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Welsh Economy

Volume 672: debated on Wednesday 26 February 2020

The unemployment rate in Wales is at a record low. There are 144,000 more people in work in Wales than in 2010 and 90,000 fewer workless households. The Government are committed to driving further economic growth and levelling up across the UK, including west Wales.

As we prepare to celebrate St David’s Day, now is a good moment to celebrate the enormous and excellent progress that has been made in reducing unemployment in Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that what is really encouraging is the fact that the long-term lag between Welsh employment levels and the UK average has now closed, with more people in Wales going out to work than ever before?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for raising this issue. He will be as pleased as I am that the figures in his own constituency, when compared with 2010, are as good as they are. It is absolutely right that the Government’s job, in collaboration with the Welsh Government if that is necessary, is to ensure we create the circumstances where that trend continues. He has my absolute assurance that that will be the case.

Will the Secretary of State provide the House with specific details on how many people have been affected by the catastrophic flood damage to residential properties and businesses across Wales, and exactly how much has been lost to the Welsh economy so far?

I should start by saying that, during the visits to flooded areas made last week by the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and I, we were, as one would expect, completely bowled over by the professionalism, resilience, determination and expertise of numerous agencies and individuals in coming to terms and dealing with the particular problem the hon. Lady raises. She should, I hope, be pleased to know that I have had a number of meetings with the Welsh Government and council leaders in areas affected by these unusual—unfortunately, not as unusual as we would like—weather events. It is fair to say that the Welsh Government are still assessing the extent of the damage and exactly what is necessary by way of rectification. We have said, and we will repeat our commitment, that when the Welsh Government come to us with absolutely watertight figures and explain exactly what they need from us, we are ready to help in whatever way we can.

First Minister Mark Drakeford and his Welsh Government Ministers have visited flood victims and have already pledged an initial £10 million from the Welsh Government’s severely restricted budget after 10 years of Tory cuts. Yet last month, at short notice, the Treasury took back £200 million from the Welsh Government because of recalculations of Barnett consequentials. The Prime Minister has not bothered to visit flood victims in Wales, but could he at least return that money to the Welsh Government to help to clean up the damage?

I have to say that, if I was a business or individual affected by the events of the last few days, the last thing I would expect to hear in this House is the politicisation of a very difficult situation. The conversations I have had in face-to-face meetings with First Minister Drakeford in Cardiff have been constructive. He has at no stage made the observations the hon. Lady has made to me. We have made it absolutely clear that as soon as the damage is assessed we are ready to assist, notwithstanding the fact that this is a devolved responsibility, and it is absolutely right that we as a UK Government should respect the devolution settlement. I will just finish by saying that local authority leaders—[Interruption.] I will leave it at that point.

HS2 will do next to nothing for north Wales and worse than nothing for south Wales. Yet only six miles of HS2 railway line will cost more than the crucial, first-of-its-kind tidal lagoon in Swansea, rejected by the Minister’s Tory Government. I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that low-carbon electricity generated in Wales should power the transport of the future. What will he do to get Wales-wide tidal lagoon projects back on track?

As the right hon. Lady knows—she may even have been at the debate that I hosted in this Chamber where we discussed the matter into the early hours of the morning—it is undisputed that a tidal lagoon has a future in the UK, and in particular in Wales. The difficulty that we had over the tidal lagoon project in Swansea was in relation to the company proposal itself. So I hope that she can be reassured that this is part of the energy mix—it is part of the renewable commitment that we have made. The tidal lagoon is still under discussion.

I hope the Minister will join me in congratulating Wales Week co-founders Dan Langford and Mike Jordan on again providing excellent opportunities to celebrate Welsh business and culture in London and 21 other places around the world. I am sure the Minister will also agree that his Government have a crucial part to play in supporting Welsh businesses by ensuring that they are not undermined by future trade negotiations. Will he reassure us that, in pursuit of trade agreements with both Trump’s America and our nearest trading market, the EU, the Government will not trade off Welsh animal welfare and food standards in favour of chlorinated chicken?

I can absolutely offer that guarantee; it is a repeat of the guarantee that has been offered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and, indeed, the Prime Minister himself.

A lot of the strength of the mid-Wales economy is predicated on trade with border towns such as Shrewsbury, which is currently very badly flooded. Does the Minister accept that more needs to be done between his Department and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to work together to alleviate the terrible problems of flooding on both sides of our border?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The answer is yes. The answer lies in greater collaboration and co-operation across a wide range of agencies, and even those that he has mentioned. I believe we are learning some stark and important lessons from this, and I agree with his assessment.