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Covid-19: Co-ordination of UK-wide Response

Volume 698: debated on Wednesday 30 June 2021

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on co-ordinating a UK-wide response to the covid-19 outbreak. (901786)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on co-ordinating a UK-wide response to the covid-19 outbreak. (901791)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues as part of the UK Government response to covid-19. This includes weekly meetings with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment and, of course, the First Minister of Wales.

I thank my right hon Friend for his answer. Clearly, cases of infection in Wales have dropped dramatically. Over the last seven days, they are roughly 50 to 55 per 100,000, compared with the previous highs of 500 per 100,000. In these circumstances, does he agree that it is about time that the Welsh Government gave Welsh businesses some certainty or vision for when they can start to rebuild their lives, and that the Welsh Government should come on board with the UK Government road map out of the lockdown?

My hon. Friend’s question reveals quite a sad contrast between the priorities of the Welsh Government and the priorities of the UK Government at this moment. We read in the papers this week that the Welsh Government are fixated on talking about new tourism taxes. They are talking about constitutional reform, even going as far as reform of the House of Lords. None of these seems to be consistent with the UK Government ambitions, which are jobs, livelihoods, investment and recovery, and they should be joining us in that endeavour.

Like my right hon. Friend, I hugely welcome the progress that has been made in Wales, but what frustrates many is that the Welsh Government seem to be in the habit of announcing extended lockdowns at short notice—[Laughter.]—without having due consultation with the Government. Does he agree that, should this practice continue, we should expect Cardiff Bay to meet the financial cost of supporting businesses to keep their heads above water during those lockdowns?

I notice the laughter stopped at the moment my hon. Friend raised that particular question. I will say again what I have often said from the Dispatch Box: certainty is crucial in all this. I have always preferred a UK-wide response to covid, in whatever respect that might come, because it inspires confidence and compliance. I think that some kind of further indication from the Welsh Government as to the unlocking process for businesses in Wales is overdue and I hope very much that we will hear more shortly.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llefarydd. With your permission, I would like to say thanks to Wales’s national football team. It was not to be this time, but fe godwn ni eto— we will rise again.

More than one in five households in Wales with a net income under £20,000 have seen their income drop since January. Nearly 110,000 families are struggling to cover essential costs. Labour’s leader in Wales complained yesterday that the key levers for tackling poverty are in the hands of the UK Government, but paradoxically he opposes the devolution of those powers to the Senedd. One Government have the levers but choose not to use them, while the other are content with not having those levers at all. Will the Secretary of State urge the Chancellor, please, to make use of his powers and make permanent the £20 uplift to universal credit?

I am absolutely happy to confirm, as I always do from the Dispatch Box, that the Chancellor is very focused on making sure that levelling up means exactly that, that economic recovery means exactly that, that nowhere gets left behind and that every decision we take in Government, in any Department, is always taken through the prism of levelling up and of equalising opportunity and job and life chances across Wales. That has been a really transformational development during covid, and I very much hope that the right hon. Lady can join me in congratulating the Chancellor on the work that he has done.

None the less, I am sure that for those families £20 would make a lot of difference.

Last week, I presented a Bill—the Crown Estate (Devolution to Wales) Bill—to devolve the management of the Crown Estate, and our natural resources in Wales, to Wales. Scotland gained those powers in 2017, and now it is reaping the benefits of the green offshore wind revolution. I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that the value of the Crown Estate’s remaining seabed assets, which include those in Wales, has more than doubled over the past year, to more than £4 billion. Does he agree that Wales deserves equal treatment with Scotland as regards control over our natural resources?

I can confirm that I have conversations with the Crown Estate. Its proposals for offshore floating wind off the west Wales coast are extremely welcome. Where I think that I am in some form of disagreement with the right hon. Lady—she will not be remotely surprised by this—is on the fact that in order to achieve some success in the renewables sector, somehow we always have to go back to powers and further devolution. Of all the conversations that I have had with industries, sectors, individuals, voters—you name them—across the whole of the past 18 months, including and in particular at the Senedd elections, not one single person urged me to follow the route that the right hon. Lady has just set out. Of course, they urge us to pursue our renewables agenda, and that is what we are doing. We are doing it, as far as we can, as a UK-wide endeavour, because that is the way we will get to our targets the quickest.