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House of Commons Hansard
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24 October 2018
Volume 648

The Secretary of State was asked—

Care Placement of Young People

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1. What discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the placement of young people from England in private sector care homes in Wales. [907183]

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The Government are clear that the needs of the child are paramount when making decisions about the right care placement. The specific issue the hon. Lady refers to has not been raised with me directly by the Welsh Government.

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More than 300 children from England are placed across Wales, often in small Welsh villages. Problems are experienced by some police forces and local authorities about early notification of vulnerable children being placed there who may be seduced into county lines, grooming operations and generally be vulnerable in isolation. Will the Secretary of State share my concern and raise it with the Welsh Assembly Government?

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The hon. Lady clearly raises a very important point and is passionate about the subject. The most appropriate and suitable setting should always be the overriding factor in deciding the best placement for a child, but planning policy and approval from care inspectors should also be considerations, and, naturally, the police should be part of that process. I will happily raise the matter with the Welsh Government.

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Does the Minister share my view that it is crucial that there are enough foster parents with the right skills in the right areas to care for children and meet their diverse needs? Would not a collaborative approach between local authorities be helpful in that respect?

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. The appropriate setting has to be the overriding factor at all stages, but, of course, not all local authorities can offer appropriate settings for some complex needs that different children will have. Co-operation between authorities is always helpful and it is something that we want to encourage.

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Plaid Cymru’s North Wales police and crime commissioner has long warned that, post Brexit, criminals will use the common travel area to gain access to the UK. This warning has been reaffirmed today in a National Audit Office report. Will the Secretary of State tell me what provision he is making personally to protect Wales from becoming both the highway and the victim of international organised crime?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the question, but I am not sure where Brexit is linked with this. Clearly, there is freedom of movement across the European Union and the common travel area—those positions will still be in place, particularly in relation to the common travel area. I do not think that this is about where the children originate from, because, clearly, there are Welsh children being sited appropriately in England as well. We have to have as an overriding factor the most appropriate setting and it is important that the authorities co-operate wherever the regulations come from.

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It is no secret that the Secretary of State does not speak as Wales’s voice in Westminster on Brexit. He has, in fact, poured scorn on the efforts of others who seek to make representations for Wales in Brussels. He may be aware that, together with other sensible Opposition leaders in this place, I am meeting Michel Barnier tomorrow, and I will do my duty to represent my country. Does he have any Wales-specific priorities that he would like me to raise with the EU Brexit negotiator-in-chief, or would that be against England’s interest?

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In relation to private sector care homes?

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The hon. Lady talks about meeting Michel Barnier tomorrow with other colleagues, but I hope that she will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Prime Minister who is acting in the UK’s interest rather than in any local national interest.

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Returning to the subject, what changes does my right hon. Friend propose in terms of inspection of care homes to ensure that children are safe in those care homes?

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. The social care innovation programme plans to change the laws in England so that local authorities have to promote the physical and mental health of looked-after children, and this would be a major step forward in this area of policy.

Leaving the EU: Aerospace Sector

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2. What representations he has received from the aerospace sector in Wales on the priorities for that sector when negotiating the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. [907184]

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The UK, and specifically Wales, is home to a world-class aerospace industry. I have regular meetings with the aerospace sector and met Airbus last month in north Wales as part of my engagement with the CBI. It is a top priority to continue to create and maintain the right conditions post Brexit for this growing international sector to thrive.

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First, I welcome the Minister to her post. In June, Airbus said that a no deal Brexit would severely undermine

“UK efforts to keep a competitive and innovative aerospace industry.”

It concluded that it would be “catastrophic” to have a UK Brexit. Does the Minister agree?

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As I have said, the aerospace sector in north Wales is absolutely vital. Airbus has been making those statements through conversations with those involved with the north Wales growth deal. I know, having met the hon. Gentleman last week, that a thriving sector, and the skills associated with it, are absolutely vital. The F-35 avionics global repair hub shows that this is a sector in which we are world-leading, and the UK Government in Wales will continue to support it.

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My hon. Friend is quite right to mention the importance of the proposed north Wales growth deal to the aerospace industry in north Wales. Can she say when the Government are likely to make a substantive announcement about that deal?

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I thank my right hon. Friend for his long-standing commitment to the north Wales growth deal, and for pushing for action and progress in this area. There are some very positive movements, and we hope to make real progress. We need a further update from the Welsh Government, and there will be key meetings later this week.

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Airbus employs many of my constituents in Newport and Filton. Close collaboration between the Civil Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency is vital to this industry. What are the Government doing to safeguard that?

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The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the jobs and opportunities around the avionics sector in Wales. We are aware of the benefits of collaboration, and seek that as part of the overall deal. It is something that Switzerland—a non-EU member—enjoys, and we will continue to look for it as part of our overall deal.

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Airbus employs a number of constituents in Eddisbury. Can the Minister confirm the Government’s commitment to striking a deal that provides for frictionless trade in this sector?

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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting how important this sector is in her constituency. As an assiduous constituency Member, she raises the challenges ahead, but a good deal that works to support jobs in the supply chain is absolutely the primary focus of discussions, and a pragmatic, frictionless deal is what the Government are working for.

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With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, may I congratulate Louise Magee, general secretary of Welsh Labour, and her partner Luke Holland, who have had a beautiful baby girl, Catherine Ivy, who is to be known as Kitty? Mother and baby are doing fine, and Luke is coping well, I understand.

I welcome the Minister to her place. The Welsh Government have pledged £3 million to support Airbus in preparing for Brexit. ADS, the national trade association that represents aerospace companies, has urged the Chancellor to ensure that there is enough financial liquidity for companies such as Airbus, which rely on just-in-time European supply chains. What are the Minister’s priorities for the Welsh aerospace sector?

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I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As I have said in my previous answers, Wales has a deep-rooted, world-leading aerospace sector, and the Government understand that. There has been cross-Government engagement with all key stakeholders to support it. Frictionless trade and supporting the sector are absolutely vital, and we are ready to work and step up to that challenge.

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That may well be, but the Government’s Brexit advice paper suggests that companies such as Airbus may move their headquarters to an EU member state in the event of no deal, which would be absolutely catastrophic for our Welsh economy. Does the Minister agree with her Prime Minister that no deal is better than a bad deal, as far as Wales is concerned?

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The UK Government in Wales are not complacent about the challenges of all scenarios. They are working extremely hard to make sure that all the opportunities are there in any deal, and are working to make sure that the sector thrives. That is vital to the Secretary of State, and to the UK Government. We will continue to stand by the Prime Minister in getting that frictionless deal.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

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3. What representations he has received from the Welsh Government on the design of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. [907186]

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12. What representations he has received from the Welsh Government on the design of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. [907195]

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13. What representations he has received from the Welsh Government on the design of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. [907196]

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The UK’s exit from the European Union provides us with an opportunity to reconsider how funding for growth across the UK is designed and delivered. In our manifesto, we committed to engaging with the Welsh Government on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and that work is under way.

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At the moment, the so-called opportunity of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund falls within the remit of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, a Department wholly devolved to England. It therefore does not understand the needs of the devolved nations and is bound to put the needs of England before those of the devolved nations. Does the Secretary of State agree that the devolved nations should have control?

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The answer is in the title—it is the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and, therefore, joint work is taking place across Government. As the hon. Gentleman would expect, I have shown a strong interest in it, as have my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Clearly, we are keen to work together.

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The retention of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund at Westminster undermines the devolution of economic development. Does the Secretary of State not see that his Government’s refusal to give the fund to devolved Governments is yet another power grab?

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I certainly do not accept the basis of the hon. Gentleman’s question in relation to a power grab, because the Welsh Government supported the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which demonstrates that his assertion does not stack up. On EU aid and how it has been spent in Wales, more than £4 billion has been spent over 17 years and west Wales and the valleys remains the poorest part of the United Kingdom. The development of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is a great opportunity to reshape something that suits local communities and businesses far better and more efficiently.

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This is a shambles. Over a year ago, the Secretary of State boasted of an efficient and responsive UK Shared Prosperity Fund, but today he admits that the Government have not even started the consultation on it. With months to go before the Brexit catastrophe, what guarantees do we have that there will be any fund fit for purpose for Wales or the other nations of the United Kingdom?

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The hon. Gentleman is highly selective in his references. He fails to recognise that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has agreed to guarantee the funding for the existing programme until 2020. That gives us the opportunity to design a UK Shared Prosperity Fund with appropriate consultation with the devolved Administrations, as well as with businesses and local authorities, and we are ready for immediate discussions before the consultation.

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In the past, too much EU funding was wasted in Wales on low-impact projects that did not help to close the economic gap. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the prosperity fund will not just repeat the mistakes of the past, but will be used in high impact projects to renew the Welsh economy?

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My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point and obviously speaks with experience. He will remember the £38 million Technium project that built nine office spaces across Wales with the support of EU aid, six of which closed after nine years because they were unsustainable. That demonstrates the waste that was in the system: we can design a much better system for local businesses.

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This is my first ever Welsh question, and I came because I want to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) to her position and wish her well.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which should benefit the south-west and Wales, provides us with an opportunity to break away from the complex and restrictive processes that characterise the EU structural funding scheme?

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I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She will recognise that the current rules on EU funding exclude some areas that should qualify because they have wards that are among the most deprived in the UK. We can design a UK fund that is more appropriate for and responsive to those local communities.

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What opportunities does the UK Shared Prosperity Fund provide for making sure that the money is spent on our priorities in all four constituent parts of our United Kingdom?

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My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and he will recognise the benefits of co-operating on a cross-border basis. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund could give us an opportunity to consider how that can work imaginatively—although obviously I do not want to pre-empt any consultation.

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rose—

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It is always a pleasure to hear the dulcet tones of the hon. Gentleman, but I said “Owen” rather than “Nick”.

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Long may it continue.

In the first spending period after Brexit, will Wales receive more money or less than it would have received under EU structural funds?

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The hon. Gentleman is tempting me to pre-empt the Chancellor’s comprehensive spending review and Budgets that will come within that period. It is wholly inappropriate for me to respond on that basis, and much will depend on the detail of the nature of the deal we get with the European Union.

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Businesses and community organisations across Wales are alarmed at how little detail has been provided about the Shared Prosperity Fund. They are doubly concerned that the consultation that has been promised by the end of this year has not even started. Will the Secretary of State at long last provide a date for this consultation and, if he cannot, may we at the very least have a date on which we can have that date?

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The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we will consult on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund very soon. I am sure that even he will agree that the existing programme has not gained the greatest value for money, as he will also be aware that the then first Minister, Rhodri Morgan, said that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we are now on our third round of EU funding. There must be a better way.

Non-funded Pension Schemes

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4. What assessment he has made of the implications for public authorities in Wales of the Treasury’s draft valuation directions for non-funded pension schemes. [907187]

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The valuations indicate that the amount employers pay towards the schemes will need to increase, and details will be finalised when the valuations are completed early next year. Treasury has committed to support the Welsh Government with additional funding in accordance with the statement of funding policy.

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The 2016 actuarial valuations will have an unprecedented impact on the constrained resources of local authorities, teaching institutions, the fire service and police forces in Wales if UK Government funding is not forthcoming. Will the Minister confirm that this funding will be forthcoming from the Treasury to the Welsh Government?

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The hon. Gentleman raises this concern on behalf of his constituents, and it is correct that some increases in costs were predicted in the 2016 Budget. We will of course apply the principles set out in the statement of funding policy in determining any additional funding for the devolved Administration, and continue to do what is right for Wales.

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On the Minister’s first outing at the Dispatch Box, will she join me in welcoming the additional funding given to the Welsh Government to fund teachers’ pay rises in Wales?

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Order. This is about non-funded pension schemes, not funding pay rises. It was a nice try, and the hon. Gentleman is a cheeky chappie, but we will leave that one there and come to the other Smith, Nick Smith.

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What is the Minister going to do to protect police numbers, given these financial pressures?

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The hon. Gentleman will know that we have tackled the fiscal challenge that Wales has suffered with for decades. In fact, Wales now benefits from £120 for every £100 spent in England. As I said earlier, we will do what is right for Wales, as we have done in the case of teachers raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes).

Exports/Foreign Direct Investment

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5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on increasing (a) exports from and (b) foreign direct investment into Wales. [907188]

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Since 2010, Welsh exports have increased by 41%, growing faster than the UK average of 36%. There are a whole host of exporting success stories and it was a privilege to support SureChill and Hydro on the Prime Minister’s recent trade mission to Africa.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Will he outline what specific measures he is looking at promoting at the forthcoming UK Board of Trade meeting in Swansea to promote trade and investment in both Wales and the wider UK?

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I thank my right hon. Friend for the work he did at the Department for International Trade and his contribution to the establishment of the UK Board of Trade, which is an excellent innovation. It will be in Swansea in a number of weeks, so we have a great opportunity to highlight and champion to international businesses the best that Wales can offer in terms of exports.

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The Welsh automotive sector is a real success story, but it depends on frictionless trade. What action is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that that continues after Brexit?

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The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that that is a plan for and determination of our negotiations. That is exactly what we will seek to agree with the European Union. It is in the UK’s interest, it is in the European Union’s interests and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is working to that end.

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My right hon. Friend will be aware that one of our biggest exports is tourism, and the sector deal still awaits to be made. Will he undertake to speak to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to see whether the sector deal for the UK, and Wales in particular, can be enacted?

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My hon. Friend, with his great knowledge and interest in Wales, recognises the value of tourism to the Welsh economy, and I meet him regularly. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for delivering on the industrial strategy, but my hon. Friend is right: Lonely Planet named north Wales the fourth top place to visit in the world in its recent report. [Interruption.]

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There are a lot of very noisy private conversations taking place, but I want to hear the mellifluous tone of Jonathan Edwards.

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The latest HMRC statistics show a 7% increase in Welsh exports to the EU, worth £643 million, while non-EU exports have fallen. Is it not the reality that trade deals with the US, China and the moon will never replace lost trade with the single market and the customs union?

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The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the export data that I highlighted—that exports from Wales have grown faster than from other parts of the United Kingdom—and I could cite a range of export opportunities in other parts of the world on which Wales is doing better than other parts of the UK. I am hugely impressed by the renewed interest in the UK by an international audience as a result of our leaving the European Union—Aston Martin, Qatar Airways and a host of others that I could cite are clear demonstrations of that.

New Prison: South Wales

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6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the plan to build a new prison in South Wales. [907189]

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This Government are investing in the prison estate—replacing older prisons with high-quality, modern establishments. A new prison in Wales could create up to 500 jobs and contribute £11 million a year to the economy.

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Over one third of adults released from prison in Wales go on to reoffend. Considering that the last prison that the Ministry of Justice built in Wales cost £250 million, does the Secretary of State not think that money would be better spent on rehabilitative measures that actually help those who need them—which, alongside a presumption against short sentences, in Scotland has been shown to reduce recidivism rates considerably—rather than on another costly UK Government vanity project?

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and clearly we would like the population of the prison estate to decline, but of course we also have to keep the community safe, and it is the right thing to do. We need to modernise the estate, and we would like to build a prison in south Wales.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that high-quality modern accommodation located as near to prisoners’ homes as possible is a vital part of the rehabilitation process? Will he therefore join me in welcoming this Government’s extra commitment to spending on the prison estate?

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I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s interest and the expertise that he shows in working with the police on this basis. A new prison would create 500 new jobs. More importantly, it provides for much better outcomes for offenders, in order to help their rehabilitation and keep our communities safe.

Welfare Changes

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7. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect on people in Wales of the UK Government’s recent changes to welfare benefits. [907190]

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11. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect on people in Wales of the UK Government’s recent changes to welfare benefits. [907194]

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Our welfare reforms are incentivising work and supporting working families. The employment rate in Wales is at a record high, and the unemployment rate is at a record low. We will continue to take a test and learn approach, acting on feedback and improving the system as it rolls out.

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Why are this Government determined to press ahead with managed migration against the advice of more than 80 disability organisations, the Resolution Foundation and the National Audit Office that they should not do so until the major flaws in the universal credit system are sorted so that it can cope with the higher claimant volumes?

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I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I dispute its premise. This is a personal, focused benefit, which offers us an opportunity to help people with health conditions, provide tailored support from work coaches, assist with housing costs, and give advances. We are listening and responding during the roll-out. This is a huge change in a complicated system, and we are testing and learning, but above all we are helping people.

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Universal credit is a shambles. In my constituency, a homeless gentleman was told that phone claims for universal credit were not allowed, and that claims must be online only, although he has no access to IT or a computer. Vulnerability was not considered, and, ironically, the man was even offered a home visit. Will the Minister urge DWP colleagues to reconsider the online system and reintroduce phone claims?

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There is an opportunity to make phone claims. I would be happy to hear about that constituency case, although it is very concerning. This benefit is about ensuring that people are better off in work, and are able to respond in particular circumstances. In the Cwmbran jobcentre, positives are being fed back in terms of adjustments and simplification on the ground. If that is not happening in this gentleman’s case, will the hon. Gentleman please let me know?

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Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a shame that Labour Members fail to recognise the transformative effect of universal credit in lifting people out of poverty and getting them back into work? That is in stark contrast to Labour’s approach, which left people trapped on benefits for decades or more.

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My hon. Friend is exactly right about the myriad complex reasons for which people may struggle to get back into work. The reason may involve personal circumstances, it may involve long-term legacy benefits, it may involve skills, or, indeed, it may involve confidence. With this project of universal credit, if we continue to scare people off approaching jobcentres and making use of advice—budgeting advice, and the advice of work coaches—then we will not be listening and learning from the people whom the Labour party has left to fester on legacy benefits, and that will not help anyone.

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rose

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rose—

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Order. Having consulted his scholarly cranium, the Clerk advises me that, by land, Witney is closer to Wales than Torbay, and upon that basis, I call Mr Robert Courts.

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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I, too, welcome the Minister to her post. Does she agree that the Government’s welfare reforms show that people are better off in work, and that it is the best route out of poverty?

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I absolutely agree. From Witney to Torbay, people are getting into work more quickly, staying in work longer and progressing in work, which is very important. We are listening and learning. This is a huge change, but we do not need to row back. Claimants are getting into work and staying in work, and, as we know from the Prime Minister, the route out of poverty is having a job.