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Devolution Settlement

Volume 700: debated on Wednesday 15 September 2021

5. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the adequacy of the operation of the devolution settlement. (903359)

8. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the adequacy of the operation of the devolution settlement. (903362)

My discussions with the First Minister and his ministerial team are focused on how our respective Governments can use the powers at our disposal to deliver jobs and economic growth for Wales.

Hijacking pots of money for Wales in the UK Government Departments that have not operated in Wales for 20 years undermines the devolution settlement and, by extension, the Union, but just as damaging is the bureaucratic delay caused by the uselessness of UK Ministers. Why have Welsh councils still not had a response on community fund renewal projects that are supposed to be completed by March 2022? If the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues cannot do the business, they should get off the pot.

In the last 18 months or more, I have spoken to numerous individuals, charities, churches, universities, the private and public sectors, businesses, investors—you name them, we have spoken to them. Not a single one has raised the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises this morning. They are committed to the economic recovery plans that we are talking about, and, as I said in answer to a previous question, if all these question sessions do is relegate these exchanges to some kind of cheap political point scoring, we will not make the progress that he seeks.

The landslips in the Rhondda last year sent a shiver down the spine of the valleys communities, and many of my constituents in Cynon Valley live in fear of future coal tip disasters. Three hundred of the 2,000 coal tips in Wales have been classed at high risk of endangering life or property. We need to know that they are safe and the UK Government have a clear duty to make them safe. [Interruption.] What discussion has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer ahead of the forthcoming spending review to ensure that sustainable funding is provided to deal with the legacy of the coal tips? [Interruption.]

I think I caught most of that question, but the hon. Lady will no doubt recall that the UK Government put over £30 million into coal tip renewal and coal tip safety issues. It was the UK Government who joined forces with the Welsh Government to make sure that that approach was collegiate and addressed all the concerns that were raised, including those that fall into the devolved space just as much as the reserved space. If she wants an example of the UK Government and the Welsh Government working together and the Treasury picking up the tab, that issue is a perfect example.

Respecting devolution cuts both ways. Recently, the Welsh Government published a written statement on the evolution of the national grid. It was very welcome—we need to work together—but clearly, the 132 kV lines are a UK competence. Will the Secretary of State pull Ofgem and the operators together to build and evolve the national grid, with consensus from the people of mid-Wales?

I can go a little further than that, having spoken to the Busines Secretary on this topic only yesterday evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) raises a very important point, especially around where the devolution settlement and reserved responsibilities sit. It is absolutely right to raise that but it is also fair to say that an issue of that significance will require a UK-wide approach and, of course, the views and responsibilities of the Welsh Government will be taken very seriously in those discussions.

If the devolution settlement is to work, the UK Government have to match their rhetoric on the respect agenda. Given that all devolved Governments in the UK have asked the UK Government to cancel the cut to universal credit, can the Secretary of State say that he made that representation to his Cabinet colleagues, or is the post of Secretary of State entirely redundant? [Interruption.]

I barely caught a single word of that, but on the basis that I have heard the hon. Gentleman’s views on this subject before, I will simply repeat my views and observations. Over the past 18 months during the covid pandemic, there has been a very analytical look at what works and what does not work in the devolution settlement by businesses, employers, wealth creators, investors, universities, churches and members of the public. I have to say that this fixation with the niceties of the devolution settlement is not reflected by businesses in Wales at the moment. [Interruption.] If by any chance I have missed the hon. Gentleman’s question, which, by the shake of his head, I suspect I have, we can have a conversation in the Tea Room later.