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Covid-19 Outbreak

Volume 678: debated on Wednesday 8 July 2020

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales and I have regular discussions with the First Minister of Wales and his ministerial team on the response to covid-19, totalling 124 meetings and calls since the pandemic began.

As the Secretary of State knows, the Welsh Labour Government are making a thank-you payment of £500 to every social care worker in Wales. Does he agree that it is a kick in the teeth to those workers that the Treasury intends to tax that bonus payment, and will he join me and the Welsh First Minister in urging the Chancellor to think again?

We have discussed this at Wales questions before. It is disappointing that the Welsh Government did not discuss this in greater detail with the Treasury earlier on, because we could have found a way around it. Those discussions are ongoing, and there is a reasonably positive dialogue, but as I say, the answer to this would have been found in earlier engagement, rather than by making an announcement that they knew required primary legislation for which there was not time.

On Friday, the First Minister of Wales said that it had been “impossible” to get a “sensible answer” from the UK Government on the plans to allow travel to foreign countries. At the beginning of this crisis, we regularly heard from the First Minister that he had just come off a call with the UK Government, and we know that ministerial implementation groups were being used to co-ordinate a four-nations approach. Despite the numbers that the Secretary of State quoted, there seems to be a communications breakdown. Does he believe that the Government could have done more to work more closely with Wales and other devolved nations during this crisis?

I was talking to the First Minister about this only a few days ago, and he described the particular occasion that the hon. Lady refers to as the exception rather than the rule. As I mentioned, there have been 124 meetings between the two Governments. Actually, dialogue is pretty good, and in eight out of 10 cases, we reach agreement—albeit not necessarily in the greatest of humour, but we do reach agreement. The relationship is better than we sometimes read in the press.

The loss of over 1,400 jobs at Broughton is a devastating blow for the not only workers on site and in the supply chain but the whole economy of north Wales. What discussions has the Secretary of State had recently with Airbus and Welsh Ministers, and when will his Government come forward with a specific sector deal to support the aerospace industry in Wales and across the UK?

I am pleased to report that we have had regular conversations with Airbus throughout the pandemic and very recently, as well as with Welsh Government and stakeholders in the north Wales and Broughton area. Airbus has reported that the industry has had between £6 billion and £10 billion-worth of UK Government support so far. Discussions with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are ongoing about other areas where help can be provided. My colleagues, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts), have been at the front of that, looking at any other areas in which we can help the industry to remain in Broughton not just now but in five and 10 years’ time. We are open to further discussions.

Sadly, there are not just sectoral problems for aerospace. With Bridgend now reeling from the INEOS threat to take jobs elsewhere, it is clear that Wales and the UK face fierce international competition. Can the Secretary of State explain what he and his Government are doing to develop a UK-wide industrial strategy and a trade policy that will help to retain, create and attract the new green jobs of the future?

I have initial discussions with INEOS tomorrow. This is a deal between the Welsh Government and INEOS, so in a sense, that question should be addressed to the relevant Minister in the Welsh Government. That said, the inability or unwillingness of Welsh Government to make any moves at all on improving the M4 relief road have played a part, it is rumoured, in the decision that INEOS has taken. In the wider context, I hope the hon. Lady can remain in her seat or one near it for Prime Minister’s questions and the statement from the Chancellor afterwards, as I believe that some of the questions she raised may be answered at that stage.