I beg to move,
That this House has considered Welsh affairs.
May I take this opportunity to wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and everyone in the House a very happy St David’s Day? Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus. I formally thank the Backbench Business Committee for selecting this debate; it is really important that as a proud devolved country, we have the opportunity in this House to discuss issues that are pertinent to our constituencies and to Wales.
I thank colleagues from across the House for their support in securing this debate, but more importantly I want to give a big shout-out to one special friend who is no longer with us, Paul Flynn. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] If I referred to his book “How to be an MP”, which sits proudly in my office upstairs, I am sure it would say that one should never give another MP a shout-out, but Paul was not a traditional MP and I learned a lot from him after being elected. His firebrand speeches and his unstinting campaigning style will be sorely missed by many, but I am sure that some Government Members may be slightly relieved.
For me and many others, the work that Paul did on medicinal cannabis will never be forgotten, including by the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people that could benefit from it. The Elizabeth Brice Bill was cutting edge, and the legacy of Paul’s work has paved the way to changing the UK’s attitude to the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the debate and for the tribute she is paying to Paul Flynn. Does she agree that Paul would be appalled about the situation for young children such as my constituent Bailey Williams? I know that my hon. Friend has done tremendous work with Bailey’s family through her work on medical cannabis. Paul would be appalled that as we stand here, despite the Government having made it possible for medical cannabis to be prescribed, it is still almost impossible for families to get it prescribed when children are suffering in this way.
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. The situation is absolutely a disaster. I am particularly upset about the case of Bailey Williams and many others, including constituents of mine. It is one thing to change the law; it is another not to make it work. While the law has changed, these obstacles to access are still there, and I will continue Paul’s work to ensure that children and constituents such as ours can be prescribed this very misunderstood drug. I pass on my love and best wishes to Sam, the rest of Paul’s family and his friends and let them know that he will always have a place in my heart, and that I would like to thank him for all his support and help.
Standing here and opening this debate makes me extremely proud to be a Welsh MP. Since I retook Gower in 2017 for Welsh Labour following a short hiccup, I have dedicated myself to serving my constituents, helping the most vulnerable in society and making sure that those who usually do not have a voice are listened to. My office works tirelessly on behalf of people who are being treated appallingly—who have continuing problems with personal independence payments, with universal credit, state pension inequality and immigration. The list goes on and I will continue to fight for them.
Last year, the St David’s Day debate was delayed by the severe weather caused by the beast from the east, but this week we have been basking in some glorious sunshine—maybe not today, but we have been. While the weather is enjoyable, it is a worrying indicator of the drastically changing climate that threatens the world. The Government have set targets for reducing carbon emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy to combat climate change following legislation from the EU, but as we have seen, they are not living up to those promises, particularly in Wales.
Since I have been in this place, we have seen the collapse of two major energy projects in Wales: the hugely ambitious tidal lagoon project in Swansea bay, and the Wylfa nuclear plant in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen). Does this not just show a disregard for the pressing issue of climate change and demonstrate the disdain that the Tories have for Wales? What commitment can the Secretary of State make to the people of Wales on how the UK Government will reduce the carbon footprint of Wales to protect our future generations? As a former teacher, I think that seeing pupils going out to protest about climate change is inspirational, and I give them my full support.
While we all look forward to really celebrating St David’s Day tomorrow, we know that the celebrations have been ongoing all week. Just yesterday saw a celebration at No. 10 that was apparently well attended. [Interruption.] I say “apparently”, as we have only social media to go on, as the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State had forgotten to invite Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru MPs to the event. [Interruption.] Come on, we only make up four fifths of all Welsh MPs. I hope they had fun and did not forget to mention all the funding and support that the Welsh Labour Government have given to many of the companies that were there. I will welcome an invitation next year.
Support for many of our services has not been protected by the Tories. As we have seen and heard from our constituents, since 2010 police funding cuts across the UK and in Wales have had a huge effect on the work of the police.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Specifically on police funding, I have asked many times for capital city funding for South Wales police. My constituency holds well over 400 events—royal events, political events and sporting events—every year, but nothing is forthcoming. Does she agree that just as with energy projects, the Tories cannot be trusted to fund our police properly in Wales?
I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. That is very important. Many of us who were at the international match on Saturday got to see how many police are needed to keep people safe. I am really concerned that this is a drain on the resources of South Wales police in particular, and we need to address this issue immediately.
The community teams of officers and police community support officers across Swansea and Gower work tirelessly, juggling shift work and family life, and I am particularly grateful for their excellent work. I am very fortunate to enjoy a close working relationship with these teams. I have been out on the beat to see their dedication to serving the community, including visiting local pubs—not to drink, but to promote anti-drink- driving campaigns in rural areas. Without a doubt, they are committed and hard-working and I recognise the challenges that they face in dealing with some of the biggest problems in 2019.
How many of us are aware of the number of officers and support staff that it takes to keep us safe at night? I was struck by that when I went down Wind Street in Swansea with PC Andy Jones before Christmas. The resources that the force puts into ensuring that match day at the Liberty Stadium is policed and monitored are astounding. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) has already spoken about Cardiff, so I shall move on, but that needs to be noted and it needs to be addressed.
Police forces face many challenges in providing care and support for the most vulnerable in Wales, and South Wales police are collaborating extremely well with all agencies. The police and crime commissioner, Alun Michael, has funded the groundbreaking Swan project, which involves the police and Women’s Aid working together to support prostitutes in Swansea. Those vulnerable women have nowhere to turn. They are in crisis. They often have drug problems and a history of adverse childhood experiences such as sexual abuse.
Does the hon. Lady agree that one way to give policing in Wales an instant cash boost would be to devolve it? There would then be Barnett consequentials, and instead of being tied to an England and Wales formula that penalises them, the Welsh police forces would be better off to the tune of £20 million.
I feel that I shall have to make a date with the hon. Gentleman to discuss his suggestion further. I do not entirely agree with it, but it would be good to have a discussion about it.
The Swan project is to be commended, and my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) has another vision that I totally support. Swansea needs a 24-hour crisis hub where our most vulnerable people can have access to all the services that they need in one place. Think of having a safe space to go if you are a victim of domestic violence; think of having a consumption room in the place as you can pick up your needles. We want to keep people off the streets and safe, and we need to work with our colleagues in the Welsh Assembly to deliver that and help those who need it most.
It is fantastic to see the beauty and splendour of my constituency being celebrated on moving billboards across London: at Paddington station, I believe. I hope that Members have seen the National Trust #PlacesMatter story about Mal, who had an accident at work which meant that he was unable to walk for five years. He says that when you go to Gower, you are blown away by it. The Gower peninsula just makes him feel alive. It helped him, and it helps many others. We should never underestimate the impact of our surroundings on our wellbeing. The beauty of my constituency, from Worms Head to the Lliw Valley reservoir, can never be overstated.
Wales is obviously the most beautiful country in the UK—
In the world!
In the world; correct. It is the most beautiful country, from the striking and romantic coastline of Ynys Môn to the picturesque fishing village of Aberaeron in Ceredigion to the Afan Forest Park, a hidden gem in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). We also have an unrivalled cultural history. We have the Welsh National Opera, Only Boys Aloud—who have been here today—Mike Peters MBE of The Alarm, Bonnie Tyler, and, of course, Goldie Lookin Chain. We also have poets galore.
Has my hon. Friend heard Goldie Lookin Chain’s fantastic tribute song to our dear friend Paul Flynn?
It is excellent, and I want to say thanks to Goldie Lookin Chain, because it was really cool.
Will my hon. Friend also commend Goldie Lookin Chain for playing the “Yes is More” pro-independence gig in Cardiff in the last few weeks?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and—whatever.
The hon. Lady omitted from that prestigious list Geoff Downes, of “Video Killed the Radio Star” and Asia, who is a constituent of mine. I am sure that she will not include him.
Marvellous—but I need to make progress.
Many teachers have written to me to bring to my attention the significant cost pressures that Gower schools are facing as a result of unfunded increases in contributions to the teachers’ pension scheme. That is serious and damaging, and I want some answers. From 2019-2020, each school faces the prospect of having to increase its contribution. How can we expect schools to meet additional costs on that scale, over which they have no control? The Welsh Government and Swansea Council have made explicit commitments to ensure that all money that is released by the Treasury will flow directly to schools in Swansea, but what commitment can the UK Government give to cover the pension deficit and ensure that all my pupils in schools in Gower are given their fair share?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and I have written to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about Flintshire County Council, and she has said, in a letter to me, that responsibility for that is devolved to the Welsh Assembly, but financial responsibility—the financial contribution from the Government—is not. Is that not unfair?
It is completely unfair. I really would like to have some answers, because that unknown is causing instability when it comes to planning the future of our children’s education.
I shall end my speech now. I look forward to listening to the debate and responding to it at the end. I wish everyone a happy St David’ Day.
Order. This debate is well subscribed, and the next debate is also well subscribed. I would rather not impose a time limit, but if colleagues could speak for about six minutes, that would be very helpful.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi). I also extend my sincerest condolences to the family of Paul Flynn, and to all Paul’s colleagues in the Labour party. I had known him for well over 30 years. He used to be my MP, and he used to come to my school when I was a sixth-former. I would try, and utterly fail, to catch him out with difficult questions. History seemed to repeat itself when he joined the Welsh Affairs Committee. He was an inspirational Member of Parliament, a true Back Bencher, who worked incredibly hard. He turned up to every Committee meeting, even when his health was making that difficult for him. We were both Council of Europe delegates as well.
I think that the best compliment I can pay comes from one of Paul’s constituents, who described him as “a damned good constituency MP” who would always take up people’s concerns. That comment was actually made to me by a member of Newport West’s Conservative association. I think I need say no more than that.
Let me also thank all members of the Welsh Affairs Committee, past and present. In the nine years for which I have served on the Committee, it has been an absolute pleasure to work with everyone. We certainly have a wide range of political opinions, but most of our reports have featured a strong measure of unanimity in their recommendations to the Government. I think that that is because, outside the Chamber and the hurly-burly of politics, most of us—indeed, all of us—will always want to put the good of Wales first, and look for ways in which to support Wales and the Welsh people rather than dividing on political issues.
In the four minutes that I have left, I will canter through a couple of the issues with which the Committee has been dealing. The issue of the Severn Bridge was the first that I took up as Chairman, and there were various inquiries, reports and follow-ups on the subject. With the support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, we continued to maintain that the tolls were unfair, and were creating a brake on the south Wales economy. I was delighted when, earlier in the year, they were finally scrapped. If we are to see the full benefit, however, it is vital for the Welsh Government to get on with building an M4 relief road. Otherwise, we will simply see further congestion in the area of the Brynglas tunnels.
The hon. Gentleman has paid tribute to the Secretary of State. Will he join me in also paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), who has campaigned for the abolition of the tolls since 2005? Should she not be congratulated on her achievement?
In fact, the hon. Member for Newport East was a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee when that first report was produced some nine years ago, and I think that it was at her instigation that the abolition went ahead. I pay full tribute to her for that.
As I was saying, the advantages that will accrue from the abolition of the tolls will be greatly increased if the Welsh Government now get on with building the M4 relief road. I know that was the policy—or it certainly seemed to be—of the Labour Government in the Welsh Assembly, and I am sure the Government here will want to support them in that.
To be slightly more parochial, the booming south Wales economy, for which my colleagues in government can take much of the credit, has meant that there is a demand for housing in south-east Wales, which is causing further problems. I hope Ministers will be doing everything possible to get the local authorities together to build the Chepstow bypass, which is also urgently needed.
The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs obviously cannot do much in the way of culture, media and sport, which is a devolved matter, but there are areas where we can offer support, not least in cheering on the national side as we all did on Saturday, but on S4C too. We have produced numerous reports to try to ensure that there are no threats to S4C’s budget.
I am also delighted that the Select Committee now enables anyone who wishes to do so to give evidence in Welsh. Debates can also now be held in Welsh in the Welsh Grand Committee, and I do not see why this cannot be extended further. I know that many Committee members would be quite supportive of it. There is no technical reason why we could not have debates on Welsh matters in Westminster Hall in Welsh, and I do not think there is any technological reason why a St David’s Day debate in this very Chamber could not also be held in the medium of Welsh. Perhaps we could look at that over the next few years.
We have looked on many occasions at the issue of powers for the Welsh Assembly. I was on the losing side of a referendum: I campaigned against the Welsh Assembly but quickly realised it would be utterly wrong to stand in the way of something the people of Wales had voted for. That is why I am glad the Conservative party, rather than trying to overturn the result of that referendum in 1997, embraced it and realised we would simply have to go along with what the Welsh people wanted, because that is democracy.
The hon. Gentleman must then be very upset that the Prime Minister in 1997, after the referendum, voted against the Government of Wales Act.
I was not here until 2005 so I will take the hon. Gentleman’s word for that. I do not know what the reason for that was, but it was very clear at the time that the Welsh Conservative party accepted the Welsh Assembly, and rightly so. I would suggest judging us by our deeds, not by words; judge us by the many extra powers we have granted to the Welsh Assembly over the years. One of those could be what we are looking at at the moment: devolving air passenger duty. I will not make too many comments on that prior to finishing our report, but clearly if there is an economic case to devolve APD to the Welsh Government, we should not stand in the way of that. I certainly do not see any constitutional reason why that should not happen, since we have already devolved income tax, land tax and all sorts of other taxes. There is no constitutional reason not to do it; if the economic case can be made, and it is fairly strong, we should not be afraid to devolve APD as well.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that during the passage of the most recent Wales Act the Secretary of State refused to devolve APD to the National Assembly?
I am sure the Secretary of State will, as he always has done, take great interest in the report we are producing; we have not finished it yet so I can only say that I have heard strong economic arguments in one direction. There may be strong economic arguments not to devolve APD; we will have to wait for the findings of the report. I pay great tribute to the Secretary of State for Wales, who has always read carefully through the recommendations of our reports and taken them very seriously.
Is not one glaringly obvious solution to the APD question just to abolish it entirely for all nations? It is an unfair tax, it hinders tourism, and there is an economic boost to be had for the whole United Kingdom in bringing down APD.
There is a very strong case for that as well, but I am deviating now slightly from the subject of Wales and running over my six minutes.
I cannot really not mention Brexit. The fact of the matter is that we are not going to get any consensus around this at all. I am strongly in favour of Brexit and the people of Wales have voted for Brexit. I have a slight regret that we did not go off to Brussels a few years ago and make it very clear that we were not going there as supplicants; instead we should have made it clear that the people of Britain, and the people of Wales, had voted to leave the European Union and if there has been a failing it has been a failing of the EU in not being able to instil the confidence it wants in the people of this nation.
I hope all those who feel there will be some detrimental impact if we leave without a deal are willing to back the Prime Minister. I believe that we must be out by the end of March. I hope all Ministers and all Cabinet Ministers are aware of that, and aware that if they want our support for difficult policies, we need to be out, with or without a deal, by the end of March.
It is a great pleasure, as always, to speak in this debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on securing it. I have to say to Government Front Benchers that, after last year’s example of the Government taking the lead, I thought that we would be returning to where we were for many years, with the Government taking Wales day seriously and Welsh issues seriously, so that we would not have to make a bid to the Backbench Business Committee.
I want to say—as many have in the last few days; I make no apologies for saying it now—how great the victory on Saturday was by Wales against England in rugby. It united the country of Wales in a way we have not seen for a long time. The tactics were perfect; I wish the Prime Minister would act more like Warren Gatling than Eddie Jones when it comes to Brexit and mind games, and actually deliver.
My hon. Friend is right; that victory did unite the country. Does he wonder, as I do, whether it united the Ministers in the Wales Office? It would be interesting to know who the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), was supporting last Saturday.
I will give Ministers the opportunity to speak for themselves, but I have had compliments from both of them on the way Wales played on Saturday; it absolutely united them.
I want to talk about energy, the north Wales economy and indeed Brexit, but I want to start by paying tribute to my late good friend Paul Flynn. As chairman of the Welsh parliamentary Labour party, I officially send our condolences to Sam and her family, and their friends from the Newport area, many of whom I know and who have told me great stories. Paul was a unique man; he was a great campaigner, as many people have said. I remember my other great late friend Rhodri Morgan—he was also of the class of ’87—saying to me, “If you haven’t had an argument with Paul, you’ve never really known Paul.” That was his nature; he was very astute at putting his arguments and not afraid to hold to his opinions. Those are my memories of Paul, and I will miss him very dearly.
The Secretary of State and others on the Treasury Bench will know that I have taken an interest in energy for many years, and I have taken this subject up because I believe that Wales has the great potential to be a world leader in the low-carbon economy and to lead the way on many projects. When I talk about a mixed rich energy diversity I am talking about renewables, nuclear and also energy efficiency. The innovation can come from Wales; we have a skill base there, we have natural resources and we have the potential to be a world leader.
I have written a booklet—you may have a copy after this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker—on resetting the energy button, because over the last few years we have not focused attention as we should. Prior to 2009 there was a great consensus across the House on a way forward and how we would reduce carbon emissions. I accept that the great world recession had an impact on that, but there has been disjointed policy from the UK Government since then. We have had reform Bills—electricity reform, market reform, retail reform—but we have not had a coherent policy. Wales is suffering as a consequence of that, because many major projects were earmarked for Wales, with lots of time and effort from the private sector, the Welsh Government and the UK Government, yet the end product has not materialised as it should have.
I have argued for many years that we need a proper formula, particularly for first-of-a-kind energy projects, for example in marine technology, because the auction system—the contracts for difference—that the Government have put in place does not help new forms of technology break through. We have great tidal resources around the coast of the UK and Wales—the west coast has some of the best tidal resources—and we need to work together to make things happen.
The Secretary of State has been very good with me in recent weeks and we are working together to get a new formula, but now we want not only a formula but an action plan. We want to be able to deliver on these projects, because we need to get the carbon emissions down and to meet our targets. We will not do that by prevaricating or by blaming the private sector for its financing. We need proper Government investment, in financial as well as policy terms. We should not leave this to the auctions; we need coherent planning.
I also want to talk about the job losses that we have seen in north Wales in recent times. I mentioned this yesterday, and I am grateful for the response that I received from the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams). Rahau Plastics in my constituency town of Amlwch is going through a consultation programme and could lose 104 jobs. It is an international company. It is a family company that is based predominantly in Bavaria, but it has global reach. It has been in Amlwch for 40 years, but it is consolidating the work that is done at that plant in central Europe.
There is a pattern developing, whereby international companies that have their bases across continental Europe and the United Kingdom are consolidating their workforces and their businesses in the European Union, because they know that the single market delivers. They are very polite about it and say that this is not simply down to Brexit, but I say to the Secretary of State that we cannot have companies based in countries such as Japan, which have direct agreements with the European Union, pulling out of Britain like this. Our workforce, our commitment and our end product are all good, but there is a fault, and that fault is the uncertainty of Brexit, pure and simple.
I want to move on to the North Wales growth bid. I congratulate the Secretary of State on working with the Welsh Government and local government on this important issue, but I want to say to him directly that there should be greater input by north Wales MPs. Simply leaving it to the councils is not good enough, because their resources are being cut and they have different responsibilities. As north Wales MPs, we have a strong mandate here and we want to work with the Treasury, the Government, the Welsh Government and local government to make this deal happen. This is not about being top-down; it is about working in partnership to deliver for the people of north Wales.
Following the suspension of the Wylfa Newydd power station, many of the projects are now in jeopardy. The Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are joining us for a meeting next week to discuss this. It is hugely important that the gap created by the suspension of that £20 billion project should be filled. It could be filled with quality jobs in renewable energy, in improving our rail infrastructure and in many more projects. I want to work with the Secretary of State in focusing on that, but I want a commitment from him that he will fight our corner in Whitehall and that we will get more money as a consequence of that suspended project. The private investment that has been lost needs to be topped up, and that could be done through the mechanism of the North Wales growth bid. The Welsh Economy and Transport Minister, Ken Skates, has said that he would match any moneys that come from the United Kingdom Government. We want to see action from this Government, not just warm words.
I understand the time constraint on this debate, but I want to mention Brexit very briefly. I have been arguing in this House for more than two years about the Irish dimension to Brexit and its effect on the port at Holyhead. The former Secretary of State just said, “Don’t worry, it will be simple”, but we are coming up to the eleventh hour and we are still arguing about the Irish backstop. If we treat one part of the United Kingdom—that is, Northern Ireland—differently and allow it to have alignment with the single market and the customs union, that will have an impact on Welsh ports as well as on ports in Scotland and England. Those countries will lose out as a consequence.
I want this message to go out from Wales to the Prime Minister: look at what is happening in Wales, listen to the Welsh Assembly and to Welsh MPs, do not be blinkered and do not pander to one side of your party. Start speaking up for Wales, because it is an integral part of the United Kingdom. We are pioneers and leaders, and I am proud to speak in this debate.
Order. We are not doing very well so far, are we? If we cannot stick to six minutes, I will have to impose a shorter time limit, so I urge colleagues to make an extra special effort.
I shall try to adhere to your quite reasonable constraints, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a great pleasure to participate in this annual debate. As the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), whom I congratulate on securing it, said, it gives us an opportunity to celebrate all that is good about Wales. Unlike the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), whose remarks were rather Eeyore-ish, I want to celebrate what this Government are doing for Wales, and especially for north Wales.
In particular, I would like to pay tribute to the Government for their total commitment to the North Wales growth deal, which was pioneered by George Osborne and has been taken forward by this Chancellor, with an announcement in the last Budget of £120 million- worth of funding. That funding has now been matched by the Welsh Government. This is a huge opportunity for north Wales. It gives us the opportunity to put in place transformational programmes that will benefit not only this generation but the generations to come. It is extremely important that the Government should continue to do what they are doing at the moment—that is, not only listening to local government but working with Members of Parliament. The Government have been working extremely closely with the all-party parliamentary group on Mersey Dee North Wales, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), and listening closely to what north Wales MPs think.
We are now arriving at the moment when the design of the growth deal is coming to fruition, and we should be considering what the transformational projects should be. I believe that infrastructure, particularly digital infrastructure, should be the key to this. That will be the key to our future economic growth. Historically, north Wales has been at a disadvantage in that regard, but that disadvantage will shortly be overturned by 5G, which will bring in gigabit speeds right across the country, including the difficult-to-reach areas of north Wales.
I understand the need for technology to advance in Wales. Our geography means that broadband cannot get to those most difficult areas, but has the right hon. Gentleman thought about the impact on people of the electromagnetic fields? I am concerned that we are throwing up masts that are larger than ever before, willy-nilly, without thinking about the people who choose to live in areas with no wi-fi or 5G.
All I can say is that most of my constituents, particularly the farmers, are desperately keen to have access to the internet, which has been patchy so far. Clearly, we have to take health considerations into account, but that is what we rely on experts for, and I am entirely happy to accept the expert evidence. I urge the Government to listen to experts such as the Deeside Business Forum, which is calling for high quality broadband infrastructure to be put in place as part of the North Wales growth deal.
The other issue that I want to raise is essentially a constituency one, but I believe that it has wider implications. It concerns the sea defences at Old Colwyn in my constituency. Two Members have mentioned climate change so far, and there is no doubt that coastal erosion is going to become an increasing problem. In Old Colwyn, we have a significant problem of crumbling sea defences. In February last year, the promenade there was badly affected by high seas. It has now been repaired, with contributions from Welsh Water, but the engineers tell us that the sea defences are now in such a parlous condition that they are in danger of being swept away into the sea. This is more than an issue of the promenade at Old Colwyn, because the sea defences at Old Colwyn also protect the main sewer for Colwyn bay, the main London to Holyhead railway line and the A55 main trunk road to Holyhead. If these sea defences are compromised to the extent that they are destroyed, there would be an immediate and serious environmental incident in the Irish sea, there would be the potential loss of that important rail connection between London and Holyhead, and the A55 would be closed, too.
Everyone agrees that the defences need repair, and the cost is estimated at some £37 million. The problem is who actually pays the cost. I have been in correspondence with the responsible Welsh Government Minister, who has said that, although coastal defences are a devolved competence, the Welsh Government will not contribute to the cost of repair if the defences do not protect houses or dwellings.
Welsh Water has spoken optimistically about a contribution but, of course, it requires others to contribute, too. Network Rail has very few funds available to contribute to the repair. Conwy County Borough Council, the responsible local authority, has no capital-raising powers, so it cannot pay for the repairs, either.
We remember what happened in Dawlish five years ago, when the railway line was swept into the sea, and the chaos it caused on the south-west peninsula. As we speak, the whole north-west Wales economy is in danger of being affected by a serious incident in Old Colwyn. I ask Ministers to give consideration to that and to seek to work with the Welsh Assembly Government, and with all the other interested parties, to try to get these defences repaired.
This problem affects my constituency but, because of climate change and coastal erosion, it will affect many other constituencies right across Wales. I believe this is a matter that requires priority attention, and I hope Ministers will do all they can to try to find a way forward.
It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate at a particularly happy time for all Welsh Members, following Saturday’s sensational try by Josh Adams that propelled the Welsh team to the top of the Six Nations table. I have fingers, toes and, frankly, everything crossed for a Welsh grand slam, and I know the whole country is firmly behind our team and cheering them on.
I will be brief, and perhaps disorderly, in thanking the choir in the Public Gallery, Only Boys Aloud, for giving us a wonderful performance earlier today.
As others have done, I pay a personal tribute to our late friend and colleague, the former hon. Member for Newport West, Paul Flynn. His loss is a painful one, and it will continue to be felt on these Benches and across Wales for some time to come. Paul truly was a giant, both of Welsh politics and of our Welsh Labour movement. He leaves an unfillable space in this place, just as he does in the communities he served with such wit and passion across Newport West. We will miss his courage, his keen sense of humour and, above all, his determination to do what he believed was right for the people he served, however unpopular or unfashionable that may be.
Sharp, often outspoken, always articulate, occasionally contrary and of peerless intellect—Paul was all these things. This House, and our country, has lost a compassionate, independent champion for his constituents. I would argue that the term “honourable gentleman” could have been coined with Paul in mind. Even as his health was failing, he fought for his people and his principles with the zest, tenacity and effectiveness that were his trademarks. At a time when the public’s trust in politicians and our political institutions is so low, it is an even greater blow to lose someone whose ambition and achievements soared so high. My thoughts and deepest sympathies continue to be with his wife, Sam, and his friends and family at this difficult time.
Likewise, I know that colleagues from all parties in the National Assembly for Wales are still coming to terms with the immeasurably sad loss of Steffan Lewis. I first met Steffan when we were both young Assembly researchers and, although we were serving politicians of different political colours, he was unfailingly courteous and engaging, and even then he showed the gentle effectiveness that became his hallmark.
Steffan’s passing at such a terribly young age must remind all of us who are still fighting to improve the lives of our constituents that, through our common beliefs, passions and ideas, we can achieve so much more than through the “Punch and Judy” theatrics that too often typify our politics. That is the style of politics Steffan embodied in life, and it should stay with all of us in his passing. My thoughts continue to be with Steffan’s family, friends and Plaid Cymru colleagues in this Chamber and in the Assembly.
This year has seen a significant amount of change in Welsh politics, most notably with my friend and constituency neighbour Carwyn Jones stepping down as First Minister after nine years in the top job. Carwyn was that rarest of political beings, someone people not only trusted to run their country but with whom they would also happily enjoy a pint. An outstanding leader of Welsh Labour and the Welsh Government, his legacy is a strong one, rooted in Labour values and delivered against almost a decade of unremitting Tory austerity. I place on record my support and good wishes to our new First Minister and Welsh Labour leader, Mark Drakeford, in continuing the work of delivering for the people of Wales.
Members on both sides of the House will know that one of the issues I am particularly passionate about is rail infrastructure—I often bore Members to death with my constant talk of rail infrastructure—and one of Carwyn’s greatest legacies is the massive investment being pumped into the new Wales and Borders franchise through Transport for Wales.
The Welsh Labour Government are investing a whopping £5 billion in our rail network, with £1.8 billion invested to ensure that all trains are replaced with new rolling stock by 2023. Crucially, these are Welsh solutions, designed in Wales to benefit Wales. Half of these trains will be built in Wales, providing skilled employment opportunities and delivering a world-class service of which passengers can be proud.
This bold, innovative and well-resourced approach stands in stark contrast to the ongoing rail disaster being overseen by the UK Department for Transport and the Wales Office. From the scrapping of rail electrification to the meagre amounts of money being allocated to Wales for rail safety improvements and network upgrades, their “great train robbery” shows how little respect the Tories have for Wales.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point about train services in Wales. I look forward to that new investment, particularly in services to Penarth and throughout my constituency. Will he join me in welcoming the fact that a brand-new station will be built in St Mellons in east Cardiff? That is the sort of investment we need, instead of the Department for Transport’s shambles on the Great Western main line.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and one of the most frustrating things is that the Secretary of State makes bold announcements about railway infra- structure investments and plans for Aberystwyth and Carmarthen without putting any investment into the railway infrastructure that currently exists. [Interruption.] He can shake his head all he likes, but he has made those statements publicly.
On that very point, the Secretary of State must recognise and accept that investment in infrastructure in Wales is the UK Government’s responsibility, and there has been historical underinvestment in the railway infrastructure in Wales. He should be there to argue Wales’s case.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I would add that Wales has 11% of the railway infrastructure and has had only 2% of the funding since 2010, which is a shocking failure of the Conservative Government and, indeed, of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government before them.
While the Welsh Labour Government are building a transport network fit for the future, the UK Government seem intent on flying a white flag and accepting the status quo where Wales is concerned. I will not dwell on this for too long, as Ministers and the House clearly know my views, but let me pose this question: if austerity really is over, when are we going to see the investment in the non-devolved parts of our rail network for which many Labour Members have been calling for years?
To give two small examples—Members have heard these examples many times—I have long campaigned for the closure of the dangerous level crossing at Pencoed and for much-needed improvements to the Tondu loop on the Llynfi Valley line in my Ogmore constituency. Although Wales Office officials, after three years of my complaining, are at last engaging, both I and my predecessor, Huw Irranca-Davies, have witnessed a laughable passing of the buck as to where the responsibility for this vital work lies. I fear that this buck passing has suited the Government’s continued austerity agenda. If Ministers are true to their words about ending the spending squeeze, let us work together and get these vital works done at the earliest possible opportunity.
Of course, the most significant issue facing Wales in the immediate and long-term future is Brexit. I have spoken previously of my fear that no single Brexit scenario will deliver a better future for Wales or the many wonderful communities that make up my Ogmore constituency. When the UK Government’s most positive analysis of the various Brexit scenarios is that Wales’s gross value added would be moderately lower than it is today, it appears to me as though we are setting a very low bar for ourselves and failing to clear even that. With the real threat of a no-deal Brexit or further pandering to the European Research Group, the Welsh Secretary and the Prime Minister should have the courage of their convictions to go back to the people to seek their consent for this course of action. When the facts change—or, in the case of the 2016 referendum, when the endemic falsehoods are exposed—it is only right that my constituents and the wider British public get to rubber stamp our next course of action. To the people who say, “Wales has spoken, Wales has voted leave”, I simply say this: what do you have to fear from being asked to look at this question again? I completely respect the many, many reasons why people voted to leave, and if one message comes from today’s debate it should be this: we must start addressing the real concerns many leave voters had with our political system, because nearly three years after the referendum I fear we have yet to scratch the surface.
It feels as though Wales, like the UK as a whole, is at a turning point. This is not a crossroads or a simple T-junction; there are multiple paths Wales can take in the near future, and it is essential that we choose the correct one. It is fundamental that we continue to be an outward-looking, internationalist nation that looks after its citizens and is welcoming to others who choose to make their life in Wales—without exception. Where we see injustice, where we see our communities suffering, we must continue to be the positive and outward-looking nation that Wales has always been.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for working hard to secure this important debate. It has been a good week for Wales, bathed in warm sunshine and the afterglow of a stunning and historic victory on Saturday. Wales is a truly blessed and happy nation in this St David’s Day week.
I wish to use my brief remarks this afternoon not to raise concerns and problems affecting my constituency, as I have used other opportunities in the Chamber this week to do that, but to talk about things that makes Wales great in 2019. So I will be making some unalloyed positive remarks in the St David’s Day debate. Things that make Wales great No. 1: Welsh sport. I make no apologies for making this my starting point. I love sport as entertainment. Anyone who watched the game on Saturday will know that “That’s Entertainment”, in the words of the Jam. But sport in Wales is so much more than just entertainment: it is a source of employment, skills and volunteering opportunities; it is a vehicle for social cohesion and national ambition; and it is a tool for tackling poor mental health and for leveraging inward investment. I truly believe in the power of sport to transform lives and boost our economy. This is really important for us in Wales, as a smaller nation, where our victories really matter to us. Whether we are talking about the Welsh football success at Euro 2016, Newport knocking Leicester out of the FA cup, the victory on Saturday or Geraint Thomas winning the Tour de France in 2018, these are things that really matter to us. It is not just about making us feel good; one of the keys to Welsh success in the years ahead is investing in sport, for all the reasons I set out, and using sport to help make Wales a stronger nation. In Wales, we are also closer to our sporting heroes than people in England perhaps are, and I sometimes try to explain this to my English colleagues. We see our sporting heroes in Wales in the street. We sometimes see them in the pub or at motorway service stations. They live among us in Wales. That is really important, and it brings me to my second point.
Things that make Wales great No.2: community. The spirit of community in Wales is very strong and positive. It is a bit of a cliché to say it, and we sometimes hear people from the north of England say similar, but Wales is a friendlier place—I genuinely believe that. In 2019, it feels as though we have shaken off some of the stuffy insularity or curtain-twitching judgmentalism that Dylan Thomas used to rage about and hate, writing about it in “Under Milk Wood”. In 2019, Wales is an open, tolerant, caring, welcoming place.
I completely agree that community is one key characteristic of Wales and what makes it great. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the great ways in which communities come together is through music? We have Only Boys Aloud here today in Parliament and they have been singing in the St David’s Day service; they have been taking part and they are making a huge difference in communities up and across Wales.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. I have heard that choir sing on many occasions, and what a great bunch of guys they are. In terms of using culture as a tool for social mobility and ambition, they are a hallmark of Welsh success. This spirit of community shapes our politics and society in Wales. Whether someone comes from a Welsh Tory, Liberal or Labour tradition, their politics tend to be more communitarian, rather than individualistic. That brings me to an important point about Welsh participation in this House of Commons, which I flag up to the Secretary of State. If the boundary review goes ahead in the way it is shaping up, the Welsh voice in this UK Parliament will be smaller and that Welsh political tradition, which has helped to shape our UK politics, risks being diminished.
Things that make Wales great No. 3: our landscape. The hon. Member for Gower has spoken passionately about her constituency and how stunningly beautiful it is, and she is absolutely right; it comes in just behind Pembrokeshire in the league table of beautiful constituencies around the UK. We are truly blessed with some stunning landscapes. This is not just about saying what a pretty postcard it makes; the outdoors in Wales is the source for outdoor education, learning about the environment and promoting important messages about climate change. I want to use this opportunity to pay tribute to the Darwin Centre in my constituency, which, for the past 10 years, has pioneered outdoor education in the areas of science and environmentalism. I pay particular tribute to its outgoing director, Marten Lewis, who has revolutionised education in Pembrokeshire, using the outdoors as an educational tool.
Things that make Wales great No. 4: the Welsh men and women who serve in our armed forces. There is an important historical tradition of Welsh men and women serving in all branches of the armed forces. I watch the film “Zulu” every year and have a chuckle at the depiction of Jones 1 and Jones 2 in that film, but our having this rich tradition is an important point. I have concerns about the way recruitment is developing in our armed forces, with the changes to the recruitment processes and the closures of some recruitment offices. I have concerns about some potential changes to the armed forces footprint in Wales. We do not want to risk reducing the important contribution that Welsh men and women make to our armed forces.
Finally, I come to things that make Wales great No. 5: our language. I say that as someone who does not speak Welsh. I have made three serious attempts at trying to learn Welsh, but I grew up on the wrong side of the Landsker line in Pembrokeshire. Many Members here will know that that is the 1,000-year-old cultural and linguistic line that divides Pembrokeshire, which was put in place by the Flemish lords who came in on the back of William the Conqueror. On Friday, however, I had the huge privilege of visiting a brand new Welsh-speaking school in Haverfordwest, Ysgol Caer Elen. Haverfordwest has traditionally been an English-speaking town, but a new generation of Welsh speakers is coming through and that is a really positive thing. My final comment is a message to those people on social media and elsewhere who moan about the costs of bilingualism and about the Welsh translation of English place names in Wales. My message to them is: get over it. The language is a really important thing that roots our nation back to ancient and mysterious times, and that is a great thing. Happy St David’s Day.
Diolch, Madam Ddirprwy Lefarydd. It is a delight to follow the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) and his singing the praises of bilingualism and the other great points of Wales. I also wish to add my voice in expressing respect for those colleagues whom we have lost: Paul Flynn, who was so welcoming to me, as he had been to everybody here; and Steffan Lewis, the Assembly Member whom we lost at the desperately young age of 34. I greatly appreciate the fact that mention has been made of him. He was a great politician and a great man, whose loss we definitely feel in Wales.
I extend my sincerest thanks to the schoolchildren of Ysgol Gymraeg Llundain and Only Boys Aloud. Those of us who were lucky enough to be there this morning know that they sang absolutely wonderfully at this morning’s St David’s Day service. Only Boys Aloud’s rendition of “Nearer my God to Thee” will remain with me. Mae eich gwlad yn falch iawn ohonoch chi—your country is very proud of you.
This St David’s Day, we celebrate our nation, its culture, its people. We all know that Westminster continues to recognise Wales’s contribution to the United Kingdom; however, we cannot simply close our eyes to the fact that Westminster’s contribution to Wales still leaves us very much wanting.
Cyfiawnder—justice. Some Members of this House may not be entirely familiar with the medieval Welsh ruler Hywel Dda. His name is particularly linked with the codification of traditional Welsh law, which was thenceforth known as the laws of Hywel Dda. The latter part of his name, Dda, or da, transalates as “good”, and refers to the fact that his laws were perceived as being just that: just and good. In fact, one sees in them compassion rather than punishment, common sense and recognition of the rights of women. Fast forward to the 16th century. The last recorded case to be heard under Welsh law was in Carmarthenshire in 1540—four years after the 1536 Act of Union, which stipulated that only English law’s writ would run in Wales.
Since then, we have seen the coming of age of devolution, and this year is of course the 20th year of the National Assembly for Wales. Wales has had for 20 years its own Senedd: a Parliament and legislature, creating laws in relation to health, education and the economy. However, cyfiawnder—justice—or the lack thereof, continues to be controlled by Westminster. Although my party’s ultimate aim is to restore the true meaning of cyfraith dda—good law—handing to Wales the reins over criminal justice in its entirety, the crux of my contribution today will focus on the more immediate shortfallings of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and opportunities for improvement under the current model. Indeed, the Welsh Affairs Committee is currently holding an inquiry on this very subject that is due to finish soon.
The prison estate in Wales is currently controlled, managed and paid for by the Ministry of Justice, while the responsibility for providing healthcare, education, housing and emergency services sits with the Welsh Government—with no extra funding from Westminster, of course. The incoherent interaction between devolved and reserved competencies results in disjointed policy making.
First and foremost, we need improved and accurate statistics to inform proper planning in the provision of Ministry of Justice prison and probation services alongside service provider partners. We need disaggregated statistics specifically for Wales in relation to both Wales-addressed offenders and prisons in Wales, to inform scrutiny at UK and Welsh parliamentary levels. Such scrutiny has been sadly lacking, and it has proven difficult even to get information. We need statistics on reoffending rates; on offender health outcomes; on prison staff recruitment and detainment; on the use of experienced staff from Wales across the wider prison estate, otherwise known as detached duty; and on violence rates, including deaths in custody, self-harm and violence towards staff. It has in the past proven difficult to get such information. All the information should be provided for scrutiny annually to both the Welsh Affairs Committee and the relevant National Assembly for Wales Committee, and the relevant responsible Ministers from both Parliaments should be called to account.
Currently, the prison estate in Wales caters only to male prisoners, and there is only one young offenders institution in Wales. Given the geography of Wales, at the very least two residential centres should be developed for female prisoners. As we know, large-scale super-prisons simply do not work. HMP Berwyn opened in February 2017, and when it is completed and at full capacity, it will hold more than 2,000 inmates. It will be the largest prison in Europe. Not all its inmates are appropriately placed. Sixteen prisoners who were previously categorised as the most dangerous to society were held at HMP Berwyn in 2017. The prison was intended for low-risk offenders to be on a regime designed to reward good behaviour.
We were also told that HMP Berwyn would hold suitable north Wales prisoners, but evidence shows that they are still being sent to distant prisons, remote from the rehabilitation benefits of being close to home, family and potential employers. The best rehabilitation results are found in prisons located close to the communities from which offenders come and to which they will return for employment, so the Ministry of Justice should not propose another supersize prison anywhere in Wales. It would inevitably require a high percentage of English inmates to be transported considerable distances for the sake of ease and the cost of warehousing, rather than the prioritising of effective rehabilitation.
As well as the prison estate, the probation service requires immediate attention. The proposed Wales probation model still involves significant contracting out, although the proposal to bring it back into public management is to be welcomed. It is to be hoped that that will be a future model for England, too. Only yesterday, I found that in the four years since key parts of the probation system were privatised, there have been 225 charges of murder against offenders monitored by private probation contractors in the four years since their creation. That far outnumbers the 142 murder charges against high-risk criminals managed by the Government probation service over the same period. These shocking statistics show the urgent need to bring probation back into the public sector. As we have experience of in Wales, with Nadine Marshall and the tragic Conner Marshall case of 2015—the offender was managed by Working Links, which has since gone into administration—victims and for that matter offenders, too, are being failed by a system that is putting profit before public safety.
To close, I wish just to say that the word for justice in Welsh, cyfiawnder, means to make good, to make right and to make just for all. Let us make cyfiawnder Welsh for Wales.
In the interests of other Members who wish to speak I will curtail the first two pages of my speech, but my thoughts are with the families of Paul Flynn and Steffan Lewis, and I wish to say how sad I am at their passing.
Since we last had this debate, I have been privileged to be elected as the deputy leader of the Welsh Labour party, so I am in the privileged position of working not only with Labour colleagues but across party lines on campaigns that are dear to my heart and that I hope make a difference not only to my local community or to Wales but right across the United Kingdom.
My work as deputy leader shines a light on the shortcomings of the Conservative Government, while our Welsh Labour Government show that there is a better way to govern, even in the teeth of continuing Tory austerity. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the case of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, a project with the capacity not only to reshape the energy mix of an entire region, but to make Swansea a world leader in tidal energy while creating jobs and offering a boon to the local economy. The lagoon received the full support, both practical and financial, of the Welsh Labour Government, and it was backed by Swansea’s Labour-led council and championed by many Labour colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies).
In short, it was a project of rare transformative capability, yet the project, steered with such care and passion for so long by the lagoon’s backers, was damaged immeasurably by the clumsy indifference and terrible short-sightedness of those on the Conservative Benches. Promises were repeatedly made and assurances offered, but ultimately all turned to dust. At the eleventh hour, the Government pulled their support for the most spurious of reasons. Why? Because, to put it bluntly, they do not seem to have any respect for Wales. Not one iota. It is this lack of respect and apparent indifference to the damage it causes that can be seen time after time, in decision after decision. Time after time, it serves only to underline the difference of the Welsh Labour Government approach.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Tory English Government’s commitment to fracking is in sharp contrast to the Welsh Government’s commitment to the tidal lagoon, in the context of climate change and the imperative there? We are leading and they are losing.
The Welsh Labour Government do so many things so much better.
Examples of shocking disregard for Welsh communities are sadly all too many in number. Take investment in rail services. The electrification of the main line between London and Swansea had been a sworn promise for years; indeed, it formed a key plank of the Tory campaign in Wales during the 2017 general election campaign. We were told that reliability would be improved, journey times reduced and emissions cut. My constituents in Swansea East were elated to think they would finally see some improvements to a service on which so many of them relied. As we all know, Tory promises were once again broken, and in the most shameful manner: sneaked out in a press release. My constituents learned of the cancellation of the electrification programme in the same way that I did—through the newspaper. There is no investment for Wales, no interest in Wales, and no respect for Wales. Compare that with the Welsh Labour Government’s rail investment. After years of Tory underinvestment, the Welsh Labour Government, through Transport for Wales, are delivering new trains, more services and better stations. Despite some early teething problems, we are at the start of a 15-year, £5 billion investment programme, scrapping Pacer trains, boosting capacity by 65%, offering free travel for the under-11s and providing £200 million to upgrade stations. In Wales, we are working with the trade unions, not against them, to protect the role of the guard on every train. That is the Welsh Labour way, and it is a way that this Government would do well to look at and, may I suggest, to learn from. It has meant that, in Wales, we have 30 hours free childcare and education for working parents being rolled out across the country. That is the best childcare offer for working parents anywhere in the UK.
We have repealed major sections of the pernicious Tory anti-union law to protect the Welsh public sector workforce, while scrapping the right to buy, protecting the housing stock and helping more people access affordable homes. We are now building affordable homes in Wales at a record rate, curbing zero-hour contracts and delivering 100,000 all-age apprenticeships. Children leaving care in Wales will no longer pay council tax until they reach the age of 25. That is the Welsh way. That is the Welsh Labour way, and I am proud to celebrate it here today.
Finally, let me close with something that is so very close to my heart—funding for children’s funerals in cases where families simply cannot afford to pay for them. Since I first spoke in this Chamber of the passing of my own son, Martin, and the extraordinary difficulties that we faced in paying for his funeral, the Welsh Government responded by scrapping fees for children’s funerals, following a lead set by Welsh local authorities. I appreciate that the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly, but time is a luxury that bereaved parents cannot afford. Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that the Children’s Funeral Fund would be in place by this summer. Although I had hoped for an earlier implementation, bearing in mind that it was first promised 11 months ago, I welcome the fact that we now have some clarity on timings. I sincerely hope that the summer, which is when the Prime Minister suggested that it would happen, arrives well before the “end of May”.
Diolch yn fawr, Madam Ddirprwy Lefarydd.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on bringing this debate forward today. May I also echo what others have said about our colleagues Paul Flynn and Steffan Lewis? I know that Paul was a radical, reforming and brilliant politician who fought very hard for his causes and was a great advocate for devolution.
As I prepared for this debate today, I wondered about its purpose. Is a general debate about Wales on any given subject just a token gesture to our country as we approach our national bank holiday? MPs, one by one, will stand to raise concerns or issues on anything relating to our country, but there will be no obligation for anyone to respond to or to act on anything raised.
As a devolutionist I am happy that the majority of our work is carried out by the Welsh Parliament in Cardiff Bay, with our Welsh Labour Government able to bring forward radical and progressive policies and legislation. None the less, I am constantly frustrated by those in this place who misunderstand devolution. They are supported, on the whole, by a London-centric media, which talks as though England is the whole of the UK —whether that is on education policy, the NHS, housing or social services, all of which are devolved.
There should be a place for Welsh MPs to raise issues, to scrutinise and, importantly, to get a response and some action. One of the frustrating things in this place is that, as a Welsh MP, it is very difficult to raise issues. With just 30 minutes of Welsh questions every five or six weeks, just before Prime Ministers questions, there really is not much parliamentary time available to us, particularly at this time of great constitutional and political upheaval. With Brexit approaching in just a matter of days, we know the impact that either the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal will have on our country, and we know that it will hit us in Wales the hardest. By the time that we have the Prime Minister’s endlessly postponed meaningful vote on 12 March, we will have fewer than 400 hours until the article 50 deadline, at which time we will crash out of the European Union into the unknown unless something is done. No one can argue that that is in the country’s interest. Businesses, which have, for years, invested in Wales, are now upping and leaving, fed up with the uncertainty and chaos. We know that Ford, Airbus, Sony, Panasonic and Honda will not be the last. As more companies announce the impact that Brexit is having on their businesses, they are taking their jobs, their development and their trade elsewhere.
I am listening with interest to the hon. Lady’s remarks. She is talking about companies upping sticks and leaving Wales. She just read out a list of companies, which included Airbus. Has she any evidence at all to suggest that Airbus is reducing any of its operations in Wales?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. I am talking about the warnings that are being given. Airbus is issuing stark warnings, and some companies are upping and leaving. Many will up and leave unless something is done.
The right hon. Gentleman does not appear to have heard the warnings from organisations and businesses across the spectrum. The other day, I was speaking with people from Cardiff University who cited Brexit as one factor in their decision to issue redundancies. That is happening in our crucial and brilliant university in our city.
Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent point.
This pattern does not seem to bother our UK Government, intent as they are on delivering a Brexit whatever the cost. That cost will be great, but it will be the greatest in Wales as we are dependent on those and other such jobs. We have been at the mercy of a Tory Government’s austerity measures for the past nine years. I see the struggle in our public services and in our communities. Our people who were left bereft following the ruthless Thatcher years are once again feeling the brunt, and Brexit is only set to make things worse. Why do we in Wales have to put up with this again?
Wales is an outward-facing international country with our own values, our own language, and our own culture and history. We do not want this right-wing Brexit ideology, which only harms our communities, our people and our services. We know that Brexit—any Brexit—only aids the right. It is a project driven by the right and for the right. As a progressive forward-looking Wales we know that the best deal for us, for our hard-working families, for our public services and for our businesses is the one that we have now as full members of the European Union.
Does the hon. Lady not recognise that that is not the vision that Wales has? Wales voted to leave by a much greater margin than it voted for the Welsh Assembly.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. Has he not seen the recent polls that say that the majority of Welsh people have changed their minds? In any case, this is not what they voted for. That is why we should put the question back to the people for final ratification and confirmation and for a final say.
The Secretary of State for Wales has done perilously little to stand up for our country. When I asked him in the Welsh Affairs Committee to name an infrastructure project in Wales that he has helped to secure during his time as Secretary of State, he could not name one. It was no to rail electrification, no to the tidal lagoon, no to Wylfa Newydd, and no to onshore and offshore renewable energy projects. What is this Secretary of State for? What is his purpose, as he certainly does not stand up for Wales?
I want to see more investment in our country, greater powers being devolved to Wales and reform of our institutions.
I fought for the Senedd back in 1997, and then again for greater powers in 2011 and 2017. I will continue to fight for more powers and for our country to be better able to govern without being hampered by this Tory Government. In fact, I would like to see Wales’s powers equal to there of Scotland at the very least. But what matters is how we use those powers. We regularly need to go cap in hand to this Tory Government in order to effect change; that cannot be right. It cannot be right that our country needs permission to build Wylfa Newydd or a tidal lagoon. We need a settlement to enable us to do that—in Wales and by the people of Wales.
It cannot be right that we are unable to tackle the serious problem of mental health in prisons, as the broken devolution settlement means that this is impossible. Justice is not devolved, while mental health is. This must be put right. Criminal justice should be devolved to enable us properly to resolve these issues and create a solution that suits us as a country. It is also certainly not right that air passenger duty is not devolved when it is devolved to both Scotland and Northern Ireland. These anomalies must be put right.
Although this place is in need of much reform, I agree that the Senedd needs some too. I welcome the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill brought forward earlier this month, which sets out the exciting opportunities to strengthen our Welsh Assembly, bringing about reform and democracy, lowering the voting age to 16 and introducing more Assembly Members.
Reform and change take time. In Wales, we are proud that we can grasp this change. I only wish that this place would take some lessons from that. We must look towards the sort of Parliament we want in Wales, and I hope that we wholeheartedly embrace it, creating a positive future for our children. As the historian Gwyn Alf Williams said:
“Wales is a process. Wales is an artefact which the Welsh produce. The Welsh make and remake Wales day by day, year by year, generation by generation, if they want to”.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin), and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on securing today’s debate. As she is an avid Welsh rugby fan and former Wales international, I know that she will have enjoyed the match on Saturday. It was a stunning win and a great way to kick-start the St David’s Day celebrations. Eddie Jones led his England side down the M4 and got stuck in traffic along the way before coming completely unstuck against a Welsh side determined to stop his chariot. We were given little chance of winning that match but, as the Welsh always do, we rose to the challenge and triumphed in the face of adversity.
I congratulate Wales on their victory at the weekend. It was mightily impressive and a real demonstration of power. Does my hon. Friend agree that the renewables sector provides a huge opportunity for Wales to refound itself through offshore wind and onshore through hydroelectric?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Wales was of course the cradle of the industrial revolution and it should be the cradle of a green revolution. Unfortunately, we are dealing with the most incompetent and short-sighted Government in living memory, who refuse to go forward with the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. I think that sends a clear signal about what really makes them tick.
Today’s St David’s Day debate is marked with sadness following the loss of our good friend and colleague Paul Flynn, the former Member for Newport West. He had a razor-sharp intellect and a rapier-like wit. He was an outstanding parliamentarian who was passionately committed to social justice and opportunity for all—a lovely man, who always had a helpful word of advice for us new kids on the block. He will be sorely missed.
Just as I had complete confidence in the 23 men in red on Saturday, I have confidence in my fellow countrymen and women to rise to the challenge of Brexit, but the challenge is truly daunting. We are two and a half years on from the referendum and fast approaching 29 March. We are also two years on from a general election when the Conservative manifesto promised to set up a new UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU funds after 2020. But with just 29 days to go until we leave the EU, we know little more about the UK shared prosperity fund than we did in June 2017.
Like much of Wales, my Aberavon constituency has benefited hugely from European money—from the Bay Campus at Jersey Marine to the sunken gardens and toddler play area on Aberavon beach; from the Croeserw community enterprise centre to the Cognation mountain bike trails in the Afan valley; and from the transport hub to the Port Talbot magistrates court. These projects would not have been possible without European funding.
Between 2014 and 2020, west Wales and the valleys were set to receive from European structural funds investment worth more than £1.6 billion, yet nearly everything about the shared prosperity fund is still to be worked out. We still do not know how much funding will be available, how it will be divided across the country, what activities will be eligible for support or who will take the decisions on how the money is spent. There is a huge fear that this will be not just a financial grab, but a power grab, and that the Westminster Government will use this opportunity to reduce funding for areas that need it most and to claw back powers that sit naturally with the devolved Administrations.
These deep-seated concerns led to the creation of the all-party parliamentary group for post-Brexit funding for nations, regions and local areas, which I am truly proud to chair. The wide-ranging review that we carried out heard from 80 organisations across the UK, including the Welsh Government, councils in Wales and the Welsh TUC. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Wales back in November, seeking a meeting about the findings of our APPG, but have yet to receive a response. Those representations were unanimous in saying that the UK shared prosperity fund must comprise not a single penny less in real terms than the EU and UK funding streams it replaces. Westminster must not use Brexit as an opportunity to short-change the poorest parts of the UK. Equally, the UK Government must not deny devolved Administrations the appropriate control over funds. Local decisions must not be made by a bureaucrat or by a Tory Government sitting at the other end of the M4. The Government’s inaction cannot continue; they must provide guarantees on the shared prosperity fund.
Of course, one group of people who know very well about this Government’s inaction are the steelworkers in Port Talbot, Llanwern, Trostre and right across Wales. They have gone above and beyond to save our steel industry, but their actions have not been matched by the Westminster Government. When unscrupulous pension advisers took the opportunity during the pension transfer to swoop in like vultures and rip off steelworkers, the Government did nothing. Now there is a very serious risk that thousands have been conned into transferring out of the scheme, almost always against their best interests. It is imperative that steelworkers are notified of this, so that it can be remedied before the opportunity is missed, but the Government’s inability to support steelworkers does not stop there. At the height of the steel crisis, the UK Government consistently showered steelworkers with warm words, but since then they have failed to create a sector deal for steel, and last year less than half of the steel bought by the Government came from the UK, despite British steel being the best in the world; that is simply not good enough.
Disabled people in my constituency have also been badly let down. The personal independence payment is there to support individuals with the extra costs of living associated with a disability, but the system in place now is working against disabled people, instead of for them. Three quarters of people in Wales who challenged the decision of the Department for Work and Pensions to stop or reduce their PIP were successful in having that decision overturned, which just shows how fundamentally broken the system is. In Wales, one in 10 people waited more than a year to win back money that they were initially denied—a dreadful failure.
I am a proud Welshman. I was born in Tredegar in 1970. My grandfather on my father’s side was a coalminer in the Welsh valleys, while my grandmother was a district nurse—the backbone of the NHS. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a railway signalman in Anglesey, supported by a grandmother who was truly the rock of the family. Their never-say-die attitude and commitment to working hard for their communities has been passed down the generations and it is with that spirit that I will continue fighting hard for my Aberavon constituents in Westminster.
We are a proud, unique community in Aberavon. Even Banksy picked us out last year as a worthy home for one of his wonderful creations. But, like every area, we need a UK Government and a Welsh Secretary who will stand up for Wales; and that means, more than anything, that we desperately need a UK Labour Government. Happy St David’s Day to all.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on introducing this debate. May I say how great it has been to acknowledge the contribution of our friend, Paul Flynn? Every week when I go through Newport train station, I remember his dry wit and his friendship. We will miss him greatly.
A year and a half ago, steelworkers from across south Wales were hit by a pensions storm. They had a hard deadline to decide on their futures against a backdrop of serious uncertainty for their industry. Then they were aggressively targeted by financial advisers, and about 8,000 of them ended up transferring out of their pension scheme altogether. While the full scale of the problem is not entirely clear, it looks set to be as bad as many feared. We know that 872 of the steelworkers were advised by firms who were prevented from advising by the Financial Conduct Authority. Now there are real concerns that the final number might be even greater. Since then, the FCA has reviewed the files of 2% of the steelworkers who transferred out. It found that 58% of this advice was not suitable. That could mean that thousands of steelworkers were affected.
This is a very serious situation, and it requires a strong and co-ordinated response with much more granular analysis of what occurred. That response should focus on four specific areas. First, steelworkers who transferred out need to make sure that the advice given was appropriate. There are advisers and solicitors who are supporting steelworkers, working on an independent initiative to help them. I encourage steelworkers who transferred out to get in touch when that has been set up. Secondly, if the number of people affected is as high as we all fear, there needs to be pressure to make sure that the industry insurers fully honour their obligations.
Thirdly, arrangements for compensation need to be looked it. The financial services compensation scheme has reviewed earlier claims and increased the compensation in some cases, and that is positive. However, we also need to look at the rate that is used to calculate this compensation, because that has a big impact on steelworkers and their families. It needs to be as generous as possible so that the steelworkers are not disadvantaged when making claims. Finally, rogue advisers who prey on steelworkers have to face serious consequences. This should include permanent restrictions, financial penalties, and, when necessary, referral to the police for criminal investigation.
The crisis that saw many steelworkers see their hard-earned money put at risk should not have happened. On this St David’s Day, we need to work together and sort things out for them.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for securing this debate. Along with my hon. Friends, I pay tribute to Paul Flynn, my former hon. Friend the Member for Newport West, who would sit on this Back Bench close to us and make contributions every week tackling the Government and promoting Labour values.
I did not know Steffan Lewis personally, but I know that, taken at a young age, his family will be devastated. I also offer my condolences to the team in the Assembly and to Plaid Cymru as a political party.
I want to make just four points in this debate. The first point is about Brexit. Whatever we end up doing on Brexit, the Secretary of State for Wales has an absolute duty to make sure that a no-deal Brexit is ruled out. He will have before him the evidence from Airbus near my constituency, which employs 14,000 workers across the United Kingdom, thousands of them in north Wales. Katherine Bennett and Tom Enders, two senior Airbus officials, have warned about the consequences of no deal. The Secretary of State will know that Tony Walker of Toyota, which employs hundreds of people in north Wales, and in Derbyshire, has said that a no-deal Brexit will cost Toyota £10 million a day. The Secretary of State will know from talking to farmers across Wales that a no-deal Brexit will mean that we cannot take Welsh lamb to the table of Europe while no deal remains on the table in the United Kingdom. He will know that firms such as Vauxhall, and myriad firms in my constituency, small and large, are facing uncertainty because no deal remains on the table. The one thing he can do in responding to this debate is to rule out no deal, whatever we settle on with regard to Brexit.
The second issue I want to focus on is getting some assurances from the Secretary of State about the north Wales growth deal. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) set out very clearly what is required. We have a potential growth deal of £335 million. We have had an announcement from the Government of about £240 million, with match funding from the Welsh Government and from local sources and the private sector. We need to ensure that the Government consider what they promised they would do in Budgets four and five years ago and deliver on the north Wales growth deal. As the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) said, this is a great opportunity for investment to modernise the infrastructure of north-east Wales and north Wales as a whole, and the Government should take it.
My third point relates to council tax. My local authority has made it very clear that the difficulties it faces with teachers’ pensions, in particular, are putting it under tremendous strain. That is why this year we have had a council tax increase that is well above average. I know the pressures that my local colleagues are facing. The Secretary of State has devolved teachers’ pensions to the National Assembly for Wales and to the Welsh Government, but no money has gone with that. He needs to explain to this House today the financial settlement in relation to that, and to make sure that it is secured, not just for the past year but in future years.
My final point—my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) touched on it—is about scrutiny of the Welsh Office and scrutiny of the Conservative Government’s performance in Wales. There is now even more limited opportunity for that than there was previously. Let me take, for example, the Welsh Grand Committee. When we had a Labour Government from 1997 to 2010, the Welsh Grand Committee met 39 times to debate Welsh matters. In the nine years of this Conservative Government, it has met nine times. Six of those occasions were in the first two years of the Conservative coalition, from 2010 to 2012. There have been only three in the past three years, and there were a whole three years when the Welsh Grand Committee never met at all. The Welsh Grand Committee gives us an important opportunity to raise issues such as these. Does the Secretary of State wish to continue with it, and, if so, when will it meet in future?
It is about time that we reviewed the issue of cross-party discussions on English votes for English laws. In the Brexit debates, when I have had to discuss issues in my constituency relating to teachers, health workers and people working in businesses in England, I cannot vote on those issues for my constituents on the border who are impacted by them. That is not sustainable for the future. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North also mentioned, a 30-minute—
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about cross-border issues where Welsh MPs may wish to have input into matters that are discussed here, but does not this cut both ways? For example, as he will know, my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) has frequently raised issues relating to hospitals in south Wales. Do we not need a new settlement to accommodate these things?
I would be very happy to discuss those issues with the right hon. Gentleman when there is more time. I simply say that my constituents are served more poorly by the fact that I can no longer vote in this House on some of the issues that affect them.
With unemployment rising in my constituency by 30% in the past two years, the need for a growth deal is clearly there. If we have a no-deal Brexit, that unemployment figure will be worse. I hope that the Secretary of State can answer these points today.
I thank the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for securing this debate. As I stand to speak, I am sure I can see out of the corner of my eye the figure of Paul Flynn in his usual seat casting a critical but fair ear over everything I say. Paul called for St David’s Day to be a national holiday and for the Welsh language to be recognised in this place. His work on cannabis reform has been inspirational to many people. It was my pleasure and my privilege to serve on the same Select Committee as Paul. I think of him as a friend and a mentor, and he will be sadly missed.
As a child growing up in Greenock in the ’60s and ’70s, my knowledge of Wales was limited—limited, that is, to the most important thing: rugby union, and that red shirt, those songs and, as a young scrum-half learning my trade, the greatest scrum-half in the world ever, Gareth Edwards. I hated them all. They were so good. It was hard to take. Imagine my joy when, as an unsophisticated 16-year-old, if that is easy to imagine, my school team at Greenock Academy travelled to Wales to play St Cyres college in Dinas Powys. It was my moment to avenge all those defeats at Murrayfield and Cardiff Arms Park. We got hammered, or, to be more accurate, humiliated. They took us to the pub the night before; those Welsh boys were canny. We had to wait a year to reverse the result, but we did, and I look forward to the international rivalry being renewed at Murrayfield a week on Saturday. Unfortunately, at this juncture, I have been unable to acquire a ticket. I will leave that out there.
On the basis of Celtic solidarity, will the hon. Gentleman consider asking the Scottish coach to give the second squad a run-out a week Saturday?
If the Welsh put out their second team, that might help us, to put it mildly.
Often we romanticise Scotland—dashing Jacobites, the flamboyant house of Stuart and a twee caricature of what we truly are. I would hate to fall into that trap when talking about Wales. It has a vibrant linguistic, literary and musical past, present and, most importantly, future. In Scotland, we like to think of ourselves as great contributors to the world, and so are the Welsh. Those contributors include Edward George Bowen, pioneer of radar; Martha Hughes Cannon, pioneer in women and children’s medicine; John Dee, founder of the new school of English mathematics and one of the greatest polymaths of all time; Bill Frost, the Welsh carpenter who patented the aeroplane in 1894 and took to the skies in a powered flying machine the following year, eight years before the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk; William Jones, the noted mathematician and the first to use pi as a mathematical symbol; Brian Josephson, Nobel prize-winning physicist; Francis Lewis, signatory of the US declaration of independence; William Henry Preece, an electrical engineer who was a major figure in the development and introduction of wireless telegraphy; Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician and Nobel prize winner; Alfred Russel Wallace, who conferred with Darwin on the evolution of species; and Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Richard Burton and “Ivor the Engine”—the list goes on and on. And I thought all they did was play rugby!
Scotland and Wales are nations with a strong tradition of agriculture and forestry, which plays a vital role in our economies. The last two years have seen the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly work together in a spirit of constructive collaboration as we seek to protect our nations from the threat of Brexit. Protecting Wales from the impact of a Tory Brexit will be vital to the Welsh economy. Figures released on Tuesday show that a no-deal Brexit could cause the Welsh economy to shrink by up to 8%. Between 2014 and 2020, Wales is due to receive €5 billion in EU-related funding. Some guarantees are in place for the period after Brexit and beyond 2020, but uncertainty remains over the future shape of regional development and agriculture funding. The UK Government should ensure that all voices are heard from across the UK as they proceed with Brexit negotiations. I add a word of warning from Dylan Thomas: do not go gentle into that good night.
To close, I will say this to the people of Wales: when Scotland claims its place at the top table as an equal independent country among equal independent countries, we shall keep a seat beside us for you, and if it is your will, I hope that you will join us.
We have had a superb debate on St David’s Day, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for securing it. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) that we should not have to go cap in hand to the Backbench Business Committee every year; the Government should make time for this debate.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gower for her tremendous tribute to Paul Flynn and all other Members for their tributes. I first met Paul in 1980. He was an inspiration to me then and continued to be throughout my life. We will all miss him, and our condolences go to Sam and all Paul’s family and friends.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower said she was a proud Welsh MP; I am, too. She also is a fantastic rugby player.
Used to be!
No, she still is. I am quite a weak squash player. I have played for Wales more than 100 times, but one good tackle would see me off. My hon. Friend highlighted the beauty of Wales. She also said that the Secretary of State for Wales is not standing up for Wales, which has been a theme of contributions from Opposition Members.
The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) paid a good tribute to Paul Flynn and said that he first met him when he was a sixth-former. That conjures up an image in my mind—was he a prefect?
The hon. Gentleman said that he challenged Paul Flynn on some questions—no change there then, Top Cat. He listed all the good work that the Welsh Affairs Committee, which he chairs, has done for Wales through its reviews and recommendations. I was briefly on the Committee when I came into the House, and I must say that the hon. Gentleman is an excellent Chair who works cross-party. He does some cross-party training in the gym with me in the mornings, and he is quite ferocious there as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn has vast experience in this place. He talked about how important energy is to Wales and how it must be accompanied by infrastructure. He mentioned the unfortunate fact that Wylfa Newydd has been pulled on Ynys Môn. Yet again, the UK Government are not standing up for Wales, and they must replace the money that they promised in the north Wales growth bid.
The right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) highlighted the good cross-party work of the all-party parliamentary group on Mersey Dee north Wales, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas). In the right hon. Gentleman’s opinion, the key to the future is digital infrastructure and 5G.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) highlighted that Wales is en route for a grand slam, and I agree with him. The boys played really well last Saturday, and long may that continue. He mentioned that Only Boys Aloud, who are wonderful singers, have been here today. He paid tribute to Steffan Lewis, who sadly lost his life recently. I did not know Steffan, but I understand from all the tributes to him that he was an exceptional young man. My hon. Friend also paid tribute to Carwyn Jones, who has stepped down as leader of Welsh Labour after nine years, leaving a strong legacy. Mark Drakeford has our support in his role as First Minister. Finally, my hon. Friend highlighted the fact that Transport for Wales has put so much investment into rail infrastructure in Wales, but the Department for Transport has not. I agree.
I never thought I would hear myself say this, but I agree with many of the things said by the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb). He highlighted the fact that we are a nation of sport and the power of sport to unite and inspire people. He listed Welsh sporting heroes, but he did not mention Tesni Evans, who is the greatest squash player that we have produced. She retained her Welsh and British titles this year and won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth games in 2018. She is one for the future. I must agree, however, that if the boundary review goes through, we will lose the Welsh voice in this Chamber, and I sincerely hope that that does not happen.
The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) spoke about justice and the prison and probation services, especially for women. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), the deputy leader of Welsh Labour, is a great campaigner, and she listed the achievements of her campaigns. We really value all that she does for Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) said that she was a proud devolutionist, as I think we in the Opposition are.
I am running out of time, so I will bring my remarks to a close. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), whose seat is adjacent to my seat of Neath, is a champion for the steelworkers, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), in regard to pensions and how they have been ripped off. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) speaks so clearly all the time, and I really value his advice to me personally. I must end by saying that Gareth Edwards, who was mentioned, comes from Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen in the Neath constituency.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for securing this debate, and for the support of the Backbench Business Committee in making time available for it. It has been a wide-ranging debate, as was pointed out by the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees). Unfortunately, I will not have time in the time permitted to respond to each and every point made, but if I do not have the opportunity to respond to them, I will happily continue to engage positively with colleagues in all parts of the House on the issues they have raised.
Among some disagreements, there has without doubt been unity and lots of agreement on a number of issues, but I want to underline the comments by every Member of this House about our friend and former colleague Paul Flynn, the past Member for Newport West. I had the privilege of knowing him before I was elected to this House, and I remember that he was particularly supportive of me at a difficult time. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) pointed out his exceptional constituency work, and I can speak about that from experience because my parents-in-law live in his constituency. As I mentioned yesterday, I think there is a significant gap on the Labour Benches, and Paul will be missed. We pay tribute to him, and we pay our respects to his family.
I would also underline the comments that have been made about Steffan Lewis, the former Plaid Cymru Assembly Member. Without doubt, he was an exceptionally bright talent. He had a significant influence in his short political career, and I think Wales will miss him and the influence he brought to bear during that time.
The rugby also brought significant agreement across the House. As my right hon. Friends the Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) and for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) pointed out, it is a great time to be Welsh, particularly in relation to the rugby that took place at the weekend.
Listening to this wide-ranging debate, it is hard to believe that in 2010 Wales had a formula that underfunded its needs, a legislative consent order model that meant we did not have a full law-making Assembly and a rail franchise that was not fit for purpose—we did not have a single mile of electrified rail track—while unemployment was rising, economic inactivity rates were stubbornly high and manufacturing jobs had gone into quite a sharp decline.
Now, however, I would point out that Wales has a fair funding settlement—there has been enhancement on the funding settlement—and we now have a full law-making Assembly that is to become a Senedd. Major upgrades of the railways are taking place, with investment both in south Wales and in north Wales, and a will and a commitment to open new stations. Unemployment is at record low levels, and economic inactivity rates that have been stubbornly high for decades are now better than England’s. A remarkable transformation has taken place in the Welsh economy, and the manufacturing sector is growing faster than in any other part of the UK. Without doubt, one of my proudest moments has been the abolition of the Severn tolls, so people do not have to pay to come into Wales any more, which provides a great opportunity to bind together the United Kingdom.
The figures for unemployment and employment levels that the Secretary of State reads out are a credit to the Welsh Government, but they are small comfort to people facing job cuts right now, and I think his tone should reflect that. On the devolving of powers, will he answer the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson)? Teachers up and down the country, like local authorities, are asking: has the money allocated through the teachers formula gone to Wales and is it going to those local authorities?
My tone is certainly not vitriolic in any way. I am seeking to contrast the situation in 2010 and the good place Wales is now in because of the joint work with the Welsh Government. I will come on to that as the second theme I am seeking to develop. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the constructive way in which he works in relation to the challenges and issues that his constituency faces. On the specific point he makes about teachers’ pensions and so on, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury wrote to the Welsh Government on 11 February to clarify that additional resource is being made available. How the Welsh Government distribute that is a matter for them, but I hope that answers many of the questions that have been asked.
Whether it is “Lonely Planet” highlighting north Wales as one of the best places to visit, “The Rough Guide” pointing to Wales as one of the most beautiful countries or the Eurobarometer poll pointing out that Cardiff is one of the best cities to live in across Europe, Wales is in a strong position. Wales is a beautiful location, and it has a lot to offer to the United Kingdom and to the rest of Europe and beyond. In the spirit of my right hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd West and for Preseli Pembrokeshire, I want to celebrate what Wales has to offer. We should bear in mind that we are talking to international investors. Such people will be watching and reading this debate, and I am proud of what we have achieved and of the potential and the opportunity in front of us.
The Secretary of State has mentioned international investors, who will of course be watching the upcoming sequence of votes we are about to have on Brexit. He knows that the British Government’s view will be defeated on 12 March. What will he do on the 13th? Are the press rumours that he will vote for no deal on the 13th correct, because that would be disastrous for the Welsh economy?
I am disappointed by the approach the hon. Gentleman is taking. On the one hand, he, like many other Members in the House, will point to individual companies that are fearful of a no-deal Brexit, or farming unions and other organisations that have said they are fearful of or do not want to face a no-deal Brexit. On the other hand, however, such Members are not prepared to take the advice of those companies or farming unions that are urging them to support the Prime Minister’s deal. On that basis, they are being highly selective. The best way to secure a smooth exit from the European Union and to act on the instruction of the referendum is to support the Prime Minister’s deal. When that debate comes, I hope that Members will look at themselves and think long and hard about the risks they are taking with the Welsh economy and the UK economy if they vote against the Prime Minister’s deal, which offers us a smooth exit from the European Union and access to the European market, while confirming our position as an independent trading nation.
I wish to highlight my positive relationship with the Welsh Government, our negotiations on Brexit, and the legislative consent motion that we secured for the withdrawal Bill. The Welsh Government sit on the Cabinet sub-committee that considers preparations for Brexit, which is positive, and I hope that they will extend similar respect and opportunity for UK Government representatives to sit on their committees, because of the importance of leaving the EU in a conjoined way.
I point to the UK industrial strategy and the city deals. It was a privilege to launch the Cardiff capital region city deal plan this morning, and we are working closely with the Welsh Government on the Swansea city deal. North Wales has been mentioned on several occasions, and I am open to considering additional or different projects as a result of recent economic announcements about pausing work on the nuclear power station on Anglesey, rather than scrapping or suspending it as has been suggested. There is also the mid-Wales growth deal.
Finally, for a demonstration of joint working with the Welsh Government and local authorities across Wales, in a couple of weeks, together with local authority representatives, I will launch the first ever catalogue of Welsh projects at the MIPIM conference, to attract international investment because of the new opportunities that Brexit will bring.
I, too, send my condolences to the family and friends of Steffan Lewis.
I thank all Members of the House for their contributions, but more than anything I make a plea to the Secretary of State for Wales to stop putting sticking plasters on the job. It is not good enough. Children are growing up in Wales, where Brexit is a major threat to their opportunities. While the Government will not take no deal off the table, that danger remains—those are the problems we face. The Secretary of State should stand up for Wales, and get into Downing Street and sort it out. We have all had enough. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is the end. Good night.
I hope not quite—that would be slightly alarming.
Question put and agreed to.
That the House has considered Welsh Affairs.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I rise to seek your advice because I saw today in the news that two British fishing boats registered in Northern Ireland, and their crews, have been seized by the Irish Government, escorted to an Irish port, and arrested without a huge amount of justification. I would have assumed that the Government would want to come to the House to make a statement, and I wished to ask whether you are aware that the Government have called for such a statement. If that is not the case, if there is the demand or desire for an urgent question, what is the earliest that one can be requested from the Speaker?
I will first reply to that point of order. It may be that my answer is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.
I thank the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) for his point of order and for notice of it. I have received no indication that the Government intend to make a statement this afternoon. The earliest opportunity to ask the Speaker to grant an urgent question would be on Monday because the House is not sitting tomorrow. I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard the right hon. Gentleman’s deep concern about this matter, and that they will feed it back to the relevant Department for the Secretary of State to consider whether a statement would be appropriate.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank you for your response, but I, too, am appalled by the actions of the Government of the Republic of Ireland, who have seized boats that belong to this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Those fishing boats are clearly British fishing boats, and they were illegally seized in waters that are disputed—waters that belong to this great British nation. We have the voisinage agreement. The Irish Government were supposed to hand over control of those waters, and I understand that a legal document has been drawn up about that. I understand that it is probably too late in the day for a statement from the Minister, but I have spoken to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), and I have lodged a request for an urgent question with Mr Speaker’s Office for the purposes of questioning the Minister on Monday if he cannot attend today.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that further point of order, and the most I can say at this stage is that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard his concerns and will feed them back to the Department.