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Welsh Affairs

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 2 March 2023

Before I call Carolyn Harris, may I just say that I hope everybody had a superb Saint David’s Day yesterday? I certainly did; it was wonderful to see the young pupils of Ysgol Gymraeg Y Fenni singing outside No. 10 Downing Street, which was brilliant. I am looking forward later today to going to the American ambassador’s residence, where the Monmouth male voice choir will be singing. Over to you, Carolyn.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Welsh affairs.

Diolch, Mr Deputy Speaker—thank you. Can I start by saying what an honour it is not just to be opening this Welsh affairs debate in celebration of Saint David’s Day, but indeed to be Welsh? I take great pride in standing up for our little corner of the world, and in representing the city where I was born and raised, and which I am lucky enough to still call my home. I also take great pride in representing Welsh Labour in Swansea East, here at Westminster, and right across the country and beyond.

Some of the most influential MPs to sit on these Benches have done so representing the Labour party in Wales—none more so than Aneurin Bevan, who spearheaded the creation of the NHS; Ann Clwyd, who before the groundbreaking 1997 general election was one of only four women to represent a Welsh constituency; and the fantastic Neil Kinnock, an outstanding Leader of the Opposition for almost a decade, and without doubt the best Prime Minister this country never had. It is a real honour to follow in the steps of such committed and powerful politicians.

I want to use today as an opportunity to step away from politics a little, and to talk about Wales in general. While times are tough for many and the world remains in turmoil, our priority must be to focus on what is best for our communities. The year 2022 was a turbulent one globally, and UK news was dominated by political chaos and the death of our longest ever reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Her death brought the country together in morning, and brought with it a new era under King Charles III. His accession to the throne meant that we welcomed a new Prince and Princess of Wales, and I would like to take this opportunity, in our first Welsh affairs debate since their appointment, to say how delighted we are to have them.

Earlier this month I visited the headquarters of Peace Mala in my constituency. This multi award-winning project for peace was set up by local schoolteacher Pam Evans in 2001 following the atrocities of 9/11. Across the world, the aftermath of the terrorist attacks led to widespread Islamophobia, and in her school she was witnessing worrying levels of racial prejudice and bullying of Asian and Muslim students, causing real concern. Pam’s simple but effective response was to create a symbolic rainbow bracelet that the young people could make and wear to represent unity, harmony and peace. It reminds wearers that our communities are filled with colour and difference, but that we are all connected.

While meeting with Pam and learning more about how this simple initiative has progressed across the world, she told me about an article she had written about St David—also, interestingly, the patron saint of Peace Mala—and she kindly shared it with me. As a proud Welsh woman, I naively thought I knew everything there was to know about our patron saint, but I was fascinated to learn so much more about his history, particularly his links to Swansea. A stone altar that he was gifted by the Patriarch of Jerusalem was brought back to Swansea and placed in Llangyfelach, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), just a couple of miles from my constituency.

As we celebrate St David this week, I am especially drawn to his most famous miracle, which is thought to have taken place in the present-day village of Llanddewi Brefi, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake). While speaking to a large crowd, people towards the back were struggling to see and hear him, at which point the ground beneath his feet is said to have opened and risen up to form a small hill, elevating him so that he was easier to see and hear. I am not sure that anyone would struggle to hear me, but I do quite like the idea of the ground opening and elevating me—and I am sure the Secretary of State for Wales would also like to see that.

I take great pride in visiting projects and organisations around my constituency, such as Peace Mala, and in supporting their work and learning about what they are doing to help our communities. Over the last few months I have visited numerous businesses in my constituency and also those of the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), and others to discuss menopause, and I am delighted that so many Welsh organisations and businesses are now stepping up to the plate to provide the right environment for menopausal women, and if they are not providing it now, they are listening to the message and giving consideration to women in their workforce. I have been delighted by the number of massive companies that have contacted me asking for help to devise menopause initiatives. I would love for Swansea, and in fact Wales, to become world leaders for menopause awareness. I would love to work with colleagues across the House to make sure that in all their constituencies the menopause message is delivered to the women who need to hear that we care.

We already have the great advantage in Wales of free access to prescriptions, so women have free hormone replacement therapy. Unfortunately, women in England have had to wait 500 days so far to get anywhere close to where we are in Wales by being able to access an annual prepayment certificate. It would be wonderful if women in England could be in the same position as women in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and have access to free HRT.

I have spoken regularly in this Chamber about my Everyone Deserves campaign, which aims to tackle food poverty and hunger across my constituency and those of others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). Last Christmas we made and delivered over 800 festive hampers and cooked and delivered over 200 Christmas dinners; we deliver them to vulnerable people and to those struggling financially or who are alone—those who need a little more support. We are now preparing for our Easter campaign to ease the burden on families who are currently struggling and to ensure that children across our constituencies get to enjoy a chocolate treat over the Easter break.

But all of this is only possible with support both from those who are able to be there and physically fill the boxes and those who are kind enough to make financial contributions. A couple of years ago, Welsh football legend Gareth Bale stepped in to help, donating £15,000 towards the project. At the height of the covid pandemic, when so many more families than ever before needed our help, this gesture made an enormous difference to our efforts. So as Gareth retires from professional football, after 17 years, I think it is only right that he gets a mention today, not just as one of the greatest wingers of a generation and arguably the best football player ever to wear a Welsh shirt—although I must include Neville Southall as well—but as a true gentleman who has used his platform to help others.

Last Christmas the Everyone Deserves hero was another truly great and talented Welshman: Michael Sheen. I have worked with Michael on numerous projects over the years and, as ever, he got in touch before Christmas to ask what he could do to help. He then proceeded to have a 2023 calendar printed, full of stunning artistic shots of him taken in Margam park in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, with every penny, which was nigh-on £10,000, being donated to the Everyone Deserves campaign. That enabled us to know we could provide support and help to Welsh families at a time when so many were struggling.

It is not just big celebrities who help, but so too do local heroes, like Mal Pope and Kev Johns and the cast and crew of the Grand Theatre, where the pantomime played twice a day and at the end of every day they passed around a bucket and asked the audience to give something to the Everyone Deserves campaign. At the end of the pantomime’s run they had raised £18,500, which is allowing me to do more work this Christmas, this summer, this easter. And there is the fantastic Valley Rock Voices Welsh women’s choir from all across south Wales, who every week do a raffle and a collection, and are constantly giving us support and money, allowing us to help other people. Without these local heroes and the generosity of the Welsh people in our communities, so many people would be struggling to provide the basics for their families.

My hon. Friend is making a beautiful and inspiring speech, and I am in awe of her work, particularly with the Everyone Deserves campaign. Does she agree that a particularly wonderful thing about Wales is not only the help in communities for the disadvantaged—I think of the Moorland centre in Splott in my constituency, which helps older people with hot lunches; I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests —but that we do not stop at our borders? Welsh people have always been proudly internationalist; along the road from that centre is the Oasis centre, supported also by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), which assists people fleeing persecution around the world. In Wales, we help our own as well as those who flee to Wales.

Yes, and what makes us unique is that not only do we want to help everyone but we sing while we are doing it.

Last year has been tough for many across Wales. Few will have escaped without feeling the pinch of rising prices in our shops, rocketing fuel bills and the daily struggle to keep in control of family finances. Every community the length and breadth of our nation is facing the same stark reality, and it is the job of every one of us in Westminster and in the Senedd in Cardiff to do everything in our power to change that.

I look forward to hearing other contributions today; I suspect they will celebrate successes and achievements, and no doubt we will have political banter, and I hope we highlight what is best about Wales. But I say to all colleagues that all of us here who represent Welsh constituencies should be and are proud, and we should make our constituents proud of us. It is our job to represent them, and we need to do our very best to make sure their lives are more tolerable.

What a terrific privilege it is to follow the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who opened this annual debate on Welsh affairs in the very best traditions of the debate. She has never been afraid to work on a bipartisan, cross-party basis. She demonstrated again her values and her genuine desire to improve the communities she represents, and communities more generally across Wales. I add my voice to that of Mr Deputy Speaker a moment ago in commending her for the work she does, particularly at Christmas time with disadvantaged families in her constituency and throughout the Swansea area. It is really tremendous.

Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for calling me so early in the debate. I wish you, belatedly, a happy St David’s day. I did not get to see you yesterday evening at the Guildhall. Maybe you were there, maybe you were not —who knows? There were so many people there. One distinctive thing about celebrating St David’s day, perhaps in contrast to St Patrick’s Day or Burns night celebrations, although this might just reflect my own narrow experience of those two events celebrated by our Celtic cousins, is that it is first and foremost about children.

In opening the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, you referred to the schoolchildren who sang yesterday at the entrance of Downing Street when people were going in for the Prime Minister’s St David’s day reception. In New Palace Yard yesterday, Mr Speaker hoisted y ddraig goch, the red dragon flag, at the start of the day. We also had a choir of schoolchildren. It was wonderful. For generations —you will remember it from your own boyhood, Mr Deputy Speaker—wearing a daffodil or a leek, or more recently a rugby shirt or Welsh national costume, has been a part of the Welsh childhood experience. That is one reason why, as much as I want to maximise St David’s day celebrations—I love the way they seem to grow every year, particularly in London—I am not persuaded that St David’s day should be a national holiday. Would the cultural richness of St David’s day be the same if it was a day for children to remain at home? Schools play a tremendous role in nurturing the St David’s day traditions, giving children a sense of Welsh identity. I put on record my thanks, gratitude and respect to teachers, particularly in Pembrokeshire, for the way, in schools across the county, they nurture St David’s day and help to ensure the traditions pass from one generation to another.

For us in Pembrokeshire, St David’s day has a special resonance. He was one of us, reputedly born on a clifftop on the Pembrokeshire coast. The wonderful holy city of St Davids, in the wild and beautiful north-west peninsular of my constituency, ensures that his memory and legacy will live on forever. For any Member who has not had the opportunity to visit St Davids, it is a wonderful city. It is the smallest city in Britain. It is a beautiful, holy, peaceful place to visit. I know, because I bump into them every so often, that various Members have a particular interest in the area around St Davids and they are very, very welcome. They are also welcome to bring more colleagues.

In Westminster, we are in the middle of Wales week, which seems to grow every year—it is almost a month now! One day is not enough to celebrate; we need more time. This year, Wales week in London is bigger, better and louder than ever. I pay tribute to Dan Langford and the team for the way they have grown this series of events. He told me on Monday that this year there are more than 100 events across London for people with Welsh heritage, Welsh people and people with an interest in Wales to come together and learn something new about Wales and to celebrate.

I referred to the amazing event at the Guildhall in the City of London. It was the first time that I had been and it was a joy to be there in that atmosphere. When the anthem was sung, it was a tremendous spiritual moment for us all. At the event, I heard probably the speech—no disrespect to any speech today—of St David’s day this year. Lowri Roberts is the head of women and girls’ football at the Football Association of Wales. I participated in an event with her on Monday for Wales week in London. I heard her speak then and was extremely impressed, but the speech she gave last night was remarkable. She talked about the role of football in our national life in Wales and the way it has changed, particularly in the last 12 months. Football has a special place for women and girls, and we are seeing a huge exponential growth in women and girls’ football in Wales. It was as much a speech for the men and the boys as it was for the women and the girls, because she spoke not just about sport, gender or Wales, but values, social justice and equality.

I often think that sport plays a bigger role in how we project our identity as a nation than perhaps it does for other countries. When I travel internationally, I say that I am from Wales. I meet people who are not necessarily familiar with the slightly complex structure of our United Kingdom family of nations. When I go to north America, I find that they understand Ireland and the Irish national story, and perhaps the Scottish national story, but sometimes the Welsh national story is less well understood. Sport is an incredibly powerful vehicle in helping to tell that story, especially with the values that our footballers, men and women, have shown over the last 12 months. I am talking not just about their success and achievements in qualifying for various tournaments, but how they, and the team of coaches and administrators around them, have conducted themselves on and off the pitch, representing the very best of who we are in Wales and helping us to tell a very positive and strong story about the Welsh nation.

At the start of this year, we in the Welsh Affairs Committee had the great opportunity, over five days, to visit the United States: New York, Washington DC and Atlanta in Georgia. We were pursuing three inquiries, including how Wales is promoted internationally, particularly in relation to attracting tourism, and the role that Wales plays in delivering net zero and energy security. I want to thank our consul general in New York for facilitating an excellent set of meetings, and our ambassador in Washington, Dame Karen Pierce, for welcoming us to Washington DC. It was a great privilege to present her with a fine bottle of Penderyn whisky.

It was helpful to see the roles played by the UK Government teams and the Welsh Government teams in promoting Wales. I confess that over the years I was one of those people who was a bit sniffy and sceptical about the Welsh Government investing in offices overseas. I have probably been guilty of criticising the Welsh Government for trying to duplicate activities that I thought were rightly the responsibility of UK Government trade or diplomatic teams. What we saw—I hope other members of the Committee agree—was an incredibly strong sense of alignment between the UK Government teams and Welsh Government personnel in trying to further the strategic objectives of promoting the UK and capturing more trade and investment, but the points of difference were really interesting. The teams representing Wales out there, as well as working in very close harmony with their UK counterparts, have an eye on that particular mission to capture something extra for Wales. It was a fascinating visit.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned sport, but another of the ways in which Wales is making waves in the world is in our creative industries. We have seen particular growth in my constituency. Obviously, we have “Doctor Who”, “His Dark Materials” and others, and fantastic music artists. We have the fantastic Aleighcia Scott—it was kind of the Secretary of State to invite her to be a lead singer at the Lancaster House event this week. Wales is punching above its weight in all the creative industries, particularly music, TV and film.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He is exactly right, and I encourage him to follow the output of the Welsh Affairs Committee as we continue our inquiry into broadcasting in Wales. He may have seen a few weeks ago that Netflix chose to use the incredibly important forum of the Committee to announce its investment in its first Welsh-language drama. It is great to see Welsh-language productions from Wales, made in Wales and projecting the Welsh language through new global streaming platforms. It is an opportunity to project Welsh culture and identity, and perhaps a challenge and even a threat to some of the traditional broadcasters. Overall, he alludes to a healthy picture.

I referenced our visit to north America, where there are huge opportunities. I often think that we perhaps make too much of the slightly odd colonial experiment in Patagonia and not enough of the Welsh diaspora that moved to the US, particularly in the late 18th and early 19th century. Welsh people were at the heart of the US industrial revolution experience. When the Welsh Affairs Committee was in Washington in January, we had the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill and were hosted by the Friends of Wales Caucus in Congress.

I thank Congressman Morgan Griffith from Virginia for welcoming us and for the fascinating discussion that we had in his office about the links between our nations. He has people in his district with strong Welsh heritage, and there are towns and villages in his district and throughout Pennsylvania that bear the names of Welsh towns and villages that we are familiar with. That means that there are opportunities for us. Sometimes, I think that the Irish and Scottish make far more of their diaspora and use it more intelligently to further strategic and economic objectives than we do. We were looking at that as a Committee. I pay tribute to Ty Francis for his work in creating New York Welsh, a diaspora community in New York City, and for his further work to create a network of people with Welsh heritage internationally who all want to feed back and support the growth of Wales back home.

I will conclude on an area where I feel upbeat and optimistic this St David’s day—energy. Wales has an important role to play in helping the UK to meet energy security objectives and to make strides towards achieving net zero. Wales already has an enormous heritage when it comes to energy. In my constituency, Milford Haven has a history of 50 years of oil and gas processing and import. The opportunity in front of us is the launch of a brand-new industry—floating offshore wind. We have made great strides with fixed-bottom offshore wind in this country, particularly on the eastern seaboard of the UK. But with floating offshore wind, we can have bigger turbines, go to deeper waters where it is windier, get a better load factor on the turbines and create more electricity.

With this new industry we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. I am looking forward to the remarks by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who has been working hard on that. If we do this right, we can create new domestic economic opportunities and genuine supply chains here in the UK and in Wales, and centre this new industry around Port Talbot and Milford Haven. It is great that our ports are collaborating on the Celtic freeport bid. It would be wonderful to hear from the Secretary of State when we might hear the outcome of that bidding process. That is the prize in front of us that is worth capturing. Big industrial economic opportunities do not come along that often in Wales, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker. We have one now and we should seize it.

The right hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech and some very good points about floating offshore wind. On ensuring that we capture the benefits in Wales, does he agree that a very hard line should be taken with the Crown Estate to ensure that when leasing the seabed, there are clear conditions on the developer to ensure that the manufacturing, the supply chain, the jobs and the skills stay in Wales? We must not make the tremendous and awful mistakes of the past, when we allowed all the supply chains to go overseas.

I agree. We need to achieve alignment between the Crown Estate’s leasing auctions, the Treasury’s contracts for difference process and the commitments that developers make. The hon. Gentleman is exactly right that we need to hold their feet to the fire—whether the developers’ or the Crown Estate’s. When companies make promises to create x number of jobs and apprenticeships in his constituency or mine, we want them to be realised. That is the opportunity in front of us.

I have probably exhausted my time. I hope that you feel as upbeat and optimistic as me, Mr Deputy Speaker. We spend a lot of time in this Chamber debating the problems and challenges facing Wales. Sometimes, as a nation we are prone to a little too much negativity. I hope on this St David’s day we can be positive and upbeat, and certainly follow the spirit in which the debate was opened by the hon. Member for Swansea East.

The right hon. Gentleman reminded me and all of us who grew up in Wales of the school eisteddfod, which I thoroughly enjoyed when I went to Dynevor School. We mostly got the afternoon off, so it was great.

I wish everyone a belated happy St David’s day if I did not wish it to them yesterday. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) not only on her wonderful, poetic opening speech, but on the Everyone Deserves a Christmas, Summer and Easter campaign. It seems to be an all-year-round campaign this year. I have had the pleasure of taking part in that initiative, which does a huge amount to tackle holiday hunger by providing hampers to families who are struggling at Christmas. I am proud to say that those hampers provided 447 children and their families across Neath Port Talbot with a lovely Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, plus lots of other treats. It was a great pleasure to be part of the hamper packing process, which also enabled us to hang out with some of our heroes from the Ospreys, the Aberavon Wizards and the Swans—even though I say that as a Bluebird.

That achievement was possible only thanks to the generosity of businesses and individuals across Aberavon and the whole area covered by the Everyone Deserves campaign, whose donations helped pay for the hampers. It also reflects the fact that many of my constituents, and I am sure those of all of our colleagues assembled here, are struggling with the rocketing cost of living. Record energy prices, soaring costs of household essentials, falling wages and the highest interest rates for 40 years are really biting. Real wages in Aberavon have plummeted since 2010, leaving my constituents £1,123 per year worse off on average. Incomes are simply not keeping pace with rising costs, and they no longer cover the essentials. Many talk of a cost of existing crisis rather than a cost of living crisis. Constituents are not putting the heating on or are cutting back on essential groceries. They are worried sick about whether they can pay their energy bills or afford their rent or mortgage payments. The numbers of people turning up to food banks is up, up, up.

In December, more than 33,000 people in Wales experienced financial hardship to the extent of accessing £2.36 million from the Welsh Government’s discretionary assistance fund. The Welsh Government have since pledged £18.8 million to the fund to protect people who are facing financial hardship. Despite having fewer economic levers at their disposal compared with the UK Government, the Welsh Government have stepped up to the plate by providing a £51 million household support fund targeted at those who need it most. They have doubled the winter fuel support payment to £200 to help those on low incomes with their energy bills, and have provided £1.1 million to support food banks, community food partnerships and community hubs.

The Welsh Labour Government are doing their level best to shield Wales from the worst of the crisis, but the reality is that energy bills will go up by £900 in April. Hard-working families are feeling the pinch, while oil and gas giants are celebrating record profits and laughing all the way to the bank. On behalf of my Aberavon constituents, I urge the UK Government to step up and help them and others across the country by closing the loopholes and bringing in a proper one-off windfall tax on energy giants. The money raised could be spent on a package of support for energy bills, passing savings on to households immediately, and stopping the energy price cap going up in April. An end must be put to the scandalous penalties imposed on prepayment meter customers, who should not be paying more than those who pay by direct debit. There also needs to be a three-month moratorium on the forced installation of prepayment meters.

Learning the lessons of the energy crisis is essential to prevent it from happening again. If our country is to better protect itself, we must become more resilient and less exposed to fluctuating global energy prices. That brings me on to a topic that the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) mentioned: floating offshore wind. FLOW will be hugely important in allowing our country to stand more firmly on our own two feet. It will also be essential in helping us reach net zero.

Port Talbot, along with the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, has the potential to be at the heart of this 21st-century green industrial revolution. Our deep-sea harbour, our land for development, our excellent transport links, our world-class steelworks and our existing manufacturing supply chains and skills base make us well placed to deliver 24 GW of FLOW in the Celtic sea, a quarter of the UK’s total target.

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. If we are to go down that road, we have to do it on a scale that will make a real change. The problem with our energy policy has been that we have tended to dabble in things without putting investment in. These things are not going to happen by themselves. We need to put investment in, and we need to put it in now.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think we can agree that energy policy across the UK has tended to ebb and flow. It has not given investors the clarity or the long-term stability and certainty that they need. These are big investments that require confidence in the Government that things will not shift from one thing to another. Stability, strategic purpose and mission-driven government are what we need.

FLOW is a genuine game changer for the south Wales economy and the labour market, creating thousands of high-quality, high-skill local jobs. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform Aberavon and south Wales and turn us into a green power superpower, and what makes it even more exciting is that it can support green steel making. The steel industry has been crying out for years for UK Government support to mitigate crippling energy costs. UK steel producers pay an estimated 63% more than their German counterparts. They need to be able to compete internationally on a level playing field. Tata Steel estimates that producing 60 floating substructures and turbines a year for FLOW would require 6 million tonnes of steel. The real win-win is that the green, clean energy produced through FLOW can help to produce the green steel that Tata plans to make in its future electric arc furnaces, which will replace the current blast furnace technology, at a lower cost per unit than is possible with the sky-high electricity prices that are currently holding our steelworkers back.

There are two key decisions that the UK Government, working in very close collaboration with the Welsh Government, need to make to kick-start this hugely exciting opportunity. The first is on the freeport bid. Delivering FLOW at the necessary scale and speed will require support. Backing the Celtic freeport bid can unlock £5.5 billion of new investment and 16,000 jobs. It will also provide the launchpad for accelerating the development of FLOW and bring household energy bills down. This is not a transactional opportunity; it is a transformational opportunity.

The second decision is on the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme. FLOWMIS is another vital building block of this game changer for renewable energy. The Welsh Government have already stepped up to the mark and provided a £1 million grant to help the transformation of Port Talbot dock, with a dry dock and other facilities necessary to provide the manufacturing capability for FLOW. It is time the UK Government followed their lead and urgently launched the FLOWMIS programme. FLOWMIS co-funding would demonstrate the UK Government’s clear long-term commitment to developing the ports and the sector, giving confidence to investors and other funding providers to back the project and unlocking sizeable private sector investment potential. I really hope that the Secretary of State will say something about FLOWMIS at the Dispatch Box today.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Welsh coal, slate, copper and steel were known around the world. In the 21st century, if the opportunity is seized, Wales could just as well be known for FLOW. The prize is clear: the creation of a new long-term industry whose high-value manufacturing has “Made in Wales” firmly embossed on the tin. Wales was the cradle of the first industrial revolution; now let us make it the cradle of the green industrial revolution.

It is not just FLOW that could be embossed with “Made in Wales”. Universities in Wales have been at the forefront of innovative ideas that could change the way we live, thanks to the £370 million of EU structural funds that have been invested in university-led projects in Wales. SPECIFIC—the sustainable product engineering centre for innovative functional industrial coatings—is a Swansea University project based in Aberavon. It has been doing wonderful work on creating buildings that store and release heat and electricity from solar energy, but no replacement funds offer the parity of support that is needed for that research and innovation work. More than 60 projects across Wales, including SPECIFIC, now face a very uncertain future. Approximately 1,000 jobs are at risk. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment today to speak with colleagues about bridging funding to enable these important projects to continue, to prevent Wales from losing this talent and to avoid the cliff edge that exists under the shared prosperity fund?

My Aberavon constituents and the people of Wales need something better. They need a UK Labour Government working in tandem with a Welsh Labour Government to deliver for Wales and deliver for our entire United Kingdom.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who is well respected on both sides of the House, on securing this debate and opening it wonderfully. It is disappointing that her hair is not red, white and green just for today, but we do like it purple.

Yesterday morning, we went to New Palace Yard with Mr Speaker, some dignitaries and some fantastic children in full traditional attire to see the raising of the Welsh flag above Parliament. The children sang a beautiful song about Dewi Sant and presented Mr Speaker with some lovely daffodils, and those who knew the words sang the national anthem. Before taking pictures, my assistant said, “You don’t have a daffodil like everybody else.” My response was quite a cliché: “I don’t need one. I’ve got my Welsh pride with me in my heart every day, everywhere I go. I don’t need to wear a flower to show it to everybody else.” It was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but that is how I and so many people across the length and breadth of Wales really feel about our country.

The feeling of Welsh patriotism, strangely, is often a little bit more like a religion. Such is the depth of feeling of a Welsh person for their country, and everyone knows it. Even in these challenging sporting times for Wales, you will not hear a more stirring national anthem anywhere in the world than the one sung by 70,000 Welsh rugby fans blasting the roof off the Principality stadium. If you will indulge me, Mr Deputy Speaker, as St David’s day comes just once a year, it is the words of the rarely heard second verse that I find most enjoyable:

“Hen Gymru fynyddig, paradwys y bardd;

Pob dyffryn, pob clogwyn, i’m golwg sydd hardd,

Trwy deimlad gwladgarol, mor swynol yw si,

Ei nentydd, afonydd, i mi.”

For the benefit of those who do not know the verse, the translation is:

“Old land of the mountains, paradise of the poets,

Every valley, every cliff a beauty guards;

Through love of my country, enchanting voices will be

Her streams and rivers to me.”

That speaks volumes about the country and how it is regarded by the people.

A little while back, in preparation for this debate, I asked my constituents via social media to suggest what they would say themselves, or what they would like me to say, about life in Wales and how things are run. I will touch on a number of those themes now, only partly apologising for getting a bit more political during the remainder of my speech. As the hon. Member for Swansea East said in her opening speech, we are here to represent the views of our constituents.

Kathryn had a lot of points to bring up about life in Wales. She wanted to talk about travel, roads, the NHS, the disparities in local authority funding and the north-south divide. Dave asked about dentistry. Julie, a pharmacy worker, asked about the NHS and why there was no uniformity between systems and records. I shall say more about that later. Kyle asked about roads and public transport, Billy had more to say about the NHS, Paul asked about a new train station, and Len made a point about devolution generally, which I will save until the end of my speech. Quentin helpfully asked, “Why is it that male voice choirs always sound so good?”. That is a fair question, but it will remain one of life’s unexplained mysteries, true as it is.

The predominant issue that keeps coming up in the responses from my constituents, and in the many emails and letters that I receive each week asking for help, is health and social care. I was here, in this very spot, exactly a week ago to take part in a debate on the future of the NHS, initiated by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Kate Osborne). Opposition Members lined up to take shots at the UK Government for their mismanagement of the NHS. One after another, they rose to their feet saying that Labour had a plan for the NHS. I was delighted to hear it. I intervened a couple of times to commend them for having a plan, and asked if they could please share it with their colleague the Welsh Labour Health Minister, who did not seem to have one at all.

In North Wales, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was put back into special measures earlier this week and all the members of the management board were relieved of their positions, with an interim chair and board put in place until replacements are found. That was the action of the Welsh Health Minister: removing the board which seemed to be the only body even trying to hold the failing executives to account, while allowing the executives and senior management team who had presided over a decade of failure to carry on. For it has been, sadly, a decade of failure—at least. The health board had been in special measures for about eight years until a few weeks before the most recent Senedd election, when it was announced with great fanfare that it was no longer in special measures. The political opportunism was astonishing, as Welsh Labour once again made winning votes a higher priority than the health of the people of north Wales. Nothing had changed, and nothing has changed now. Back into special measures the health board goes, but that does not mean anything: it has been like that for ages, and still nothing changes, including the Welsh Health Minister.

If the level of disastrous oversight of health services in north Wales were seen in England, His Majesty’s loyal Opposition would be calling for the resignation of the Secretary of State and his entire ministerial team, but it’s okay, it’s just north Wales—just north Wales, where only 62% of NHS buildings are operationally safe to use. In England, one in 20 people on waiting lists have been waiting more than a year—5%—while in Wales the figure is one in four, or 25%.

The health service in Wales performs worse in virtually every measurable area than the equivalent in England. Currently, only 51% of “red call” patients are responded to within eight minutes. That is the second longest ambulance wait time ever. Only 23% of amber calls, which include heart attacks and strokes, were responded to within 30 minutes. Where is the outrage? Where are the demands for a better service? Instead, we heard the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), say in a speech last year that the Welsh Government were providing a

“blueprint for what Labour can do across the UK”.

You couldn’t make it up, Mr Deputy Speaker.

However, as I said during last week’s debate, none of these statistics help. While we, as politicians in this place and in the media, spend all our time pointing fingers and trying to apportion blame, we never get to the actual issues. The NHS is failing in all parts of the United Kingdom, under three different ruling parties. This is not a political problem but a structural one, and the more time we spend finding someone to blame and making foolish points that shut down any prospect of sensible debate—such as, “You just want to privatise everything”—the lower is the chance of any positive change that will make a real difference in outcomes for people.

As I mentioned earlier, Julie asked about uniformity of records and systems. It is ridiculous that if I had an accident or a medical problem while on holiday in Cornwall or Inverness, the medical professionals there would not be able to access my records because they are on NHS Wales systems. That enforced division is so harmful to the cohesion of the UK and our sense of community. We have spent years on an issue that thankfully, or hopefully, the Prime Minister seems to have finally solved —an issue that annexed and divided one part of the UK from the rest—but in so many small ways, we segregate and divide ourselves from each other on an ever-increasing basis. It is such a shame.

This morning, I received an email from a local reporter saying that they were running a story on the lack of availability of housing in Flintshire, and asking whether I would like to comment. The sad fact is that over the past three years, 665 new homes have been built in the average constituency across the UK, while in Delyn the figure is just 276, or 40% of the average. We have a huge lack of social housing, with people waiting on the list for years in the hope of a property becoming available, and virtually none are being built. However, I cannot lay the blame at the door of Flintshire County Council, as Flintshire receives the 20th highest funding settlement among the 22 local authorities in Wales every year.

Will the hon. Gentleman applaud Flintshire County Council for actually building council houses, which we need more of?

Absolutely. I completely agree with my constituency neighbour. As I said, I cannot blame Flintshire County Council for this at all. It does what it can with the meagre resources it receives from the Welsh Government. [Interruption.] The shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), is shouting across the Chamber about the Treasury Bench, but this has nothing to do with the Treasury Bench. I am talking about the way in which the money is divided by the Welsh Government, and how it is allotted to the different authorities. As I said, Flintshire County Council comes 20th out of the 22 Welsh authorities every year.

That clearly was not the case this year, was it, so will the hon. Gentleman put the record straight?

It was the case this year. On a per capita basis, Flintshire was 20th out of 22, as was recently stated by the council’s chief executive. There is no denying it whatsoever.

My hon. Friend made an interesting point earlier about structural challenges in the NHS. He has now moved on to the subject of local authorities. Does he think that, for a nation of 3.3 million people, a total of 22 local authorities is too many?

I think that arguably it is. We should also consider the number of elected representatives we have, and the wish to increase that even further. London—which is a good example—has a population of 10 million, and significantly fewer elected representatives and decision-making bodies. I do agree with my right hon. Friend: 22 is far too many, whereas, in bizarre contrast, one health board covering the huge geographical area and diversity of north Wales seems, sadly, not to be enough.

Flintshire is so poorly funded by the Welsh Government that in order for services to be maintained, council tax in my constituency has risen by about 30% in the past couple of years. Given that my constituency also has about 25% more over-65s and elderly people than the national average, this is a huge problem for a constituency some parts of which are already among the top 10% of the most deprived areas in Wales. Other local authorities are in the top five for funding every year, despite having dozens of millions of pounds in unallocated reserves. It will come as a surprise to no one in the north that four out of the top five local authorities for funding each year are in the south. If Flintshire were simply given the average funding—if the funds were just levelled out and distributed in a fairer way—that would put an additional £20 million a year into Flintshire, and my constituents would not need to see reduced services at an ever-increasing cost.

Finally, let me say a little about transport. The Welsh Government announced recently that it was scrapping the majority of its road building projects, most of which were cancelled because of the attempt to get people out of cars and into other modes of transport. As parliamentarians we spend a great deal of time in London, and we recognise that public transport is better than cars in many instances; but that is London, which contains nearly 10 million people in a small area. In north Wales, about 750,000 people are spread across a vast geography of coastal and mountainous terrain. There is no realistic prospect for people to abandon their cars and use public transport, even if it were good, but unfortunately the public transport facilities throughout north Wales are terrible. Trains and buses run sporadically. When they do run, they are rarely on time. Public transport is simply not feasible, so to hear that the people of north Wales are being told that they should switch to alternative modes of travel, that they should submit to the increasingly pervasive active travel solution that asks pensioners to walk up the steep hills of Delyn’s towns in the name of reducing emissions, is ludicrous.

The roads policy, as well as the Welsh Government’s ridiculous move to reduce the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph from September, is nothing short of an attack on car users, not caring that car use is crucial in north Wales. Along with things like the tourism tax and falling educational standards, it is just another way in which the Welsh Government are systematically destroying the country that many of us love so dearly.

One of my respondents on social media spoke about devolution, which does not work for us in north Wales. It is a failed 25-year experiment that has delivered absolutely nothing for the people of north Wales, and now the Welsh Government want to expand it even further, at the cost of another £100 million.

It is my abiding wish, which I am sure will never come to fruition, that the UK Government look at what is happening in north Wales, put aside their seeming political position of “devolve and forget” and do something to help us by bringing forward measures to test the will of the Welsh people once again on whether they want to continue with this failed experiment.

May 2024 will be the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Senedd, and I live in hope that 2049 will be the 25th anniversary of its abolition.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts), who made an interesting speech. He tempts me to agree with him, but I fear I will have to disappoint him on this occasion. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing the debate and on introducing it in such a wonderful and inspiring way. It really is a pleasure to participate this afternoon after such a fantastic opening.

St David’s Day week is a wonderful opportunity. It appears as if St David’s Day has become even more of a fixture in everyone’s calendar, and it is wonderful to see so many events being organised to remember the patron saint. It is good that Members from Wales have this opportunity to discuss the issues facing Wales today and perhaps in the future.

I was particularly struck by the comments of the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) and the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) on the exciting potential of floating offshore wind. We sometimes dwell on the negatives, especially given the state of the Six Nations performances this year, so let us dwell on some of the positives. The potential of floating offshore wind is exciting and, as the hon. Member for Aberavon said, it presents an opportunity for another green industrial revolution. The synergy between that source of energy and industry is unique and exciting, and I know it is something that other countries are looking at closely. I hope we can lead on that development.

Although I outline a point of consensus with the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, I have to disagree with him on one important point, which is our patron saint’s origin and place of birth. He is correct to say that there is a legend suggesting that St David was born in Pembrokeshire, but I have it on good authority that there is another account suggesting that St David was actually born in Henfynyw, which is near Aberaeron in my constituency, and that he was a grandson of a king of Ceredigion, no less. Combined with his miraculous exploits at Llanddewi Brefi in the year 550, this surely marks him as potentially the most famous Cardi in history.

I am privileged to represent Ceredigion, and it would be remiss of me not to extol the wonderful attributes of the county’s communities and people. Members will of course be familiar with Ceredigion’s natural beauty—our coast and countryside are rightly the envy of the people of these islands—but it is the resilience of her people that casts Ceredigion as a truly remarkable place.

Other Members will agree that Friday is one of the highlights of our week, when we are able to go out and meet different organisations and people in our constituency who do remarkable things. It is a chance to meet the everyday heroes, such as those volunteering in local initiatives such as Home-Start and food banks. It gives us a sense of perspective, which is important in politics. I place on record my thanks to all the people in Ceredigion who give so generously of their time to support others in the community.

Like so many other areas, the cost of living crisis has hit Ceredigion hard. I worry that such is its severity that it risks exacerbating longer-term demographic trends, endangering the county’s future vibrancy and prosperity. The wealth of any county, or country for that matter, is its people. As such, it is impossible to consider the results of the 2021 census without a degree of trepidation. Ceredigion recorded a 5.8% reduction in its total population, exceeding the decline of other areas, such as the 3.7% decrease in Gwynedd and the 1.2% drop in Ynys Môn. It is a demographic trend that is decades old, and Ceredigion’s experience is influenced by an even older tendency for populations to aggregate in more urban centres.

We need to consider how Government action can address some of the underlying drivers of rural depopulation and, at the very least, try to mitigate its consequences. A declining or reducing population impacts on the funding and provision of key public services. The hon. Member for Delyn mentioned the difficulties of funding local services, and a declining population does not help in that regard. It also makes it harder to recruit doctors for our surgeries, teachers for our schools and nurses for our hospitals. It saps the energy from civic initiatives, hinders economic growth and, at the worst, weathers the social fabric of local communities. We need only pass a closed school or a shuttered pub to understand the consequences of rural depopulation.

Yet, in the age of digital working and levelling up, we need not despair. The covid pandemic demonstrated that it is possible to live in areas such as Ceredigion and pursue careers that, in the past, might have required people to relocate to Cardiff, Bristol, London or elsewhere. Digital connectively offers possibilities of which previous generations of Cardis could only dream. Ceredigion’s economy would benefit significantly if its digital infra- structure could be brought into the 21st century.

Sadly, we still trail the UK averages for both superfast and gigabit broadband, so it is vital that the next iteration of the Government’s Project Gigabit programme brings forward much-needed investment in Ceredigion’s digital infrastructure without delay. I was grateful for the Minister’s response yesterday that he is willing to meet me to discuss this, because we still have areas of the county that have not only no access to broadband but no mobile coverage. Those areas should be prioritised in any new programme. In pursuing a levelling-up agenda, the Government could do much worse than to prioritise improvements to the digital infrastructure of rural areas.

If we are to counter such tectonic demographic trends, we also need to see structural funding from the shared prosperity fund and some creative thinking. I was interested to attend the recent session organised by the Welsh Affairs Committee with representatives of the Scottish Government, with whom I discussed some of their proposals for a rural visa pilot scheme. Although the levers to deliver the project are held by the UK Government, it is something we should consider. The Scottish Government have proposed a community-driven approach to migration that would respond to the distinct needs of rural communities to act as a counterbalance to an ageing demographic and rural depopulation. Such a policy should be explored further, as it could help to boost economic prosperity be ensuring that industries secure the skills and labour they require to grow, and that public services can ensure they have the people needed to maintain key services.

We need a long-term strategy to address the consequences and drivers of rural depopulation. I am not proposing for a moment that I have the answers today, but individual policies such as a rural visa pilot or enhanced investment in broadband can nevertheless make an important contribution to mitigating some of the worst consequences of these demographic trends that Ceredigion and other rural areas are facing.

Before concluding, let me take the opportunity to raise an issue in the hope that the Secretary of State can use his good offices to look into it. We speak a lot in this place about energy efficiency and the need to decarbonise housing. In this cost of living crisis, with the current price of energy, there is a great deal of interest among the public in improving the energy efficiency of their homes. We should all be pursuing and supporting that. I am conscious that at present the flagship energy efficiency policy is ECO4—the fourth phase of the energy company obligation. Although I agree that retrofitting projects will have to play an important role in the broader energy efficiency mission, I am concerned about the implementation of ECO4 locally in my constituency.

I have been contacted by too many constituents with complaints and concerns about the way in which this scheme is being administered and run locally. Some have told me that they were supposed to receive support under the ECO4 scheme but it has ended up making things worse for them. We know that in rural areas the housing stock tends to be more inefficient and that fuel poverty in rural areas is a very pressing issue. So the fact that a policy designed to help ends up making things worse is a problem that demands urgent Government attention.

Let me give one example, that of an elderly household who undertook a project under ECO4. It was supposed to take three weeks for them to be connected and for their home to be fully insulated, with a new system, but they ended up being without any heat during the worst of the winter cold weather for several months. That is just one of many other instances that have been brought to my attention. We need to look again at how ECO4 is monitored and we need clearer lines of accountability. There is no doubt that a lot of good can be done if we can ensure that the energy-efficiency of our housing is much improved, but at the moment the policies that aim to realise that simply are not working.

I was about to start speaking to you in Welsh there, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to conclude by again thanking the hon. Member for Swansea East for securing this debate and wishing everyone a happy, belated, St David’s Day.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), a good friend, for securing this debate and congratulate her on doing so. It has been a great week; the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) has spoken about the Wales in London events, which have been tremendous. Being at the Guildhall last night with so many people celebrating our Welshness was an honour and I really enjoyed it. It is funny that we are here.

My hon. Friend has spoken about the amazing work she has done with colleagues, and I have had the honour of being able to work with her as well. This gives me the opportunity to talk a little about a charity—this goes hand in hand with the work she has been doing—called The Sharing Table. It was set up a few years ago by Andrew Copson, an amazing man who has given his time to fundraise, with a lot of support from local people, and to make partnerships, particularly with Gower Gin; Andrew and Siân support the charity, as key partners. The Shared Table delivered more than 130 hampers of locally sourced meat and veg to people in Gower last Christmas—when this started it was just 13 hampers in 2019. I thank Hugh Phillips, the butcher, and Shepherds for making that possible, along with Carolyn Harris—sorry, I meant to say, “My hon. Friend”. I do that all the time, Mr Deputy Speaker, as you know, but I do apologise.

That charity has also put and is putting small kitchens into schools. We talk about food poverty, but it is important that young people and families learn how to cook and what different food tastes like when we face a health crisis and a cost of living crisis. It is important that children learn what different fruits and vegetables taste like and what to do with them. One of the latest kitchens that has opened is in the constituency of my hon. Friend, in Morriston. I hope that by working alongside Swansea Council the charity will put more kitchens into schools and work with young people and their parents so that they can cook a well-balanced family meal. That is key and that work is amazing.

The right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire mentioned the beautiful city of St Davids in his constituency. I spend many of my holidays there and I do not send him any emails to say that I am there. I was honoured to be there at Christmas to spend time with my family, and being in the cathedral for mass is a wonderful experience. If anybody gets the opportunity to do that at Christmas, it really is something special.

I do not wish to leave out the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), my very good friend. As he knows, Aberaeron, has a special place in my heart. My auntie and uncle live there and my godparents used to live there. I am not going to go through everybody and say how wonderful their constituency is, because I must say that the Gower constituency is the most beautiful place to live. I am very proud of everybody who lives there—my constituents, who continue to support me and give generously.

My constituents also speak highly of the potential of Swansea bay. I know that the Secretary of State has done a lot of work on what was to be the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, which we now hope will realise itself in the blue lagoon project. The potential of Wales and the green industrial revolution has been mentioned. I do look to him for support for the Labour-led Swansea Council and its leader Rob Stewart in terms of harnessing the tidal energy that we have in Swansea bay.

I will have a bit of a rant now, Mr Deputy Speaker. A year ago today, I spoke up in this House about the Welsh Rugby Union. The right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire told us how he had heard an amazing advocate for women’s football, and football, in Wales last night. There are many, many people who are amazing advocates for rugby in Wales, and I am one of them. I believe passionately that being Welsh also means having a sense of identity. For me, many, many moons ago, that meant being able to represent my country by playing rugby for Wales. I find it really hard to believe that we are too scared—the hon. Member for Ceredigion also made reference to rugby—because we are having a bit of a tough time in Wales. It makes me sad that we cannot big up the talent that we have. I want to big up our talent. We have an amazing captain of our men’s team in Ken Owens. He is an amazing man, one of the bravest. All the team are brave, because the situation in which they find themselves is really difficult for all of them and for their families, but they are not looking for pity. What they want is to make rugby better. I did not stand up in this House a year ago to say, “Isn’t it terrible what’s going on? Isn’t rugby awful in Wales?” It is our job in this place to call out poor practice and poor governance when they impact on how we feel about our sport, which is rugby in Wales.

Since I spoke up about the culture of misogyny and sexism a year ago, much has happened. I know that the former Secretary of State met the women’s team. He told me that, by the time he had left the Chamber, he had been invited by the Welsh Rugby Union to pay a visit to the Vale to meet the women’s team. I was really disappointed—not with him, I was glad he went—that, having spoken out, nothing much really happened. It took some very brave women and an amazing journalistic team in “BBC Wales Investigates” to pull together evidence of the poor behaviour in the Welsh Rugby Union. In my inbox, I have more than 30 emails to reply to. They are from women and families—and men—who have written to tell me about their experiences with the Welsh Rugby Union. That is a lot of people who want to tell me about their experiences, but there are also quite a few people who do not want to tell of their experiences to anybody, because they fear the backlash. Charlotte Wathan, who spoke out in the BBC Wales programme, is scared that she will never get a job now. She may have made herself unemployable. She needs to work, but she has spoken out. She has not done that because she wants to be on a 30-minute programme on BBC Wales, and have the focus of everything on her.

Another woman who spoke out was anonymous. An actor spoke her words. Why was that? Why did Amanda Blanc, the chief executive of Aviva, step down from the executive board? To be honest, why were those questions not asked? So far what we have seen is the departure of the chief executive of the WRU, which is probably right. But it is not just about one person. This is a cultural system that is impacting not just on women in sport—in this case rugby—but on the men. That is because the culture has also impacted on the wellbeing of our men’s team as well. It is a culture and it is everywhere.

I am glad that a taskforce has been set up by Sport Resolutions, funded by the WRU, to address these issues. I ask the Secretary of State to support me—I have told him how many people want to speak out—and to look for reassurances from Sport Resolutions. Will he state today that the anonymity of the people who need to speak to Sport Resolutions and to the taskforce that it is setting up will be kept at all costs? Otherwise, we will never get to the bottom of it, which makes the taskforce absolutely futile.

I never thought that after nearly six years in this place, I would be standing in the Chamber ranting about rugby, but it means so much to me and it makes our country proud. Somebody said, “All this talking down of rugby in Wales is not going to encourage young people to play sport,” but that is nonsense. Playing sport—whatever sport it is—getting out there and being part of a team is the best thing that anyone can do. It is brilliant.

I am not saying that Wales is a terrible place or that rugby is a terrible sport; it is not. In my heart, I want it to be better—the best it can be. I want Warren Gatland to go to that World cup, with Ken Owens running out as the captain, and do the best he can to show how brilliant it is to be Welsh, so that we can feel proud of those boys and girls on the pitch. The women’s Six Nations is coming up, and the girls had quite a good season last year, so it is an exciting time to be in rugby.

Jonathan Davies, or Jiffy as we fondly know him, spoke out on “Scrum V” just after the programme had aired on BBC Wales. He said that this is a moment in time—a turning point—and that if the Welsh Rugby Union and rugby in Wales do not get their act together now, they never will. As parliamentarians, we have to put pressure on the Welsh Rugby Union to make the right decisions and to be transparent.

The hon. Lady is making a wonderful speech. She is right that the range of subjects that we discuss in the Chamber is often a surprise to the general public, and rugby in Wales is a particularly hot topic. Does she agree, in the spirit of what she has said, that the people who are trying to brush this issue under the carpet need to understand that, in such cases, sunlight is often the best disinfectant?

It is not often that I agree with the hon. Member, but sunlight, transparency and asking those questions are the best things.

I find it hard to believe that there have been such a number of grievances and non-disclosure agreements at the Welsh Rugby Union. Let us make no bones about it: all organisations will have grievances and non-disclosure agreements, but it is important that someone sitting on an executive board should be told how many there are and what their nature is, otherwise they might go to a Senedd Select Committee and not be able to tell it how many grievances and non-disclosure agreements there are. I find that difficult, because the data should be held by human resources and available to at least the executive committee. What does it tell us when there are no minutes of meetings and the minutes are not routinely published or available? It tells us that there is no sunlight, which we need to have.

When I am told that what has happened at the WRU is bigger than at Yorkshire cricket, and that is confirmed by others who know what is going on, I hope that we will all—I am not precious about it—stand up and ask those questions if we have the opportunity to meet the WRU. We need a root and branch review of rugby in Wales and what it means for everybody in all those clubs across Wales, from a small child starting off in tag rugby to those in our elite male and female games, as well as the mums and dads watching on the sidelines and washing the kit. I have met with my clubs since this has all come out and, interestingly, they have been quite engaging. We all need to ask our rugby clubs—although this is not just about rugby—how they engage with women and girls. They do not have to have a women’s team, because it is not all about playing. It is about being part of a club, being a rugby wife, rugby mum or rugby sister—a fan of the sport. If we can get clubs to audit the skills of the women and girls involved in them, that will encourage them to get more women sitting on their committees. Having more women give up their time to do that is how we will get more parity and equality of representation at the top of the WRU.

The hon. Lady is making a remarkable and important speech. She was at the Guildhall last night. Does she remember the remarks of Noel Mooney from the Football Association of Wales about its transition from being dominated by men to something approaching parity between men and women, and how that led to better quality of decisions? An audit of how clubs involve and work with women—the kind of exercise that the hon. Lady talks about—is valuable in its own right, but it will also lead to better decision making because more diverse viewpoints help the decision-making process.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his contribution, because he is right that Noel Mooney, the chief exec of the Football Association of Wales, did say last night that the dynamic has changed and that different ideas have been brought to the table, leading to better leadership and management.

I have a good friend who lives in Australia. She sits on the board of Rugby Victoria, which has imposed 50:50 representation. She has been ridiculed by other people that she is only on the board because of certain body parts, which is ridiculous. It is actually brilliant, however, because she is not a rugby player, but her daughters are, her son is, and her husband was. That is what I am trying to say. We had all-women shortlists to get better representation in the Labour party. That is the kind of thing we need to do in order to move forward. Clubs need to change their perception of what a woman’s place in rugby is. It is a cultural issue that all sports have problems with.

A word that has been said to me is “tokenism”. People say, “It’s just tokenism, Tonia. We don’t buy into it.” I do not buy into tokenism, because this is not about that; it is about being the best we can. However, we did see tokenism, disappointingly, in a knee-jerk reaction from the WRU when it decided to say, “We’re banning Tom Jones’s famous song ‘Delilah’.” I had not heard “Delilah” for donkey’s years, but I went to a rugby match, and everybody in the bar and on the train was singing it, and it was uncomfortable. I am not going to rant on about “Delilah”. It gets sung. We know the words. We all know that the words are wrong, and it would be great if we could change some of them, but hey-ho.

The word tokenism strikes at me. At the time of the WRU decision, Louis Rees-Zammit tweeted:

“All the things they need to do and they do that first…”

It is true; the WRU needs to do better for everybody involved in the sport, be they our little ones playing, the regions—that is a whole other debate—or the elite team. The Secretary of State is well placed to have those conversations, and I know that he has spoken with Nigel Walker, the interim chief executive. I know what a great man Nigel Walker is, and I hope that he and Ieuan Evans can turn this around, but it needs a massive shift.

I think I have finished talking about Welsh rugby union and rugby in Wales, but I hope that everybody in this House will join me in saying that we absolutely love rugby and want to big up our players, and that it represents who we are at every single level, whether we have played, watched or just gone along to help out. It is everybody’s; it is ours.

On another note—still on rugby, but with a different edge—the people who go to rugby clubs are all volunteers. I know that the Secretary of State met Rachel, one of my constituents, at Lancaster House. Rachel runs Tempo Time Credits, which is a brilliant way of getting people to do more volunteering and of encouraging more diverse groups of people to volunteer and support their local community. Rugby is a sure-fire win to get people involved. Our Tempo Time Credit volunteers can provide support to local rugby clubs, and they then get rewarded, perhaps with tickets to go to the Scarlets or the Blues—they could go to the Ospreys, but I suppose it depends. [Interruption.] Definitely. I do not want to cause a war in the Chamber. I just wanted to give a really big shout out to all those volunteers, because they make sport happen, not just in Wales but across the United Kingdom. For us, that is really important.

I will bring my comments to close. I thank everybody who has made this debate happen. I am grateful for the diversity of debate when we talk about Welsh Affairs. I am a very proud Welsh-Italian, and I am proud to have been able to stand up in the Chamber today and speak for those who feel that they do not have a voice.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. I give great thanks to my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), for her excellent speech, and to my other neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for introducing this great St David’s day debate. I also thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), partly because my father is from Aberystwyth in Ceredigion. That part of the family goes back, through my mam-gu, to Henry Richard. On my mother Betty’s side, the family has been in Swansea for five generations.

I will use this opportunity to mention Betty Boothroyd. Shortly after I was first elected to this place in 1997— I am the longest serving Member in the Chamber apart from you, Mr Deputy Speaker—Betty Boothroyd gave me her autobiography to give to my mother, and it was signed, “From one Betty to another. Keep your son in order!” My mother was very happy about that. As you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, Betty Boothroyd was a great authority, a warm person and a fantastic tribute to this House.

We are all proud of Wales, of what Wales has done, and of the opportunities that we had in Wales, but I think we in here all accept that Wales has been particularly hard hit by years of austerity and now by the cost of living and inflationary crisis, with people who are, on average, poorer, older and sicker than the rest of the UK. The average earnings in Wales are something like 73% of the UK average, compared with Scotland, where they are 93% of the UK average. Because of that, we get a Barnett consequential of £1.20 for every £1 spent on services. Incidentally, Scotland gets £1.26, even though it is richer.

In recent years, and in the last 13 years in particular, austerity has hit public services, jobs and benefits disproportionately hard in Wales. I credit the work that has been done in various constituencies to help the poorest in need. We have seen the amazing emergence of food banks, and I regret the normalisation of food banks. Across the UK, one in four people are in food insecurity, and that is not where we should be. We need to think again about how we can move forward from this situation.

There were complaints from the hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts) about the health service. It is worth mentioning that the cost of treating someone who is malnourished through poverty is three times the cost of treating someone who is well nourished. In Wales, the health service is facing more people, and it is costing more to treat them, because of the level of austerity that has been inflicted. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) mentioned the need for a proper windfall tax to get the country back on track. It is important to remember that we need to get our fair share of investment in Wales.

I mentioned rail investment at Transport questions this morning. Unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, we are not getting our so-called Barnett population share of the High Speed 2 money. The estimated cost has gone up to something like £100 billion, which works out at £3,500 for every household in the UK—it is an amazingly high cost. HS2 is a north-south spinal route that will reduce the time it takes to get from London to Manchester from two hours and 10 minutes to one hour and 10 minutes, but it still takes three hours to get to Swansea. It will displace investment from south Wales in particular to Manchester and elsewhere. The Barnett consequential should be a £5 billion investment, but we are not getting that. This is on the back of us getting 1.5% of the UK rail enhancement investment over something like 20 years for 5% of the population and 11% of the rail lines. It is time the Government looked to give us some money so that we can modernise, electrify and increase productivity and the wealth and health of the nation.

As I pointed out this morning, Transport for Wales has generated £2.5 billion of shovel-ready schemes to be delivered over the next 15 years—they are ready to go. I hope the Secretary of State will support me in calling on the Department for Transport to work with Transport for Wales and co-fund shovel-ready projects, to move them forward sooner rather than later. We want to increase productivity, we want wages to go up, and we want to deliver net zero, and that is vital.

My hon. Friend is making important points about rail infrastructure. He will know that I have long campaigned for St Mellons Parkway to be built in the east of Cardiff, and we now have crucial funding from the levelling-up fund to create an essential link in the centre of Cardiff. I heard again and again from businesses that those rail links to Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool would help to grow their businesses and opportunities. For that, they need investment from the UK Government in those lines into Wales.

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I would go further: in south Wales specifically, one of the things we need to look at is the link between Swansea, Cardiff and Bristol. That is a regional economy of 3 million people, and obviously it is part of the Union because it goes outside of Wales, but we only get about one service an hour, compared with Manchester to Leeds, which gets something like eight services an hour. There is a lot of talk about the northern powerhouse, but we need linkages in Wales, and between south Wales and the west, to make that hub work. Rather than everything having to go out of London, we should have localised economic prosperity in that way.

The point I am trying to make is that we need to alleviate poor health and low wealth through investment in infrastructure. We also need to invest in research and development, and in a green future. Something else that I raised this morning is that we are at a cliff edge in Wales, where we face the loss of 1,000 jobs in universities from 60 projects that are focused on generating green growth in the future. The structural funding from the EU is suddenly coming to an end, and the shared prosperity fund is delivered through local authorities, rather than being centrally divided among universities across the UK, as the structural funds have been in order to fire up new green projects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon mentioned one of those projects, which is the cladding of homes to create their own power stations. There are also projects to dig up plastic waste from landfill and convert it into carbon nanotubes to be used in electric car batteries, medical instruments and mobile phones. There are projects to convert slag heaps from steelworks that represent billions of pounds of liabilities into billions of pounds of assets by a simple process using water, which converts them into iron ore, zinc and hydrogen. There are projects that take off-peak renewable energy that is currently not being used—the renewable energy that is not going into the grid at breakfast time and teatime—and convert it into hydrogen to be put into the gas grid, for instance, or into hydrogen transport.

All those cutting-edge projects are suddenly going to end unless we get bridge funding of £71 million for Welsh universities in particular, and £170 million for 166 projects across the UK. Again, that issue has been highlighted in the Financial Times. I hope the Chancellor will stop those projects from collapsing, because that R&D is vital for future green growth and exports, and that the Secretary of State will urge him to provide that bridge funding so that we can move forward.

There is a lot more we could be urging the Government to do, including a carbon border tax to ensure that if we do get the steel in Port Talbot and elsewhere to be produced through arc furnaces, so that it is less carbon intensive, carbon-intensive imports from China and elsewhere pay a tax, as will happen in the EU. Otherwise, we will end up in a situation where we are substituting clean south Walian steel with dirty Chinese steel. Following what is, in my view, the good news of the Windsor framework, which recognises and acknowledges the opportunities for Northern Ireland to link into the single market and trade with the United Kingdom, I also hope that trade from Wales to Northern Ireland and to Ireland will be facilitated through more rail infrastructure, so that we ensure our economy is vibrant and we do not simply see businesses moving from Wales to Northern Ireland.

I very much hope that we can get back on track. We are in an awful place. There has been a normalisation of food banks. They are meant to be one-off crisis points, but people are now increasingly dependent on food pantries and other facilities for an ongoing supply of food. We need to move away from that position by investing in transport and in our prosperity and productivity, and reach a situation where there is less strain on the health service and where we can be strong again. That requires investment across the piece, so that as a Union and a nation, we can be strong again for the future. Happy St David’s day.

I wish all Members a happy belated St David’s day, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing the debate. As the only Member with a non-Welsh constituency to take part in the debate so far, I see myself as a friend and neighbour who is here to help contribute and to celebrate St David’s day. I hope that the story I tell shows the strong links that exist not only between my community in Midlothian and Wales, but more widely across Scotland. We have a shared history of friendship, and I promise that I will not mention the current Six Nations too much. Our time in the glory and the light will no doubt be short, as is always the way of it.

It has been an interesting debate so far. The sense of community and support for others that we heard from the hon. Member for Swansea East plays a large part in the shared fellowship between Scotland and Wales, and I will talk more about that. Midlothian’s links to Wales are long and many, and they are not just through the rugby clubs in Lasswade, Dalkeith and Penicuik, where long-standing exchanges go back and forward annually during what was the Five Nations and is now the Six Nations.

Far back beyond that, one of the great unknowns of industrial heritage came through Midlothian on his way to Wales, and that is the story I am keen to share today. Archibald Hood was the first president of the Cardiff Caledonian club. He was born in Kilmarnock in 1823 and worked from his early teens in the pit where his dad was an overman. Hood became a giant of engineering and innovation. How we do not know more about him is surprising to me. I first heard of him on a visit to the Rosewell miners bowling club, where they list the names of past presidents on the wall. They told me a bit about him, so when this debate came up today, I thought it was a great opportunity to say more.

From an early age, Hood had a desire to improve himself and spent much of his spare time, which was not a lot, extending his knowledge, in particular of mining and geological matters. He had a successful early career in south Ayrshire and became friends with William Walker, another pioneer of the south Ayrshire coal trade, eventually marrying his eldest daughter Cochrina. To this day, there is a street in Rosewell called Cochrina Place. Many of the streets and areas around Midlothian find their origins in the times of Hood and his workings.

In 1856, Hood moved east with a lease on the Whitehill colliery in Rosewell in my constituency. Mining was not new to the community, but Hood certainly brought new innovation, a new vision and progression to Whitehill and smaller collieries at Skeltiemuir and Gorton, both well-known local land names that exist to this day. Like others of the time, Hood looked out for his employees and his workforce. He did not just take on the mine itself; he established good housing for the miners and their families. He made sure they all had a garden space and created a community for them—a model for the village that was later carried with him when he travelled further. He recognised the importance of such conditions to having a good workforce.

The House might ask why I am saying so much about Hood, but having been so successful in his time in Midlothian, he took that interest further and took it from Rosewell to the Rhondda valley. I recommend the book “From Rosewell to the Rhondda” by Archie Blyth to anyone. It is the story of Archibald Hood in much more detail than I am able to go into today.

In 1860, Archibald Hood was commissioned by two Liverpool-based Scots, Archibald Campbell and Gilbert Mitchell-Innes, to visit south Wales and,

“like Joshua spy out the promised land.”

He quickly assessed the sites they had sent him to, but realised they would not be as successful as they had thought. However, he took the opportunity to look at other possibilities, which took him to the Rhondda valley.

In April 1862, he negotiated a lease for the upper coal seam at Llwynypia—I apologise profoundly to everybody in the Chamber for my pronunciation, which I know is hopeless, but Members know what I mean—as well as the No. 3 Rhondda seam at Brithweunydd. Operations began under the auspices of the Glamorgan Coal Company, which was soon one of the top six companies in the south Wales coalfield, with coal marketed under the name Hoods Merthyr—apparently one of the very best brands that could be got in steel production. I am not suggesting that this level of quality and innovation came to south Wales only from Scotland; Members can draw their own conclusion from that. However, it was certainly a time when Scotland was exporting much expertise in such fields around the world.

With opportunities expanding, Hood moved to Cardiff with his family, where his home on Newport Road was named Sherwood—again, after the houses he had built for his employees in Bonnyrigg. The Sherwood estate is still there today, and houses many families. However, Hood did not just lift profits there; instead, he did the same as he had done in Rosewell. I believe that the model village from Rosewell is very much replicated in the Rhondda valley, where he was held in high regard by his employees. In many ways, it is a classic rags to riches story. Hood took his success from Scotland and never forgot his roots. Although clearly a successful businessman, he had a strong social conscience and a real desire to provide good-quality housing and community for his workforce. That was something he never forgot. It went beyond the physical. As one report highlighted after his death, speaking of the village he had built for his employees,

“In short it is the only place in the Rhondda in which sports have been actively encouraged by the colliery proprietor”,

again going back to our shared links through sport.

Hood was in many ways a visionary of his time, although there do seem to be questions over some of his tactics in negotiating contracts with his workforce, but we will focus on the positives for today. After establishing local churches in Rosewell, he later took this to Wales, where he played a big part in the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in Cardiff. It is testament to the regard in which he was held by his employees that on his death in 1902, at a very good age for the time, his workforce joined together to erect a statue to him, raising £600, which by my reckoning is just short of £100,000 in today’s money—no small feat. To this day, the bronze statue to Archibald Hood overlooks the Rhondda valley, pointing towards his colliery. It was the first public commissioned statue in the area.

This is a tale of the shared heritage that we enjoy. There are clearly differences between us all in our outlooks and the way in which we want to take things forward, but today I am looking at our shared past and how we can use that to celebrate St David’s day across the wider Welsh family—as an Owen, I can certainly appeal to that. There are so many links that we share, both coming from Midlothian in Scotland to Wales, and vice versa. Long may that tradition continue.

I start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), the deputy leader of Welsh Labour, for securing this debate, the Backbench Business Committee for granting it and all colleagues present for their contributions to a wide-ranging debate on Welsh affairs.

A year ago, when we last held this debate, we did so in the shadow of Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, which was just beginning. Like then, I know that today the thoughts of people across Wales, and of Members across this House, remain with the people of Ukraine. As a nation of sanctuary, we in Wales have a proud history of welcoming those fleeing conflict and persecution. In the past year, more than 3,000 people fleeing Putin’s barbaric and illegal invasion have found sanctuary through the Welsh Government’s super-sponsor scheme. I met some of them together with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who is no longer in his place, and the Leader of the Opposition in Cardiff last week, and it was a real privilege to spend time with them. I am sure that Members across the House will join me in wishing all our Ukrainian friends a happy first St David’s Day in Wales, and in thanking everyone who has supported them.

We have heard some wide-ranging and heartfelt contributions from Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East has been such a superb champion on behalf of the 13 million women across the United Kingdom who are going through the menopause. In her own unique way, in a wide-ranging speech about all the things that she has done and which we are so proud of, she has really shown that her work on menopause means that menopause matters—it really does.

The Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), talked about this year’s Wales Week in London being bigger, better and louder than ever. It certainly was last night in the Guildhall, which was a really enjoyable occasion. I was thinking, when he was talking about the Welsh diaspora globally, that years ago I went to Ellis Island in New York, and there was this fantastic exhibit of a map of America. We could press a button showing our nationality, and it would tell us how many Welsh people lived in every state in the United States. That has always stayed with me, and I have taken my children back there to see it, because I was so impressed by it. It just shows how far and wide the Welsh can spread.

The right hon. Member also talked about football and that superb speech by Lowri Roberts last night, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, and about the wonderful Gareth Bale, who, quietly and without fuss, has shown his real generosity to people in Wales.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) made a great speech about the floating offshore wind that we all want to see. He really is, I think, Mr Steel —a proud champion for his constituents and the steel- workers in Port Talbot.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) talked about which can claim St David as its own: Pembrokeshire or Ceredigion. I think probably Pembrokeshire is in the lead at the moment, but we will see. It was a very thoughtful contribution about digital infrastructure, and about how extending the digital infrastructure in rural areas is going to help stem that demographic of young people leaving our rural communities.

We then had a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), who reminded us that a year ago she stood up in this Chamber to warn about the trouble brewing in the Welsh Rugby Union. All of us want to see not just strong teams on the pitch that we are really proud of—and we are really proud of them—but a strong team off the pitch and in the boardroom of the WRU, so that it changes its culture, has a fresh start and can make us proud. We all want to see that, and I am sure I speak for everybody across the House on that.

I initially misheard my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), and I thought he was saying that Betty Boothroyd was his mother, but clearly not. He talked about the impact of inequality, including the financial inequality that leads to health inequality.

We have covered lots of issues—some political, some not—but I think the issue that we all recognise has dominated Wales for the last 12 months is the cost of living crisis. Households and businesses in every single one of our constituencies have had to deal with soaring inflation, rising food bills and skyrocketing energy costs. Decisions taken by successive Conservative Governments have added to those pressures. Under this Government, Welsh households are facing the highest tax burden in 70 years, the biggest forecasted drop in living standards since records began and the longest pay squeeze for more than 150 years.

Yet, despite the challenging backdrop, Welsh Labour is showing the real difference that the Labour party in government can make. Our Welsh Labour Government are delivering a fairer Wales, where care workers are paid the real living wage, where all our primary school pupils can get a free school meal, and where students get the most generous support in the UK. The Welsh Government have promised to guarantee education, training or employment for everyone under 25. Our young person’s guarantee has supported more than 11,000 young people into work. New protections for tenants have come into place, ending unfair no-fault evictions—while, in contrast, in England there is a failed manifesto promise to deliver those protections for tenants.

In Wales, under a Labour Government, we are achieving some of the highest recycling rates in the world, which my constituents are very proud of, tackling plastic pollution and planting a national forest. Not only are our Welsh Labour Government taking action on the challenges of today; we are also looking ahead to the future. We have not banned offshore wind, and we have had no talk of fracking with a Labour Government who protect our Welsh environment for the sake of future generations. And our Welsh geography means that, as we have heard today, we are uniquely placed to be at the forefront of the developing floating offshore wind network, which will be vital to hitting the UK’s net-zero target. FLOW—as I now know it is called, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon—is a massive opportunity for Welsh steel and to grow our supply chain in Wales, and we must do everything in our power to ensure that the supply chain creates jobs in Wales, boosting the Welsh economy.

We must not have a repeat of what has happened with HS2, where there has been no commitment from the Government to use Welsh or UK steel in the building of that huge infrastructure project. That has failed our steel industry and our steelworkers, to the extent that even the Business Secretary said recently that having a steel industry in the UK is not a given—what a lack of ambition this Government have for the industry and for Welsh and British business. This tells me that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) was not joking when he let slip what he really thought of UK business.

Floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea could make an enormous contribution to meeting the UK’s future energy needs and our energy security. Under this Government, currently the largest onshore wind farm in Wales is owned by Sweden, so our energy bills are paying for schools and hospitals in Stockholm. We need a UK Labour Government who will lead the way, so that we can harness this potential and deliver the economic benefits to Wales.

Returning to the cost of living crisis in Wales, all of us know that people in every part of Wales are facing financial pressures. For many people, it is an impossible task each week to pay basic bills like heating, food, shopping, and the rent or mortgage. That reckless Tory mini-Budget last September has left a lasting and painful legacy across Wales, and no amount of spin or pretence as to who is responsible for the chaos and cost will wash with the Welsh public. They know who has stepped in and done everything they can to help put money back into peoples’ pockets: their Welsh Labour Government and their Welsh Labour councils, which is why there is now not a single Conservative-led council left in Wales. They also know what a Government with integrity look like, because they re-elected the Welsh Labour Government led by Mark Drakeford, with Labour matching its best ever Senedd election result.

At the next general election, people across Wales can elect a UK Labour Government: a Government who will be on the side of working families, making work pay; who will provide certainty and stability, not chaos and short-term fixes; who will seize those new opportunities, not watch from the sidelines while we fall behind in the global race; who will give people skills and opportunities, not leave their potential untapped; and who have strong, purposeful, ambitious leadership that puts country first, not party, driving power and opportunity into every nation and region.

Wales has a great future. A stronger, fairer, greener, more secure, more prosperous and more positive future is there for all of us.

I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and everyone in the Chamber dydd gŵyl Dewi hapus.

I begin by offering my hearty congratulations to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who always talks a lot of sense and always has something worth listening to. I would like to think that we all share the values she espouses when she talks about the charities she supports in her constituency—I think they rang bells with all of us—but we know that she does not just talk the talk, but walks the walk in what she does. She has been campaigning on menopause and mentioned the difference in treatment between women in England and Wales. I have been informed that, as of April, women in England will be able to get a one-year prescription payment certificate, partly as a result of her campaign, so that is worth mentioning. She has been a campaigner on many issues and I thank her for securing the debate.

In the brief time I have, I will try to go around the Chamber and mention something from all the speeches and pick up on some of the questions. If I leave anything out, forgive me—I am sure it will be taken up at a later date. My right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) spoke next. He started by talking about the importance of football, including women’s football. As a parent who has watched many football matches, I believe a lot can be learned from women’s football and the way it is played in a supportive and nurturing environment. I welcomed listening to the inspirational speech by the head of women’s football yesterday in London.

My right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) spoke about the importance of steel and FLOWMIS. On floating offshore wind, the Government are very supportive and we look forward to bringing 4 GW by 2035 in the Celtic sea. I have been engaging with the companies involved and the Crown Estate about how quickly we can bring that forward. There will be an announcement shortly on FLOWMIS—I am told that it will be very shortly indeed, but I am unable to give a date. The Government also very recently brought in an energy-intensive users scheme to ensure that steel companies, which the hon. Member for Aberavon feels very passionately about, are not losing out, in competition terms, to companies in the rest of Europe, which are paying less per megawatt hour for the electricity they use.

What the Secretary of State says about the FLOWMIS announcement is really significant. It is very good to hear confirmation from the Treasury Front Bench that there will be an announcement. I do not expect him to go into detail, but that pot of money is meant to be shared between ports in Scotland and Wales. Wales should get its fair share and that has to mean at least half.

My right hon. Friend is tempting me here. Clearly, Wales should get its fair share of that—as Secretary of State for Wales, I am hardly going to disagree. On what that fair share is and how it is calculated, I do not have access to the exact detail yet, but he, as Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, and I will certainly be taking a very strong interest.

I will come back to universities, which I think were raised by the hon. Member for Aberavon. Before I do, the hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts) made a very good point about the state of the national health service in Wales. If we are honest about it, we have all heard and dealt with constituents who have grave concerns. The fact that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is back in special measures is proof positive that there is a problem and where there is a problem it needs to be acknowledged. Somebody in the Welsh Government needs to get on and deal with it. It was interesting that the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) in her summing up mentioned a lot of things, which I will come on to in a moment, but did not mention the national health service. Given that the Labour party says it has a plan for the national health service, it was surprising that she did not want to draw attention to her own party’s running of it in Wales, where it has been in charge for around 20 years.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) made a very good point about depopulation, which I think would be shared in many rural areas. If we can get broadband rolled out in the way we want to, I believe it would help. We have seen a change in the way society works over the past three or four years, partly as a result of covid. Many more people will be able to work from home and that may be positive. He said that he did not have all the answers— I certainly do not, either. I hope he would recognise that growth deals that are being put together by local authorities in all areas across Wales hold part of the problems. He will know that in his area, tourism and agriculture are strong. Growth deals are being set up specifically to deal with that and to offer people careers rather than jobs, precisely because that is a widely recognised problem across the political spectrum. We want young people to be able to stay in their own areas, rather than having to go to the big cities to work.

The hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) made a powerful and insightful speech. She has spoken out on misogyny in sport and rugby before, including around 12 months ago and, unfortunately, not enough action was taken. Everyone will have listened carefully to what she said. She has spoken out on women’s issues in other areas than just sport, and I suspect she has had quite a lot of abuse on social media in the past for some of her comments when standing up for women’s rights. I fear that many women who have spoken out will probably get abuse on social media from cowardly people who probably would not look them in the eyes and say to them what they say online.

The hon. Lady knows that I have no locus in the WRU. After the allegations were made, I reached out to the WRU and asked for a meeting to discuss them. I met Nigel Walker briefly, who I find an impressive individual, but it was informal and I do not feel that we got down to address those issues. My office has been in touch with the WRU and I would be pleased to meet a little more formally and go through some of them. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that those people with complaints need them to be treated with anonymity and respect. I fear it may not just be rugby; many organisations probably have to deal with some of the issues that recently have been confronted.

The hon. Lady for Swansea West—[Interruption.] Do forgive me, I have not celebrated dydd gŵyl Dewi yet today. The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) was somewhat critical of Labour’s plan for HS2, which was put together around 2008-09 and was continued by the subsequent Conservative and coalition Governments. As I understand it, the reason that the Labour Government gave—

With all due respect, I was not critical of it as such. I said that we should get our fair share of the investment—the £5 billion. Will he support that? He is the Welsh Secretary—he should.

I think that the current cost would be rather less than £100 billion for HS2. Also, it is being built over many years. If we took the £50 billion figure over 10 years, that is £5 billion a year. Five per cent. of that would be considerably less than the huge increase in funding already given to the Welsh Government by the UK Government—£2.5 billion of record-breaking funding.

I will give way, but let me make one last point. It is an England-Wales project because Wales will benefit, particularly north Wales, from the faster connections via Crewe. That was always made clear, and I am not aware that the Labour Government said anything different.

Would the Secretary of State support the shovel-ready schemes already developed by Transport for Wales, which are worth £2.5 billion to be invested over 15 years—half the amount we should get? I raised that with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), this morning, who said that his officials would work with Transport for Wales. Would he support joint funding so that we can get that going rather than resisting all investment in Wales?

I am aware of probably three schemes ongoing at the moment within the rail network enhancements pipeline project, which I hope will be brought to fruition shortly, but I support as much spending as possible on the railways in Wales.

I might be being discourteous to the shadow Secretary of State, because I promised to speak for about seven minutes. Let me quickly say, because it was of interest to the hon. Member for Swansea West, that on university research funding, I committed to go around all the eight universities in Wales as quickly as I could. I am currently doing that, and I think I am on about No. 5. I have been looking at what they have to offer in terms of research, to see the best of it and to bring everyone to an event in London to meet UK Research and Innovation so that we can get more UKRI funding into Wales. That is something that I am happy to update him about shortly.

The hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) made a wonderful speech. He almost seemed to be apologetic about representing a non-Welsh constituency, but most of us in this Chamber are proud Unionists and we welcome hon. Members from all parts of the Union. He spoke about the fantastic character Archibald Hood, who is described in the book “From Rosewell to the Rhondda”. Clearly Mr Hood, 150 years ago, was making the most of the opportunities we have to move around the Union. Let me say tapadh leat, which I think is Scottish Gaelic for thank you, to the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Cardiff Central rightly acknowledged the huge bravery of the Ukrainian people, 6,000 of whom are in Wales. In Chepstow last week, I met Ukrainian constituents, as the hon. Lady has done—they are now our constituents. We say, “Croeso mawr i bob un ohonyn nhw.” They are all incredibly welcome in Wales. We hope that they have an opportunity to go back to their country at some point, but we are delighted that they are here at the moment.

The hon. Member made a point about the cost of living crisis. I will take a leaf out of my own book and say that we absolutely acknowledge it: there is a cost of living crisis. That is why we have been prioritising our help for pensioners by making sure that pensions, benefits and the minimum wage go up in line with inflation. We have been making payments of £900 to those who are on benefits, £300 to pensioners and £150 to those who are on disability benefits. We are spending £18 billion this winter to ensure that around half of people’s energy bills are being paid. What we certainly will not do is ban meal deals, because that would hit people in the pocket.

The shadow Secretary of State said that Welsh Labour is putting more money in the pockets of Welsh people. Labour has a penchant for fantasy economics. Does the Secretary of State agree that before devolution the average wage in Wales was exactly the same as the average wage in Scotland, but now—25 years later—it is 20% lower?

It is tempting, but I promised the hon. Member for Cardiff Central that I would speak for only seven or eight minutes and I have overrun, so I will simply thank everyone for a very constructive debate today and say, “Diolch yn fawr iawn i bawb. Dydd gŵyl Dewi hapus.”

How wonderful it has been to have so many communities across Wales represented today—from Caswell to Cardiff, from Pembroke to Penlan, from Aberavon to Aberystwyth, from Delyn to Dunvant.

Not all hon. Members have been able to speak in this debate, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) is here on the Front Bench, I will say, “And from Merthyr to Monmouth.” Whether we have talked about rugby or renewables, about cost of living or community, we have all spoken with passion not just for Wales, but for being Welsh, which is something we are all most definitely very proud of. When we wake up of a morning before coming to this wonderful building, we want to be able to look in the mirror, look ourselves in the eye and say, “What I do, what I say and how I behave are what my constituents would want. This is how they would want me to represent them.”

I have just two more things to say. First, I must say thank you to Scotland for Keir Hardie. Secondly, I sincerely apologise to the hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts), who I truly feel has been let down: I had not thought of coming with red and green hair, but I promise to do better next St David’s day.

A happy belated St David’s day. Thank you, one and all.

May I thank the House for the exemplary courtesy with which this debate has been conducted?

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Welsh affairs.