alluding to the structures through which it undertakes its valuations, or some of the weird decisions it is coming up with, but a business in my constituency whose business rates have doubled from £12,500 a year to £25,000—this is in a seasonal tourist area of Ceredigion—would be very sympathetic to her question.
Higher education is critical to Ceredigion. We have Aberystwyth University, of course, and the Lampeter campus of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Lots of geographical references have been made to Dewi Sant. When the land rose so that he could deliver one of his great sermons, it was in Llanddewi Brefi, which is famous for other things on television these days, but fundamentally famous for Dewi Sant. Aberystwyth University is one of the top 200 universities in the world for agriculture, English, geography, environmental sciences and politics. Some 95% of our research is of an internationally recognised standard or higher, and the university contributes £250 million to our local economy.
I want to use this opportunity to celebrate the investment that is in place now, which is largely from the EU. Some £20 million from the European regional development fund, which is safe because it will be delivered before 2020, will fund the building of an innovation and enterprise campus at Aberystwyth University. That will provide world-leading facilities and expertise to create market-focused solutions for the agri-tech industry. It will also encourage business and academic collaboration, drawing a link between academic excellence and commercial opportunities. Those are lofty words, but they are valid ones. Academia is often accused of working in a silo—apart from business—but this initiative with Aberystwyth will certainly move away from that.
I particularly celebrate the European money that came in. The project could not happen without Europe and the £20 million from the regional development fund, but it is going to happen. There is no scaremongering—it is going to happen. I celebrate the good work that will take place but, as the hon. Member for Cardiff Central said, there are huge concerns about future research grants, participation in EU projects and, critically, the status of non-UK EU staff. Countless people have come to my surgeries genuinely fearful about whether they should stay and if they should apply for jobs in the future. That is a real concern. We are missing a trick—a fundamental and humane trick—if we do not allow people to come here in the numbers that they have done in the past to contribute to Wales and our economy.
I should also make a more general point about research funding. There has been a historical concern that Wales has not had its share of research funding. I could say a lot about this, but I will just cite Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, who I think is more known on the other side of the House than on my side, who has said that if research had been “Barnettised”, we would have seen an extra £500 million of research funding in Wales over the past decade. That is very important.
Finally, I want to talk about Dewi Sant—the great, compassionate saint. I think that he would have been alarmed by the direction of immigration policy in this country, and not least what has happened with the Lord Dubs amendment made in the House of Lords. I hope that the Government reflect on that. People in my constituency are very keen that more refugees should come to Wales.
Happy St David’s day, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and others on securing the debate.
For Wales to continue to thrive and meet its potential, we need continued investment in infrastructure. The Welsh Government are right to be investing in transport, and I am glad that there is a focus on plans for both a north Wales and south Wales metro. World-class public transport is vital for the future of Wales. It can provide a sustainable way forward to attract the brightest and the best to our nation. Through the implementation of the south Wales metro, I hope that we will get much-needed improvements to the level crossing in Pencoed and the half-hourly service to Maesteg, and road infrastructure improvements around the town of Llanharan.
I want to focus on two national campaigns that are often raised in this House but are seldom given a Welsh context. First, I want to draw Members’ attention to how much scamming affects people across Wales and beyond. The practice of scamming is on the rise, and each year around 9,000 incidents of fraud are reported to the police. Scamming has an impact on the most vulnerable in society, and at the moment not enough is being done to tackle the problem.
At present, there is not enough recognition of the problem that scamming poses to the most vulnerable in our communities. Awareness of the threat should be more of a priority at all levels of government. If people are aware of the most common scams and the tactics that criminals use, they will be more able to protect themselves, and less likely to be flustered and rushed by scammers. In the coming months, I will be stepping up a campaign in Ogmore to raise awareness of scams, and I encourage all hon. Members to look into doing the same in their areas.
As with any other crime, it is ultimately the police who do most to protect the people of Wales and elsewhere from scams. Police officers face immense danger in their line of duty, and we must do more to keep them safe. According to data from the Police Federation of England and Wales, over a period of 12 months, there might have been more than 2 million unarmed physical assaults on officers, and a further 300,000 assaults using a deadly weapon. The vast majority of these incidents are unreported, however, so official figures show far fewer instances. We must work together with the police in Wales to ensure that they are safer at work, and we must heed their campaigns for better protection.
Forces throughout the UK have begun to use spit guards as a defence against spitting suspects. If forces in Wales choose to use these guards, we should defend them and show our support for that. Spitting is a form of assault that leaves officers at risk of receiving life-threatening diseases, and if our police forces in Wales can see a way of preventing such assaults, we should stand by them.
There will be opportunities and risks for Wales over the coming years. Our departure from the European Union will bring difficulties for each nation of the UK, but I am glad that we have a strong Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff Bay to fight our corner. The Welsh Government are right to focus on the need for continued investment in infrastructure and public services, and I only hope that the UK Government, and particularly the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary, will always continue to champion Wales on reserved matters.
This St David’s day debate takes place against the backdrop of Brexit and all the uncertainty that that brings, but, like other hon. Members, I want to talk about some of the positive developments that we have seen in the corner of Wales that I represent with my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) in the year since our last debate. On 14 March, it will be 15 years since Newport achieved city status, and it is no exaggeration to say that there is new life in our city centre thanks to the Friars Walk development, which had 8 million people walk through it in 2016. It has brought 1,500 new jobs and attracted £120 million into the city centre. All credit to Newport Council and its leaders, Bob Bright and Debbie Wilcox, for making that happen.
Coleg Gwent is seeking to relocate to a site next to the University of South Wales to create a knowledge quarter on the banks of the River Usk, and work will begin this month on the international convention centre. Last year, the University of South Wales launched the National Cyber Security Academy, which has been part-funded by the Welsh Government and supported by Airbus and General Dynamics. I am really proud that the cyber-experts of the future are being produced in Newport, in the second-largest cyber-security department after Royal Holloway college. These are positive developments, with Newport Council working with Labour in the Welsh Government and with industry to bring benefits to our constituents.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the Cardiff capital region city deal. The leaders from Newport and Monmouthshire were among the 10 leaders who signed that deal yesterday. The key element in this is the metro. We have had debates in which we have asked the UK Government to guarantee the funding for that, post-Brexit. It is an ambitious project with huge potential for improving connectivity.
My hon. Friend is exactly right, and we look forward to working in partnership.
As the population grows in the areas of Caldicot, Rogiet, Undy and Magor, it is crucial that we have the infrastructure for a new station in Magor, for which a bid has been put in, and better capacity for the commuter services to Bristol and Cardiff. I hope that the Ministers will pursue this with the Department for Transport.
We should also be talking about the Great Western Cities partnership between Newport, Bristol and Cardiff. This is another potential source of growth, and I am keen to hear from Ministers what they can do to engage with and support it. Those great western cities are interdependent and have key areas that could provide economic growth. Initial work has already shown that the economic benefit that could be generated by improving the connectivity between Bristol, Newport and Cardiff would be greater than that generated by similar investment in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. This is a huge opportunity and I would like to see Wales Office Ministers engaging with the project. I was going to let the subject of the Severn bridge tolls go, on this occasion—[Hon. Members: “No! No!”] I will just say that the Government have moved some way, following our long campaign, but it is not far enough. We will continue to campaign on that issue.
Finally, I want to highlight some other matters on behalf of my constituents. The first is steel. I have spoken many times about the importance of steel to my constituency, and I have been heartened by the investment being put in by Liberty. The Tata workers in the steel industry have made a difficult decision in agreeing to the pension proposals. They are doing their bit, and it is now up to Tata and the UK Government to ensure that there is a sustainable future for the Welsh sites, including Llanwern and Orb.
The second issue is personal independence payments. The Government’s announcement about the changes to PIPs last week has caused huge anxiety out there among constituents who are already struggling with the process. I cannot be alone in seeing surgeries full of people who are waiting too long for assessments and decisions, and long-term disabled people who are getting turned down, with all the distress that that causes. Last week’s statement will only add to that distress. Many disabled people who I know feel that they are always in line for cuts and that there are no guarantees that those facing reassessment will not see their awards cut. Will Ministers take back to the Department for Work and Pensions the message that, rather than making the process more difficult, what is needed are fewer delays, more consistency in decision making and more discussion with disabled people’s organisations before bringing forward regulations such as these.
Last but not least: the police. Today’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary highlights the fact that the police are struggling with cuts and that their response to the public is suffering. Gwent is rated “good” in HMIC’s assessment, and I am really pleased that it is in the top 10 best performing forces for cases involving domestic violence. However, the police are clearly struggling to do much more—there are more complex cases—with less. The debates that we have had in this place have highlighted that fact, and I would like to see Ministers fighting the corner for Welsh police forces and the service they provide to our constituents, to ensure that they are properly funded and can do their crucial job well.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on securing this important St David’s day debate. He is not only a great ambassador for his constituency in north Wales, but an advocate of all things Welsh—he is not a quockerwodger. I echo his calls for unity and connectivity. I live in the Dulais valley of Neath where the signal falls like rain, but we have so much rain that we call it liquid gold.
I pay tribute to the former Father of the House, Gerald Kaufman. I have great memories of Gerald from when he stayed at my house many years ago and played with my daughter Angharad. I still have the photos, which I showed him when I became an MP. We will all miss him so much.
I must also mention the recent tragic death at age 20 of a young Welsh sports star. Elli Norkett was the youngest player at the Women’s rugby world cup and had gained four Welsh senior caps by the age of 17. Elli started her career aged 15 at Neath Athletic RFC, and I had the fortune of meeting her and was inspired by the charm, wit, and passion of a young woman who touched the lives of so many. Her smile lit up the room.
It is a privilege to be the shadow Secretary of State for Wales and to hear about the many Welsh issues and causes mentioned by Members today. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) for his hard work in his role as my right-hand man—or perhaps that should that be left-hand man. It is great to see the Secretary of State in his place today. He is famous for his sartorial elegance, which is matched only by my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami). I must also mention the great outfits worn by Madam Deputy Speaker, but if she needs some fashion advice, she can call on our fashion guru, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris).
Much has happened since last St. David’s day, and it is important to reflect on some of that today. The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) brought so much energy to his speech, just as he does when chairing the Welsh Affairs Committee and when I see him in the gym every morning.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds)—my great friend—talked about economic development, saying that funding should continue beyond 2020 and that steel is central to Wales’s future.
The hon. Member for Gower (Byron Davies) spoke about the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project and the encouraging news that Ministers are looking at it closely. I hope that that is positive news, because we really need that project. He also spoke about the decline of the cockle industry, which we must work together to save.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) talked about the importance of the higher education sector to Wales. Success in that sector breeds success across communities in Wales. She also mentioned Horizon 2020 and the Erasmus programme, stating that 17% of staff at Cardiff University are EU nationals, to whom great consideration should be given.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies) said that St David travelled widely but came back to Wales. The hon. Gentleman started some sort of contest about who has the most beautiful constituency. Well, it is Neath. He said that he supports the tidal lagoon, but there is no sea in Brecon! One fact that I did not realise until the other day is that St David was a vegetarian.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) said that St David’s mother lived in Brittany and urged the Government to think of EU citizens. She also spoke about Welsh language culture, and I congratulate her on securing the ability for Welsh to be spoken in the Welsh Grand Committee.
The hon. Member for Cardiff North (Craig Williams) discussed the Cardiff city deal.
Again, yes, but he also mentioned Cardiff Central station in his contribution. He pointed out that the Champions League finals for both men and women will be held in Cardiff, but he did not mention the Women’s Six Nations championship, some of which is being hosted at Cardiff Arms Park.
The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) spoke to us in Welsh, and she assured us that she said nothing naughty. I cannot speak Welsh, so I hope she is right. She spoke about the importance of looking at how powers are repatriated to devolved areas of the UK and about the great repeal Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) spoke in glowing terms about Porthcawl and the festivals. I have attended all the festivals because I used to live in Porthcawl, and it is indeed a beautiful place to live. She also mentioned Kenfig Hill, where I was born, and the benefits that Bridgend County Borough Council is bringing to the area. I was a Bridgend councillor, and not many people know that I was Carwyn Jones’s councillor. I can assure the House that he did not benefit in any way from my being his councillor.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) spoke about the Severn bridge tolls and how they are calculated. He quoted from the poem by Harri Webb and put his own words to it, which sounded really fine to me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) said that Brexit must work for Wales and that the UK Government must protect funding until 2030. He talked about the steel industry, about which he has spoken so passionately in the past, and its importance to his constituency and the UK. He also mentioned the cross-party “Steel 2020” report, of which I have a copy. It is a great report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East spoke about the WASPI campaign, which she has led so well in Wales. She spoke about the unfairness of the pension arrangements and how we need fair transitional arrangements. She said that most of the buses from Wales will be filled with WASPI women coming to next Wednesday’s march. She also spoke of the very personal matter of the loss of her son and how four councils in Wales have already scrapped fees for children’s funerals.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) spoke about the universities in Aberystwyth and St Davids and about superfast broadband.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) spoke about the north Wales and south Wales metro and his level crossing in Pencoed. He also spoke about vulnerable people being scammed and how we should support our police officers, who do a fine job in our communities.
It is 15 years since Newport became a city, and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) spoke positively about the great work of council leaders Debbie Wilcox and Bob Bright and their great vision, together with the Welsh Government, to make the city of Newport a fine place.
I thank all the Members who intervened, too. I look forward to working with the Secretary of State for Wales to make Wales a superb place in which to live and work. I am passionately Welsh and always will be.
Rwyf yn ddiolchgar i’r Pwyllgor Busnes—I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for recognising the importance of holding this debate on Wales near St David’s day and for allocating the time. I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Byron Davies) for securing the debate on this motion on behalf of Members on both sides of the House. I am grateful for the commitment and drive that has delivered this debate.
I welcome the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) to the Dispatch Box, and I look forward to working closely with her in the interests of Wales and of all the people of Wales. I thank her predecessor for her robust scrutiny when she was in post.
I highlight the importance of the Union to Wales. I will cover as many points as I can, but I need to underline that the Union of the United Kingdom is the most successful political union of nations that has ever existed. It is important that we recognise the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As we leave the European Union, the Union of the UK is more important than ever, and we will seek to strengthen it as the negotiations progress. We want the United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before. We will make sure that no new barriers to living and doing business within our nations are created. That was the spirit in which the hon. Member for Ynys Môn introduced this healthy debate, and I hope it has been underlined throughout.
By being part of the Union, Wales has prospered and developed, and in turn the UK has benefited from the flow of ideas and innovation from our proud nation. Some issues relating to universities were mentioned during the debate, and the hon. Members for Ceredigion and for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) and others talked about the great innovation and expertise in our universities, from which the Union of the UK benefits. Organisations such as Innovate UK have a key part to play in driving innovation and capturing the expertise that exists.
North and south Wales form single economic regions with the north-west and south-west of England. After all, 50% of Wales’s population and 10% of England’s live within 25 miles of the Wales-England border.
I shall address other points later, but first, there was much focus by Members on funding. I hope we can recognise the funding settlement that was negotiated before Christmas. It puts Wales in a strong financial position as we look forward: it will receive around £120 for every equivalent £100 spent in England. That will fall, over a long period, to £115, which is the funding floor. I hope that demonstrates the positive, open relationship that we want. We want to work with the Welsh Government to secure and bind the Union in the best possible way so that we can benefit from the assets, culture and diversity of all the nations in the Union of the United Kingdom.
There is no denying that, as a Union, we are inextricably linked. Companies in Wales have access to help and support from both Governments, and we are keen to work closely with the Welsh Government to secure further inward investment, as well as to develop businesses and the industrial strategy that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is driving forward. He will be in Wales shortly to ensure that Welsh businesses are playing a full part in the consultation on the recent Green Paper.
There are challenges ahead as we exit the European Union, but there are also some great opportunities. We are working with the Welsh Government and discussing the process and progress in the negotiations on our exit from the EU. Reference has been made to the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations, which brings together the UK Government and the devolved Administrations to seek to develop a UK-wide approach to the challenges we face and the opportunities we can grasp as we leave the EU. At the last meeting of that Committee, the Welsh Government presented their White Paper, which sets out their priorities for our exit from the EU, and we are discussing their proposals.
As part of the discussions, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union met the Welsh Government Finance Minister yesterday, along with officials from my office and the Cabinet Office. We are having parallel discussions on a whole range of issues to ensure that Wales is at the heart of the discussions. We will intensify our work with the Welsh Government on all aspects of the EU ahead of, and following, the triggering of article 50. It is important to remember that, despite political differences, we share many objectives. The Welsh Government’s White Paper was a welcome contribution, and I believe we have significant common ground from which to work.
We all want the freest possible access to the single market. In that context, the Ford plant at Bridgend was mentioned by not only the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) but several other Members, including the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds). The latter also mentioned steel, as did the hon. Members for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and for Newport East (Jessica Morden).
We need to recognise that, in relation to Ford, there is the natural life cycle of a product, and that we need to be realistic about where we were expected to be at this stage of development. The hon. Member for Bridgend said that there were challenges in efficiency and productivity that the unions and the plant must face. When I met Ford two days ago, there was optimism about a sustainable future, but also a recognition that we need to win further business for when the natural life cycle of the existing engines ends. It is on that basis that I look positively at the challenges that we face in order to make those jobs sustainable over the longer term.
Some of the information out there has been highly selective, and I do not necessarily subscribe to the way in which it has been presented. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and I have already discussed this matter, and I know that ongoing engagement with Ford is something that we want to pursue.
On the points that were made in relation to steel, I do not accept the criticism that the hon. Member for Aberavon made. He talked about trade defence measures. Although I have mentioned them time and again, he fails to recognise them. The 41 trade defence measures that have been introduced have had an effect. Imports of rebar and wire rod into the European Union are down by 99%, as a result of the Secretary of State, and his predecessor, driving that forward to ensure that we have a fair and level playing field for the steel industry. Rolled-flat products and organic coated steel are similarly down by 90%. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that, as a result of the action taken by the workforce and the responsible approach taken by Community union, the Government and the Welsh Government, the steel industry in Wales and across the United Kingdom is in a much, much stronger position now than it certainly was just a year or so ago. I am optimistic about the future. Yes, there are challenges to overcome, but there is a sustainable future that we need to find for steelmaking in Wales.
There are millions of people across the world looking for the skills, expertise, and goods and services that we have in Wales. Through the Wales Office and the Department for International Trade, we can use our exiting of the European Union to exploit those opportunities that exist. We have landed some significant investments, including GE in Nantgarw yesterday and the F-35 global repair hub in Flintshire. Those are just two examples of our recent significant progress.
I am sorry that I have not been able to cover all the issues, including the points about tourism that were made by my hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies) and for Gower. They rightly highlighted the value that tourism brings. I recognise the points that they made about the Cardiff city deal. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Craig Williams) drives that project with great enthusiasm. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower is pressing the point on the tidal lagoon. It is only right that we give that matter the time that it deserves in terms of examining the numbers and looking at it fairly so that it is right not only for energy production, but for the taxpayer.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. As a Scot representing an English constituency overseeing Welsh affairs, you are most suited to your role. What we have seen today is the eloquence of the Welsh Members who are here today. They have been very passionate and proud of the Welsh dimension of British politics. I had hoped that the Secretary of State would respond to my request that Wales be the first part of the United Kingdom to have the broadband universal service obligation. We can be the pioneers.
It is good to see the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy sitting on the Front Bench for this debate. I hope that he has been able to put pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to announce next week that the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon will be given the go-ahead. That would bring cheers right the way across Wales because we are the pioneers of energy production in this country, and we want to continue to be so in the future. It does not matter whether we are talking about new nuclear, wind, tidal or renewables, we want to be the pioneers in the lead.
On behalf of the Welsh Members, I wish to thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the way in which you have overseen our proceedings, and to thank each and every Member from across the House and from each and every party—it is good to see that the Liberal Democrats have a 100% turnout today from Wales. We work together as a team—Team Wales—and on the closest day that we could get to St David’s day, we will shout from the rooftops that we are Welsh and proud, and the rest of the United Kingdom will sit and listen.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Welsh affairs.