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Covid-19: Intergovernmental Relations

Volume 676: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2020

5. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of intergovernmental relations between the Government and (a) the Welsh Government and (b) other devolved Administrations in responding to the covid-19 outbreak. (902990)

13. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of intergovernmental relations between the Government and (a) the Welsh Government and (b) other devolved Administrations in responding to the covid-19 outbreak. (903000)

We have worked hand in hand with the devolved Administrations since the start of the outbreak, including through the Cobra ministerial committees and the ministerial implementation groups. We have noted 112 engagements in total since 23 March and the number continues to rise.

I want to associate myself with the point made by the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) because there is a danger that the wind-down of the furlough scheme will have an impact on the hospitality and tourism sector in Wales. Given that that is a policy that will be directed from London, does it not make the case for the devolution of fiscal powers, so that the Welsh Government can continue to support businesses for so long as is necessary?

The UK Government have already made it very clear that they are supporting Welsh businesses. We have had the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, the large business scheme, the furlough scheme and the self-employed scheme, and there are other schemes as well. We have shown, at all times, the flexibility and the commitment to support industry, including the tourism industry, and I welcome the interactions that I have had with members of the Scottish Government, as well as with the Welsh Government.

From the outset of this pandemic, the UK Government said that they would take a four-nation approach, which surely requires transparency over how decisions are made. But two unilateral decisions have been made in the past week without consulting or forewarning the Welsh Government: first on shielding advice; and secondly, on university numbers, which affects Glasgow Central, as it does Wales. So how can the UK Government claim to be respecting that four-nation approach? Is it not less hand in hand than thumbing a nose?

I am reliably informed that, in actual fact, there has been a great deal of consultation with the Welsh Government on university numbers and, of course, shielding is a devolved matter and the hon. Lady surely would not expect us to trample all over the devolution settlement. But it is important to say that the people of the United Kingdom—Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England—expect politicians to put aside political grandstanding at the time of this crisis and work together, and the UK Government are committed to doing that.

Office for National Statistics figures show that the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance and universal credit in Dwyfor Meirionnydd has increased by 124% since the start of lockdown. This is the biggest increase in any Welsh constituency. A pattern is appearing across Wales and the UK, with regions heavily dependent on tourism and hospitality seeing a desperate increase in unemployment. We will see a corresponding increase in rural poverty if these businesses are left defenceless and facing a three-winter scenario. Will the Minister commit today to working with the Welsh Government to create a tailored long-term package to guarantee the long-term future of the Welsh tourism and hospitality sector?

I thank the right hon. Lady for the question. It is quite obvious that the lockdown will have a huge impact on our economy and it will increase unemployment figures. That is why the UK Government are committed to coming out of lockdown as quickly as it is safe to do so, and I hope that the Welsh Government and members of Plaid Cymru will also support that. I said earlier on that we look forward to rolling out a red and green carpet for visitors from across the United Kingdom, and we want to make absolutely certain that we do not see signs going up in parts of rural Wales saying, “English people are not welcome here”. We welcome tourists from all parts of the United Kingdom and beyond to see what Wales has to offer. I hope the right hon. Lady will talk to members of local authorities across north Wales to emphasise that message.

I think some more specific support would have been more useful than political points. The Minister says that both Governments will work together, but we know that this week’s student number controls announcement in response to the covid-19 pandemic was brought out without any consultation whatsoever with the Welsh Government. Given his role in the Government and his role representing Wales, what is he doing to protect the interests of the Welsh higher education sector from such potentially damaging effects and decisions made by his Government?

I discussed this very issue with my officials this morning. I am assured that there was consultation between the Wales and the UK Government and that this is a UK-wide scheme that is being put in place to protect universities and to stop people poaching students from each other across the United Kingdom. I can only say once again that the UK Government are completely committed to consultation with Welsh Government. We have made it clear that Welsh Government Ministers are welcome at Cobra meetings and the ministerial implementation groups, and we have actually asked if we could attend Welsh Government meetings in the same way; thus far we have not had a response. If the right hon. Lady can put pressure on her friends in the Assembly to allow UK Welsh Government Ministers to attend Welsh Government meetings, we would be happy to do so.

The First Minister and members of the Welsh Government have been closely involved in all aspects of the UK Government’s coronavirus response, but despite this the First Minister has been continually critical of the UK Government. Can my hon. Friend put these criticisms to bed and outline just how engaged the UK Government have been with the Welsh Government?

As I have already mentioned, we have had 130 meetings at which Welsh Government Ministers have been present, and we very much hope that the Welsh Government will take a similar view of the importance of having UK Government representation at their meetings. We look forward to invitations coming to me and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales from the Welsh Government shortly.

I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister for their mature approach to the Welsh Government and for engaging on so many levels. My hon. Friend was right to outline tourism as important to Wales. As we come out of the lockdown, the language and the relationship between the two Governments working together is key for my constituents and the tourist industry. Will he meet me and push the Welsh Government to work together on coming out of lockdown?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to talk about how we can support tourism after the crisis is over. We will be meeting with many other representatives of industry groups, including the automotive, defence and aerospace sectors, to discuss how we can support them as well.

Transport is an important area of intergovernmental relations between the Welsh and Westminster Governments. Would the Minister agree that both Governments’ transport investment plans are of even greater importance as we come out of the crisis, and would he meet me to discuss the need in Clwyd South for projects such as step-free access at Ruabon station?

I would be delighted to discuss step-free access at Ruabon station with my hon. Friend, and I hope that I will be able to give him news of much greater rail and road infrastructure projects that will be on offer to Wales once the crisis is over.