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Covid-19: Co-operation with Welsh Government

Volume 676: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2020

4. What steps his Department is taking to ensure effective co-operation with the Welsh Government during the covid-19 outbreak. (902989)

8. What steps his Department is taking to ensure close co-operation with the Welsh Government during the covid-19 outbreak. (902994)

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and I are working hand in hand with the Welsh Government in responding to the virus. I have already provided the House with a comprehensive schedule of engagements between my Department and the Welsh Government, which outlines more than 100 instances since the start of the crisis. I will today place an updated schedule of those meetings in the Library.

The Prime Minister may not have heard of it, but we know from the Welsh Government that the Conservatives’ “no recourse to public funds” rule is causing real hardship to families in Wales and throughout the UK. People face extreme poverty for doing the right thing to protect public health. Will the Secretary of State listen to the Welsh Government and urge his colleagues to do the right thing now and suspend the rule during this public health emergency?

I would like to think that I always listen to valid arguments put forward by the Welsh Government, and this is no exception, but I ask the hon. Lady to recognise that the UK Government have provided an extraordinary level of support—probably one of the most extensive plans on the globe—for people who are suffering across our economy and throughout the nation of Wales. That support will remain; we are being as flexible as possible and as generous as possible for as long as possible. I will of course have the discussions to which the hon. Lady refers.

The Welsh Labour Government require businesses that receive financial support to sign up to their economic contract, which means that they need to support economic growth, fair work, employee health and skills, and action to reduce carbon footprints. Given the need to build back better after this crisis, does the Secretary of State agree that the Welsh Government approach should be adopted by the UK Government?

The point the hon. Gentleman makes is interesting, because of course a number of the companies to which he refers are UK-wide companies. It is a UK-wide issue that we are looking at, and it will require co-operation between the UK Government and the Welsh Government in the areas that are devolved and the areas that are clearly reserved. Currently, that co-operation and collaboration has been, by and large—probably eight times out of 10—as positive as the hon. Gentleman would hope, and as businesses and individuals would hope. We will of course continue that collaboration. We are now into the recovery period, hopefully—touch wood—and that will clearly test that collaboration, but at the moment I have confidence that it can work.

A few days ago, Wales finally joined the UK portal for covid test applications—some five weeks following its launch. Perhaps because of such delays, north Wales remains an outlier in new case numbers. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on the Welsh Government to get a grip on controlling outbreaks, mostly relating to care homes and hospitals?

My hon Friend clearly has considerable and detailed knowledge of this pandemic and the problems in his area. I hope he will be relieved to hear that I have a call this afternoon with the First Minister to discuss, among other things, exactly the point my hon. Friend raises, because the statistics show that north Wales is currently an uncomfortable outlier compared with what is going on throughout the rest of the UK and particularly Wales.

As the Secretary of State knows, the Welsh Labour Government have given an extra £2 billion to support businesses that are affected by the pandemic—the most generous package anywhere in the UK—and, crucially, they are not giving a penny of that public money to companies that are based in tax havens, thus doing right by the taxpayer and right by the companies that do pay their fair share. Will the Secretary of State commit to persuading the Chancellor to do the same thing?

I feel I ought to point out that the £2.2 billion to which the hon. Lady refers is in fact money that has been provided courtesy of the Barnett formula because Wales is a member of the Union. Not only that, but on top of that £2.2 billion is probably a similar amount of money, taking it up to between £4 billion and £5 billion of support that UK Government intervention has provided to businesses, individuals and taxpayers in Wales. In case I have not mentioned it before, I should say that I did have a conversation on this very point with Ken Skates, the Minister in the Welsh Government. He explained to me the logic behind what they were trying to do but also pointed out that it relates to a tiny proportion of the companies under consideration. As a general rule, the idea that he and the hon. Lady have come up with sounds good and looks good, but in fact it refers to very few businesses that are actually situated in Wales.

Well, indeed, Mr Speaker, I think the Secretary of State makes the point very clearly that a UK-wide attack would have a lot more effect. But anyway, looking beyond the current covid challenge, Welsh businesses, farmers and universities all deserve to know now what funding will be in place in January when the structural funds come to an end. With barely seven months to go, when will the Government publish the detail of the shared prosperity fund so that people in Wales can prepare?

The hon. Lady will be aware that, if the shared prosperity fund was an important future issue for the economic prosperity of Wales before, it is even more so now. I think that we all acknowledge that. There are regular discussions with Jeremy Miles in the Welsh Government and relevant Ministers in the UK Government to prepare for that. As she knows, Government policy is very clear on this. The project is on time and on schedule, and more details will be shared with her colleagues in Cardiff as and when the relevant decisions are made. At the moment, though, there is no change to Government policy in this regard.