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Strength of the Union

Volume 738: debated on Wednesday 18 October 2023

Our United Kingdom is stronger than ever. It is a testament to the strength of the Union that the UK Government have been able to support people across the country, including with £94 billion to respond to cost of living challenges.

At the Welsh Affairs Committee this morning, the First Minister Mark Drakeford blamed the UK Government for not giving adequate financial support to the Welsh Government in times of high inflation and a cost of living crisis. Can the Secretary of State tell us how much his Department is spending on promoting the UK Government in Wales? Why does he think that is a better use of taxpayers’ money than funding services for the people of Wales? I am happy to receive an answer by email if he does not have that information to hand.

First, I can assure the hon. Lady that the Welsh Labour Government are receiving a record-breaking settlement of more than £18 billion, and 20% more per head to spend on public services than is spent in England. Perhaps the First Minister should explain why we have longer NHS waiting lists in Wales and why education standards are lower. As far as spending on public affairs and promotion is concerned, I can assure the hon. Lady that a far greater amount is spent by the Welsh Labour Government than is ever spent by the Wales Office. Frankly, the proof of the strength of the Union is demonstrated by the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) has joined the Conservative and Unionist party, and she is very welcome.

I have raised the damaging effect of the UK’s Brexit on the port of Holyhead and the north Wales economy in this Chamber 26 times. Holyhead has been disadvantaged by the lack of a green lane for exports to Northern Ireland. In August, at last, His Majesty's Revenue and Customs confirmed to me that there will now be a green lane for goods travelling from Wales to Northern Ireland through Holyhead and the Republic. I emphasise, as a precaution, that this is not a freeport issue—the Secretary of State is very keen on that. Rather, what specifically is he doing to promote and enable those new procedures for Holyhead?

I did not quite hear all that, but on the port in Ynys Môn, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take some comfort from the fact that the United Kingdom economy has grown more quickly outside the European Union than that of many nations that have remained in it. The Government have shown their absolute commitment to both north Wales and Ynys Môn through their development of a freeport project for the area and the announcement of £1 billion for electrification of the north Wales railway line, which will help to bring jobs and investment into north Wales.

Barry is Wales’s largest town, but it has been ignored by the Welsh Government for decades. It has significant regeneration challenges, like many places. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on awarding Barry towns regeneration status, but can he reassure me that that does not preclude Barry from benefiting from levelling up funding?

Obviously, I welcome the announcement, but my right hon. Friend is far too modest, since he has been knocking on the door of the Wales Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for a very long time to demand extra funding for Barry. He makes a very strong case for that, and I assure him that the UK Government will continue to listen to him.

Cross-border transport links between Wales and England are a key part of the strength of the Union. Does my right hon. Friend agree that cross-border projects, such as the Pant and Llanymynech bypass and the longer term ambition to dual the A483-A5 passing through Clwyd South and North Shropshire, are vital?

The United Kingdom Government are absolutely determined to support infrastructure projects in Wales. We have done so through the levelling-up funds. It will happen again through the shared prosperity fund and it has, of course, been happening through the growth deals. What we do need is a Welsh Labour Government that will support infrastructure. That is why I find it so disappointing that the Welsh Labour Government have ruled out building any new roads ever again. It worries me greatly that that is seen as a blueprint for the rest of the United Kingdom.