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Volume 655: debated on Wednesday 27 February 2019

The Secretary of State was asked—

International Trading Opportunities

I start by congratulating coach Warren Gatland and captain Alun Wyn Jones on their most magnificent victory in Cardiff on Saturday. Speaking as a proud Englishman, it was a joy to watch the game. There is no better way to kick off Wales Week in London, in which we champion and celebrate everything that is great about Wales, including its rugby team.

The Wales Office works closely with the Department for International Trade on promoting Wales’s trading opportunities. From trade missions to his work with trade commissioners and sitting on the Board of Trade, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State works continually to create potential both for Welsh exports and for foreign direct investment projects to come to Wales.

I associate myself with my hon. Friend’s remarks, although I preferred the first half.

Many people will have used the M4 this weekend. Given the M4’s potential for promoting international trade in Wales, and indeed in the rest of the country, will my hon. Friend tell me what progress has been made towards honouring the commitment from the 1960s to build the M31 from Reading down to Gatwick Airport, via the M3?

I know that my hon. Friend is a great champion for that project, and rightly so. He is right to raise this important issue. The Department for Transport recognises the importance of cross-border connectivity. It has been gathering evidence to inform the second road investment strategy—RIS2—which will govern investment in England’s motorways and major A roads between 2020 and 2025. Economic growth is one of RIS2’s five stated key aims and will play a part in the appraisal of schemes. It will be published in 2019.

I join the Minister in congratulating the Welsh rugby team on their excellent victory. They are on course for the grand slam this year. The Minister will be aware that REHAU plastics in my constituency, which has traded internationally for more than 40 years, has announced its closure. It will now concentrate its business on the European mainland. Will his Department work with the Welsh Government, myself and local government to try to retain those important trading jobs? They are international jobs, and we need them on Anglesey.

Absolutely. I have a sneaking feeling that rugby might be a running theme throughout these questions. We recognise the importance of REHAU as an employer in the region and on Anglesey, and we will work closely with the hon. Gentleman and with the company to achieve the best possible outcome, most importantly for the important staff who work there.

There are many excellent international trading companies in north Wales, but in order to continue to thrive they need access to the most modern digital infrastructure. What discussions is my hon. Friend having with the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to ensure that growth deal funding is targeted towards improving digital connectivity?

My right hon. Friend is indeed a great champion of north Wales. I recently met that board to discuss its progress in finalising its proposition to utilise the £120 million that we and the Welsh Government each allocated to the deal. Digital infra- structure is currently an underpinning project, but we have set the region a challenge to go even further and to be even more ambitious about what the project can achieve for the region by working closely with a range of partners, including the private sector.

Jim Callaghan, a Labour Prime Minister, brought thousands of jobs to Ford in south Wales. Why is a Tory Prime Minister taking those jobs away?

I politely remind the right hon. Lady that we have record employment in Wales. Tough commercial decisions have been made in recent months, particularly by Hitachi. However, I point to the good economic news in Wales, particularly the record job numbers.

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus for Friday, Mr Speaker. I pay my good wishes to Sam on the sad loss of Paul Flynn. This is the first chance I have had to do that. He was a great man. He actually stood in my constituency in 1974.

In January, Dyson announced the relocation of its HQ to Singapore, Hitachi ended its interest in Wylfa and Airbus said it was prepared to leave Wales in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Government’s handling of Brexit has been described as a “disgrace” by Airbus’s Tom Enders and a “state of total confusion” by tycoon Sir Martin Sorrell. What message does that send to international investors and traders about trading opportunities in Wales?

If I might politely say so, the hon. Gentleman is being a little selective with his examples. I would point him to the employment figures. The real figures show that foreign direct investment last year created 3,107 new Welsh jobs, which is a 20% increase. I understand why he might want to paint a gloomy picture. Airbus has made it perfectly clear that it does not want no deal. It wants a deal, and the best thing that he and his party could do is support the deal when it comes before the House.

Withdrawal Agreement Bill: Legislative Consent

2. What steps he is taking to secure the legislative consent of the National Assembly for Wales for the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. (909423)

This is the first Welsh questions since the sad passing of our friend and colleague, Paul Flynn. He leaves a significant space on the Labour Back Benches.

The Government are engaging extensively with the Welsh Government in preparing the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. This includes bilateral engagement and meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committees.

The National Assembly for Wales backed the Plaid Cymru motion calling for work to begin immediately on preparing for a public vote. A recent poll by YouGov also found that more Welsh voters back a people’s vote than do not. If the Secretary of State is truly Wales’s voice in Westminster, as he so boldly claims, will he outline the preparations he has pressed the Prime Minister for to facilitate a people’s vote?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, but I would politely point out to her that Wales voted to leave the European Union in even stronger numbers than the rest of the UK. We have an obligation to act on the instruction that comes from that referendum, but in doing so we will continue to work closely with the Welsh Government to ensure and secure a smooth and orderly exit.

I first met Paul Flynn in 1980. He was absolutely inspirational to me then and he continued to be a source of inspiration throughout the many years I had the privilege to know him.

Will the Secretary of State guarantee that the Welsh Government will be fully represented in any negotiations with the EU that impact on devolved competence and policy?

The UK Government have been open and transparent in their dealings with the Welsh Government on representation and engagement. In fact, the Welsh Government sit on the EU Exit and Trade (Preparedness) Sub-Committee, which shows and demonstrates our positive engagement. I am only disappointed that the same privilege and opportunity has not been extended to the UK Government to sit on the Welsh Government’s similar committee.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but does he understand that if the UK Government negotiate free trade agreements, for example with the USA, which force hormone-injected beef and chlorinated chicken on the people of Wales without the legislative consent of the elected Welsh Government, that will trigger a major constitutional crisis? Is he prepared to risk that?

First, I do not accept the basis of the question, but the hon. Lady raises an important point. We will, of course, continue our warm, constructive and positive engagement with all the devolved Administrations. Our work with the Welsh Government on leaving the European Union has proved fruitful so far. We have laid 120 statutory instruments on behalf of the Welsh Government and at their request. In terms of future trade agreements, we will continue to work with them constructively in the interests of the whole of the UK. Clearly, my interests and their interests will be to defend the Welsh interest. I plan to continue to work with them on that positive basis.

Leaving the EU: Economic Support

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on sector-specific plans to support the Welsh economy in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (909424)

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on sector-specific plans to support the Welsh economy in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (909430)

I meet my counterparts in the Welsh Government on a regular basis, including Baroness Eluned Morgan on Monday, to discuss a range of policy areas. A responsible Government prepare for every eventuality, including no deal, and we continue to work together on operational readiness through the Joint Ministerial Committees.

That is all very well, but the Government’s no-deal assessment made it clear that the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the UK’s food and drink sector would be most damaging in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the sector comprises over 5% of those economies compared with just 1.38% in England. How can the Government claim, therefore, that this is a partnership of equal nations when they stand ready to ruin the economies of three, purely in the interests of Tory party unity?

The hon. Gentleman is quite selective with the data that he points to. He has highlighted one scenario, but if he is happy to take that message so clearly from the sector that he has highlighted, that same sector encouraged him to support the Prime Minister’s deal with the European Union. When that meaningful vote returns to Parliament, I hope that he will heed that message then.

Will the Secretary of State recognise that 92% of Welsh lamb goes for EU export? Welsh hill farmers have said that if a no-deal Brexit goes ahead, their industry will be decimated and wiped out—a view confirmed in his economic evidence that was published last night. If that is his analysis, will the Secretary of State for Wales act responsibly and make sure that Welsh lamb is protected?

I would say similarly to the hon. Gentleman that absolutely, we recognise the importance of Welsh agriculture, as we do all the important employment and economic sectors in Wales. The National Farmers Union and NFU Cymru were strong supporters of the deal with the European Union, so if he is happy to repeat their message today, I hope that he is happy to act on their message when it comes to voting on the meaningful vote in this House.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that agriculture is a very important industry not only for Britain but for Wales—particularly, as has already been outlined, Welsh lamb? What measures could be taken in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Clearly the deal would be the first option, but if there was a no-deal Brexit, how would those difficulties be overcome?

My right hon. and learned Friend raises an important point. Agriculture is an extremely important part of the Welsh economy and is disproportionately important there compared with the rest of the UK. We would, of course, act in a way that would protect the interests of that economy to ensure that those jobs are there for the long-term future, in spite of any short-term challenge.

Regardless of whether we have a no-deal Brexit, is my right hon. Friend aware—I am sure he probably is—that it is coming up to the 50th anniversary of the investiture of the Prince of Wales? How can we employ, in that sense of the word, the Prince of Wales’s soft power and so on to promote Wales and the Welsh economy?

Irrespective of membership of or departure from the European Union, with which matter we would not want to involve him in any way.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As we leave the European Union, there is an opportunity to look outwards, and the Prince of Wales is a great champion of Wales and brings about significant soft power. We rightly recognised him last year by renaming the second Severn crossing the Prince of Wales bridge. I pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen, who will host a reception next week to mark the 50 years since the Prince of Wales was named such.

The voice of Ogmore will be heard, but I see a great phalanx of men standing and only one female Member. Jo Stevens must be heard!

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Every sector of the Welsh economy is going to be damaged by the UK leaving the EU, so will the Secretary of State for Wales confirm that he will be voting to rule out no deal?

I will be voting for a deal with the European Union. The hon. Lady will have an interest in a whole range of sectors, be they agriculture or automotive, and all those sectors have strongly supported the Prime Minister’s deal with the European Union. I am disappointed that the hon. Lady voted against that, making no deal more likely.

11. One of the ways that the Welsh Secretary could start doing his job and providing support for the Welsh economy is by confirming how the Shared Prosperity Fund will work beyond 2020. Treasury Ministers and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministers will not give me an answer, so is it not time that he stepped up, did his job and explained to the House how the Shared Prosperity Fund will work? (909433)

I do not want to pre-empt our consultation, which will go out very shortly, but I say candidly to the hon. Gentleman that he will recognise that more than £4 billion—approaching £5 billion—in EU structural funds has been spent in the Welsh economy over the last 17 years; does he honestly believe that we have had the best value from that, and is there not a better opportunity to deliver better value for money for the taxpayer?

The question was a rhetorical one; it requires no answer, and indeed it would be inappropriate, as the Secretary of State knows.

Leaving the EU: Business Preparations

4. What recent discussions he has had with businesses in Wales on preparations for the UK leaving the EU. (909425)

Since the referendum I have been talking to stakeholders the length and breadth of Wales on the implications of EU exit. This includes the discussions I have had with my expert panel and economic advisory board, which met again last month.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but what steps is his Department taking specifically to support small businesses reliant on tourism in Wales?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of his constituency, and I have no doubt that people in Corby and east Northamptonshire will want to visit Wales regularly. This is a great opportunity to highlight Wales Week in London. Wales Week has gone global this year, being held in New York, in Washington and in all parts of the UK. I would be interested in seeing what we can do in my hon. Friend’s constituency next year.

10. My constituent’s restaurant business is under threat because of this Brexit chaos. His Polish and Hungarian staff, who have been with him from the start, have left, and the pound is plummeting, causing huge challenge to him. Does the Secretary of State believe that this chaotic Brexit is really making Wales a more attractive place for visitors? (909432)

There is absolutely no reason why those employees should have left, because we have respected their rights. I only hope and wish that as we continue to negotiate, all the rights of UK nationals living in the European Union will be respected in exactly the same way. The hon. Lady voted against the Prime Minister’s deal with the European Union, and by doing so she is making no deal far more likely. So I would encourage her to look objectively at the data, and to support the meaningful vote when it comes up.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about relocating the resources that are concentrated on Victoria Street into Wales and into Scotland?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office already has an agenda to take as many jobs as possible out of Whitehall and relocate them across the rest of the UK on an ongoing basis. Leaving the European Union will bring new responsibilities. I think there is an opportunity for my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I shall be seeking to play my part in ensuring that Wales benefits too.

In respect of Welsh business preparation for Brexit, can the Secretary of State tell me how many of the hundreds of Government Brexit work streams have been allocated exclusively or primarily to the Wales Office?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Wales Office sits and acts right across the whole of Government, but my prime lead is with the Welsh Government. We have now ensured that they sit on the European Union Exit and Trade (Preparedness) Sub-Committee, and as I mentioned earlier, I only hope that they will similarly invite a UK Government representative to sit on their equivalent Committee.

Policing Budgets

5. What assessment he has made of the effect of changes to policing budgets since 2015 on the effectiveness of Welsh police forces. (909426)

The Government understand that police demand is changing and becoming increasingly complex. That is why, after speaking to all police forces in England and Wales, we have provided a comprehensive funding settlement that increased total investment in the police by over £460 million in 2018-19.

By 2019-20, Gwent police will have seen a 26% cut in its core Government grant compared with 2010-11. Why do this Government keep making it more difficult for Gwent police to keep my constituents safe?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the 2019-20 settlement provides total funding of up to £14 billion, and it is an increase of up to £970 million on the previous year. I would also politely remind him that the Labour party voted against that increased funding.

Industrial Strategy

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the effect of the industrial strategy on the Welsh economy. (909427)

The industrial strategy provides a platform for the Welsh economy to thrive, and we have been working closely with the Welsh Government to ensure that we make the most of the opportunities available. We are already delivering a wide range of projects in Wales, such as through the industrial strategy challenge fund, for which Wales is scoring well above its population share.

If you will allow me, Mr Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to my parliamentary next-door neighbour, Paul Flynn. The unique, unforgettable parliamentarian he was will be missed by all in this House.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State is concerned by the news that the Welsh Automotive Forum says that once Honda stops production in Swindon, 12 companies based in Wales will be affected by that decision. If he is worried, what will he do for those small and medium-sized enterprises to open up new markets?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. I was in Japan last week when the ambassador received the news. It is necessary to recognise that this is nothing to do with Brexit; it is about changing market habits and about Honda’s changing approach. We have already been in touch with the Welsh Automotive Forum and are engaging positively with its members. The hon. Gentleman is right about the number of companies, but the exposure is more limited than it might initially suggest.

In terms of the industrial strategy, does the Secretary of State think that the chronic M4 congestion around Newport, which snarled up the England rugby team coach last Friday, was part of a cunning plan to give Wales the edge, or just a consequence of 20 years of failure on the part of a Welsh Labour Government, who cannot build a road?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Even the Welsh coach, Warren Gatland, said to Eddie Jones that he would never have travelled through Newport at that time of day because of the congestion in the area. That might be light-hearted, but the reality is that the problem is causing serious reputational damage to Wales. The plan is available and makes a positive recommendation, and the money is available from the Treasury. I wish that the Welsh Government would just get on and deliver the road.

I am sure the House will join me in welcoming the serendipity of the alignment of stars whereby in every year ending in “9” since 1949, Wales has beaten England.

Wylfa Newydd was a key development underpinning north Wales growth deal projects. Now that Hitachi has pulled the plug on Wylfa, what is the Secretary of State doing to secure additional funding, specifically infrastructure investment, over and above the £120 million currently committed by the Government?

The hon. Lady has asked an important question, but Hitachi has paused the project and is maintaining the development consent order. It has not pulled the plug. When I met the chairman last week, he was keen to continue to engage. We will look open-mindedly at the north Wales growth deal, but it is of course a matter for local authorities and businesses to submit bids to me so that I can consider them in due course.

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the potential use of Crown Estates revenue income from Wales, or other Treasury funds to support the development of energy infrastructure, and specifically to develop the tidal stream energy sector in Pembrokeshire, Llŷn and Ynys Cybi?

The hon. Lady has given some excellent examples of projects that could well gain support through the north or the mid Wales growth deal or the Swansea city deal. Those are the sorts of projects that I should like to explore, but of course they are bottom up. Working with the hon. Lady and with local partners, I shall be happy to see what we can do.

Journey Times: Chepstow to Gloucestershire

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on plans to reduce journey times between Chepstow and Gloucestershire. (909429)

We have regular discussions with the Welsh Government about cross-border roads, including the proposed A48 bypass around Chepstow. We know that a bypass could improve journey times between Chepstow and Gloucestershire as well as reduce air pollution, and we look forward to working with the Welsh Government to deliver this vital piece of infrastructure.

There are times when a drive through Chepstow resembles the rush hour in Lagos or Mexico City. Will Ministers therefore do everything that they can to encourage the local authorities in Gloucester, the Welsh Government and the Department for Transport to work with Monmouthshire council to deliver that bypass as soon as possible?

There is no greater champion and voice for Chepstow than my hon. Friend. The Government are dedicated to improving transport infrastructure across Wales, for instance by providing a new relief road. We have abolished the tolls over the Severn, and I know from personal experience on Saturday that Chepstow could do with a bypass.

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. He is a fine man and Slough is a very good place, but it is a long way from Chepstow or Gloucestershire. If the inquiry consists of one sentence and relates either to Chepstow or to Gloucestershire, I will hear it. If it is about Slough, he must remain seated. Blurt it out, man.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The western rail link to Heathrow will significantly reduce the journey time between Wales and the airport. The Government committed themselves to the link in 2012. When will it finally be built?

The hon. Gentleman—who has been incredibly creative in getting his question in under Chepstow—will be pleased to hear that we are continuing to engage with the Department for Transport on this vital project.

F-35 Contracts

9. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential effect of F-35 contracts on (a) industry in and (b) exports from Wales. (909431)

Again there is no stronger voice for Wales than that of my right hon. Friend, who has a long-standing interest in Wales. Yesterday I met the Minister with responsibility for defence procurement, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) to discuss the F-35 contract. The recent announcement puts Wales right at the centre of the global F-35 partnership. It is the largest defence programme in history.

It was a great pleasure to visit the F-35 factory in Fort Worth in the summer of 2016, and of course the F-35 has a huge UK content to it, so does my hon. Friend agree that these contracts show the immense contribution being made by the Welsh defence industry to the UK economy and exports overall?

The aerospace and defence industries are in very good health in Wales. In the financial year 2017-18, the UK Government spent £960 million with the Welsh defence industry and commerce; that is up from £946 million. This supports an estimated 6,300 jobs in Wales and the half a billion pound F-35 contract is to be welcomed right across this House.

Will the Minister meet with aerospace businesses such as Tritech, Magellan and Solvay in Wrexham to ensure that in the event of a no-deal Brexit we maximise spend within the UK to benefit our businesses?

I certainly would agree to meet with the aerospace industry. I have already visited a number of companies. I am also committed to holding a roundtable on this very subject and I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman as well to discuss this further.

12. Given the huge challenges that the steel industry and car manufacturers face in Wales, as well as in the rest of the UK, even at this late stage, would it not be better if the Secretary of State and the rest of the Government committed Britain to staying in the customs union? (909434)

The hon. Gentleman raises this issue on the European Union. He voted against the Prime Minister’s deal. That makes no deal far more likely. The only way to secure a smooth, orderly exit from the European Union is to support the Prime Minister’s deal when the meaningful vote comes back to this House.

Since the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) is conscious that he has a question on the Order Paper, he can have it.

RNLI New Quay

13. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the future of the RNLI lifeboat in New Quay. (909435)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his work on this important issue. The UK Government do not anticipate that the RNLI’s decision to replace the all-weather lifeboat with the Atlantic 85 vessel will have an impact on its capability to co-ordinate search and rescue in Cardigan bay.

I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware that the decision to remove the all-weather lifeboat from New Quay has caused considerable concern in Ceredigion and further afield. May I ask him to again raise this matter with the Department for Transport and press for detailed reassurances that the removal will not diminish search and rescue capabilities in Cardigan bay?

I am more than happy to work with the RNLI and to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss his concerns to ensure there is proper and correct lifeboat coverage in Cardigan bay.