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Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2022

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What recent steps the Government have taken to tackle the impact of (a) inflation and (b) increases in the cost of living on households and businesses in Wales. (906143)

10. What recent steps the Government have taken to tackle the impact of (a) inflation and (b) increases in the cost of living on households and businesses in Wales. (906154)

Among a range of measures, the Chancellor recently announced a £200 energy bill discount for households across the whole of the UK, including Wales, as well as £180 million to the Welsh Government in recognition of the council tax energy rebate in England.

About 1.5 million households across the UK depend on heating oil for their domestic energy needs. Last September, households could have expected to pay about £250 for a 500-litre delivery. Last week, those prices had risen to anywhere between £600 and £900 for a delivery of the same volume. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with his Cabinet colleagues, particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, about how that burden could be mitigated for households at the mercy of that unregulated section of the energy market?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman has raised this question. I am in that particular bracket myself, so I know exactly what he is talking about. There have been some interventions already. As far as conversations with the Chancellor and his team are concerned, they have been numerous up to and including this morning, but I think the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I ask him if he can possibly wait till roughly 12.30 this afternoon, when the Chancellor will spell out exactly what his own proposals are.

With rising inflation and a cost of living crisis, a recent YouGov survey of Welsh voters found that 71% felt that their personal financial situation is set to worsen over the next 12 months and 27% said that they will struggle to pay their next energy bill. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Chancellor should turn his energy loan into a grant and reverse the £20 universal credit cut?

Again, I can only say that it would be unhelpful and inappropriate for me to predict and prejudge what the Chancellor will be saying in the Chamber in a matter of minutes. All I can say is that these are conversations—[Hon. Members: “Go on!”] I would like to, but I am not going to. These conversations have been a regular part of—have dominated—the Wales Office’s connection with the Treasury in the last few days and weeks. As I say, the hon. Member has not got long to wait, and I hope he can bear with me.

The boss of oil giant BP said last month that it had more money than it knows what to do with, which is completely the opposite situation to that of households right across Wales that cannot cope with record inflation and astronomical energy bills under the watch of the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, so why will he and the Chancellor not agree to a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas producers?

There are two points I would like to make. The first one I have already made, which is not to prejudge what the Chancellor is going to say in his statement in a few minutes’ time, which will address this and I hope numerous other issues that are occupying the minds of Members across the House, in fact. As far as the second point is concerned, I am afraid a slightly well-trodden path of the Opposition is to confront every possible problem by finding somebody and taxing them. We do not believe that is necessarily the answer, because we want energy companies to be part of the solution and also to be part of future and ongoing investment in energy infrastructure, and they will not do that—and will not be able to do that—if all the Government’s responses are simply, as I say, to identify them and tax them. It may be a populist gesture, but it is not actually going to solve the problem that we both wish to try to resolve.

I am afraid the Secretary of State is completely out of touch with public opinion on this. Polling this week, published by 38 Degrees, shows that 69% of the Welsh public say that the Government’s energy bill loan package is not enough to help those struggling with their energy bills, and 67% support Labour’s windfall tax because it would mean £200 off energy bills now and £600 off energy bills for the hardest-hit households in Wales. This would be a tax on the unexpected profits of oil and gas companies, so why is he on the side of those oil and gas companies, not on the side of the Welsh public?

I think that just defaulting to a 38 Degrees petition as if that is some kind of solution to a very complex and long-standing problem is a cheap and populist way out of this. We are taking a more responsible view, as I hope she will hear from the Chancellor later. There have already been numerous interventions—for example, we have provided an additional £180 million to the Welsh Government in this particular context—so I urge the hon. Member not just to press the petition button and think that that is all the Opposition have to do. We have to do a lot more than that if we are serious about addressing the long-term challenges that face us all. None of us is without this: we all have constituents with these problems and we all know exactly the challenges she refers to.


We have had constructive discussions with the Welsh Government on the importance of establishing our freeports programme, and we continue to work closely on that as a matter of urgency.

The east midlands freeport will see nearly £9 billion of new investment, and tens of thousands of new jobs created in our region. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Welsh Government really cared about the people of Ynys Môn, they would support the efforts of our colleagues to deliver a freeport, and bring more jobs and investment to the island?

If nothing else, I think the Wales Office Parliamentary Private Secretary has won a bet in getting her constituency up in lights again on the question of freeports. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about something we have been campaigning on for some time, and this fantastic scheme will create long-lasting sustainable jobs across the whole UK. I hope he will forgive me, however, for not trying to prejudge what that process may conclude regarding the actual venues. We are expecting a number of very enthusiastic bids into the scheme once it is launched. I think we can describe that announcement as “imminent”, so my hon. Friend, and the residents of Ynys Môn, do not have long to wait.

The flow of goods through free trade is a critical priority for prosperity, whether in the village of Wales in Rother Valley, or in the great nation of Wales. What role does my right hon. Friend see for freeports in that, and how might a freeport in north Wales—for example in Anglesey—help to improve the problems associated with a central corridor and the working of the Northern Ireland protocol?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The concept of freeports is indisputably positive, and others who have gone down that route with the launch of English freeports are already able to report inward investment, and good sustainable jobs that will contribute to our economic recovery as well as our net-zero ambitions. As I said, in Wales there will be a number of very high quality bids. We have committed in the manifesto to at least one freeport in Wales, and hopefully we may be able to expand on that over time. The long wait for a decision, and the many months of wrestling with the Welsh Government to reach a conclusion that we can all live with, are nearly at an end.

A freeport in Wales, especially in Anglesey, sounds like a great idea, just like in Teesside, where the UK’s largest and first post-Brexit freeport has already led to the announcement of thousands of future jobs in new green technologies. Does the Minister agree it is vital that we all get behind our freeport policy, which will help to level up and deliver the change we need in our areas?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, which gives me the opportunity to highlight that freeports are already a resounding success in his area. We do not need to go any further than that, because the work that he and the Mayor, Ben Houchen, have done in that area is fantastic. Anyone who had any doubts about what freeports can bring to a region need only look at my hon. Friend’s area to see that they make a serious and positive contribution to future economic prosperity.

The Secretary of State extols the virtues of a freeport in Wales, but will he assure the House that he will not allow DP World, which is responsible for the shameful sacking of 800 P&O workers, anywhere near the construction or operation of any freeport in the United Kingdom?

The hon. Lady raises a timely point, and I hope that the comments made by the Transport Secretary, and others, will reassure her that we are deeply disturbed by the way that action was taken. As she knows, it has been referred to the Insolvency Service, and if there are demonstrable transgressions in that process, that could lead to criminal prosecutions. I can give the hon. Lady the assurance she needs as far as freeports in Wales are concerned.

In the ongoing work and discussions on freeports with the Welsh Government, does the Secretary of State agree with the Welsh Government’s three basic and rather easy requests: parity over decision making; fair funding between freeports across the nation so that Welsh Government funds do not have to be diverted away from vital projects in Wales; and that the ethical standards of the Welsh Government—which are certainly higher than those of the UK Government—will be met if any freeport is delivered in Wales?

I hope I can assure the hon. Gentleman. The fact that we are, I hope, imminently to make an announcement that involves the UK and the Welsh Governments, means that both parties in this long-running negotiation are satisfied. As I said, I do not want to prejudge the announcement or what the bidding process may conclude, but we can absolutely agree that there are a number of important issues. We have taken more than two years to reach this point, and I hope the Welsh Government, and everybody else involved in the process, will be satisfied by the outcome.

The Secretary of State has said that freeports in Wales will create 15,000 jobs, but where is his evidence that any of the economic benefits that flow from that will reach ordinary Welsh workers rather than the usual fat cats, such as DP World?

The answer to that question, if the hon. Gentleman does not want to believe me, comes from port authorities, local authorities, stakeholders and others around Wales—people, including in his constituency, are looking at the evidence for freeports and the kind of upsides that my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) mentioned for Teesside a few moments ago. It might be a step too far for the hon. Gentleman to believe me, but he should believe his constituents and his community who believe this to be long overdue and are very anxious that we conclude it as soon as possible.

From welcoming Ukrainian refugees to safeguarding seafarers’ rights, the Government consistently disappoint. The Welsh Conservatives have now joined Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru to call for an expedited visa process to ensure simple, fast, safe and legal routes to sanctuary in the UK and to remove the requirement for Ukrainians to provide biometric evidence prior to leaving Ukraine. The Secretary of State is Wales’s man in the Cabinet: what is he doing to ensure that those jointly agreed Welsh humanitarian aims are achieved?

I hope I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. Numerous conversations have been ongoing between the UK Government and the Welsh Government about the Ukraine refugee position. I stress that this is not a competition. We are working together to try to get the best outcome in a severe humanitarian crisis, and that means that we are putting our political differences to one side, and I hope that he can join us in that endeavour. We are incredibly grateful to local authorities, charities, the public in Wales and, of course, the Welsh Government for making this happen at the pace that it has. I spoke to the Ukrainian ambassador only last week, and he is also incredibly grateful for the way in which Wales, in all its different forms, has stepped up to the mark to try to resolve the problem. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support in our attempt to achieve those ambitions.

Most of the focus on the freeport opportunity has understandably been on maritime ports. Can I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the merits of Barry port? In addition, can I ask him to pay particular attention to Cardiff airport, which is closely associated with Barry port, and assure me that it will be central to his thinking?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that. He is right to point out that freeports are not necessarily confined to coastal areas: some of the best examples of freeports in the UK are inland freeports. They are also not all identical, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for the whole of the UK. We are trying to be as flexible as we can in looking at all the different dynamics, including Cardiff airport, to make sure that when the bids come in we are not too prescriptive and we look at all the issues with the most open mind that we can.

Police Funding

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of the level of police funding for Wales on crime. (906145)

On levels of crime, Office for National Statistics data for the year ending September 2021 show that crime levels per capita in Wales are below the national average across England and Wales. As for funding, this Conservative Government will always be the party of law and order, and that is why I am pleased to be able to say that we are putting £820 million into policing next year, an increase of £40 million.

In the nearly 13 years the Government have been in power, police staffing has fallen by 25,000. Across the UK, there are 7,000 fewer police community support officers on the streets than there were in 2010. In Wales, the Welsh Labour Government, which does not have jurisdiction over policing, have stepped in and funded 500 PCSOs and will fund a further 100. Does that not show that the Tories are happy to see rising crime and an increase in victims, and it is only Labour which is taking action to keep our communities safe?

What it shows is that the Welsh Government will have had a record increase in spend of around £2.5 billion over the next couple of financial years. What I can also tell the hon. Lady is that 603 additional police officers are being allocated for Wales, 479 have taken that opportunity and there are still 100 vacancies. As somebody who spent nine years as a special constable, I recommend to anyone who wants to serve their community that they should consider joining a police force in Wales.

English police forces are fully reimbursed by the Government for the cost of training police officers. In Wales, the Home Office has reimbursed only half the cost, leaving Welsh police forces with a shortfall of over £2 million. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State persuade their Cabinet colleagues to meet the historical funding shortfall in full, so that Welsh police forces are no longer penalised and are in future treated equally with English ones?

This is actually a quite complex problem, and far more complex perhaps than we have time for in this forum. The real problem is that the Welsh Government are failing to discuss with the Home Office how the apprenticeship scheme works. I urge the hon. Gentleman to talk to his colleagues in the Welsh Labour Government, get them to recognise the apprenticeships schemes and ensure that police officers are properly trained and police forces fully refunded.

Cross-Border Transport

4. What discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Welsh Government on cross-border transport connectivity with north Wales. (906146)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I discuss regularly with Cabinet members and members of the Welsh Government a range of transport matters. It was a pleasure to meet the hon. Gentleman last week to discuss cross-border connectivity in north Wales. The Union connectivity review recognised the importance of the north Wales transport corridor and the Government are carefully considering the recommendations before reporting back.

I thank the Minister for meeting me last week. He will understand that if north Wales is to get the full benefits of HS2, the line from Crewe to Chester and on to north Wales will need to be upgraded, including work at Chester station. Will he get on to his Transport Department colleagues and get them to get a move on with making a decision on that upgrade work?

Yes. I thought the hon. Gentleman made a very powerful case last week about the importance of improvements in Chester. I think he would agree that improvements to the rail service in some parts of England will benefit passengers in Wales and vice versa. I fully agree with him about HS2. It will have an enormous impact and deliver improvements not just for passengers in England, but for passengers in Wales and especially north Wales.


5. What recent steps he has taken with Cabinet colleagues to help support people living in Aberconwy constituency. (906147)

Levelling up is all about places like Aberconwy. From our investment in a new tourism and innovation hub in Llandudno to improving digital connectivity for over 60 public buildings across Aberconwy, we will give everyone in Wales the opportunity to flourish and ensure that no place is left behind.

I thank the Minister on behalf of residents for his answer and for the UK Government’s interest. The UK Government have funded a book for every schoolchild in the UK to commemorate the platinum jubilee. A bilingual version has been printed for schoolchildren in Wales. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that schoolchildren in Wales and Aberconwy—and even in Ynys Môn—will receive a copy of that book?

My hon. Friend is correct. The UK Government wanted to celebrate the enormous achievement and the enormous commitment to public service that has been made by our monarch, and have produced the book bilingually to ensure that schoolchildren across Wales are able to read bilingually about the contribution made by Her Majesty the Queen. I am sure they all look forward eagerly to receiving their copy. The UK Government are working with the Welsh Government to ensure that that can happen imminently.

Roads Review

6. What discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the impact of their roads review on transport infrastructure. (906148)

The Wales Office has regular discussions with the Welsh Government on cross-border connectivity. I am afraid that Labour’s plans are more of a roadblock than a road review. I urge the Welsh Government to focus more on investment and on delivering their 2016 manifesto commitments to sort out the M4 relief road and various other vital links.

Five years ago, the A55-A494 network resilience study, commissioned by the Welsh Government, recognised the strategic importance of the route and the fact that it is often above capacity and vulnerable to disruption. How does my right hon. Friend believe the roads review may impact on plans for UKNET, a high-performing strategic transport network for the whole of the United Kingdom?

I know both the roads that my hon. Friend refers to—I travel on them regularly—and I am well aware of their importance to his constituency and the region’s economic future. The UK Government’s contribution to the road infrastructure is second to none. Some liaison is clearly necessary with the Welsh Government about certain aspects of that. We hope that they will publish their strategy soon and look again at their road strategy, because a simple moratorium on road improvements and new roads is not the way to restore economic prosperity in his area or anywhere else.

Steel Industry

The UK Government recognise the importance of the steel industry in Wales and the UK. The £30 million loan secured for Celsa is a demonstration of our commitment to the steel sector. Our response during the pandemic helped to secure more than 1,000 steel jobs in Wales.

While he was campaigning for Brexit in 2016, the Prime Minister told steelworkers in Wales that it was:

“Mad that we can’t cut steel energy costs because of EU rules”.

Now that we have left the EU, is it not madder that the Government have still done little to cut sky-high energy bills, which are a massive burden on our steel producers in Wales?

I thank the hon. Lady, who has been an unbelievably effective campaigner for the steel industry in her area and in Wales more widely. The Business Secretary and I met the steel sector the other day at the Steel Council. The issue she has raised was an important part of that and the Business Secretary was able to offer some reassurance. I do not want to prejudge today’s statement from the Chancellor, but as we have the opportunity, I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in thanking the International Trade Secretary for her overnight success in lifting steel tariffs between the US and the UK. That will make a significant difference to everybody involved in the steel industry in the UK.


9. What steps his Department is taking to support people in Wales in assisting friends and family in Ukraine. (906153)

There have already been more than 10,000 Welsh registrations of interest in the UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme. Wales is opening its arms to the people of Ukraine, proving that we are all now super-sponsors.

I am glad to have been able to help some families leaving Ukraine and I congratulate the many people and communities in Clwyd South who have been fundraising and giving practical help in the Ukraine crisis. Will the Secretary of State give further details on the Homes for Ukraine scheme, with the 10,000 registrations from Clwyd South and across Wales, and on how that is helping the situation at present?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which he has been campaigning on this issue; it is a great example of what Members across the House have been able to do. I repeat my earlier answer about meeting the Ukrainian ambassador last week and expressing his gratitude, as well as mine, to local authorities, charities, the public in Wales and, in particular, the Welsh Government. This has been a joint effort—a superb all-round effort, involving all the stakeholders I have mentioned and more. As I stressed earlier, this is not a competition, but a collaborative effort, in which the early uptake has been superb. I think that we will be able to offer help to the necessary number of people on the timescale that we need because of that level of co-operation. [Interruption.]

I hope that the House will want to listen to this question. Liana, my constituent, is from Ukraine and is in Cardiff on a global talent visa. Liana’s mother-in-law is depending on the kindness of strangers in Dublin for her accommodation, but the Home Office is not letting her in from Dublin even though there is a home waiting for her in Cardiff. I notice that the Home Secretary has joined Members on the Front Bench. Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the Home Secretary and ask her to look into why someone who is here on a global talent visa for science cannot bring their mother-in-law to stay with them in Cardiff?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I suspect that many Members have similar examples of people who, sadly, have slipped through the net or are in a difficult position. I absolutely give him an assurance, as I know the Home Secretary will, that we will look at each and every one of those individual cases and, hopefully, we will deliver to him the answer that he needs.

Offshore Wind

11. What steps the Government are taking to help develop floating offshore wind projects in Wales. (906155)

The UK Government are committed to supporting the development of the floating offshore wind industry in Wales, with £160 million of funding available for floating offshore wind ports and factories across the UK. That funding will ensure that Wales capitalises on the huge opportunities that floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea presents.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the Celtic sea, may I ask my hon. Friend to detail what steps are being taken to progress floating offshore wind so that the supply-chain benefits are felt all the way around the Celtic sea’s shores, from Pembrokeshire across to North Devon and Cornwall?

I commend my hon. Friend’s commitment to championing this opportunity through her role as chair of the Celtic sea APPG. Under this Conservative Government, with this Prime Minister, we will continue to see huge increases in the renewable energy that we produce and supply-chain benefits that will be felt across the UK.

I hugely welcome offshore wind on the basis that it is not onshore. Will my hon. Friend meet me to ensure that we put more of this wonderful renewable energy offshore and stop industrialising the landscape of Montgomeryshire?

It is always a pleasure to meet my hon. Friend. I assure him that this Conservative Government will continue to support floating offshore wind in a way that will have the support of the public.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on