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Strength of the Union

Volume 735: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2023

Recent years have highlighted the strength of our United Kingdom. The successful covid vaccine roll-out was just one example of the strength of our Union; the ability to spend £94 billion during the cost of living challenges caused by the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine was another. That support will continue, with two freeports and an investment zone being delivered in Wales.

Polling on Welsh independence has found that young people, aged 16 to 34, are far more likely than any other group to vote by a majority for independence for Wales to secure the change they feel their nation needs. That mirrors the views of young people in Scotland, who believe Scotland can and will prosper outside this broken Union. Why does the Secretary of State think that so many young people have so little faith in the Union?

Contrary to what the hon. Lady posits, young people want and welcome the right to be able to live, study and work in all parts of the United Kingdom, which is why the Conservative and Unionist party has consistently polled far higher in every kind of election than parties that seek independence for Wales.

One benefit of the Union should be that all its citizens are entitled to broadly equivalent public services, no matter where they live. Yet in north Wales, on the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the NHS, patients are unable to access specialist medical services in England with the same ease as English patients, despite the fact that those services may not be available in Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an unreasonable and unfair state of affairs? Will he urge the Welsh First Minister to rectify that as quickly as possible?

It is deeply disappointing that on the 75th anniversary of the National Health Service, the Welsh Labour Government, which are responsible for healthcare in Wales, are unable to provide the same level of service as that received by patients who live under a Conservative-run Government running the NHS in England. It is deeply unfair that patients in Wales are waiting longer for treatment and wait longer in accident and emergency, and that those who draw attention to allegations of misspending of more than £100 million in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board have been sacked from their jobs.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Lefarydd. One in five people in Wales is facing hunger. On the NHS’s 75th birthday, we must break the vicious cycle where poverty fuels hunger and, consequently, poor health. As the Secretary of State is a staunch believer in the power of the Union, I would like to pose him a challenge: would he be willing to stake his support for the Union on its ability to eradicate food poverty in Wales by the end of the Tories’ time in office?

I assure the right hon. Lady that my support for the Union is absolute. It is because we are in a powerful Union that we have been able to spend £94 billion on cost of living support, which has meant that pensions, benefits and the minimum wage have all gone up in line with inflation. If the right hon. Lady is concerned about food poverty, I hope she will talk to her friends in the Welsh Labour Government, which her colleagues are propping up, about the ridiculous proposal to ban meal deals.

I will take that as a no. Perhaps I can give him another go to prove that Wales gets added value from the Union. English water companies can extract the equivalent of almost 480 Olympic swimming pools of water from Wales every day. Among those companies is Thames Water, which paid over £200 million in dividends over the past five years. Can he explain to households in Wales why the profits gained from extracting our country’s natural resources are benefiting profiteers and not our communities?

The right hon. Lady will be well aware that the way in which water companies are run is rather more complicated than that. She will also be aware that there is a nationalised water company in Scotland and we have a not-for-profit water company in Wales, and yet in both Wales and Scotland average bills are higher, and so are spills into the rivers—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, SNP Members can say what they want. They are presiding over a situation where there are more sewage spills going into the water in Scotland than there are in England.