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Volume 650: debated on Wednesday 5 December 2018

The Secretary of State was asked—

Drug-related Crime

Ministers from the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales hold regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, including the Home Secretary, on a range of issues that are of importance to Wales. Drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities. The Government’s approach to them remains clear: we must prevent drug use and support people through treatment and recovery.

The chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council has warned that relying on local taxpayers while slashing funding from Westminster will mean tough choices about priorities for many local forces. Surely rising drug-related crime should be a priority. Will the Minister commit to fighting for more central Government funding for the police in Wales, so that they can effectively tackle those particular crimes?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for all her work in the all-party groups on this issue. I know the subject is close to her heart.

We understand that police demand is changing and complex. That is why, after speaking to all forces in England and Wales, we have provided a comprehensive settlement that is increasing total investment in the police system by more than £460 million in 2018-19.

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. Croesawaf y Gweinidog newydd. I welcome the new Minister to his place. The Minister will be aware that last night the National Assembly for Wales supported a Plaid Cymru motion to reject his Government’s deal. What, if any, attention will he pay to that crystal-clear mandate from Wales? Will he make representations to secure an official say for our nation on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, assuming we even get to that stage?

That was a rather creative way of bringing in a question about Europe under drug-related crime. However, I remember that the Welsh population voted to leave.

I am sure that the hon. Lady will seek to render her inquiry more relevant and apposite to the context of the question on the Order Paper. I feel sure that that is not beyond her creative genius.

The debate in my country is how to deal with crime post Brexit and the challenges that we face, with drug crime in their midst. None the less, I feel that I must explain the answer. Yesterday the Welsh Assembly voted in favour of a Plaid Cymru motion to reject the withdrawal agreement of the Minister’s Government. In addition, the Government’s own chief Brexit adviser admitted on Monday that the Joint Committee outlined in the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration will not include representatives from the devolved nations. What will he and the Secretary of State do personally to rectify that deficit of representation with the Prime Minister?

The Joint Ministerial Committee does in fact involve members of the Welsh Government, so I am not entirely on the same page as the hon. Lady.

Drug-related crime across the South Wales police force area has gone up month on month from September 2017 to September 2018 by more than 22%. What discussions with Home Office colleagues has the Minister or the Secretary of State had since the summer recess about additional funding for the South Wales police in recognition of the fact that it is policing a UK capital city?

The hon. Lady raises a good point. This Department is talking constantly with our colleagues in the Home Office, in particular on policing matters. I remind her politely of the increased, comprehensive settlement that we agreed to three or four months ago, which will see almost half a billion pounds in 2018-19 for policing.

As police numbers have plummeted, drug-related crime has rocketed, especially on county lines. Drug lords enforce their vile trade with knives and guns. Knife crime is half the level in Wales that it is in England; nevertheless, in the past year alone, there has been a 30% increase in knife crime in Wales. Do the Minister, the Secretary of State for Wales and his Cabinet colleagues share any responsibility for that, and what will they do about it?

It is incredibly important that we work together closely in this area. The hon. Gentleman makes some valid points about the types of crime, and that is why we must also work collaboratively with our police and crime commissioners. I know that he has a good relationship with the North Wales police and crime commissioner. Although this is a reserved matter, we are determined to work closely with Wales and ensure that the right resources are available, particularly in the case of county lines problems, which do not respect borders.

Extreme Poverty and Human Rights

2. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in relation to poverty in Wales. (907937)

12. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in relation to poverty in Wales. (907947)

13. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in relation to poverty in Wales. (907948)

14. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in relation to poverty in Wales. (907949)

I regularly speak with my Cabinet colleagues on a host of issues affecting Wales. Prosperity in Wales is my No. 1 priority. It is crucial that those experiencing poverty get the support that they need and that no one is left behind. We will consider the interim report’s findings carefully.

It is good to hear that the Secretary of State will consider the report. The UN special rapporteur praised the Scottish Government for what they are doing to mitigate the austerity cuts from the Tory Government, but he also noted that the powers of the Welsh Government are limited in that respect. What representations has the Secretary of State had from the Labour Welsh Government about getting additional powers to mitigate that and implement welfare in a fairer manner?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the devolved settlement. He will be well aware that the Wales Act 2017 passed through this House not so long ago, but at no stage were there any calls to devolve functions from the Department for Work and Pensions or to devolve welfare, because of the volatility that that creates on the budget.

The rapporteur found that one in four jobs in Wales does not pay enough for people to live on, and that Wales has the worst record of relative poverty of any of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State believe that the people and the workers of Wales deserve better than that? Will he accept that in-work poverty is a serious problem in Wales, and will he tell us what he is doing to address it?

There are two points that I would make. There were some factual errors in the report, which may well undermine the conclusions, but of course we will respond fully in due course. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, I point to the sharp increase in payments from the national living wage, as well as the increases in the personal allowance. As a result, the inequality gap between people who have and people who do not have is at a record low level.

The UN special rapporteur highlighted that low-paid, part-time or insecure jobs are often taken up by women, because of difficulties in balancing work and the disproportionate impact of caring responsibilities. These are, of course, often the women who have been adversely affected by this Government’s increase in the state pension age. Can the Secretary of State explain just how the Government are working for the women of Wales?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting women and employment, because there are 63,000 more women in employment in Wales than there were in 2010. I also point out to her the record fall in unemployment. Reducing unemployment is the best way out of poverty, and unemployment in Wales is 3.8% whereas across the UK it is 4.1%. There will not be many times in history when unemployment in Wales is lower than the UK average.

The list of countries that have received this kind of criticism is fairly small, and I think the UK Government should be absolutely ashamed to find themselves on that list. The reality is that people in Wales are in the difficult position of having an uncaring British Government and a Labour Government in Wales that are abdicating responsibility. Is it not the case that the only way that Wales can be a fair country is with the normal powers of independence?

It is interesting to hear that point made by a Scottish Member of Parliament, when that is not the view in Wales. As I said in relation to the report, I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that poverty rates are lower than they were in 2010, and unemployment in Wales is lower than the UK average. There are more men in work, there are more women in work and the economy in Wales is growing faster than in any other part of the UK.

I know that the Secretary of State will agree that one way of tackling poverty in Wales is the growth of more high-skill, high-paid jobs, like those in the aviation and tech sectors around Bristol. Does he agree that the policies that the Government are putting in place to spread the benefit of that growth across southern Wales are exactly what is needed to tackle some of the challenges that have been identified?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue and points to some of the policies that we are developing to tackle the root cause. Universal credit is making a significant difference, and I would highlight the growth deals that we are promoting across the whole of Wales. Wales is the only nation of the United Kingdom that will have a growth or a city deal in every part.

Figures released this week show that one in five of my constituents has used a food bank in the past three years. Does the Secretary of State think that that is anything to do with the fact that Flintshire was one of the first areas in the roll-out of universal credit?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He is well aware that there are myriad complex reasons why people turn to food banks. That was one of the conclusions of the all-party parliamentary group. Food banks have a key role to play in bringing back into the state welfare system people who, for a range of reasons, have fallen out of it. I am a strong supporter of my food bank and food banks across the whole of the UK because of the part that they can play.

Benefits Changes

3. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect on people in Wales of recent changes to welfare benefits. (907938)

Our welfare reforms are incentivising work and supporting working families. The unemployment rate in Wales is at a record low. At the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced new policy changes to enable working households to keep more of what they earn and to support claimants through the transition to universal credit. We will continue to take a test-and-learn approach, acting on feedback and improving the system as it rolls out.

Perhaps the Minister could explain why the Government are determined to press ahead with managed migration in the face of the advice of more than 80 disability organisations, the Resolution Foundation and the National Audit Office that they should not do so until they have fixed the major flaws in universal credit and can cope with much greater claimant volumes.

I thank the hon. Lady for all the work she does in this area. I understand that she chaired a Disability Confident meeting last week. These are very important things for hon. Members to get involved with. We do not underestimate the challenge that managed migration could present, and we are working very closely with all stakeholders to design the best solution. We are keeping our options open on the design, and we are committed to keeping the House updated.

First, may I say that I am very glad that Welsh people will now be able to claim universal credit online, just like everybody else, through the medium of Welsh? Department for Work and Pensions staff had a very complicated task in fixing the faulty system. Will the Minister tell the House what he is doing to fix the other problems relating to universal credit that people in Wales are suffering from, such as the unfair and oppressive two-child policy?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done. I am very pleased that the Welsh language version of the universal credit system was rolled out last week, I believe. Hopefully it is working well, and we will continue to monitor it. Of course, this is a huge transformational project, and it is absolutely right that, on occasion, we pause, reflect and make sure we get the system right. Fundamentally, I agree with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who said that universal credit is a force for good.

My constituent has 10-month-old twins and has not been paid universal credit for two months. She is at risk of homelessness and is using food banks. How are the Government responding to the recent judicial review on the impact of assessment periods, and what can the Minister say to my constituent and others who are suffering like her?

The hon. Lady will be aware that I cannot comment on an individual case. I am sure that if she raises her constituent’s case with the Department, she will get a response. As I said earlier, this system is a huge transformational project, and we must learn as we go along. It is designed to mirror the way in which people in work are paid. There are advances available for anybody who is waiting for their universal credit payment.

Hospital Car Parking Charges

4. Whether he has had discussions with the Welsh Government on its abolition of hospital car parking charges. (907939)

I have not discussed this matter with the Welsh Government. Decisions on charges are entirely for the Welsh Government to make, as this is a devolved responsibility.

The brain injury charity Headway has supported families who have incurred hospital car parking charges of as much as £248 in just seven days. Given that all hospitals in Wales have now abolished hospital car parking charges, will my hon. Friend make representations to the Health Secretary on abolishing them in England too?

It is clear—everybody in the House will know—that there is no stronger champion of such causes than my right hon. Friend. We allow individual hospitals to take their own decisions in England, assisted by clear guidance. There are potential additional costs of a blanket removal of charging, which could be significant, but we keep our ears open.

When the Welsh Government abolished car parking charges, certain people thought that it was a waste of money. We now know that it has been a great success. Is it not time that the UK Government stopped denigrating the Welsh Government, talked to them a bit more and shared good ideas?

We are certainly not in the business of denigrating the Welsh Government, as the hon. Lady should know, but we cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. I have read in the Welsh press in the past few weeks that some free hospital car parks are being used incorrectly by shoppers. We have to be mindful, but I assure her that we are not denigrating anyone.

I counsel the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) that this is not a silver bullet to hospital transport issues. In Wrexham Maelor Hospital, car parking is a major issue. The focus should be on providing public transport solutions in public services, and in hospitals in particular.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is not a silver bullet. Without the correct levels of public transport, the wider solution cannot be delivered. I totally agree with him.

Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration: Economic Effect

5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the potential economic effect on Wales of the adoption of the EU Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. (907940)

7. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the potential economic effect on Wales of the adoption of the EU Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. (907942)

The Government’s analysis shows that the deal the Government have negotiated is the best deal available for Welsh jobs and the Welsh economy. That allows us to honour the referendum and realise the new opportunities Brexit will bring.

But nobody in Wales voted for Brexit to make them poorer. Perhaps that is why the Welsh Assembly voted to reject the withdrawal agreement last night, as the Scottish Parliament will do this evening. The Minister’s Scottish colleagues are going around saying that the vote is needless. Does that not simply demonstrate the contempt that the Government and the Tories have always had for the devolution settlement? They are using Brexit to further undermine devolution.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that Wales voted to leave the European Union and that we have an obligation to respond to the demand that came from the referendum. We will continue to work with the Welsh Government in seeking a legislative consent motion to the withdrawal agreement Bill when it goes through Parliament. That is exactly what we gained having worked with them closely in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I look forward to continuing to working with them on the Bill.

Manufacturers and producers in Wales currently have tariff-free access to the Europe single market of more than 500 million people. The market provides the destination for two thirds of all Welsh exports. Will the Minister explain to me and the House how ripping Wales out of the customs union and the single market will improve prospects for those Welsh businesses?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the deal my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has negotiated gives the opportunity of tariff-free access with the European Union. It also gives us the opportunity to strike independent trade deals right around the world as an independent trading nation. I am optimistic about our prospects outside the European Union. I wish that optimism was shared elsewhere.

9. In June, Wales exported £10.2 billion-worth of goods to the EU. The viability of manufacturing in Wales relies on frictionless trade with the EU. The Prime Minister’s deal gives no assurances to Welsh businesses—it just gives us buzzwords and more uncertainty—so when will the Secretary of State start doing his job and stand up for businesses in Wales? (907944)

Last week, I spoke to the Welsh Automotive Forum annual dinner. The sector represents 18,000 employees in manufacturing in Wales. It was strongly supportive of the deal that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has negotiated. I wish the hon. Gentleman would appreciate it too.

The Secretary of State says he is optimistic about Wales’s future after Brexit, but can he confirm from the Dispatch Box that Wales is going to be poorer—our GDP will be smaller—if we vote for his deal next week?

The hon. Gentleman points to a range of economic scenarios that have been painted, but they do not take into account any response that the Government will make. Of course, a responsible Government will respond to the economic situation as it emerges. I am excited about the prospect of striking free trade deals right around the world as an independent trading nation once again.

I welcome the Minister to his place. On 2 May, the Secretary of State told the House that

“we are keen to negotiate to allow for the most frictionless trade possible with the European Union.”—[Official Report, 2 May 2018; Vol. 640, c. 300.]

Why does the term “frictionless trade” not appear in the political declaration?

I kindly point the hon. Lady to the political declaration, which says “as frictionless as possible”. In my mind, that can include frictionless.

That just is not good enough. The Secretary of State has given his backing to an agreement that does not even mention Wales, let alone protect workers’ rights, environmental standards, consumer protections or living standards. Is not the reality that this is a bad deal for Wales that fails to give Welsh people the certainty needed to safeguard jobs and livelihoods?

The deal that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has negotiated gives us the certainty of access to EU markets, but it also gives us new opportunities to strike trade deals around the world. I say to the hon. Lady that I am not sure what certainty a further referendum would bring, if that is her policy.

The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) is much preoccupied with the elegance of his tie, by which I am myself duly impressed, but if he wished to shoehorn in the concerns he had in respect of Question 15 now, he could legitimately do so.

15. I appreciate the opportunity, Mr Speaker. Wales has appreciated European funding, as has Cornwall. Can the Secretary of State assure Cornwall and Wales that they will continue to receive money to tackle deprivation? (907950)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He allows me to point to the UK shared prosperity fund, which was a manifesto commitment. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will outline at the comprehensive spending review the sums of money that will be available, but I am determined to get a much more efficient system that is responsive to the demands and needs of the community. After all, £4 billion has been spent in Wales over the last 16 years and we have not always received the best value out of that. [Interruption.]

Business Growth

The Government have a host of policies to support businesses in Wales, from tax reductions to city deals and a modern UK industrial strategy. As a result, Wales continues to attract inward investment across all sectors.

As we leave the European Union, we clearly need to promote all parts of the United Kingdom and their fantastic trade potential. How does the Secretary of State plan to harness Wales’s potential, building on the success of the “Great” campaign?

I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend does to promote businesses across the whole United Kingdom. He gives me an opportunity to highlight the fact that, in less than two weeks’ time, the tolls on the Severn crossing will be abolished for the first time in 52 years—a major boost to the economy of the south-west of England as well as south Wales.

The hon. Gentleman can legitimately shoehorn his concern about broadband into this inquiry. Go ahead.

8. Diolch, Mr Speaker. Many premises in Ceredigion are still awaiting confirmation of whether they will be in scope for the next phase of the Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru scheme. Will the Secretary of State ensure that his Government’s Wales superfast broadband programme and “outside-in” initiative give priority to premises that may find themselves beyond the scope of the Welsh Government’s scheme? (907943)

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is a strong campaigner in this area. We are determined to work closely both with him and with the Welsh Government to deliver the best broadband possible in the constituency of Ceredigion and in all other parts of Wales. Already, £69 million has been spent, in addition to the gainshare, but there is more that we can do, particularly in linking businesses with broadband. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a strong supporter of that campaign.

May I, too, welcome the new Minister to the Wales Office, which is now attracting talent from across the whole of the United Kingdom? Does the Secretary of State agree that communications would be much improved if the Welsh Labour Government got on with building the M4 relief road?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I highlighted earlier the fact that in less than two weeks’ time the tolls on the Severn crossing will be abolished, but it is hard to believe that the former Member of Parliament for Richmond (Yorks) was the Secretary of State for Wales when the commitment was first made in relation to that road around Newport. The resource is available and the time has been available; I am only sorry that the Welsh Government have not reacted and built that road in response to those calls.

Business growth in north Wales is being choked off by congestion on the M56, on my side of the border. Will the Secretary of State sit down with the Transport Secretary to work out when it will be upgraded?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I regularly discuss those issues with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who has brought together a working group of officials and Ministers from all parts of the United Kingdom to discuss cross-border issues. I am only disappointed that the Welsh Government did not attend the last time we met.

Businesses across north Wales were delighted with the Chancellor’s Budget announcement of £120 million of funding for the north Wales growth deal. They are disappointed, however, that that announcement has not been followed by a similar announcement from the Welsh Assembly Government. Does my right hon. Friend know when such an announcement might be expected?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting that important policy. It is taking some time to negotiate the north Wales growth deal, but as he rightly points out, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced £120 million of funding in the Budget statement. We are working closely with the Welsh Government to encourage them to follow the same lines of commitment, and on Friday there will be further meetings to seek to crystallise that.

Order. I want to invite the House to join me in warmly welcoming to the Gallery a quite extraordinary, brave and courageous rape victim who has waived her anonymity in order to campaign not merely for her rights, very important though those rights are, but for the rights of all women similarly violated. I am referring of course to Sammy Woodhouse. Welcome to the House of Commons, Sammy. [Applause.]