The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Effect on Wales
At this last Welsh questions before the general election, I should like to pay tribute to two Welsh stars. Josh Griffiths of the Swansea Harriers was the first Briton to cross the finishing line at the London marathon at the weekend. In particular, I want to pay tribute to Matthew Rees, who helped a fellow runner during the closing stages of the marathon.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that, as we negotiate our exit from the European Union, we will work to secure a deal that benefits all parts of the United Kingdom. Wales is a vibrant, dynamic, innovative country and is well placed to make a success of the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Brexit could have a negative impact on jobs in Wales, so the proposal to build a category C prison in my constituency is welcome in principle. However, it is difficult to understand why the Baglan Energy Park has been selected as the site for the prison. It is even more difficult to understand why the Prisons Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), has not had the courtesy to reply to my letter of 23 March. Will the Secretary of State please encourage his friend the Minister to check his in-tray? Will he also guarantee that our local community will be fully and properly consulted about the siting of this prison?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There are record employment data in Wales, with unemployment at a record low, and the prison will provide a further boost to his constituency. The answer to his question is quite straightforward: the site was selected in consultation with, and with the support of, the Welsh Government.
My hon. Friend regularly shows a great interest in Wales and he obviously knows a lot about the Welsh economy. He mentions the high-tech sectors. We have seen the expansion of General Dynamics, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I visited a couple of weeks ago. On that same day, we both handed over the Red Dragon super-hangar to Aston Martin. These are real jobs that are being created by real investors creating new opportunities.
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that exports from Wales have grown significantly, by 6.2%, over the past year. That is something that we welcome. He will also recognise the data that I highlighted earlier about record levels of employment and record low levels of unemployment. On that basis, he will recognise that we want the freest possible open trading arrangements in support of Welsh farmers, because we maintain an active relationship with them—
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend does on supporting the rural economy, particularly in his constituency. We maintain a close relationship with both the farming unions in Wales, and most of those meetings take place in his constituency. That demonstrates the active relationship that we have with key stakeholders as well as with the Welsh Government.
If the Secretary of State has such a close relationship with the farming unions, how does he respond to their request for a full assessment of the impact on Welsh agriculture if we have to fall back on World Trade Organisation tariffs? Is it not obvious that 40% tariffs would destroy Welsh agriculture?
I am disappointed with the hon. Gentleman’s approach. He is assuming the worst-case scenario. We are having this general election in order to have strong and stable leadership in the challenging negotiations ahead. There are 27 EU nations that will be challenging everything as we negotiate to leave the European Union. Strong and stable leadership is needed now more than ever before.
If the right hon. Gentleman is so keen on listening to Welsh farmers, will he tell us why the Government are refusing to agree with the Farmers Union of Wales? Why will powers on agriculture not be devolved to the Welsh Government post-Brexit? Will he come clean on that?
I am sure the hon. Lady will recognise that we engaged closely with the FUW and the National Farmers Union before drafting the great repeal Bill White Paper. They had active input directly to me and other Cabinet colleagues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also met the farming unions to consider the matter, and they are absolutely supportive of the position we have taken in the White Paper.
The Prime Minister has said that she is prepared to walk away from the negotiating table without a trade deal with the EU, and the Foreign Secretary has said that no deal would be no problem. Yet no deal, as we have heard, could see tariffs of 30% to 40% on Welsh dairy farmers and meat producers, and 10% tariffs on Welsh car manufacturers. Is it not the case that this Tory Government are prepared to play fast and loose with the Welsh economy, with an extreme Tory vision of Brexit that would put Welsh jobs and livelihoods at risk?
I do not recognise the basis of the hon. Gentleman’s question. We want the freest, most open trading agreement, and it seems to me that the real investors, who are creating real jobs, are taking us towards our ambition. We have seen major investment by Nissan in Sunderland, major investment by Toyota in Derbyshire and major investment in my constituency by Aston Martin. That demonstrates their confidence in our vision as we leave the European Union.
The UK, including Wales, remains the same outward-looking, globally minded country we have always been. International businesses, such as Aston Martin, choose to invest in Wales as a result of the great work done by the Department for International Trade and the Wales Office, working hand in glove with the Welsh Government. That shows that Wales continues to be a great investment destination.
Welsh food and drink exports to the European Union will face eye-watering tariffs on leaving the single market. Will the Minister simply guarantee that, as part of a World Trade Organisation deal, the home market will not be flooded with cheap food imports such as Australian sheepmeat?
The hon. Gentleman is again guilty of peddling scare stories. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to lamb, for example, New Zealand currently does not even meet its quota to the European Union—only 70% of the New Zealand quota is currently maintained. He should have some confidence in Welsh agricultural produce, rather than talking down the prospects of the economy.
I would have a great deal more confidence if the Minister answered the question. On Monday I visited one of the largest and most successful high-tech businesses in Wales, which told me that, post-Brexit, it is hoping against hope to be able to export to its European partners, as at present, without all the red tape and expense of being outside the customs union. Why are this hard-Brexit Government so determined to make life more difficult for our key exporters?
The hon. Gentleman again highlights the negativity that surrounds the issue, but it is a negativity that I do not recognise, that is not recognised by businesses in Wales and that is certainly not highlighted by the investment decisions made by businesses in Wales. Businesses in Wales are investing and are looking to a global future. We will secure the greatest possible access to European markets, although we are also looking to global trade deals that will ensure Wales is part of global growth as well as maintaining European markets.
Wales has huge potential in terms of exporting and trading opportunities, and the Department for International Trade is an important tool for companies in Wales that are looking to expand overseas. How are the Minister and his Department ensuring that Wales is central to the work of the Department for International Trade?
The Department for International Trade is a crucial component of the way in which we support Welsh businesses, and the Wales Office is working closely with that Department. We had an export conference in Cardiff on 6 March, which was extremely well attended, and the opportunities available to Welsh businesses, both within the European Union and globally, were highlighted. That meeting was a huge success.
My hon. Friend will agree that there is much common ground between Cornwall and Wales with the opportunities that Brexit presents for the export of high-quality goods and services across the globe. What advice can he share with businesses across my constituency as we begin the negotiations to leave the European Union?
I thank my hon. Friend for the question. She correctly says that Wales and Cornwall have a lot in common, not least in terms of language. Businesses in Cornwall should do the same as those in Wales: engage with the Department for International Trade; look at the opportunities to go on trade missions; and identify new markets. Opportunities are there for businesses from Cornwall and Wales, and we need to exploit those.
The guarantee we can offer to any company that wants to work across Europe is that this Government will listen to them and act on their behalf. We have absolutely no interest in doing anything other than fully supporting companies such as Airbus, which is such a key component of the economy of north-east Wales.
To enhance trade across the whole of Wales we need to have proper infrastructure in our ports. Will the Minister congratulate the Welsh Government on putting in additional funds? Will he work with them to ensure that places such as Ynys Môn remain at the heart of the British Isles, because of both their close proximity to Ireland and their trade with the rest of Europe?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in what he says, and I am pleased that the Secretary of State visited the port of Holyhead with him. He is also right to highlight the fact that Wales is in a fortunate position: we have two Governments that can work for the benefit of our economy. Co-operation between the UK Government and the Welsh Government for the development of ports such as Holyhead is crucial to the way forward after Brexit.
Great Repeal Bill
To provide the greatest level of legal and administrative certainty upon leaving the European Union, the Government will replicate the current frameworks. In parallel, we will begin intensive discussions with the devolved Administrations to identify where common frameworks should be retained. We expect the outcome of that process to be a significant increase in the decision-making power of the devolved Administrations.
Accepting the Minister’s request to be positive, may I ask him whether he agrees that the best way forward for Welsh and Scottish farmers is for the responsibility for financial subsidy arrangements to be transferred to the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies post-Brexit?
Naturally, the UK Government will continue to engage positively with the Scottish Government, as well as with the Welsh Government. However, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that protecting the integrity of the UK market must be fundamental to that discussion, because clearly the Scottish farmers will sell more to the UK than they will elsewhere.
Wales has consistently voted to make the National Assembly responsible for the governance of its own country and to transfer responsibilities away from Westminster and closer to the people in Wales. Will the Secretary of State give a concrete guarantee that there will be no attempt to undermine devolution in relation to any of the devolved Governments?
I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight one achievement of this Parliament: passing the latest governance legislation, the Wales Act 2017, which enhanced powers even further in a range of areas. It demonstrates our stance on devolution, which is to trust the people.
Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party will defend against the power-hungry Tory Government’s plans in the White Paper to use the great repeal Bill to undermine devolved government by not passing on powers from Brussels. What guarantees can the Minister make to ensure that all powers are repatriated to Wales and Scotland in the devolved competences and not absorbed by the Westminster machine?
As powers are repatriated from the EU, it is vital that we provide industry and communities with as much certainty and security as possible. We need to protect the integrity of the UK market, and we need to work with the devolved Administrations to construct common standards and common frameworks to support that single market.
After a decade of Tory rule in Westminster, it is clear that the Government have given up on Wales. They have refused to devolve the responsibility for rail infrastructure, as both Plaid Cymru and the Silk commission suggested, and in paragraph 4.2 of the great repeal Bill White Paper they have pledged to snatch the transport powers currently held by Brussels away from the people of Wales. Will the Secretary of State tell us what exactly he is doing to ensure that the people of Wales, and their interests, are not forgotten?
The Government will continue to engage with the Welsh Government, but we will also continue to engage with stakeholders. The stakeholders across agriculture, business and commerce have supported the standpoint we want to take with the great repeal Bill, which is to replicate the powers on a temporary basis until we can come to an agreement with the devolved Administrations on where those powers should ultimately lie in the interests of the UK market.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I can well remember walking recently along the High Street in Prestatyn, where business rates were highlighted as a major concern for some of the small shops. He is right that the setting of business rates is devolved but, of course, in the recent Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor enhanced the Welsh settlement significantly as a result of his support for small business rates in England; I hope the Welsh Government will use that money to support small businesses in Wales.
I have been an MP for only two years, but during that short time I have seen two Secretaries of State and five shadow Secretaries of State for Wales fob off my country with crumbs from the Westminster table. Now, the Government are preparing to claw back devolved powers. When will the present incumbent announce a Wales Bill that brings power back to Wales?
The hon. Lady will appreciate that we have said with the great repeal Bill White Paper that no decisions currently taken by the Welsh Government will be removed from them. We expect that the repatriation of powers from the European Union will extend the Welsh Government’s powers significantly, but there is of course a process to work through in order to provide the stability and certainty that industry needs.
May I thank all Labour MPs, and particularly the Welsh Labour MPs, for their support?
The Welsh Labour Government tell me that the Joint Ministerial Committee is not listening or responding to the voices of the devolved Administrations. It is not fit for purpose. Does the Secretary of State agree that the JMC should be given statutory powers so that the great repeal Bill will not in any way rewrite or override devolution as set out in the recent Wales Act?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the time she has spent as shadow Secretary of State for Wales.
I underline the importance of the role played by the Joint Ministerial Committee. Having been at the Committee’s meetings, I know that an awful lot of discussion takes place in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom. There may well be the potential for it to be developed further, but a statutory footing is not the answer.
The chapter in the Brexit White Paper on securing trade deals with other countries contains no mention of Wales whatsoever. What influence will the Secretary of State give to the Welsh Government to do something about that so that Wales is not just an afterthought, as it is under the Tories?
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Welsh Government are represented on the Joint Ministerial Committee. I have made it a determination to engage proactively with the stakeholders in Wales, because they share a view that is not always consistent with that of the Welsh Government. Through my office, they have had a direct input into the great repeal Bill White Paper.
We are delivering a bold, long-term industrial strategy that is truly UK wide and builds on our strengths and prepares us for the years ahead. It is important that the economy works for everyone, delivers good, skilled, well-paid jobs, and creates the conditions for competitive, world-leading businesses to prosper and grow across the UK. That, we are doing.
The industrial strategy and the Cardiff city deal demonstrate the strong and stable Government the people of south Wales need. Alongside the compound semiconductor catapult in Cardiff, the industrial strategy and city deal are delivering sustainable high-tech jobs. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I could do nothing other than agree with my hon. Friend, who is a fantastic champion for Wales’s capital city. The city deal is an example of the Westminster Government working with the Welsh Government for the benefit of Wales, and the semiconductor centre is an example of a world-class resource in which Wales leads the globe. We can contribute so much more with the support of the UK Government, working with the Welsh Government.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The response from stakeholders across Wales has been truly superb. The engagement that the Wales Office has had with businesses and industry across Wales has been second to none. The response to the industrial strategy is very clear: businesses and industry want us to support research and innovation, and to invest in digital infrastructure. Those are exactly the types of priorities that we have in our industrial strategy.
The hon. Member for Cardiff North (Craig Williams) is right to be concerned about possible unequal treatment under his Government’s industrial strategy for Wales because there has been silence about Bridgend and Ford compared with what has been said about Nissan and the north-east. Will the Minister guarantee from the Dispatch Box that Ford in south Wales will get exactly the same treatment as Nissan in the north-east?
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that Ministers and officials have been in regular discussions with Ford at Bridgend. Indeed, those discussions are ongoing and constructive, and they involve the Welsh Government as well. Our aim and intention is to ensure that Bridgend remains a car producing area.
The Welsh Labour Government have proved that lasting economic success comes only through continued investment in Welsh industry and infrastructure. Is there any chance of progress on the electrification of the Great Western Railway to Swansea, the north Wales growth plan and the HS2 hub in Crewe before purdah kicks in?
The hon. Lady is right that investment in infrastructure is absolutely crucial for the future of the Welsh economy. That is why the Welsh Government should get on with work on the M4 in south Wales and improve the A55 in north Wales. In relation to rail infrastructure, electric trains will be on their way to Swansea before the end of the year. More importantly, the commitments that we have in Crewe will be absolutely crucial to the development of north Wales. We had a meeting yesterday with the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) to ensure that north Wales benefits from these investments.
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. The fiscal framework that has been agreed between the UK and Welsh Governments has been described as a game-changer by Gerry Holtham. It means that, unlike during the 13 years when Labour was in government in this place, Wales is no longer underfunded. The people of Wales should look at the M4 and the A55, and point the finger of blame at the Labour Government in Cardiff.
The Under-Secretary of State says that there will be electric trains going out of Swansea, but there will not be an electrified line. When will he get on with electrifying the line from Cardiff to Swansea, ensuring additional infrastructure investment for the Valleys line, including my line at Ogmore?
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that £500 million has been put towards the city deal in Cardiff, which will be crucial for the electrification of the South Wales Valleys line. We have also done work on the Severn tunnel. Let me say one thing to the hon. Gentleman: I will take no lessons from a party that electrified not a single mile of rail track in Wales in 13 years.
I have been in close discussions with Cabinet colleagues about our response to the Hendry review, which we are actively considering. Any potential energy project that can contribute to a clean, secure and diverse energy mix for the UK is worthy of serious consideration. Projects of this scale must also meet the essential requirement of delivering value for money for the taxpayer.
The Henry report very much supports a tidal lagoon in Swansea, which has the second highest rise and fall of tide in the world. We should be harnessing that tide. Does the Secretary of State see that as part of the Conservative manifesto for this general election?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that it was this Government’s early actions in 2015 that led to planning permission being granted for the project that he highlights. As I said, we would like this type of project to succeed, but it must be value for money. Above all, we need strong and stable leadership to provide the economic security to pay for any such project.
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave earlier to my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff North (Craig Williams) and for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara).
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We have a great relationship with my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), the Minister for the northern powerhouse. A north Wales growth deal is essential for north Wales because the northern powerhouse needs north Wales, and north Wales needs the northern powerhouse. We will ensure that that happens if we are re-elected.
I am disappointed by the comments of the hon. Gentleman, who was at the meeting with me yesterday with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones). More importantly, he should highlight, for example, the huge investment in the new Berwyn prison in Wrexham, which is creating jobs and has been seen as an example of how to do public sector investment in Wales and the UK.