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The Union

Volume 691: debated on Wednesday 17 March 2021

What recent assessment his Department has made of the strength of the Union between Wales and the rest of the UK. (913410)

As the vaccine roll-out has shown, our four nations are safer, stronger and more prosperous together, and I look forward to the people of Wales giving a resounding endorsement of the Union at the Senedd elections in May.

I find that very interesting, because the Labour First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, told the Welsh Affairs Committee a few weeks ago that devolution is under aggressive attack by a Tory Government who have “outright hostility” at the heart of their governance. With independence currently polling as high as 40% in Wales without an official campaign, will the Secretary of State respect the democratic rights of people in Wales and Scotland to have a post-pandemic independence referendum in the event of pro-independence majorities in May?

I think the First Minister has been pretty reckless in trying to inject an air of uncertainty into these discussions, and most of us realise that he is only doing so because his only chance of remaining as First Minister post May is to do some kind of a deal with Plaid Cymru; and we know what the price of that would be.

Will my right hon. Friend explain what benefits to Wales being a member of our United Kingdom brings?

We could spend the rest of the morning listing the benefits, but I refer my hon. Friend to the Budget only a few days ago, with £4.8 million for the Holyhead hydrogen hub, £30 million for the global centre of rail excellence, the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund and £450 million community ownership fund. I could go on and on, but the benefits are numerous.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llefarydd—agus beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh! Pob bendith arnoch chi heddiw, ar ddydd gŵyl Padrig.

Asylum seekers will—

Order. Can I just say to the right hon. Lady, let us just stop; I do not mind the beginning, but to start extending the sentence in Welsh goes against the rules of the House.

The first part was in Irish, the second was in Welsh and it was wishing everybody a happy St Patrick’s—

Order. I have no arguments with it whatsoever, but unfortunately the House makes the rules; I am only here to ensure that the rules are kept.

Thank you; diolch yn fawr.

Asylum seekers will leave the squalid Penally camp this weekend, thanks to months of campaigning by Plaid Cymru police and crime commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn, and others. The camp is in the Secretary of State’s constituency, but he only became aware of the Home Office plans on 12 September last year, days before people moved in. Despite months of resistance from his own Government, I am afraid to say that he now scrabbles to change the narrative, and he recently dismissed the Welsh Government’s “little status”—those are his own words. Given the “little status” of the Wales Office, how does he continue to justify its existence?

As brass neck goes, that is quite an exceptional example of it, as far as Penally is concerned. It seems that Plaid’s commitment to a nation of sanctuary extends only as far as its not being in its patch, as we have discovered from the reactions of the right hon. Lady’s party colleagues. The fact of the matter is that this has been a difficult situation for a number of people involved. It is being resolved, thanks to collaborative efforts between the Home Office and the Wales Office, demonstrating the value of both.

On Wales as a nation of sanctuary, Penally is closing while Napier remains open.

Today, work begins on reducing Wales’s voice in Westminster from 40 MPs to 32. At the same time, the levelling-up fund will make local authorities’ ability to bid for funding dependent on—wait for it—the number of MPs in their areas. The Secretary of State has been gifted a role in overseeing all this, while our Senedd —the Parliament with competence over economic development—is sidelined. How does he condone taking such power away from the people of Wales in the name of pork barrel politics?

The right hon. Lady needs to read up on the notes on the subject. What she has described is nothing resembling the truth. The levelling-up fund is a fantastic opportunity for Wales, as is the community renewal fund. It involves local authorities and local stakeholders in a way that she should welcome. It is the true definition of devolution. It does not get wedged in Cardiff; it goes to local authorities and local communities across Wales, and she should welcome that. The fact is that we have extended the hand of friendship to the Welsh Government. We want this to be a collaborative approach, and we very much welcome that being the case. This will involve local communities in a way that they have never been involved before, and she, of all people, should welcome that.

Vale of Glamorgan received a tiny amount of European aid over the past 20 years despite having areas of significant deprivation. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that the levelling-up fund and the community renewal fund will apply to Vale of Glamorgan—we have been ignored up until now—and that exciting projects such as Barry marina, St Athan train station and the Dinas Powys bypass could now become possible because of Union support?

Who would ever dare ignore the efforts of my right hon. Friend? He is absolutely right that the local authority in his area will now have a chance to bid in a way that it never could before, and to bid with the strong and vigorous support that he provides. I think this is going to be a golden age for the vale.