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Volume 633: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2017

The Secretary of State was asked—

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Economy

1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the potential effect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on the economy in Wales. (902828)

12. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the potential effect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on the economy in Wales. [R] (902840)

Before I reply to the questions, let me welcome the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees), back to her position. I wish everyone Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda for the coming season.

I hold regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and other Cabinet colleagues about our exit from the EU, including on the Euopean Union (Withdrawal) Bill. My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and I recently met local government leaders in Wales to discuss the issues that affect them as we leave the European Union.

In the run-up to the referendum, voters were assured by the leave campaign that Wales would not be one penny worse off as a result of leaving the EU. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the benefits of EU structural and investment funds in Wales will continue after March 2019?

We have already undertaken to honour the commitments made on EU structural funds until we leave the European Union, and we are seeking an implementation period that may well also involve such commitments. We have a manifesto commitment to create a UK shared prosperity fund, and I will ensure that Wales has its fair share.

The fact that this imperialist UK Government have excluded the Welsh Government from Brexit is putting at risk the devolution that has lasted for 20 years. The Welsh Government have always played an integral part in EU negotiations. Will the Secretary of State commit himself to continuing that well-established practice and avoid a constitutional crisis by ensuring that the Welsh Government are directly involved in both Brexit and trade negotiations?

I do not accept the tone or the content of what the hon. Lady says. It should be recognised that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is largely technical, but we are deeply engaged with the devolved Administrations, particularly the Welsh Government. Only a week or so ago, the First Secretary of State and I met the First Minister, and yesterday we had a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee—in which a further ongoing warm relationship was developing—with the aim of securing the right deal that works for every part of the United Kingdom. It is, of course, in my and the Welsh Government’s interest to ensure that Wales is well represented.

13. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is good news today about jobs and the performance of the economy? Does he agree that we can look forward to the strength that Wales will be able to gain when the UK has left the European Union and can reach out to the whole world when it comes to improving the economy? (902841)

My hon. Friend rightly points out that leaving the European Union provides new opportunities. We want a frictionless trading arrangement with the EU so that we can negotiate trade deals with other nations around the world. Since the referendum vote, Wales has attracted some of the most remarkable inward investment projects, and we are continuing on that basis.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to remind Welsh Government Ministers, or indeed Opposition Members, that more than 850,000 people across Wales voted to leave the European Union on a turnout of over 70%? The most important thing is to respect the referendum result, get on with governing Wales, and look forward to the future.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that important point. He recognises that Wales voted to leave the European Union, as did the UK, and that we have an obligation to respond properly to that result while also respecting the constitutional settlement. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill does that, but we are working closely with the Welsh Government to ensure that it meets Wales’s needs.

The Secretary of State has already been quizzed about the effect on the Welsh economy of the loss of European structural funds. May I ask him specifically whether the Government’s flagship growth deals will result in similar or even greater funding for the four growth and city deal areas of Wales?

I do not need to take any lectures on funding from the Labour party, which refused to reorganise the Barnett formula during its 13 years in government. The new fiscal framework that was signed this time last year enhances the Welsh settlement; furthermore, the growth deals are in addition to the enhanced Barnett settlement. I remind the House that over the last 16 years more than £4 billion of European structural funds has been spent, and that the greatest number of people voted to leave in the areas where the most money was spent. That hardly suggests that the Welsh Government’s policy is successful.

Leaving the EU: WTO Tariffs

2. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on Welsh exports of using World Trade Organisation tariffs when the UK leaves the EU. (902829)

We remain confident that we will reach a trade agreement that is in the mutual interest of Wales, the UK and the EU, and we remain committed to delivering a trade policy that reflects our status as an outward-facing nation at the forefront of global trade.

I have had the pleasure of spending some time on Mark and Helen Williams’s farm near Welshpool. What reassurances can the Minister give them that their lamb exports to Germany will not be hit by a 40% tariff if we fall back on to WTO rules, and that they will not be affected by large-scale imports from New Zealand, which operates to lower welfare standards than the United Kingdom?

I can give the same assurances that I have given to Welsh farming unions and farmers across Wales. This Government are working for a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, but we also see opportunities to export Welsh lamb to other parts of the world. We have had recent success in exporting Welsh lamb to the middle east, for example. I can assure Welsh farmers that the Government are committed to markets within the EU, and also to expanding opportunities throughout the globe.

Is it not also important to look at the opportunities for Wales from imports with lower tariffs on food and clothes, which could particularly benefit the least well-off?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Opportunities are being grasped by Welsh businesses as we speak. Exports from Wales have increased dramatically—by 18% in the last year—and it is interesting to note that while there has been a 16% increase in exports to the EU, there has been an increase of over 22% in exports to the rest of the world. Welsh manufacturers and businesses are taking the opportunity to export to all parts of the globe.

Last Friday’s progress report on the negotiations was described by the Brexit Secretary as a mere “statement of intent”. Is that the position of the Government?

The position of the Government is very clear. The breakthrough last Friday means that we can move on to what is important for Welsh businesses, Welsh farmers and Welsh communities: the trade talks that are absolutely essential for us in Wales. The hon. Gentleman should congratulate the Prime Minister on her success last Friday.

What are the Government doing to ensure that Wales continues to benefit from positive UK-wide announcements, such as the Toyota investment in Derbyshire and the plant at Deeside? Companies such as Toyota and Airbus are very important to the success of the Welsh economy.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she knows Wales extremely well. Airbus and Toyota are key parts of the north-east Wales economy, and investment in those plants, and the success in terms of the efficiency of those plants, means that they are well-placed to take advantage of the opportunities that will come our way once we leave the EU. All employees at those plants are committed to working hard to ensure that their employers have a healthy future after we leave the European Union, but that success is based on ensuring that they are also competitive in the world market.

Some 90% of Welsh red meat is sold in the EU. That market is already being destroyed by meat from Romania and Spain. If Brexit happens after the confirmation referendum that we might have following the advisory referendum, the only remedy that has been suggested is to send more Welsh lamb abroad on the hoof rather than on the hook. Is the Minister happy with that, and will Brexit mean more suffering for sentient animals?

The whole House will be interested in the hon. Gentleman’s conversion to being the defender of Welsh farmers, which would be a first for the Welsh farming community. The Welsh farming community is proud of its animal welfare standards. It is proud of the fact that Wales has the best lamb and beef available in all parts of the EU, and it will be successful, regardless of any scare stories peddled by the hon. Gentleman.

Prince of Wales’s Regalia

3. If he will discuss with the Welsh Government further ways publicly to display the Prince of Wales’s regalia in Wales; and if he will make a statement. (902830)

I commend my hon. Friend’s commitment to this issue. I would be delighted to see the return of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’s regalia to Wales. The display would present an excellent opportunity to boost tourism across Wales, if a suitable home could be secured.

I am very glad to hear the Minister’s answer, because he will know that almost 50 years ago, 1 billion people around the world saw the investiture. Wales was in homes around the world. His Royal Highness Prince Charles’s regalia is, I believe, sitting in a vault beneath St James’s Palace. I might be wrong on that point, but it is the principle of the thing: it should be on display. The people of Wales should see it. They should be proud of their heritage. When will we see it?

My hon. Friend is passionate about this issue. He highlights the opportunity to enhance our tourism offer, and we will work with him to try to secure that. The regalia should be in Wales; it should be on display to contribute to our vibrant tourism sector.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Legislative Consent Motion

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (902831)

I hold regular discussions with Welsh Ministers on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. At the end of November, my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and I met the First Minister again as part of our ongoing bilateral discussions. Yesterday, Mark Drakeford and representatives of other devolved Administrations met at the Joint Ministerial Committee to consider further details.

I have asked the Secretary of State a number of times, both orally and in writing, what would happen if the National Assembly for Wales were to withhold its consent for the withdrawal Bill, and he has gone from looking hopelessly Panglossian to being unsure, evasive and even furtive. Will he now tell the House what would happen if the National Assembly for Wales withheld its consent for the Bill?

May I add to the hon. Gentleman’s descriptions by saying that I am optimistic? I am optimistic that our work with the Welsh Government will lead to a legislative consent motion. After all, we should be focusing on the outcomes that communities and businesses want while respecting the constitutional settlement of the United Kingdom. I am sure that he and I will want the best outcomes for businesses, and that is what we are focusing on.

Given the result of the referendum, should not any Government who claim to represent Wales—and indeed any party that claims to be the party of Wales—support this Government and this Prime Minister in delivering the legislative consent motion and the Brexit that the people of Wales voted for?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Any politician from Wales needs to recognise and respect the outcome of the referendum. That is what the Government are working to deliver. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is a largely technical piece of legislation, but we expect the decision making of the Welsh Government to increase while we also protect the integrity of the UK market to ensure that Welsh businesses continue to prosper in the way that they are now.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; it is great to be back. I have missed you all so much. I thank everyone for their good wishes and support while I was away, and I give massive thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) for standing in for me at last month’s Question Time.

Does the Secretary of State agree that unless his Government agree a common approach with the devolved nations in advance of phase 2 of the negotiations that is based on proper consideration of the evidence, it is unlikely that the Welsh Government will pass a legislative consent motion ratifying the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill?

We are working closely with the Welsh Government, and we have had another productive meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee at which proposals were made, which will rightly be considered. The First Secretary of State and I met the First Minister just a couple of weeks ago, and that built on an ongoing relationship across Government that involves positive engagement not only with the Welsh Government, but with the businesses, local authority leaders and chief executives, and communities that will benefit from our leaving the European Union.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response—I think. Does he agree that the UK Government could avoid clashing with the Welsh Government by agreeing to amend the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on Report, by involving the Welsh Government in drawing up amendments to prevent the power grab, and by agreeing common frameworks, which would stop the Welsh Government putting in place their own legislation, which is worked up, in position and ready to go?

As we leave the European Union, we are determined to deliver as much certainty and continuity as we can. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill focuses on delivering that, and I am sure that that is really what the Welsh Government want. After all, we should be focusing on the outcomes. This is about providing a framework in which businesses and communities can prosper. This is where politics needs to fit business and community need, rather than that of politicians.

Leaving the EU: Negotiations

5. What assessment he has made of the effect on Wales of the outcome of exit negotiations between the UK and the EU. (902832)

14. What assessment he has made of the effect on Wales of the outcome of exit negotiations between the UK and the EU. (902842)

I have always said that we will negotiate for every nation and region of the United Kingdom, and our goal is to secure a deal that works for all parts of the country.

Following weeks of chaos, the Government have realised that their original Brexit promises were the stuff of fantasy. They conceded on continuous regulatory alignment with Europe but, hand in hand with Labour, the Westminster Tory Government remain ideologically committed to severing Wales’s membership of the single market and the customs union. Will the Secretary of State tell us how many Welsh jobs his Government are prepared to sacrifice to placate Brexiteers on both sides of the Chamber?

I am sorry to hear the tone of the hon. Lady’s question. It is almost as though she is disappointed with the Prime Minister’s great success last week in getting an agreement and with the prospect of moving on to phase 2 of the negotiations. I will happily talk about investment and employment opportunities. We are obviously extremely pleased with record low levels of unemployment over recent months. Even since the referendum, we have seen some of the greatest inward investment projects coming into the UK and Wales, and I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome that and support the process.

I spent some time this morning with the Brexit Secretary’s sectoral analyses. They provide an interesting snapshot, but they do not provide any views about the future. I want to take the Secretary of State back to June 2016, when he said that 100,000 jobs in Wales are

“directly linked to our place in Europe.”

In fact, he also said:

“The economic argument trumps everything else, at the end of the day this is down to the economy, jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Will he indicate whether he stands by his remarks of 18 months ago? Will he tell the House how many jobs in Wales he is prepared to sacrifice and in which sectors?

It would be interesting to know whether the hon. Lady wants to respect the outcome of the referendum, in which the majority of Wales voted to leave the European Union. Leaving the EU provides new opportunities. We want frictionless trading arrangements and to exploit new markets around the world. Exports to markets outside the European Union are growing much faster than exports to the European Union, and the figure for Wales is above the UK average. I hope that the hon. Lady recognises that businesses are already seeing the opportunities.

Last week, Northern Ireland was given a carte blanche final say on the Government’s phase 1 Brexit position. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is now time for the same privilege to be afforded to the accountable and sitting Parliaments of Scotland and Wales?

I have said this several times, and I will continue to repeat it because it is extremely important: we will negotiate a Brexit deal that works for every part of the United Kingdom. Yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee was positive, but the differences will be debated, as is only right and proper. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will respect the outcome of the referendum that the UK voted for.

Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda i chi, Mr Speaker, and to all Members. Last week showed how important the Irish dimension is to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the negotiations. Will the Secretary of State give me a categorical assurance that Welsh ports, especially Holyhead, will be safeguarded and given the same treatment as those in Northern Ireland when it comes to trade?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s interest in Welsh ports. Holyhead is clearly important, as is Fishguard in Pembrokeshire. Leaving the European Union provides new opportunities for both north-west and south-west Wales. After we have left the European Union, they will be gateways to Europe in a way that they have not been previously, and local authorities and businesses will need to respond to new opportunities for growth.

Order. I remind the House that an hon. Member should not leave the Chamber until the exchanges on his or her question have been completed. It really is the height of parliamentary discourtesy, and I hope that I do not have to say it again. I have just been alerted to someone doing that, and it should not happen again.

Leaving the EU: International Business

6. What assessment he has made of the effect of the UK’s decision to leave the EU on Wales’s international business links. (902834)

Leaving the EU allows us to establish new trading opportunities across the globe, forging ahead as a global leader in free trade. Welsh exports have outperformed the UK average over the last year, and I am working closely with the International Trade Secretary to build on that success.

Order. I see that the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) has beetled back into the Chamber. It is good of the fellow to drop in on us. We are grateful to him.

What is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage Welsh businesses and consumers to seize the opportunity of a global Britain by boosting imports and exports to increase consumer choice and helping businesses to create more good jobs as we leave the EU?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade has established the UK Board of Trade, and I am pleased that Lord Rowe-Beddoe and Heather Stevens sit on it as Welsh representatives—their reputation goes well before them. Businesses are already responding. I have already quoted the encouraging export data, but clearly there is more work to do.

If the Secretary of State is serious in his discussions about Wales’s international business links, why will he and the Government not publish the impact assessments? Is it not time these disappearing documents came to light?

We have published the 58 sectoral analyses, which cover all the sectors that are key to the Welsh economy, from steel to aerospace. Not only have we shared them with the Commons and the other place, but we have shared these 800 pages with the devolved Administrations, demonstrating the open, pragmatic approach we are taking to involving every part of the United Kingdom.

Leaving the EU: Trade

7. What assessment he has made of Wales’s trading opportunities since the UK’s decision to leave the EU. (902835)

Figures show that exports from Wales grew by 19% last year. Welsh businesses are also looking to markets outside the European Union, where exports grew by 23% over the same period. I will continue to support businesses in Wales to help them make the most of the new opportunities.

In north Wales, like in South East Cornwall, there are amazing businesses that are the lifeblood of the local economy, from first-class tourist accommodation to delicious food and drink producers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Brexit will provide additional trading opportunities for them and for companies across Wales?

My hon. Friend is a strong champion for Cornwall, and Cornwall is already responding, through her leadership, to the new opportunities that leaving the European Union provides. Wales is rightly doing the same. Exports to areas outside the European Union are growing at a much sharper rate than exports to the European Union, and Wales is well ahead of the UK average.

One of the trading opportunities we already have is at Ford in Bridgend, which is at risk of closure after Jaguar Land Rover’s contract ended early. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy met me at Ford yesterday. What is the Secretary of State for Wales doing to help to secure those jobs for the future?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about Ford in Bridgend. I met the unions recently, and I speak to Ford on a regular basis. I am pleased that the Welsh Government responded to Ford’s suggestion that I join their working group. We are determined to work together to come up with the best outcome that delivers long-term, sustainable jobs at the Ford plant in Bridgend.

North Wales Growth Deal

As the Chancellor announced in the autumn Budget, we have now begun formal negotiations for a north Wales growth deal. The local area has shared its initial proposals, and I was delighted to host a briefing session for north Wales MPs earlier this week. My officials are in north Wales today to help develop the proposals into an exciting deal for the region.

Will my hon. Friend outline how the north Wales growth deal will build on the positive cross-border work that is already taking place, most notably through the Mersey-Dee alliance? I am sure he is aware that the alliance is of unspeakable interest to the good people of East Renfrewshire.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that cross-border connectivity, which is essential to the success of north Wales, is a key part of the north Wales growth deal. Such connectivity allows the north-west of England and the north of Wales to benefit from the economic success story that is available on both sides of the border.

The hon. Gentleman will remember from the joint ministerial visits we undertook to both Chester and north Wales that there is enthusiasm for this deal on both sides of the border. Can he assure me that that enthusiasm will carry through not just to the north-west of England but all the way through to the Humber region, given the alliances between Liverpool and Hull?

I do indeed remember the visit to Chester, which was a great success. I am proud to say that the new northern powerhouse Minister was at the briefing we had in the Wales Office on Monday. Businesses and local authorities in north Wales understand the power of the northern powerhouse, but we also know that north Wales has a lot to offer to the northern powerhouse, and this cross-border deal is essential to the economic wellbeing of north Wales.

Will the Minister meet the all-party group on Mersey-Dee-north Wales to discuss the detail of the growth deal, and will he please show me the colour of his money?

The hon. Gentleman is the chair of the all-party group and I would be delighted to meet it. I am well aware of the work it has done. This is a deal for north Wales, which means we will have to work with all stakeholders and all partners, including the hon. Gentleman.

Unemployment has risen by 10% in my constituency, showing the need for this growth deal as a matter of urgency. Will the Minister focus particularly on cross-border issues to improve transport links to north Wales?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I am aware of his support for this growth deal. It is fair to say, however, that the unemployment situation in Wales has dramatically improved since 2010, with 54,000 more jobs in Wales and unemployment falling in most constituencies in Wales. My constituency has the lowest unemployment it has recorded for a long time. But I assure him that if a cross-border deal will help his constituency, we will help to deliver it.

Universal Credit

9. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the time taken for universal credit payments to be made in Wales. (902837)

At the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced additional support for universal credit claimants. Advances to people who need them will be made available earlier, more generous and interest-free. All claimants will be eligible for universal credit from the first day they claim it, and we will improve the transition from housing benefit to universal credit.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ own analysis shows that half of those with rent arrears under universal credit said they had gone into arrears after making a claim. Is the Secretary of State content with the fact that more Welsh families who are currently not in arrears will begin 2018 in debt once they have made their UC claim?

I simply do not recognise the hon. Lady’s doom and gloom. I have visited jobcentres throughout Wales and staff are telling me that UC is the biggest change in a generation. I met the regional manager for north Wales, and he said that in his 40 years of working for the DWP this was the most positive and customer-focused change he had been aware of. This change is helping people back into employment. The hon. Lady should support the changes and the efforts the Government are making to get people back into work.