Delegated Legislation Committee
Charities Bill [ Lords ]
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Sir Gary Streeter
† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
† Bailey, Shaun (West Bromwich West) (Con)
† Clarkson, Chris (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
Furniss, Gill (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab)
† Greenwood, Margaret (Wirral West) (Lab)
† Hart, Sally-Ann (Hastings and Rye) (Con)
Howell, Paul (Sedgefield) (Con)
† Huddleston, Nigel (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)
† Jupp, Simon (East Devon) (Con)
† Maskell, Rachael (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
† Mishra, Navendu (Stockport) (Lab)
Moore, Damien (Southport) (Con)
† Russell-Moyle, Lloyd (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
† Wheeler, Mrs Heather (South Derbyshire) (Con)
† Wild, James (North West Norfolk) (Con)
† Winter, Beth (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
Kevin Maddison, Katya Cassidy, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Second Reading Committee
Tuesday 18 January 2022
[Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]
Charities Bill [Lords]
Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings and to maintain social distancing as far as possible. This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission.
I will start by outlining the procedure for Second Reading Committees, which are uncommon. This Committee is charged with recommending to the House whether the Charities Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time, or whether it ought not to be read a Second time. The debate in this Committee replaces a Second Reading debate in the House. After this Committee has made its recommendation, the question on Second Reading in the House will be decided without further debate.
The rules governing a Second Reading debate in the House apply in Second Reading Committees. In particular, Members may speak more than once only by leave of the Committee or through interventions. The Minister, however, has the right of reply at the end of the debate.
I beg to move,
That the Committee recommends that the Charities Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. This Bill brings in modest but important technical reforms that will allow charities to function more efficiently by implementing the majority of the recommendations from the Law Commission’s “Technical Issues in Charity Law” report. The reforms in the Bill are the product of extensive consultation and represent a great example of the Law Commission’s work to simplify complex areas of the law, and I am pleased to be discussing the Bill’s Second Reading in Committee.
Currently, charities are too often burdened by complicated regulation and administrative costs. This Bill will simplify processes, in turn enabling charities to ensure that their focus and resources are for public good. I thank my noble Friends Baroness Barran and Lord Parkinson for guiding this Bill so ably through the other place, and I put on record my thanks to all peers in the other place, including Lord Hodgson and so many others, who contributed to the thorough scrutiny of this Bill, ensuring it reaches us in good shape.
Both the Law Commission and the Charity Commission have provided their expertise to enable the Bill to reach this stage, and I am grateful for their continued support as it continues its passage through Parliament. I am delighted that the Bill has received cross-party support and has been warmly welcomed by the charity sector. I hope it continues to receive deserved recognition through the remaining stages.
It is important to remind the Committee, as did the Chair, that this Bill follows the special procedure for non-controversial Law Commission Bills. This means that the Bill is limited to implementing those recommendations from the Law Commission’s report. Under this special procedure, the Bill was introduced into the other place, where it was subject to considerable scrutiny, and the Government made some necessary amendments to the Bill. I am grateful to all those involved in making these changes as they will help fulfil the Bill’s aims more efficiently.
Charities legislation can be complicated, uncertain and unduly burdensome. That unfortunately forces many charities to obtain expensive legal advice, and distracts them from carrying out their charitable purposes. Not only does overly complex legislation negatively impact charities, but it hinders the Charity Commission in carrying out its important regulatory role. The changes in this Bill are therefore necessary for both the charity sector and its regulator, providing charities with more flexibility, time, and resources to focus on their charitable purposes while reforming unnecessary or overly bureaucratic processes.
At the same time the Bill maintains appropriate regulatory oversight, protections and safeguards, ensuring the protection of charities from abuse. Certainty and clarity in the law is of the utmost importance, and the Bill will provide trustees with increased flexibility to act in their charity’s best interests. There is no doubt that we owe both our charity sector and our regulator a clear and simple legal framework. I hope that hon. Members will agree that the Bill strikes a sensible balance between protecting charities’ assets and avoiding unnecessary expense and regulation.
This is a highly technical Bill implementing several important changes, and I will shed light on some of its main contents to help Members understand its positive impacts. This Bill will simplify processes for amending governing documents that are currently cumbersome and inconsistent across different charity structures. It will do that by creating a new, clearer statutory power for all unincorporated charities to amend their governing documents by resolution. That will align amendment mechanisms as far as possible across the different legal structures that charities can take. It will also be more straightforward for royal charter charities to make amendments to their governing documents, providing a new power to amend any provision, subject to Privy Council approval.
The Bill will also make it easier to use funds from a failed fundraising appeal for other similar purposes, which has long been a challenge faced by many charities. That will save time and resources for charities where a fundraising appeal has failed, for example, by preventing them from having to search for and contact donors of small donations to ask them if they would like their donation returned because a fundraising appeal did not reach its goal or raised too much money for its specific purpose.
The Bill also makes changes to trustees’ powers in relation to permanent endowment—assets held by the charity with a restriction on the use of capital. Trustees will be able to exercise greater flexibility in making decisions that are in the best interests of their charity, allowing them to better utilise their permanent endowment, whilst protecting the enduring nature of such funds. Alongside greater flexibility, a clearer definition of permanent endowment has been provided. It includes a new power for trustees to borrow from their permanent endowment and streamlines the existing power available to trustees to release those funds.
The Bill also makes changes relating to ex gratia payments—payments that charities feel morally obliged to make, but lack a legal power to do so. For example, if someone left money to a charity in their will, but gave their solicitor instructions to grant some of the amount to a family member instead, but then died before the will had been changed, legally the charity must take the money, but it may feel morally obliged to honour the gift to the family member. Currently it would need to decide whether to make the payment at a trustee meeting, and then wait for Charity Commission, Attorney General or court approval before making such a payment. That is time consuming and can involve costs that are disproportionate to the value of the payment itself. The changes in the Bill will allow charities to make relatively small ex gratia payments without seeking Charity Commission consent. The changes will also allow trustees, if they so wish, to delegate the decision to make these payments to the charity’s staff.
Currently, there are a number of burdensome statutory requirements around disposals of land by charities. The measures in this Bill will tackle those challenges by creating a simpler process and paves the way for secondary legislation to broaden the pool of advisers at a trustees’ disposal.
The Charity Commission will also be provided with supplementary powers in respect of misleading, offensive or very similar charity names to remove anomalies and prevent an inappropriate name appearing on the register of charities.
There is no doubt that charities cannot function without the vital role of trustees, almost all of whom are volunteers. The Bill will, subject to appropriate safeguards, allow charities to source goods from trustees, when doing so would be in the charity’s best interests, by resolving a gap in the current law. The Charity Commission will also be able to authorise trustees to be paid for specific work they have carried out for the benefit oftheir charity in limited circumstances.
In relation to saving administrative costs when it comes to incorporations and mergers, this Bill will ensure legacies in wills can be automatically transferred to a merged charity and will automatically confer trust corporation status on corporate charities in their capacity as trustees of charitable trusts.
On reducing burdens on trustees, protection will be provided to them to avoid charities being discouraged from pursuing litigation due to the risk of trustees personally having to pay the costs of charity tribunal proceedings.
Collectively, the measures will ensure that charity law works effectively for those delivering vital charitable services, especially given the huge pressure the sector has faced during the course of the pandemic. The measures will also ensure appropriate regulatory oversight and safeguards are in place to maintain public trust in this important sector.
The many notable benefits of the provisions I have outlined will have positive impacts on the sector. Small charities will especially benefit from the simplified legislation and reduced administrative burdens as they may not have access to legal advice. The changes will also make life easier for trustees by reducing administrative burdens and easing some of the regulatory pressures they face. Trustees will be able to act with confidence in their charity’s interests. In turn, we anticipate public trust to flow from charities working unhindered and able to focus fully on their charitable mission.
I reiterate that this Bill brings in welcome reform to charity law. It has widespread support and, as I have outlined, it is the product of extensive consultation and has been subject to rigorous scrutiny. I am honoured to have the pleasure of bringing this Bill before this Committee and the House. I hope the Committee will give this Bill its full support, so we can proceed swiftly with its remaining passages and begin working with the Charity Commission on its implementation. I commend the Bill to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Gary, and I am pleased to speak on the Opposition’s behalf. I thank the Minister for his introductory remarks and echo his thanks to everyone involved in the passage of the Bill through the Lords and in cleaning it up into the good state that we see it today.
Like probably all of us in this Committee, I am a member or supporter of several charities. For the record, I refer the Committee to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and note that I am a trustee of Drug Science.
The charity sector’s contribution to society could not have been shown more clearly than during the coronavirus pandemic, with countless organisations and volunteers doing fantastic work to support vulnerable people. Charitable groups and organisations have ensured that rough sleepers have had access to food and shelter, delivered food to those in need and supported the vulnerable and those who had to shield during the darkest days of the pandemic. I pay tribute to all volunteers and staff in the charity sector, which forms such an important part of our civil society. Charities play a vital role in our communities and will continue to be vital to Britain’s covid recovery in the months ahead.
During the Bill’s passage through the Lords, there was agreement on all sides that the new measures represent important progress towards allowing charities to amend how they operate and making it easier for them to achieve their core purpose. The Bill seeks to make a series of changes that will make it easier for charities to navigate the law and to carry out their functions effectively, while retaining important safeguards.
I will not repeat the detail that the Minister outlined, but the Opposition support the Bill, which takes on board the majority of the Law Commission’s recommendations and makes several significant changes for charities, reducing red tape and making it easier for them to amend their governing documents, such as small changes to charitable purposes, to dispose of land efficiently, to use their resources more effectively and to avoid disputes over whether a trustee has been correctly appointed or elected.
The Law Commission’s “Technical Issues in Charity Law” report, which informs the changes in the Bill, was published in September 2017. Labour backs our charity sector and backed the report. We wonder whether these changes could have been brought to the House more swiftly, but we are pleased that the Government have finally brought the Bill forward.
Approximately 169,000 charities are registered with the Charity Commission in England and Wales, with a combined annual income of over £83 billion. The sector employs 3% of the total UK workforce, and more than 944,000 trustees are supported by over 6.2 million volunteers. All those charities and the millions of people who support their work might have benefited if the recommendations has been brought into law more quickly, but the Labour party supported the Bill’s passage in the Lords and will of course be doing the same in the Commons. We do so because the recommendations will fundamentally make running a charity easier and more efficient.
Among other things, the Bill clarifies certain powers of the charity tribunal, expands the Charity Commission’s role to deal with misleading, offensive or duplicate charity names, allows charities to amend their governing documents or royal charters more easily, permits more flexibility in the use of permanent endowments and makes it simpler for charities to combine their operations.
The implementation of the Law Commission’s recommendations is estimated to deliver cost savings for charities of at least £28 million over a 10-year period. The uncertainties in the law and the unnecessary regulation that discourage participation, delay charities’ activities and compel them to spend money on expensive legal advice will be removed, which will make life easier for charities to fulfil their charitable purposes.
However, in supporting the Bill, I ask the Minister to clarify why the Government did not accept all the Law Commission’s recommendations. In particular, recommendation 40, which states that
“it should be possible to obtain authorisation to pursue ‘charity proceedings’ under section 115 of the Charities Act 2011 from either the court or the Charity Commission in circumstances where the Charity Commission would face an actual or apparent conflict of interests”.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. I too wanted to pick up on recommendation 40, because the Government’s response refers to non-legal remedies without setting out what they are. As a result, how to seek proper restitution must be made clear to trustees and charities.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, and I hope that the Minister will respond in his summing up. The sector was widely supportive of the suggestion, which would provide reassurance for those seeking authorisation and ensure that the Charity Commission is not compromised when making judgments in such cases.
Will the Minister also expand on the Government’s decision not to adopt recommendation 43, which sought to remove the requirement that the Charity Commission obtain the consent of the Attorney General before making a reference to the charity tribunal on a question concerning charity law or its application to a particular case. Organisations from across the charity sector share the view that the Charity Commission is well placed to highlight potentially challenging issues within charity law and that the current requirement for consent presents an unnecessary barrier to ensuring that issues of charity law can be considered and addressed by the tribunal.
On the topic of the Charity Commission, Members will have seen the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s hearing last Tuesday regarding the rather shambolic appointment—and now resignation —of Martin Thomas as chair of the Charity Commission. It is remarkable that the appointments system did not pick up the allegations of inappropriate behaviour, despite the charity in question formally reporting the incident to the very regulator that Martin Thomas was appointed to head up, so perhaps the Minister will set out how the Government plan to tighten the system to avoid a similar situation.
As I said earlier, the changes set out in the Bill mean that charities can spend less time jumping through excessively bureaucratic hoops and more time focusing on their core mission. They will also help to protect the public by, for example, stopping them being misled by a charity that deliberately adopts a name similar to that of another charity. We accept that phased implementation will allow charities to put processes in place to manage the new regime.
Like the Law Commission and the Charity Commission, Labour supports the sensible measures in and principles of the Bill and recommend that it be read a Second time.
I thank my opposite number, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington, and the hon. Member for York Central, who has extensive and significant knowledge in the charitable sector and civil society overall—I applaud her work over many years.
I am pleased that the Bill has such obvious support across the House and in the other place, and I look forward to taking it through the Commons. We share the ambition that charities should not be weighed down by disproportionate or unnecessary burdens, so that they can focus on their charitable objectives and on what they do best. Charities are a force for good in society and, as the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington said, England and Wales alone have 167,000 registered charities, all of which carry out excellent and indispensable work to help those in need. By working closely with the Law Commission and the Charity Commission to provide consistency and clarity in law through this Bill, charities can feel confident that we have understood their concerns and that we are on the right path to help them fulfil their purposes.
To address some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, he was right to express a sense of urgency here, because we are trying to address quite a number of issues. We would all like to move at speed, but this is an incredibly complex area of law. We have had the challenges of dealing with covid, but there has been extensive stakeholder engagement. I understand the sense of urgency, but this is a complex area, and we wanted to ensure that we did things correctly.
On recommendation 40 of the Law Commission’s “Technical Issues in Charity Law” report, the Government stand by their decision to reject it and set out its reasoning in their response. The removal of the safeguards in section 115 of the 2011 Act would be a disproportionate response to the unlikely possibility of an application being brought to the Charity Commission that created a conflict of interest. Such a scenario, if it ever arose, could in any event be addressed in other ways. However, I am happy to discuss the matter with hon. Members or to write to them if they have outstanding concerns.
On recommendation 43, the Law Commission recommended that the Charity Commission should be able to make a reference to the charity tribunal without first having to get consent from the Attorney General. The Government rejected that recommendation on the basis that the Attorney General has a duty on the Crown’s behalf to protect charitable interests in England and Wales, and the mechanism assists the Attorney General in fulfilling that duty. The Government concluded:
“The Attorney General’s consent for references to the Charity Tribunal is an important element in the system which should not be removed.”
The matter was thoroughly debated during the Bill’s passage through the other place, and the amendment to insert recommendation 43 was not accepted.
Charities have played an unprecedented role throughout the course of the pandemic, and the measures in this Bill will enable them to carry on doing their vital work in communities throughout the country without unnecessary controls. I thank hon. Members for their contributions today, and I hope this Second Reading Committee will support the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Draft Train Driving Licences and Certificates (Amendment) Regulations 2022
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: †Graham Stringer
† Bailey, Shaun (West Bromwich West) (Con)
† Benton, Scott (Blackpool South) (Con)
† Buchan, Felicity (Kensington) (Con)
Champion, Sarah (Rotherham) (Lab)
Coyle, Neil (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)
† Dhesi, Mr Tanmanjeet Singh (Slough) (Lab)
† Eastwood, Mark (Dewsbury) (Con)
† Foy, Mary Kelly (City of Durham) (Lab)
Huq, Dr Rupa (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
† Loder, Chris (West Dorset) (Con)
† Merriman, Huw (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
† Morton, Wendy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
† Richards, Nicola (West Bromwich East) (Con)
† Solloway, Amanda (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
† Thewliss, Alison (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
† Twist, Liz (Blaydon) (Lab)
† Warburton, David (Somerton and Frome) (Con)
Katya Cassidy, Naimh McEvoy, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Third Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 18 January 2022
[Graham Stringer in the Chair]
Draft Train Driving Licences and Certificates (Amendment) Regulations 2022
Before we begin, may I remind Members that they are expected to wear masks and to maintain distancing as far as possible? This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I also remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the estate. That can be done at the testing centre in the House or at home. If Members have speaking notes, please send them to Hansardnotes@parliament.uk.
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Train Driving Licences and Certificates (Amendment) Regulations 2022.
It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.
The regulations we are considering today will support the continued smooth operation of essential channel tunnel traffic and provide long-term certainty, clarity and confidence to cross- border operators, both current and prospective, regarding the future train driver licensing framework for the channel tunnel. They will make the necessary amendments to domestic train driver licensing legislation to enable the implementation of a bilateral agreement that has been signed by the UK and French Governments on the mutual recognition of British and European train driving licences in the channel tunnel zone.
The regulations amend the Train Driving Licences and Certificates Regulations 2010, which set out the licensing and certification requirements for train drivers operating on the mainline rail system in Great Britain. The 2010 regulations transposed into domestic law an EU Directive on the certification of train drivers operating locomotives and trains on the railway system in member states of the European Union—directive 2007/59/EC of the European Parliament and of the EU Council.
As part of the preparations for the UK leaving the EU, the 2010 regulations were amended by statutory instruments in 2019 and 2020. The 2019 regulations corrected inoperabilities arising from the UK’s departure from the EU and established a “Transitional Period,” enabling the continued recognition of European train driving licences in Great Britain for a period of two years from exit day. The 2020 regulations made further amendments to the 2010 regulations by extending the recognition provisions, so that European train driving licences issued up to 31 January 2022 would also be valid until that date.
Following the end of the transitional period on 31 January 2022, the recognition of European train driving licences in Great Britain will end. The regulations we are considering will provide for the continued recognition of European train driving licences in the UK half of the channel tunnel and cross-border area when the transitional period expires. That will support the recognition of European and British train driving licences in the channel tunnel zone on a fully reciprocal basis under the related UK-France bilateral agreement. The regulations will therefore have a significant positive impact on cross-border operators and drivers by providing long-term certainty on the train driver licensing requirements for the channel tunnel zone, which on the UK side is up to Ashford International station for passenger services and Dollands Moor station for freight services. On the French side, it is up to Calais-Frethun for passenger trains, and Frethun freight yard for freight services.
The arrangements will also considerably reduce the administrative burdens on operators and the drivers they employ by enabling British and French drivers to operate within the channel tunnel zone without the need to hold two separate licences—one issued in the UK and one in the European economic area.
The regulations, and by extension the agreement that they will implement, are fully compatible with the Government’s fundamental red lines in the channel tunnel negotiations with France, which are to support the continuation of cross-border services, while conferring no role for the EU courts or the European Rail Agency in UK territory and avoiding dynamic alignment with EU law.
Information-sharing provisions are included in the regulations to give effect to requirements of the bilateral agreement. Under those requirements, the Office of Rail and Road will have powers to share information with the equivalent French authorities, for example, in relation to any concerns regarding the validity of a licence or compliance with licensing requirements on the part of either a holder of a European train driving licence operating in the channel tunnel zone in Great Britain, or a holder of a British train driving licence operating in the channel tunnel zone in France. The bilateral agreement will impose equivalent obligations on the French licensing authority, the EPSF, enabling information to be shared on a reciprocal basis.
The new regulations will also maintain the requirement for train drivers to hold a complementary certificate alongside their licence. Those certificates are issued by operators and confirm a train driver’s competence and knowledge of the route, rolling stock and infrastructure on which they are operating. Again, the agreement will mean British and French train drivers will be able to use one complementary certificate to drive throughout the entire channel tunnel zone, as opposed to needing complementary certificates issued in both Britain and France. To that end, the regulations amend the scope of recognition of complementary certificates issued under the 2010 regulations to include the area up to Calais-Frethun in France.
In summary, the regulations will reduce administrative burdens on cross-border operators and enable them to plan their businesses into the future with confidence. Most importantly, they will support the long-term continued smooth operation of cross-border services through the channel tunnel, which, as I am sure hon. Members will agree, bring significant economic and social benefits to the UK. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Stringer.
The last time I responded on behalf of the Opposition in a statutory instrument debate on the important matter of Brexit implications for our rail network I urged the Government to be ambitious in their view of our track connection to Europe. I urged them to support Eurostar services when covid-19 threatened their existence and to provide clarity on the important intricacies of rail services that run between here and mainland Europe. Sadly, neither was provided by the Government, so I am pleased to note that the regulations before us provide greater clarity on future train driving licences as the transition period relating to them comes to an end.
I think that we can all agree that as we legislate to implement the various consequences of leaving the European Union, safety regulations should be of the utmost importance. That is vital to ensuring the safety of passengers, protecting the highly skilled work of drivers and continuing the smooth running of our cross-border link. By doing so, we will guarantee that, as our network mergers with those of our European neighbours, proper regulation and legal requirements are met.
I hope that the new agreements reached will provide some clarity about the future framework of train driving licences for operators and drivers alike. The regulations will ensure that European train driving licences will not cease to be valid in the channel tunnel border area from 31 January 2022 and that British-held licences will be recognised up to Frethun freight and the passenger tunnels in Calais.
As the Minister said, the initial regulations provided a two-year recognition period, which will last until 31 January 2022, so the urgency of the matter is absolutely clear. However, I have some concerns that I would like the Minister to address. The SI stipulates that the ORR will continue not only to recognise the European train driving licences within the channel tunnel zone, but will ensure the issuing of British train driving licences. Can the Minister say whether that arrangement will continue when Great British Railways comes into operation? Will the body that will manage that entity have sufficient capacity to ensure that those processes continue? Although the Shapps-Williams plan for rail notes that the
“ORR’s existing role as safety regulator will continue”
some responsibilities will be taken on by Great British Railways. Considering that that new organisation will be operable by 2023, I know that operators and drivers would appreciate some clarity on the matter. Sadly, the proposed £2 billion cut to rail services does not fill me with confidence about that.
Much of the SI seems to rely on communication and information-sharing with our French counterparts, to ensure that safety and other related standards are met on our network. I hope that the Minister can assure me that measures are in place to ensure full co-operation on both sides. Can the Minister confirm that France is on track to sign the agreement? If not, what would be the impact? What steps would the Government take to mitigate the consequences? I know that the Government have a reputation for last-minute, often botched, agreements, but we must ensure that delays arising from unnecessary administrative burdens are avoided. We must heed what we have seen in the HGV sector.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is this Government who have consistently sought to maintain the connection from the UK to the rest of Europe? Almost 12 years ago, the Government sought to connect London with Frankfurt by direct train. It was not the Government who sought to frustrate that with issues related to the channel tunnel, but the French Administration. Would the hon. Gentleman care to consider that fact?
The Labour party has continually argued that the Government need to support Eurostar to ensure connections with mainland Europe, but they have ignored us time and again. The lack of services has been a bugbear for many right hon. and hon. Members with Kent constituencies, with trains no longer stopping at Ashford and Ebbsfleet. A great deal needs to be done and that is why many individuals are disappointed with the Government’s performance.
To ensure the smooth running of cross-border services should be an important priority for our rail network. Indeed, the Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), shared that belief and noted just last year that the continuation of those services was needed to provide significant economic and social benefits. I hope that we bear that in mind in the future and seek to maximise the benefits for passengers, operators and freight services.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Stringer.
Yet again, we have last-minute regulatory legislation, and nobody put this on the side of a bus or, indeed, of a train. The SNP welcomes attempts to retain the close relations that we once had with EU member states prior to Brexit, with mutual recognition of credentials in the channel tunnel zone between Great Britain and France. Without Brexit, we would have retained such mutual recognition automatically, without the palaver of rending it in legislation a year after Brexit and two years since the transitional period. This is, of course, less than what we had before.
It is ironic that the Minister claims that the regulations reduce the administrative burden when they introduce new ones. The 2007 directive established a common regime for licensing and certifying train drivers in EU member states with a view to harmonising the regulatory regime to enable train drivers to move more freely across countries. The UK has now left that efficient pan-continental system. We benefited from freedom of movement, and it has been good for many us and those working across Europe. The UK’s actions to reduce freedom of movement dramatically are to our detriment.
Information-sharing provisions are included to give effect to the requirements of the proposed bilateral agreement. Under them, the ORR will be able to share information with its equivalent French authority, the EPSF. Although the SNP welcomes cross-country information-sharing, our party recognises that the UK has left important EU security institutions, and that may well have an impact on our overall public safety.
This is clearly a time-sensitive issue with the transition deadline at the end of the month. Can the Minister clarify exactly why there has been such a delay? The ORR produced documentation on the issue back on 29 July last year. The Government introduced the relevant draft legislation on 18 October last year, yet here we are, with two weeks to go before the deadline. What are the implications of that delay? How many people are eligible for the European train drivers licence? I am just curious to know how many people may be affected. What impact has that had on jobs and practical operations?
The SNP is keen to see the continued smooth operation of channel tunnel traffic. It provides economic and social benefits to the UK, and to Scotland, and we hope that regulations will provide some long-term clarity, certainty and confidence to cross-border operators regarding the train driving framework for the channel tunnel.
I thank hon. Members for their helpful and constructive contributions.
I note what the hon. Member for Slough said about safety and clarity. As I said in my opening remarks, the regulations are designed to support the continued smooth operation of essential channel tunnel traffic. They are designed to deliver long-term certainty, clarity and confidence to cross-border operations now and into the future. He also referred to the ORR—as a new Transport Minister, I am still trying to learn all the abbreviations. I take on board his comments, but in terms of the ORR and the Great British Railways, I think that strays into slightly different territory beyond the regulations.
It is important to recognise that it is in the mutual interests of the UK and France to support the recognition of train driver licences reciprocally. The bilateral agreement will deliver the smooth operation of channel tunnel traffic. I can assure the hon. Member for Glasgow Central that officials have done a huge amount of work to prepare the regulations.
The regulations will make the necessary changes to ensure that the UK is able to implement an agreement with France on the recognition of British and European train driving licences in the channel tunnel zone. They will provide long-term certainty to the train driver licensing framework applicable to the channel tunnel. They will also support the recognition of cross-border train driving licences on a fully reciprocal basis. That will allow cross-border drivers to continue to operate as they do now, providing certainty, clarity and confidence to passengers and the industry. That will reduce the administrative burden and support the continued smooth operation of those important rail services.
I am grateful for the opportunity to consider the regulations and I hope that the Committee will join me in support of them.
Question put agreed to.
Draft Data Protection Act 2018 (Amendment of Schedule 2 Exemptions) Regulations 2022
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: †Julie Elliott
† Black, Mhairi (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Bradshaw, Mr Ben (Exeter) (Lab)
† Djanogly, Mr Jonathan (Huntingdon) (Con)
† Fabricant, Michael (Lichfield) (Con)
† Fletcher, Nick (Don Valley) (Con)
† Foster, Kevin (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
† Gibson, Peter (Darlington) (Con)
Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma (South Shields) (Lab)
† Long Bailey, Rebecca (Salford and Eccles) (Lab)
† Mohindra, Mr Gagan (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)
† Richards, Nicola (West Bromwich East) (Con)
† Shah, Naz (Bradford West) (Lab)
† Tomlinson, Michael (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Twigg, Derek (Halton) (Lab)
† Twist, Liz (Blaydon) (Lab)
† Warman, Matt (Boston and Skegness) (Con)
† Wood, Mike (Dudley South) (Con)
Stella-Maria Gabriel, Gavin Blake, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 18 January 2022
[Julie Elliott in the Chair]
Draft Data Protection Act 2018 (Amendment of Schedule 2 Exemptions) Regulations 2022
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Data Protection Act 2018 (Amendment of Schedule 2 Exemptions) Regulations 2022.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott.
Paragraph 4 of schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act 2018 outlines specific rights under the UK general data protection regulation, or UKGDPR, that can be restricted if they would likely prejudice either the maintenance of effective immigration control or the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control. That is known in shorthand as the immigration exemption.
The regulations amend the immigration exemption following the judgment handed down in the case of the Open Rights Group (and another) and the Secretary of State for the Home Department. In this case, the Court of Appeal held while there was nothing in principle unlawful about having an exemption for the purposes of maintaining effective immigration control, the legislation itself did not fully reflect the safeguards required by article 23.2 of the UKGDPR. As a result, the Home Office made a commitment to amend the immigration exemption, setting out additional safeguards, where further safeguards were considered relevant. The deadline for bringing those changes into force is 31 January 2022.
As part of the process of preparing the draft regulations, the Department has consulted with the parties to the litigation and with the Information Commissioner’s Office and has considered carefully their observations and comments, making amendments to the draft as appropriate. It may be helpful if I provide some brief details about the new safeguards.
The right of the data subject to be informed of the immigration exemption’s use, save in certain circumstances, is now on the face of the legislation, once again proving our commitment to be as open and transparent as we are able. We have also put in place an immigration exemption policy document explaining how the immigration exemption must be operationally applied and the circumstances in which data rights might be exempted. The IEPD has been published and we will, of course, keep it under review.
Publication will also give stakeholders the opportunity to offer their views on the IEPD, and where it can be improved, we will act to make it so. We are committed to addressing legitimate concerns, promoting high standards in the application of the immigration exemption, and protecting individuals’ personal data. We believe the IEPD builds on the rights and safeguards already enshrined in legislation and adds to the existing guidance the Home Office has published, and the Information Commissioner’s Office has published. As we said in court, we follow the ICO guidance and welcome the comments it will likely wish to make, and have already made, on the document.
To be clear, we are also specifically limiting use of the immigration exemption to the Secretary of State. We wanted to put beyond doubt that the immigration exemption may not be used by so-called ‘rogue landlords’ to restrict a person’s rights, a point specifically raised in court and by other parties.
I want to be clear that by laying the regulations, we are not seeking to remove anyone’s rights but to add more safeguards to them, and to increase transparency about how the immigration exemption will be used. That builds on the guidance that the ICO has issued, to which we are adhering, and will continue to do so.
I hope that I have given the Committee a good sense of why the regulations will make a positive difference to our law, and I commend them to it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott.
I heard the Minister set out the Government’s position and his suggestion that they are committed to fair processes. The Minister must recognise, however, the gravity of the proposed amendment. The Government have been dragged here to make that amendment because they lost a ruling at the Court of Appeal. Given the background of the Windrush generation case—the judge actually commented on that—does the Minister recognise the gravity of a situation in which campaigners have to go to court, subsequently win against the Government and the Government then have to introduce the regulations before us? The Government’s strategy was ill-judged in the first instance. I would be interested to understand the Minister’s thoughts on the campaigners’ view that the judgment and the proposed amending regulations do not go far enough to address the concerns of those who won the case.
In the second quarter of 2017, the success rate against the Home Office on immigration cases was 47%. That figure was part of the successful argument presented to the court by the campaigners. It has also been found that 10% of cases where a search of the Home Office database identified an individual as a disqualified person who should be refused a bank account were wrong. The Home Office has made terrible mistakes, and it should not require public campaigners to go to court to bring the Government into line.
The Opposition support the proposed regulations, but I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about my observations.
As everyone knows, we are here because the Court of Appeal found that schedule 2 was inadequate and does not provide enough safeguards. I welcome the fact that the Government have not sought to appeal that decision in the hope that they can remedy the situation via legislation, but the proposed regulations do not address the unlawful conduct identified by the court. GDPR recital (41) makes clear
“a legislative measure should be clear and precise, and its applications must be foreseeable to persons subject to it”.
The draft statutory instrument does not meet that requirement. The basic problem is that the Court of Appeal decided that article 23(2) of UKGDPR required additional safeguards. The SI does not provide that, and it does nothing to provide any clarity about or expansion of the existing safeguards.
Lord Justice Warby expressed his provisional view that such safeguards should be “part and parcel” of the legislation, but instead the draft SI refers to guidance that is removed from the legislation. First, the SI cannot be considered “part and parcel”, and secondly, such guidance has no force in law and can be changed with ease and without scrutiny. Thirdly, the guidance has not been approved by Parliament. It does not have the status of a code of practice that is approved by Parliament. I raise those pertinent points because my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) raised those very issues with exemptions back in 2018. If we fast forward four years, here we are with the same problem.
Given the court case arose after it was revealed that the UK Government were using the exemption to deny 60% of applicants access to their data, is it any surprise that the legislation is still wholly inadequate? The very wording is inadequate because the exemption policy document can be changed by the Secretary of State if they consider it appropriate. With the added backdrop of the broken nature of the Government’s hostile immigration system, and the need for overall reform in multiple areas, and although I welcome the fact that the Government are at least trying to do something, ultimately the draft SI does not solve the problems identified. If anything, it actually gives the appearance that its purpose is to serve and protect the Home Office and to give the Secretary of State the power to do as they see fit. With that in mind, I have to say that the SNP will oppose the regulations.
I appreciate the points raised by hon. Members. As has been said, we have not appealed the Court of Appeal’s judgment. In response to the SNP spokesperson, we felt it better to engage with the issues and seek to resolve some of the concerns. I understand the point about why not address all of the concerns in primary legislation but we felt that given concerns to do with data-processing, primary legislation raises certain issues, whereas published guidance is available, and in fact we have already published in draft and we have received comments. We expect that to be an evolving document. Of course, there would be an issue had we decided to issue private guidance, and questions would be asked about whether we were trying to avoid scrutiny.
We expect the published guidance to balance the need to give individuals access to information where appropriate and, for the sake of argument, not requiring the need to inform someone that we are taking immigration enforcement action or the details on what intelligence we may or may not have on activities, particularly on those who may be involved in potential criminal activity. Although we recognise that there is a crime exemption, we believe that there are circumstances where we need a specific immigration exemption as well, rather than try to extend the criminal exemption to cover immigration. Hence the action we have taken.
We believe that the regulations meet the objectives that were set out in the judgment. We appreciate that there will always be those who take a different view, and there will always be opportunity for oversight from the ICO and judicial oversight. We cannot change the regulations at will if that then undermined the purpose of the core legislation. We believe the regulations represent a positive step forward that will resolve the core concerns. In particular, it is made very clear that their use is restricted to the Secretary of State, given that the purpose is to maintain effective immigration control, not to give an excuse to third parties to try to withhold data that should be released. That core point has been raised by many, but we should be clear that the exercise of the power lies with the Home Secretary in terms of defence of the immigration system, and not with a landlord or agent who may seek to argue the exemption when required to declare information.
We believe that the regulations are the appropriate step forward. We recognise that we are responding to a court judgment, but we did not seek to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court because we thought that the points made in the judgment were reasonable and ones that we could accept. I repeat that the document will be an evolving one.
A very brief one, indeed. Is my hon. Friend confident then that there will not be another appeal? My hon. Friend would then be back here again coming up with another amendment. Does the SI actually meet the requirements of the court and the judgment?
We believe that it does. I can never guarantee that someone will not take legal action against the Home Office. The campaigners won and it would have been the Home Office that would look to appeal to the Supreme Court. As the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South noted, we decided not to appeal but to engage with the judgment and introduce additional safeguards instead. The principle of having this type of legislative exemption was deemed to be perfectly rational, but it was felt that there was a need to be clearer and to have certain published safeguards on its use.
Given some of the data-sharing arrangements with the European Union on adequacy arrangements and the carve up it applied, we have engaged with the European Commission, and we are confident about our policy. Can I guarantee that no one will launch a legal challenge against the Home Office in future? No. We live in a country where people are able to do that. I have set out the purpose of the regulations, however, and the need for them. As I said, this is not about taking away anyone’s rights or weakening any protections on data access, rather the regulations are designed to strengthen those protections and to produce a living document that can respond to emerging issues and trends, and can be amended where appropriate.
Question put and agreed to.
Welsh Grand Committee
Strengthening the Union as it Relates to Wales (First sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: †Geraint Davies, Sir Charles Walker
Antoniazzi, Tonia (Gower) (Lab)
† Atherton, Sarah (Wrexham) (Con)
† Baynes, Simon (Clwyd South) (Con)
Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)
† Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
† Cairns, Alun (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)
† Crabb, Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
† Crosbie, Virginia (Ynys Môn) (Con)
† David, Wayne (Caerphilly) (Lab)
† Davies, David T. C. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales)
† Davies, Dr James (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)
Davies-Jones, Alex (Pontypridd) (Lab)
† Doughty, Stephen (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
† Edwards, Jonathan (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
† Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)
† Evans, Chris (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
† Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
† Harris, Carolyn (Swansea East) (Lab)
† Hart, Simon (Secretary of State for Wales)
† Jones, Mr David (Clwyd West) (Con)
† Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)
† Jones, Gerald (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
† Jones, Ruth (Newport West) (Lab)
Kinnock, Stephen (Aberavon) (Lab)
† Lake, Ben (Ceredigion) (PC)
† McMorrin, Anna (Cardiff North) (Lab)
† Millar, Robin (Aberconwy) (Con)
† Morden, Jessica (Newport East) (Lab)
Roberts, Rob (Delyn) (Ind)
Saville Roberts, Liz (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)
† Smith, Nick (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
† Stevens, Jo (Cardiff Central) (Lab)
Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Thomas-Symonds, Nick (Torfaen) (Lab)
† Wallis, Dr Jamie (Bridgend) (Con)
† Williams, Craig (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
† Williams, Hywel (Arfon) (PC)
† Winter, Beth (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
Huw Yardley, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Welsh Grand Committee
Tuesday 18 January 2022
[Geraint Davies in the Chair]
Strengthening the Union as it Relates to Wales
Bore da a chroeso. Good morning and welcome. It might be helpful to remind Members that you have until 11.25 am for this debate. We will meet again at 2 pm for a debate that will last another two hours, until 4 pm. We have about 20 speakers, so I will ask people to be brief in their openings so that we can get some Back Benchers in this morning as well as Front Benchers. Please bear that in mind, because I want to call everybody. I have no power to impose any time limit, but brief contributions would be appreciated by all.
Under the resolution of the House of 1 March 2017— St David’s day—members of the Committee may speak in Welsh. I ask, however, that points of order be made in English. Simultaneous interpretation is available on channel 2 of the headsets that you should have. Any speech delivered in Welsh will be found in Hansard in both languages. Please switch off headphones when not in use to prevent feedback.
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the matter of strengthening the Union as it relates to Wales.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Davies. I know you would love to make a longer contribution, but sadly on this occasion we will be denied that particular pleasure. This is the first Welsh Grand Committee for some time, and it is a huge pleasure to introduce it. I welcome colleagues. Another cause of celebration is that it coincides with the birthday of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire—as if there were not enough to enjoy about today’s proceedings, we can add that to our list.
The country is talking of other political matters at the moment, but I want to spend my time this morning talking about the UK Government’s achievements in Wales, why the Union matters and why, thankfully, three out of four voters at the last opportunity still supported Unionist parties in Wales. In a week when apologies are on everyone’s lips, I will be making no apologies for this being the most active and engaged UK Government in Wales for the last 20 years; no apologies for standing up, when necessary and forced, to a Welsh Government who sometimes seem to enjoy all the responsibility but little of the accountability when it comes to Welsh matters; no apologies for taking a very proactive approach to covid and recovery, particularly in our economic interventions; and no apologies at all for delivering what 54% of the people of Wales voted for back in 2016, despite numerous efforts by some of our political opponents to reverse, delay or deny what happened in that referendum.
I will start with a reference to the Union—I make no apologies for my Unionist credentials, either. Sometimes, our attitudes as politicians of the Union can be wilfully misrepresented. For me, the Union is not a political movement or party; it is not instead of national identity, but as well as it. We all know that it is perfectly possible—we see it among our constituents all the time—to be patriotic and enthusiastically champion everything that is Welsh, but at the same time to recognise the value of the Union. How often have we all heard, even in Plaid Cymru seats, people say, “I’m passionately Welsh but I’m also British”?
In my mind, the question is not, “Could Wales survive on its own?”. An accusation that is occasionally, and sometimes legitimately, levelled at us—because of the manner in which we have sometimes constructed our arguments—is that we are suggesting that Wales could not survive on its own. I have never subscribed to that view. However, I have always asked, if Wales was to survive on its own, what would be the economic, social and cultural cost of taking that step? My attitude to the Union is one of respect, but it is also one of reality—of wanting to take a really detailed look at some of the more complex areas of the debate, around defence, currency, intelligence, security and international trade.
If I could get into my stride and warm up a bit before I take interventions, I would be very grateful.
The question for today is, “What have the UK Government delivered for Wales while covid has been the dominant news story?”. I will not share it with hon. Members because it would take far too long, but I have two and a half pages of very varied, but very significant, achievements that the Government have been able to deliver—sometimes in collaboration with the Welsh Government, sometimes not. For example, £121 million has been directly invested through the first round of the levelling-up fund. The diversity of this is worth noting.
The Government have increased the Army footprint in Wales, the only part of the UK that saw an increase—from 6.7% to 7.3%. The Queen’s Dragoon Guards will return to Wales, to Caerwent, in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth. There will be a new reservist unit in the constituency of Wrexham. We are saving Brecon barracks—such an important part of the social and economic heartlands of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire. We put £30 million into developing the first centre for rail excellence, which is between Port Talbot and Brecon, and will create 150 direct jobs.
The small ruminant rule has been lifted. Who would have ever thought that the small ruminant rule would play such a significant part in our lives? The lifting of it, which is enabling Welsh lamb to be marketed in the United States for the first time in nearly 25 years, is a significant moment for our farming industry. With the Welsh Government and the First Minister, we set up the coal tip safety taskforce—jointly chaired by the First Minister and me—securing £31 million for the Tylorstown tip and creating the first register of coal tips and their safety in Wales. No doubt there will be more on that.
There are other things, too: the £4.8 million investment in Holyhead hydrogen hub, and accelerated funding for the Cardiff city, Swansea bay, north Wales and mid Wales city and growth deals. The mid Wales growth deal, worth £55 million, was signed by the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth only last week. We have invested £31.9 million to develop electric propulsion systems in Cwmbran, and there is Wales-specific funding through the British Business Bank of £130 million. I could—and I will—go on, and I know my hon. Friend will go on later.
There is lots to say, and it is all positive, imaginative and innovative. It is all about jobs—sustaining existing jobs and creating new jobs as we come, we hope, out of the pandemic for the last time. Probably the best example of the strength and value of the Union is the way in which we have been able to join forces with so many people in our pandemic response. I could go through a long list, but hon. Members should cast their minds back to the furlough scheme: one in three jobs in Wales was protected, at very short notice, by the might of the UK Treasury.
I am very grateful for the intervention, because I would like to thank a number of people. I do not think this scheme was the particular brainchild of any one group of people or other, but it was an urgent response to a serious and potentially catastrophic issue, so I extend my thanks to anybody who may have had a stake in that process. However, I particularly commend the Treasury. In all our time as Members of Parliament, we have probably not always thought of it as an organisation that moves at lightning speed, but on this occasion it did move at lightning speed, and it has saved hundreds of thousands—millions—of jobs in the process. The Chancellor took decisions that nobody thought possible at the time and implemented a scheme at a speed that nobody thought feasible at the time, and one in three of our constituents on the payroll in Wales had their job secured as a result.
Dwi’n ddiolchgar iawn i’r Ysgrifennydd Gwladol am ildio. Ar nodyn hanesyddol, byddai Lloyd George yn dweud nad oedd yn dweud llawer o ddim byd am y pum munud cyntaf, er mwyn caniatáu i’r Siambr lenwi, wrth gwrs. Credaf bod hyn yn esiampl. Tra mae wrthi yn gwneud y diolchiadau, ydy’r Aelod gwir anrhydeddus am restru nid yn unig y buddion sy’n dod o’r Undeb, ond hefyd y costau? Hefyd, i Aelodau anrhydeddus yn ystod y dydd, a yw’r Llywodraeth am nodi yr hyn yr ydym yn ei golli o fod yn yr Undeb?
(Translation) I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. On a historical note, Lloyd George used to say that he did not say much for the first five minutes, to allow the Chamber to fill up, of course. I believe this is an example. While the right hon. Gentleman is expressing his thanks, will he list not only the benefits but the costs of the Union? Will the Government also note for hon. Members throughout the day what we lose from being part of the Union?
I could not catch the hon. Gentleman’s question, partly because I could not get the headset to work at that speed, but the Under-Secretary of State for Wales passes on the fact that it is about the cost of the Union. Perhaps, when the hon. Member for Arfon is able to make his contribution, he will be able to expand on his arguments. As I will come to later in my speech, the value of the Union is what really matters as far as we are concerned. As I mentioned earlier, if any kind of coherent argument is to be made against the Union, it needs to be made in the context of its value rather than necessarily its cost.
I will mention one thing that always baffles me about the Plaid Cymru approach to the Union. For the last four and a half years, we have heard endlessly, relentlessly and somewhat tiresomely about the fact that Wales could not possibly survive outside the European Union; we have been reminded endlessly that our economic health has depended on our membership of it. The nation of Wales happened to take a different view from the hon. Gentleman, but I would love to know why he thinks that it is possible to survive outside the UK when apparently it is impossible to survive outside the EU.
Indeed, actions were taken quickly by the Treasury, but what happened in October and November 2020, when there was a huge delay? The Welsh Government recognised the need to use that half-term to have that firebreak, yet there seemed to be no movement by the UK Treasury. Where was the close working there? Where was the good relationship? Are there not ways, now, in which we could improve that relationship and make it work better, so that the UK Government take more notice of what the Welsh Government are saying and work better with them?
Our intergovernmental relations paper was published last week. That would probably help me to answer the hon. Lady’s question. I think I am right in saying that back at the time of the example that she gives, the Treasury did make absolutely clear to the Welsh Government what was possible and what was not in that timescale. I am afraid to say that the Welsh Government, in that case, completely ignored the information that was given by the Treasury, and then made what I thought was a rather salacious effort to exploit that in the press, when they knew very well that the Treasury was working to the fastest legal speed that it was able to. That was one of those cases where there was a little bit of political opportunism at a time when the nation was looking to us for a practical solution.
May I draw my right hon. Friend back to the point about the furlough scheme, in the context of the strength of the Union, because I think the point about that scheme is even better than he alluded to? The truth is that the scheme was a much bigger success than anybody had anticipated. Far from there being a crisis of unemployment at the end of 2021—as so many Opposition Members had predicted—when the furlough scheme was unwound, we actually had a boom in job creation and no employment shortage up and down the country, so full credit to the Treasury and the decision making of the Chancellor and his colleagues.
My right hon. Friend is right. The decision-making point that he makes is particularly apposite, because these decisions were being made at breakneck speed in unbelievably unpredictable conditions and under significant pressure, and they turned out to be the right calls. They were made for the right reason, at the right time. It is no coincidence that the unemployment figures now show that there are over 400,000 more people in work than there were before the pandemic.
The furlough scheme was a great success, and I commend the Government for bringing it in. I do not know whether the Minister had the same experience as me, but throughout covid one of the difficulties was explaining to constituents the differences between Welsh and English policies. It was sometimes very difficult to get to the bottom of them, in particular with financial support for businesses in Wales, which could only be announced once the Welsh Government had had the money from the UK Government. That was difficult to explain to people, and to get out to people in a proportionate time. The single biggest question I have now is, why is HS2 considered to be an England and Wales project, when it does not benefit Wales at all?
A neat means of getting in on the HS2 question.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I believe that a consistent approach to interventions, whether regulations or financial interventions, would in many cases have been more desirable for exactly the reason he pointed out; it would have been simpler to understand precisely what was on offer and exactly why we were doing things in the way we were. It was unfortunate that, from time to time, those arrangements were not as consistent as they could have been.
By the way, the hon. Gentleman’s point enables me to say that it was very important that the financial contributions that we were able to make to the Welsh Government were upfronted, rather than the usual Barnett system of them being provided retrospectively.
The issue here is consistency. I pay full credit to the Treasury when it acts properly and constructively with the Welsh Government, as it did over the Celsa Steel plant in my constituency during the height of the pandemic. It was a sensible co-operation and I thank the Secretary of State’s office for assistance on that.
On the cladding issues, which affect thousands of my constituents—a serious situation that they have faced under covid—there is not that co-operation between the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Welsh Government to tackle it. There is a desire for co-operation with some sound politics behind it, as thousands of people are in very difficult circumstances, but often announcements are made up here without consultation with the Welsh Government in advance, so that they can supply information to the thousands of people affected.
Order. Twenty-one people want to speak, so may we try to keep interventions short, in the asking and the answering?
I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth that co-operation and collaboration is generally speaking a preferable route; it works both ways. The IGR—the intergovernmental review paper, which I commend to him—will address a number of the concerns that he has raised.
On the instructions of the Chair, rightly, let us press on. I do not have a lot more to cover, but the point about collaboration with the Welsh Government is well made. Of course, I completely accept that a bespoke approach is important. However, there are also occasions—we have to admit this, on whatever side of the political fence we sit—where evidence does not support the decisions that have been taken.
In the past few weeks—although the matters that have overtaken us are another example—curious interventions have suggested that people might be fined for going to work, but not necessarily for going to the pub. They could do indoor exercise, but not parkrun, which is well known to be a contributor to people’s physical and mental health, and they could watch rugby from the clubhouse but not from the touchline. Things like that start casting doubt into people’s minds about whether the interventions are evidence-based. Going back to the beginning of the pandemic, I recall the calls that we all heard to follow the science. However, the science seemed to be limited to medical science only, when economic and social sciences are almost as important elements of the evidence that we need to follow as anything else.
Let us cut to the quick: what have the UK Government done? We have become the fastest growing economy in the G7. We are a world leader in the vaccine roll-out. We have done more tests than any other country in Europe. We have got 400,000 more people in work than at the beginning of the pandemic. That is because we are part of a fantastic Union. It is because we recognise the value of the cross-border economic zones, whether that is Mersey Dee, Western Gateway or Mid-Wales and the West Midlands.
I want to finish with this: it is about the future, it is about being optimistic, it is about being creative, it is about sustaining the jobs we have and being imaginative about the jobs we need and the jobs that we can create. It is all about delivering. The Cabinet meeting today is all about delivering. It is about jobs, it is about livelihoods, it is about working with the Welsh Government but also not being afraid to challenge the Welsh Government when we think they have got it wrong. It is continuing the work that we are doing to assist and support them in their responsibilities on things such as coal tips.
Through the levelling-up fund, the shared prosperity fund and the community ownership fund, we will continue to deliver jobs and prosperity not just to well-known parts of Wales, but to every part. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be vigorously signing growth deals left, right and centre. We did the mid-Wales growth deal just a few days ago. We will recruit the first ever Veterans Commissioner in Wales to look after the interests of Welsh military veterans. And we will deliver––I always said it was when, not if––the first free port in Wales. We edge ever closer to that moment. We will continue to remain optimistic and co-operative as far as the Welsh Government are concerned in attempting to get that crucial job-creating opportunity on to the books and on to the map in Wales in the very near future.
We will, of course, be central to our plans for net zero in Wales, whether that is small modular reactors, floating offshore wind or continuing to highlight the fact that Wylfa Newydd is probably the world’s––let alone the UK’s––best site for large-scale nuclear. We will look at the value that a nuclear cluster in north Wales can bring, whether that is medical isotopes, thermal hydraulics or any of the other technologies that were unheard of not that long ago but may possibly now have their epicentre in Wales. That is what levelling up is about. That is what the strength of the Union brings to our country, and at no stage does it ever compromise the fact that we are a proud nation in ourselves.
As we come out of one of the more challenging periods of our history, we have a fantastic opportunity to deliver on all those commitments. I do not believe that voters anywhere in Wales much want to hear us talking about a constitutional convention or arguing about who has got what powers and who has responsibility for what. We all know what we are responsible for: the UK Government know what they are responsible for; the Welsh Government know what they are responsible for. As far as I am concerned, the UK Government must get on, do the things we do, do them as well as we can, as lively as we can and as proudly as we can. I am not remotely ashamed of, and nor will I ever apologise for, the fact that the UK Government will be more visible, more active, more effective and more successful in achieving the things that we all want, whether they are social, cultural or economic. Now that we have the pandemic somewhere in our sights, our absolute focus in every Department of the UK Government will be to deliver on that commitment.
I remind the Committee that the English translation of contributions in Welsh will come through channel 2. I ask Members to unplug their headsets when they are not using them. That will mean that when someone speaks Welsh, everyone will have to plug in at once.
Bore da, good morning and thanks very much Mr Davies. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today with all Welsh Members of the House. After four years, we finally have a Welsh Grand Committee debate.
Where to begin? Shall we start with the Minister for the Union––the Prime Minister, whose job it is in everything he says and does to strengthen the Union? He holds the most important office, one vital to the integrity of our politics, our government and our democracy. How shameful is it for the Union to have a Conservative Prime Minister mired in law breaking, deception and incompetence, leading a Government whose Ministers, at best, attempt to deflect from his inherent personal failings and, at worst, publicly and repeatedly endorse both them and him? Far from being strengthened by the Prime Minister and the Government, the Union is being degraded and weakened. For all his flag waving and plastic patriotism, no Prime Minister has done more to undermine the Union than this one. He has irretrievably damaged public trust and confidence in the UK Government and in UK politics. That is a bad enough legacy at any time, but during a health emergency it is unforgivable. As the Leader of the Opposition has quite rightly said, the Prime Minister is
“the worst possible Prime Minister at the worst possible time”—[Official Report, 15 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 1051.]
It is not just the Prime Minister who degrades and devalues our Union. Denigration and disinterest towards all our devolved nations runs through the core of the Conservative party. Only last week, the Leader of the House branded the leader of the Scottish Tories a “lightweight”, just for calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation in the wake of Downing Street’s law-breaking parties. The following day, when challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West, the Leader of the House could not even remember the name of the leader of the Welsh Conservatives. These are not just slip-ups; they lay bare the true attitude of the Conservative party to Wales and to the Union.
Labour believes that our Union is strengthened through valuing the importance of our common endeavour, fostering co-operation between the nations and Governments of the UK, and sharing wealth according to need. We are better together than any of us would be apart, and each of our nations can speak with a progressive voice.
The Treasury has banked nearly £4 billion of surplus from the miners pension fund. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should change the arrangements so they are much fairer to miners and their widows in our coalfield communities?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, and he is absolutely right. That is a perfect illustration of how the Government could act to do the right thing by our mine workers not just across Wales, but across the United Kingdom.
All our energies, at all levels of Government and across every nation of the UK, must be focused on recovering from the pandemic, but also on rebuilding our economy and addressing the climate emergency. That is why our Union of nations must be based on and strengthened by security, prosperity and respect.
I will deal first with security. Obviously, the first duty of any UK Government is the security of its citizens—that is, security for the United Kingdom, for Wales, and for every community, large and small, wherever we live. Instead of strengthening the Union, successive Conservative Governments have weakened the fabric of the UK and torn communities apart—nations, regions, cities and villages; north and south, and east and west. These policies are driven by the aim of creating division, controlling power and, despite what the Secretary of State says, undermining devolution.
There is no clearer example of the impact on our security than the rising numbers of victims of crime. The Government have decimated police staffing numbers, with cuts of more than 25,000 police force staff across the country, including 11,000 fewer police officers, 8,000 fewer police staff and 7,000 fewer police community support officers. The Welsh Government have stepped in and funded 500 PCSOs in Wales, and will fund a further 1,000 during this current Senedd term, but these political choices by the Conservative party have resulted in less safe communities and more crime in Wales.
When I met with my local police recently, they told me—it was not the first time they have told me this—that the number of domestic abuse cases in the Rhondda far exceeds the number of three local constituencies added together, and in addition, that the numbers for the Rhondda Fach far exceed those for anywhere else in Wales. The police need resources because each case is complicated and difficult. We need far more resources to ensure that we tackle those issues. How are we going to get those resources if the Government in Westminster will not provide them?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. If we look at the statistics, we know that there is an epidemic of violence against women and girls across the UK and in Wales. Women and girls feel unsafe at home and on our streets. The number of women homicide victims is at its highest level for 15 years. Rape prosecutions and convictions are at a record low. Labour has set out dozens of proposals in our Green Paper, but the Government have rejected them. A Labour Government would take our security seriously and provide crime prevention teams in every neighbourhood. New police hubs would be visible in every community, because security, for Labour, is a matter of social justice.
We would also introduce new employment rights and protections, so that people felt more secure at work. The Conservative party promised an employment Bill—its manifesto has turned out to be a complete work of fiction—that would make Britain the best place in the world to work. That would strengthen the Union, wouldn’t it? But where is it? We have not seen it.
The pandemic taught us that everybody needs decent pay when they are sick. But that is not the case for millions of workers across the UK—for those on low wages or who have insecure work, or who are self-employed. When they have been ill or have had to self-isolate, it has been disastrous for them. The sorry state of sick pay in Britain was an issue before the pandemic, but the Chancellor’s inaction has made people poorer and led to an increase in the spread of the virus. We know that Ministers have had advice throughout the pandemic from SPI-B that decent statutory sick pay was the key mechanism that the Treasury could use to ensure that people could afford to self-isolate. The Secretary of State talked about the Welsh Government apparently not following advice, but his own Government did not follow the advice of SPI-B.
We have the least generous sick pay scheme in Europe, at just £96.35 a week, which the former Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), admitted he could not live on. Two million workers, mostly women, do not even qualify for statutory sick pay. The Chancellor continues to ignore that—yes to national insurance rises, but no to increased or improved statutory sick pay. A Labour Government would improve the level of statutory sick pay and increase its coverage to reflect the modern world of work, and we would value the many employers who do provide decent sick pay for their workforce.
The Secretary of State gave us a list, and I will do my own list of how to keep citizens safe during the pandemic. The Prime Minister missed five Cobra meetings at the start of the pandemic; he delayed three lockdowns; he allowed people to enter the UK without checks; he handed contact tracing to private companies with no record of it; and he handed personal protective equipment contracts to cronies with no record of supplying it. The Government created a scheme to help the hospitality sector that actually helped the virus. They overpromised and underdelivered every step of the way. Contrast that with the actions of the Labour First Minister in Wales, who listened to the science, considered the evidence, took the advice of experts and did absolutely everything he could to keep Wales safe.
In the list of examples of the First Minister following the scientific advice, would the hon. Lady explain where the delay in stopping hospital discharges to nursing homes comes? That policy led to many people dying needlessly in Wales.
I am going to make some progress because, as you have indicated, Mr Davies, 21 Members wish to speak.
Coming out of the pandemic, and after 12 years of the Conservative party starving our public services and failing to invest, we need to rebuild. Instead, we have inflation rocketing to 5.1%; GDP growth for this quarter has been revised down; and the Government are trapping all four nations in a low-growth, high-tax cycle, hitting working people with tax rise after tax rise, with national insurance and council tax going up in just a couple of months. By 2026-27, the average household will be paying over £3,000 more in tax than when the Prime Minister took office. Households are dealing with the cost of living crisis, and we heard about that from the Culture Secretary yesterday. There is a growing cost to businesses, with petrol, food and energy bills rocketing.
I apologise—nearly everybody.
We want the UK to be a prosperous country again, with a proper industrial strategy to improve our productivity and ensure that we buy, make and sell more in Britain, and that we equip people with the skills and opportunities to contribute to that.
Let me take my hon. Friend back to the BBC point. Does she not find it rather perplexing that while the Government will not deal with the increased costs of energy or food prices or tackle inflation, the Secretary of State for Culture says that saving people a few pennies every month—a few pounds every year—will somehow deal with the real problems faced by many constituents in Wales and across the UK? It is truly absurd that the Government think that will solve the cost of living crisis.
My hon. Friend is right. As my colleague the shadow Culture Secretary said yesterday, it is focusing on red meat rather than the dead meat of the Prime Minister.
The example of the BBC—vandalising an envied British institution in its centenary year—is a pathetic attempt to divert attention from the Prime Minister, whose premiership is hanging by a thread. Did the Secretary of State not tell the Culture Secretary that the BBC’s role in our creative industries in Wales is a huge success story? Every £1 of the BBC’s economic activity in Wales generates £2.63 in our economy. Growth in the number of creative jobs and businesses as a result of the BBC’s integral role in Wales has outstripped growth in the sector across the whole UK. Was the Secretary of State even consulted before the Culture Secretary was let loose on her Twitter account over the weekend? I know he will say that S4C is getting £7.5 million a year to support its digital offering, which is welcome. However, in 2010, S4C’s annual budget was nearly £102 million. This year, it is £81.3 million. That is a real-terms cut of £51 million by this Government.
All this is taking place within a succession of stories about this Government wasting Welsh taxpayers’ money. We have the PPE contracts that we have talked about; the Ministry of Defence and its £13 billion of procurement; the Ministry of Justice and its lost projects; and the Department for Work and Pensions losing control of universal credit fraud. Just yesterday, the Treasury gave away billions from the relief schemes that it is not chasing up. Is that not a criminal waste?
Absolutely, and the list could go on. I could add the privatisation of probation services, which was a huge waste of money.
The Union could also have been strengthened if the Government had made a better fist of negotiations over post-Brexit trade deals and tariffs. We have the humiliating failure of the International Trade Secretary to get agreement from the US Administration for face-to-face talks on steel and aluminium tariffs. If the Prime Minister did not have to focus solely on his disintegrating premiership, he would be able to heed our call to personally intervene on this issue and show the leadership required to protect Welsh and UK jobs in steel and aluminium—
And in energy, indeed—my hon. Friend is quite right.
Finally, we probably could have had a whole Welsh Grand Committee on the issue of respect, because it is at the very core of strengthening the Union. Respect for people and places must be at the heart of our Union of nations. Everyone has a right to be treated with respect and no place should be left behind. Everyone matters. Respect between the four Governments of the United Kingdom needs to be embedded in everything we do.
Surely it would be a matter of respect to the nation of Wales and those who have suffered from covid for the Welsh Government to hold their own inquiry into the covid crisis, as is being done by the Governments of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Is that not the ultimate respect that the people of Wales are due?
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman but, in fact, it was his own party leader who promised a UK-wide inquiry into the covid pandemic response, and I am sure that within that there will be specifics on each nation. However, that is what the Prime Minister has promised, and that is what we are still waiting for. We have not seen it yet.
The 2019 Conservative manifesto contained an entire chapter on strengthening the Union. I looked at it yesterday: a nice little script for the Prime Minister, guaranteeing that promises would be delivered. However, there have been broken promises already, such as his pledge not to raise national insurance. We have also seen a deliberate effort to undermine and roll back the devolution settlement. How about the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 for starters, or the promise that Wales would not receive a penny less in replacement funding than it had received from EU structural funds? We are £375 million down and counting. There is the deliberate bypassing of the Welsh Government on areas of devolved competence within the levelling-up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund, of which we have not yet had the details.
Does the shadow Secretary of State agree that there also has to be respect over issues of cross-border importance relating to the environment? There were proposals to build an incinerator on the edge of my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West. The Welsh Government have now introduced a moratorium on incineration, and the project will not go ahead. The UK Government were advertising for investment in the project, which was opposed by residents in Cardiff and Newport.
That is a perfect example of non-co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Government —completely the opposite of the examples that the Secretary of State gave. The UK Government’s approach towards the Welsh Government has basically been, “Less say and less money.”
Labour introduced devolution to empower Wales and Welsh communities, bringing decision making closer to the people of Wales, but the Government’s deliberate policy of disrespect for the Welsh Government and the people of Wales is undermining the devolution settlement and doing the opposite of strengthening the Union.
We will need a new and durable constitutional settlement, which is why the Commission on the Future of the UK, led by the former Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will chart a new course for our Union of nations. I am pleased that I will be part of the commission, along with the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, but remember that it was a Labour UK Government who delivered devolution from that knife-edge referendum win in 1997. Regardless of whether the Conservative party likes it or not, devolution now consistently enjoys high majority support among the people of Wales.
I have already given way to the right hon. Gentleman.
Respect for devolution, respect for the devolution settlement and respect for the Welsh Government has to be at the heart of our Union of nations. With a UK Labour Government in Westminster and a Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff, we will see that happen.
I would now like to invite Ben Lake to speak on behalf of Plaid Cymru.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Davies. Mae’n bleser i wasanaethau dan eich cadeiryddiaeth chi a hefyd i wneud hynny drwy’r Gymraeg heddiw.
Rwy’n croesawu teitl y ddadl heddiw oherwydd ymddengys ei fod e’n cydnabod bod yna ddiffygion yn yr Undeb yn ei bresennol wedd a bod angen ei gryfhau er mwyn gwasanaethu pobl Cymru yn well. Felly mae gennym gyfle i drin a thrafod gwendidau polisïau’r Llywodraeth Brydeinig, ond hefyd efallai y cawn gyfle i ystyried y llwybrau sy’n agored i’n cenedl wrth i ni edrych tua’r dyfodol. Mae un llwybr wedi’i osod ar seiliau bregus y setliad cyfansoddiadol presennol, gwaddol cyfuniad anffodus o echdynnu economaidd ac ymyleiddio gwleidyddol. Mae’r llwybr yma’n gofyn i ni israddio ein hadnoddau a’n huchelgeisiau fel cenedl er mwyn gwasanaethu blaenoriaethau’r Undeb yn lle, a derbyn nad oes modd gwella ar y status quo.
Y llwybr arall, a bydd neb efallai’n cael syndod o glywed hyn, y llwybr yr hoffwn i ac—efallai bydd hyn yn syndod i rai pobl—yr hoffai nifer gynyddol o bobl ledled Cymru ei gymryd, yw’r llwybr sy’n arwain at annibyniaeth—llwybr llawn cyfle sy’n gofyn i ni ddyheu am ffyrdd tecach a mwy cynhwysol o lywodraethu, ond yn bwysicaf oll, yr her i gymryd y cyfrifoldeb dros wireddu hynny dros ein hunain.
Rwyf am ganolbwyntio fy sylwadau heddiw ar feysydd allweddol y dylai rhai sy’n credu yn yr Undeb weithredu arnynt ar fyrder os ydynt am gryfhau’r Undeb fel y mae teitl y ddadl yn crybwyll, oherwydd ar hyn o bryd, gwelwn eu bod nhw’n prysur danseilio’r berthynas rhwng cenhedloedd ynysoedd Prydain.
Yn fy marn i, mae problemau’r Undeb ar ei wedd bresennol yn deillio yn syml iawn o adeiladwaith diffygiol. Gwelwn Undeb rhwng sawl cenedl a rhanbarth yn cael ei ddominyddu gan un genedl ac un Senedd. Mae’r fath oruchafiaeth yn golygu y caiff hawliau a chyfrifoldebau’r cenhedloedd eraill eu hanwybyddu yn aml. Mae anghymesuredd y setliadau datganoli gwahanol ond yn gwaethygu’r sefyllfa, ond does dim awgrym bod gan y rhai sydd am weld dyfodol i’r Undeb unrhyw fwriad, na hyd yn oed awydd, i ddiwygio’r setliad cyfansoddiadol presennol er mwyn mynd i’r afael â’i ddiffygion.
Ystyriwch am eiliad sut y mae San Steffan wedi canoli grym yn gynyddol yn Whitehall ers Brexit, ac wedi ceisio uno gwledydd Prydain trwy orfodaeth yn hytrach na meithrin y cydweithrediad hynny rhwng ei Llywodraethau. Mae ond angen i ni edrych ar Ddeddf y Farchnad Fewnol 2020 neu’r Bil Rheoli Cymorthdaliadau am enghreifftiau o hyn. Mae’r ddau wedi cael eu gorfodi ar Gymru. Yn wir, wrth gyfeirio at yr ail fesur hwnnw, dywedodd Gweinidog Cyllid Llafur Cymru:
“Er gwaethaf awgrymiadau gan Lywodraeth y DU bod ymgysylltu manwl wedi’i gynnal, nid yw’r Bil ond yn adlewyrchy buddiannau cul Llywodraeth y DU.”
Pan wrthododd y Senedd y cynnig cydsyniad deddf-wriaethol, anwybyddodd San Steffan ei gwrthwynebiad yn llwyr. Felly yn hytrach na chydweithio, yr hyn a welwn yw deddfwriaeth sy’n tanseilio’n uniongyrchol alluoedd y gwledydd datganoledig i wella bywydau pobl yng Nghymru.
(Translation) It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to be able to do so through the medium of Welsh.
I welcome the title of today’s debate, because it appears to recognise that there are shortcomings in the Union in its current format and that there is a need for it to be strengthened in order to serve the people of Wales better. We have an opportunity to deal with the weaknesses of the UK Government’s policies, and perhaps an opportunity to consider the pathways that are open to our nation as we look to the future. One pathway is clearly set on the vulnerable foundations of the current constitutional settlement, with an unfortunate situation of political leadership. This pathway requires us to lower our ambitions, to follow the Union’s principles, and to accept that we cannot continue with the status quo.
The other pathway, which perhaps nobody will be surprised to hear is the pathway that I and an increasing number of people in Wales and the UK would like to take, leads towards independence, an opportunity to look for fairer and more comprehensive ways of governing and, most important, the challenge of taking responsibility for realising that for ourselves.
I will focus my comments on the key areas that those who believe in the Union should take strong action on as a matter of urgency if we are to strengthen the Union, as the title of the debate suggests, because at the moment, we can see that they are undermining the relationship between the nations of the British isles.
In my view, the problems of the Union in its current format emanate from a flawed structure. We are dominated by one nation and one Parliament, and such supremacy means that the rights and responsibilities of the other nations are frequently being disregarded. An imbalance in the different devolution settlements exacerbates the situation, but there is no suggestion that those who want to strengthen the Union have any intention or desire to reform the current constitutional settlement in order to address the flaws in it.
Consider for a moment how Westminster has increasingly centralised power in Westminster since Brexit and sought to unite the nations of Britain by enforcement, rather than nurturing collaboration between its Governments. We need only to look at the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and the Subsidy Control Bill, both of which are being forced on Wales. Indeed, referring to the second piece of legislation, the Welsh Labour Finance Minister said:
“Despite suggestions from the UK Government that detailed engagement has been undertaken, the Bill only reflects the narrow interests of the UK Government.”
When the Senedd rejected the legislative consent motion, Westminster disregarded its opposition. Rather than collaboration, what we see is legislation that directly undermines the abilities of the devolved nations to improve the lives of people in their countries.
Onid ydy hyn yn codi allan o ryw ddryswch sylfaenol sy’n cael ei arddangos gan y Llywodraeth ac, yn wir, gan yr Wrthblaid swyddogol? Hynny yw, eu bod nhw’n aml iawn yn cymysgu buddiannau Prydain a Lloegr. Dw i’n meddwl y gwnaethon ni glywed Aelod anrhydeddus dros De Clwyd yn nodi hynny gynnau, pan ddywedodd o “Llywodraeth Lloegr”. Does yna’r un!
(Translation) Does not this situation arise from a fundamental confusion on the part of the Government and, indeed, the official Opposition? That is, they often confuse the interests of Britain and England. I think we heard the hon. Member for Clwyd South indicate as much when he referred to the “English Government”. There is no English Government.
Rwy’n ddiolchgar iawn i’m Ffrind anrhydeddus am ei sylwadau. Yn wir, rwy’n un o’r rheiny sy’n credu’n fawr y byddai’r Undeb, os ydyw e am barhau tuag at y dyfodol, yn buddio’n llwyr o gael Llywodraeth i Loegr a Senedd i Loegr, oherwydd ar hyn o bryd does dim sefydliad o’r fath yn bodoli ac mae’n rhaid i’r Senedd Brydeinig a’r Llywodraeth Brydeinig wisgo dwy het. Rwy’n bell o fod yn berffaith, ond rwy’n credu ei bod hi’n anodd iawn i unrhyw Lywodraeth gyfiawnhau dwy swydd mor bwysig ar yr un pryd.
(Translation) I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. I am one of those who strongly believes that the Union, if it is to continue in the future, would really benefit from there being a Government and a Parliament for England. At the moment, there is no such institution, and the UK Government and Parliament have to wear two hats. Despite the fact that I am far from perfect, I think it is difficult for any Government to justify two such important jobs at the same time.
You talk about the UK Government not respecting devolution. I think the words you used, if the translation was correct, was a failure to reform, but is it not the case that since 2010—since we have had Conservative Governments—the Senedd has undergone several reformations? It is perhaps a little over 18 months since it has become a full-blown Welsh Parliament, and it is continually changing and evolving, as the people of Wales have expressed that it should. Is it therefore not the case that Conservative Governments have consistently shown respect for devolution, and not, as you say, undermined it?
I have not said anything.
Thank you, Mr Davies. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bridgend for that intervention. I acknowledge the truth of what he is saying, in that a number of the Wales Acts have been introduced in the last 10 years under Conservative Administrations, although I would point out that we still have an asymmetric devolution settlement in which Wales does not enjoy the same level of autonomy and discretion over policy areas that Northern Ireland and Scotland take for granted. Indeed, even certain city regions in England have greater discretion and influence over certain policy areas than the Welsh Government, such as policing. I will come on to that point in a moment.
Y meysydd polisi sy’n amlygu canlyniadau anffodus yr ymagwedd hon fwyaf yw polisi isadeiledd trafnidiaeth a llywodraethiant Ystad y Goron yng Nghymru. Os trown ni’n gyntaf at ein rheilffyrdd, mae’n ffaith bod nifer o aelodau ar ddwy ochr y Pwyllgor wedi crybwyll yn y gorffennol bod rheilffyrdd Cymru yn cael eu hesgeuluso’n ddifrifol dan y setliad presennol a bod gwaith adnewyddu a gwella’r rhwydwaith yn dioddef o danariannu sylweddol. Mae gan Gymru tua 11% o rwydwaith rheilffyrdd y Deyrnas Unedig, ond ar gyfartaledd mae’n derbyn dim ond tua 6% o wariant Prydeinig ar weithrediadau, gwaith cynnal a chadw ac, yn bwysig iawn, gwaith adnewyddu. Mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi cyfrifo y bydd rheilffyrdd yng Nghymru yn dioddef tanfuddsoddiad o tua £2.9 biliwn yn y cyfnod rhwng 2001 a 2029 am y rheswm hynny.
Nid yw’r ffigurau hyn yn syndod, wrth gwrs, os cofiwn ni fod Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig wedi ymrwymo i fuddsoddi jyst £350 miliwn yng Nghymru yn y cyfnod hwn ar welliannau o gymharu â thua £50 biliwn ledled y DU. Yn wir, bu Llywodraeth Cymru yn go blwmp ac yn blaen am y sefyllfa, yn dadlau bod methiannau’r Undeb yn y maes hwn wedi arwain at ddibrisio a thanfuddsoddi yn rhwydwaith rheilffyrdd Cymru
“o gymharu â’r rhwydwaith yn Lloegr.”
Mae hyn yn amharu nid yn unig ar yr economi ond hefyd ar ein gallu i ddatgarboneiddio ein rhwydwaith trafnidiaeth.
Efallai y cawn yr enghraifft gliriaf o fethiant, ac yn wir ffolineb, y setliad presennol yn HS2, prosiect fydd, yn ôl un adroddiad gan Lywodraeth Prydain—ac rwy’n eithaf siŵr mai’r Trysorlys ei hun wnaeth gomisiynu adroddiad gan KPMG—yn golygu y byddai Cymru’n gweld colled o tua £150 miliwn y flwyddyn mewn allbwn economaidd. Ond er gwaetha’r ffaith yma, mae’r Trysorlys yn parhau i adnabod y prosiect fel un sydd o fudd i Gymru a Lloegr. O ganlyniad i hyn, mae Cymru mewn perygl o golli rhwng £4 biliwn a £5 biliwn mewn buddsoddiad yn yr isadeiledd trafnidiaeth, a hynny oherwydd yr ymdriniaeth a gaiff gan y Trysorlys.
(Translation) The main policy areas that manifest the unfortunate results of this attitude are transport infrastructure and the Crown Estate in Wales. A number of Members on both sides of the Committee have suggested that Welsh railways are being seriously neglected by the current settlement and that refurbishment work really lacks funding. Wales has around 11% of the UK rail network but on average receives only about 6% of the current expenditure on maintenance and, importantly, refurbishment and renewal work. The Welsh Government have estimated that railways in Wales will suffer an underinvestment of about £2.9 billion between 2001 and 2029 for that reason.
Those figures are no surprise if we bear in mind that the UK Government committed to investing around £350 million in Wales in that period on improvements, compared with around £50 billion across the United Kingdom. The Welsh Government were quite clear about the situation, arguing that failings of the Union in that regard had led to the devaluing of and underinvestment in the Welsh rail network
“compared to the network in England.”
That impairs not only the economy but our ability to decarbonise our transport network.
A clear example of the failure, and indeed stupidity, of the current settlement is the HS2 project. The UK Government said—I am sure that it was the Treasury that commissioned a KPMG report—that Wales could see a loss of £150 million a year in economic output. But despite that, the Treasury continues to recognise the project as one that is beneficial to Wales and England. Wales is in danger of losing between £4 billion and £5 billion in investment in transport infrastructure as a result of the treatment that it receives from the Treasury.
Rwy’n ddiolchgar i’r Aelod anrhydeddus am ildio. Ydy e’n derbyn bod Network Rail wedi dweud bod Cymru, yn enwedig gogledd Cymru, yn mynd i elwa o’r ffaith bod ni’n mynd i gael cysylltiadau gwell gyda Llundain oherwydd HS2?
(Translation) I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he accept that Network Rail has said that Wales—particularly north Wales—was going to benefit from better connections with London as a result of HS2.
Order. May I ask people to speak up? Apparently, the translators could not hear what you said, David. Could you repeat it and speak up?
Rwy’n ddiolchgar iawn i’r Gweinidog am ei ymyriad. Mae Plaid Cymru wedi cydnabod o’r cychwyn cyntaf y byddai rhai o welliannau HS2—pe baen nhw’n cael eu gwireddu yn llawn, wrth gwrs—yn fuddiol i ogledd Cymru. Ond os edrychwn ni at Gymru yn ei chyfanrwydd, mae’r adroddiad a gomisiynwyd gan y Trysorlys ei hunan yn dangos y bydd colled net o £150 miliwn y flwyddyn mewn allbwn economaidd. Mae’n rhaid i ni ystyried yr effaith mae hyn yn ei gael a bod y Trysorlys yn gostwng y ffactor cymaroldeb a’r gwariant ar gyfer yr Adran Drafnidiaeth yn y datganiad cyllid.
Dyna pam rwyf am annog Aelodau yma heddiw i wrando ar argymhelliad y Pwyllgor Materion Cymreig y dylai HS2 cael ei adnabod fel prosiect sy’n buddio Lloegr yn unig. Fe fyddwn i’n mynd yn ymhellach, ac annog pobl i gefnogi datganoli cyfrifoldeb dros y rheilffyrdd i Senedd Cymru. Yn wir, yn ôl Canolfan Llywodraethiant Cymru, pe byddai’r cyfrifoldeb hwn eisoes wedi ei ddatganoli i Gymru, byddai buddsoddiad ychwanegol o hanner biliwn o bunnoedd wedi bod rhwng 2011 a 2020.
Enghraifft arall o ddiffyg yn y setliad presennol yw triniaeth yr Undeb o Ystad y Goron yng Nghymru. Er gwaetha’r ffaith y datganolwyd rheolaeth Ystad y Goron i’r Alban yn 2017, mae San Steffan yn cadw rheolaeth dros yr ystad yng Nghymru. Mae hyn yn golygu bod refeniw o adnoddau naturiol Cymru yn cael ei drosglwyddo i’r Trysorlys yn hytrach nag aros yn y cymunedau lle cânt eu cynhyrchu. Ddoe, fe welon ni bod Ystad y Goron yr Alban wedi cwblhau ei arwerthiant diweddaraf o hawliau gwely’r môr i ddatblygwyr ynni gwynt. Trwy 17 o brosiectau, mae’r Alban wedi sicrhau bron i £700 miliwn ac wedi denu consortiwm byd-eang o ddatblygwyr i fuddsoddi ymhellach yng nghadwyn gyflenwi yr Alban. Er bod ein hadnoddau adnewyddadwy ni yn llai yng Nghymru, dangosodd y rownd ddiweddaraf o arwerthiannau yr hyn sy’n bosibl yn ein hadnodd ynni gwynt morol. Gwelwyd gwerth portffolio morol Cymreig Ystad y Goron yn cynyddu’n sylweddol o tua £50 miliwn i dros £500 miliwn.
Mae Plaid Cymru wedi gwthio ers tro am ddatganoli Ystad y Goron ac rwy’n falch cael dweud bod y cytundeb cydweithredu rydym wedi’i gyrraedd gyda Llywodraeth Lafur Cymru yn cynnwys sicrhau ei ddatganoli fel prif amcan.
(Translation) I am grateful to the Minister for his intervention. Plaid Cymru has recognised from the very outset that HS2 improvements, if they were fully realised, would be beneficial to north Wales. For Wales in its entirety, however, the report commissioned by the Treasury shows that there will be a net loss of £150 million a year in economic output. We have to consider the impact all of that, and the fact that the Treasury depleted the comparative factor for Department for Transport expenditure in the finance statement.
That is why I encourage Members to listen to the Welsh Affairs Committee recommendations that HS2 be recognised as a project that benefits only England. I would go a step further and encourage people to support the devolution of responsibility for the railways to the Senedd. According to the Wales Governance Centre, if that responsibility had already been devolved to Wales, there would have been additional investment of half a billion pounds between 2011 and 2020.
Another flaw in the current settlement is the treatment in the Union of the Crown Estate in Wales. Despite the fact that control of the Crown Estate was devolved to Scotland in 2017, Westminster retains control of the Crown Estate in Wales, meaning that revenue from natural resources in Wales is transferred to the Treasury rather than remaining in Wales. Yesterday, the Crown Estate in Scotland completed its latest sale, with 17 projects that will bring in £700 million, and attracted a global consortium of investors to invest further in supply in Scotland. Even though our renewable resources are fewer in Wales, that latest round of sales shows what is possible in our marine energy. Welsh Crown Estate marine energy increased in value from £50 million to more than £500 million.
Plaid Cymru has pushed for some time for the devolution of the Crown Estate, and I am pleased to say that the agreement we have reached with the Labour Welsh Government includes devolution as one of its main objectives.
The hon. Gentleman is making a really interesting point about the Crown Estate and the Scottish Government’s announcement yesterday about the slew of investment going into offshore wind projects. He will know, as he also serves on the Welsh Affairs Committee, that we have the same opportunity in west Wales. Why does he think that devolving the Crown Estate to Wales will unlock investment in the Welsh offshore wind fields faster? What is different about an independent Welsh Crown Estate that it would change that?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Simply put, I think we will see quicker action. When action is taken, we can realise some of the abundant potential we have on the coast of his wonderful constituency in south-west Wales. We will see those benefits being retained closer to the community that he represents and closer to the communities in which the revenues are generated.
Rydw i’n brysur rhedeg allan o amser, felly wnai beidio cymryd unrhyw ymyriadau pellach, ond hoffwn sôn am ddwy broblem arall sydd yn codi o’r setliad presennol. Yr un pennaf yw’r hon sy’n ymwneud â’r system gyfiawnder. Tra bod cyfiawnder yn Lloegr, yr Alban a Gogledd Iwerddon wedi’i hintegreiddio yn llawn i bolisïau cynhenid y gwledydd hynny, yng Nghymru, cedwir pwerau dros gyfiawnder yn San Steffan. Dywedodd y Comisiwn ar Gyfiawnder yng Nghymru, dan arweiniad yr Arglwydd Thomas, nad oedd unrhyw sail rhesymegol i’r sefyllfa presennol a bod y sgil effeithiau yn rhai anffodus dros ben.
Rydym eisioes wedi clywed gan yr Aelod anrhydeddus dros Caerdydd Canolog bod tangyllido cronig gan San Steffan mewn gwasanaethau cyfiawnder wedi golygu bod Cymru wedi gorfod llenwi’r bwlch a adawyd gan yr Undeb. Ond yn waeth na hyn, gwelwn fod polisïau San Steffan wedi cyfrannu at lefelau anghynaladwy o garcharu a olygai yn 2019 bod gan Gymru y cyfraddau carcharu uchaf yng ngorllewin Ewrop. Mae’r setliad cyfansoddiadol presennol, felly, wedi methu mewn dyletswydd sylfaenol: y dyletswydd hynny i sicrhau mynediad teg a chyfartal i gyfiawnder. Gan ddod i’r casgliad unfrydol bod pobl Cymru ar eu colled yn y system bresennol, argymhellodd y comisiwn yn 2019 y dylid datganoli cyfiawnder deddfwriaethol llawn ynghyd â phwerau gweithredol i Gymru. Fel dywedodd y Comisiwn Thomas, yn eithaf huawdl yn fy marn i:
“Mae angen gwell system ar bobl Cymru, ac maent yn haeddu hynny.”
Nid ynys yw cyfiawnder a dylid ei integreiddio â pholisïau ar gyfer Cymru gyfiawn, deg a llewyrchus.
Mi wnaf i ysgubo trwy ambell i ddarn o’m haraith, ond hoffwn ddweud bod Plaid Cymru wedi croesawu ers tro ymrwymiad rhethregol y Llywodraeth hon i ddatblygu economi Cymru a’i chefnogi i fod yn gydradd â gweddill y Deyrnas Unedig. Wrth wneud hynny, rydym yn disgwyl i’r Llywodraeth ddatganoli pŵer i ffwrdd o’r Trysorlys, sicrhau bod penderfyniadau a gweithredu yn digwydd yn nes at ein cymunedau, a bod eu rhethreg yn gyfateb i’r cyllid caiff ei glustnodi ar gyfer y dasg.
Mae’n rhaid i mi gyfaddef, serch hynny, bod yna eisioes rheswm i boeni na chaiff yr addewidion lu eu gweithredu, ac yn hytrach fod anghydraddoldeb rhanbarthol yn rhan annatod o economi a phenderfyniadau sefydliadol gwladwriaeth y Deyrnas Unedig. Er enghraifft, yn Llundain mae cynhyrchiant ac enillion rhwng traean a hanner yn uwch na chyfartaledd y Deyrnas Unedig, yn ôl yr Institute for Fiscal Studies. Yng Nghymru, mae ein cynhyrchiant o leiaf 15% yn is na chyfartaledd y Deyrnas Unedig ac enillion bron 40% yn is nag yn Llundain. Yng Ngheredigion, mae’r gwerth ychwanegol gros lleol y pen bron i 37% yn is na chyfartaledd y Deyrnas Unedig. Gwelwn, wedyn bod buddsoddiad mewn ymchwil, sy’n allweddol i sbarduno arloesedd a chynhyrchiant gwell, wedi ei ganolbwyntio ers tro yn Llundain a de-ddwyrain Lloegr, gyda gwariant y pen yn 2019 yn rhyw £577: mwy na dwywaith y swm cyfatebol i Gymru.
Nid mewn termau economaidd yn unig y mynegir yr anghydraddoldeb hwn. Gwelwn goruchafiaeth Llundain a’r de-ddwyrain ym mhob man, o argaeledd ac ansawdd cysylltiadau trafnidiaeth i gefnogaeth i amgueddfeydd ac orielau. Ystadegyn syfrdanol oedd bod gwariant y pen ar ddiwylliant yn Llundain rhwng 2010-11 a 2017-18 gymaint â £687 y pen—bron i bum gwaith cyfartaledd gweddill Lloegr, heb sôn am Gymru. I’r pant y rhed y dŵr, fel y dywed yng Ngheredigion.
Cyn cloi, rwy’n troi at yr argyfwng presennol o ran costau byw. Rydym yn gwybod eisioes bod sefyllfa Cymru yn un eithaf bregus yn y maes hwn, ac ar ben popeth, nawr mae’n rhaid i deuluoedd ledled Cymru wynebu argyfwng y costau ynni nad yw Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig wedi gwneud dim i fynd â’r afael ag ef hyd yn hyn. Mae’r diffyg yma yn cael effaith ofnadwy ar Gymru, lle mae 11% o aelwydydd yn byw mewn tlodi tanwydd a’r ffigwr ar fin gwaethygu. Yn anffodus, nid yw bod yn rhan o’r Undeb wedi ein hinswleiddio rhag yr argyfwng yma. Nid problem tymor bir fydd hi chwaith. Datgelodd y Gyllideb Prydeinig mai dim ond rhyw 0.8% y flwyddyn y disgwylir i incwm gwario gwirioneddol aelwydydd ledled Prydain dyfu dros y pum mlynedd nesaf. Roedd incwm gwario gros yng Nghymru yn gyfateb i ond tua 80% o gyfartaledd y Deyrnas Unedig yn 2019, sef yr ail isaf ar draws Prydain, felly mae’n syndod nad oes gweithredu ar fyrder yn digwydd tuag at y perwyl yma.
Yn olaf, ar ôl sôn am sefyllfa’r economi ar hyn o bryd, rhaid hefyd inni edrych tuag at y dyfodol. Yn fyr iawn, o ran polisi masnach, caf i ddim amser i fynd i berfedd y peth heddiw, ond yr hyn ddywedaf yw y pe bai gan Unoliaethwyr unrhyw fwriad i ddiogelu dyfodol yr Undeb, byddent yn ymrwymo ar unwaith i’r egwyddor bod rhaid i Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig geisio cael cytundeb y Seneddau datganoledig cyn arwyddo cytundebau masnach newydd.
(Translation) I am running out of time, so I will not take further interventions. I want to briefly talk about two problems that arise from the current settlement. The predominant one relates to the justice system. While justice in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland is fully integrated into the policies of those countries, powers for justice in Wales are retained in Westminster. The Commission on Justice in Wales led by Lord Thomas stated that there was “no rational basis” for the current situation and that the knock-on effects were extremely unfortunate.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Cardiff Central that chronic underfunding by Westminster of justice services has meant that Wales has had to fill the gap left by the Union. Even worse, Westminster policies have contributed to unsustainable levels of incarceration and have meant that in 2019 Wales had the highest levels of incarceration in western Europe. The constitutional settlement has failed in its fundamental duty—the duty to ensure fair and just access to justice. Coming to the unanimous conclusion that the people of Wales are missing out in the current settlement, the 2019 commission stated that full legislative powers for justice should be devolved to Wales. As the Thomas commission stated quite eloquently, in my view,
“The people of Wales both need and deserve a better system.”
Justice should be integrated into policies for a just, fair and prosperous Wales.
Plaid Cymru has for some time welcomed the rhetoric of the Government on developing the economy of Wales and supporting it to be equal to the rest of the United Kingdom. In doing so, we expect the Government to devolve power away from the Treasury and ensure that decisions and actions take place closer to our communities. Their rhetoric should correspond to the finance earmarked for the task.
I must admit, though, that we already have reason to be concerned that those promises will not be fulfilled and that, instead, regional inconsistency and inequality will be part of the state of the United Kingdom. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, productivity and earnings are between one third and a half higher than the UK average. In Wales, production is at least 15% lower than the UK average, and earnings are almost 40% lower than in London. In Ceredigion, local gross value added per capita is almost 37% lower than the UK average. Investment in research, which is key to propelling better productivity, has focused for some time on London and south-east England, with investment per capita around £577, which is more than twice the equivalent sum for Wales.
It is not only in economic terms that these inequalities can be expressed. We see the supremacy of London and the south-east everywhere, from the availability and quality of transport connections to support for museums and galleries. An astounding statistic is that expenditure on culture per capita between 2010 and 2017-18 was as much as £687 in that region—almost five times the average of the rest of England, let alone Wales. Money follows money.
Before I conclude, I will turn to the current crisis around living costs. The situation in Wales is quite fragile in this regard. On top of everything else, families across the whole of Wales now have to face the crisis around energy costs that the UK Government have done nothing to deal with so far. This flaw is having an awful impact on Wales, where 11% of households live in fuel poverty—a figure that is about to deteriorate further. Unfortunately, being part of the Union really has not insulated us from this crisis. It is not a short-term problem, either. The UK Budget expressed that real household income was expected to grow by 0.8% over the coming five years. Gross household expenditure in Wales only corresponded to 80% of the average for the UK in 2019—the lowest across Britain—so it is surprising that there has been no urgent action taken towards this issue.
Finally, after talking about the situation of the economy at the moment, we must also look towards the future. I will not have time to go into the detail of trade policy today, but I will say that if Unionists had any intention of safeguarding the future of the Union, then they would take action immediately on the principle that the UK Government have to seek agreement with the devolved Governments before they sign any new trade agreements.
In a moment, very briefly.
Cyhyd ag y byddwn yn rhan o’r Undeb, rhaid iddi fod yn Undeb gyfartal, ac mae’n bryd i’r polisi masnach adlewyrchu hyn.
(Translation) As long as we are part of the Union, it has to be an equal Union. It is about time that trade policy reflects that.
I know we have raised this before, but the hon. Gentleman has avoided talking about the fiscal deficit. We can have an argument about it; it is worth something like £15 billion. If he is going down that road, perhaps he would at least treat the Committee to what his vision of the tax regime would be under the arrangements that he suggests. He seems to have rather conspicuously avoided what that would actually mean for families and businesses in Wales.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that intervention. I only wish he had intervened earlier in the debate, when I might have had time to entertain him with some of my thoughts. All I would point out before closing is that, to my knowledge, I do not think the British state has run a surplus for many years in the past century, so if a deficit is good enough for the UK Government, why not for the Welsh Government?
I gloi, os ystyriwn holl diffygion y setliad cyfansoddiadol presennol, oes syndod o gwbl bod y rhai sy’n teimlo’n angerddol ynghylch yr Undeb mor bryderus i’w chryfhau? Mae Cymru yn haeddu gwell, yn fy marn i, ond does dim dwywaith y bydd rhaid i’r Undeb newid os fydd hi am oroesi. Y cwestiwn i’r Aelodau hynny sy’n ei chefnogi yw: ydyn nhw o ddifri amdani ac yn barod i wneud y newidiadau angenrheidiol hynny i sicrhau ei goroesiad? Neu a fyddan nhw, drwy eu hystyfnigrwydd, yn selio ffawd eu Hundeb annwyl?
(Translation) In conclusion, if we consider all the shortcomings of the current constitutional settlement, is it any surprise or wonder whatsoever that those who feel passionately about the Union are so concerned about strengthening it? Wales deserves better. There is no question but that the Union will have to change if it is to survive. The question for those Members who support it is: are they serious about it and are they ready to make the necessary changes to enable and ensure the Union’s survival—or will they be sealing the fate of their dear Union?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, although it does mean that we will not benefit from a contribution from you to today’s debate. I will start by commending the Secretary of State on calling this meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee. It represents something of a revival, or a resuscitation, of the Committee, given that it looked like it was going to go the way of the Scottish Grand Committee and disappear from parliamentary proceedings quietly into the night. It is a timely moment to have a grand Welsh debate today, given the extraordinary period that we have come through as a nation and given the significant and serious challenges that lie before us. I hope the rest of the debate will be constructive and honest as we address these issues.
The pandemic has tested our nation’s financial and institutional capabilities, and proved a test to our constitution. We should all be able to agree today that, as we emerge from this current phase of the pandemic and hopefully enter a more benign phase, we can agree that the United Kingdom comes out of it with its relevance and importance highlighted more than ever. Contrary to what the Opposition have been primed to say, the fact is that the UK Government got the big calls right all the way through the pandemic. As the Secretary of State has highlighted, there was a period of very fast decision making at the time of uncertain, partial information and evidence. Whether one looks at the decisions around the furlough scheme and business support, the decisions around vaccine development, procurement and roll-out of the vaccines once approved, or at the most recent decisions on how we responded to the omicron variant and the very fine balance that we had to strike just before Christmas, taking precautionary measures but not damaging the economy, which had started to rebound following the earlier lockdowns, the Government’s decision making has been proved broadly correct. I look forward to the future review demonstrating that. The truth is that the UK compares very favourably with nations similar to ours, in terms of how ready we are to move ahead in this better phase of the pandemic, and to continue the economic growth.
We have had in excess of 150,000 deaths from covid in this country. It is an absolute disgrace. My constituents in Cynon Valley had the third highest death rate in the UK. How can the right hon. Gentleman say that the UK Government’s decision making during the covid pandemic should be commended when we have had one of the highest death rates from covid in the world?
I am sorry to respond to the hon. Member: it is not true that we have the worst covid death rate in the world. The standardised measurement of per 100,000 shows that Britain compares to similar sized nations such as Spain, France and Germany. There are a lot of other countries that have sadly experienced far greater deaths. Every single death is a tragedy, as the hon. Member is right to say. My other point in response is that decisions about public health in Wales were almost wholly the responsibility of the Welsh Government.
The decisions taken at UK level that affected Wales were around the financial architecture of how to support individuals, families and businesses. The public health measures were taken by the Welsh Government. As I will explain, generally the Welsh Government have veered to a tendency for more lockdown rather than fewer, wanting to be stricter, often on very flimsy scientific evidence—as the hon. Lady herself demonstrates in her question, to such little effect.
I draw hon. Members’ attention to the latest jobs data published this morning, with record job vacancies again and the employment picture continuing to improve. That is not what many people predicted for this phase of the pandemic, once the furlough scheme had been unwound. People were predicting a crisis of unemployment, but the truth is that that never happened. What happened was that the UK economy was well placed to rebound strongly last summer and it has continued to create jobs.
That is a really good thing, and it is down to the decision making of the Treasury team, to create that furlough scheme, which meant that there was not a tsunami of business failures and redundancies. Businesses were able to use that as a platform to grow again once the economy had been reopened. We do face challenges: the cost of living is certainly one of them, inflation, energy price hikes and, as revealed in this morning’s data, the fact that wage levels are not keeping pace with the cost of living, which is a serious issue that we need to address.
I reinforce the message of the Secretary of State that, when it came to those big decisions about how to get the country through the economy, the UK Government have been proved right. The Prime Minister continually emphasises the importance of seeing this as the one United Kingdom emerging from the pandemic. He is always incredibly polite and careful in his remarks about the Welsh Government and the First Minister. Even in private, when we coax him to say something critical about the Welsh First Minister, he is always incredibly polite, when sometimes we would like him to be stronger.
He is doing that in a genuine spirit of teamwork. That reflects well on the Prime Minister: he genuinely wants to foster a team UK ethos, respecting the fact that the Welsh Government have a different set of competences and have the freedom to take different decisions about public health protection measures. He is genuinely trying to foster an atmosphere of team UK.
I have a wry smile on my face because the right hon. Gentleman is talking about an individual we know does not exist. His view is not shared by the majority of his colleagues who are twittering and twattering in the corridors about the next leader of the party all the time.
I am talking about our response to the pandemic and the Prime Minister’s determination to get this country through it as one United Kingdom, in the spirit of teamwork, as far as politics allows. I find the posture of Welsh Government towards UK Government throughout the pandemic disappointing and somewhat dismaying, because it is in contrast to the politeness from the Prime Minister about the Welsh First Minister and the sense of team UK that the Prime Minister has been trying to foster.
The stance of the Welsh Government has been constant, incessant criticism, complaint and grievance towards UK Government. I will highlight a few examples of the complaints from the Welsh Government, which are corrosive and not grounded in reality.
The most common complaint from the Welsh Government over the years is financial—they never get enough money from the UK Treasury. As Welsh politicians representing our constituencies, we always want more for our constituents if possible, but I have always regarded with a bit of suspicion the complaint that they do not have enough money. I look at some of the money that they have made available to Cardiff airport, to take a stake in sports car company TVR and some of the other odd investments the Welsh Government have made in certain property deals. I am a bit suspicious when they complain that they never have enough money. Certainly, when it comes to the pandemic, the sums of money that the Treasury has made available to the Welsh Government are unprecedented, really significant and really welcome.
One of the other grievances of the Welsh Government, as you know, Mr Davies, is about a lack of communication and dialogue between them and the UK Government. We both sit on the Welsh Affairs Committee, Mr Davies, and have had the chance to ask the Secretary of State about that, as well as other UK Ministers and Welsh Ministers. We are very grateful that Welsh Government Ministers make themselves available for our evidence sessions. The testimony we have heard from so many Welsh Government Ministers is that their own Departments’ dialogue with the UK Government is really good—lots of meetings and discussions. That backs up the point that the Secretary of State made in his testimony to the Committee that there has been an almost unprecedented number of meetings and forums between the UK Government and the Welsh Government during the pandemic. Far from it being a period when, somehow, the UK Government have been snubbing or not valuing the opinion of the Welsh Government, the pandemic has set a high water mark of engagement between UK Government and devolved Government.
The third grievance we have heard continuously from the Welsh Government, which is demonstrably false, is that somehow the UK Government were taking unsafe, reckless decisions about reopening the economy. We heard that very recently from the Welsh First Minister. The data just do not support that. As I said, every death is a tragedy in this country, but there is no evidence to suggest that the stricter—sometimes oddly strict—measures that the Welsh Government have taken have been based in sound science and have achieved any better outcomes. I look at some of the decisions that the Welsh Government have made around their restrictions, such as that nonsensical ban on outdoor parkruns, criminalising people wanting to go to their workplace—they could go to the pub but they could not go to work. There is a whole range of these things that are odd and divisive, and have made the Welsh Government and Wales an outlier in the United Kingdom.
Yes. [Interruption.] “Baroque eccentricities” is the phrase that the Prime Minister used to describe some of the Welsh Government’s decisions.
I will draw my remarks to a close in a moment. What most concerns me about the posture of the Welsh Government during the pandemic is just how divisive they have been. There have been times when I felt they tried to politicise the border and to lean into what I describe as nationalist sentiment. The Secretary of State opened his remarks by saying that the majority of people in Wales support Unionist parties, but is the Welsh Labour party really still a Unionist party? I look at that agreement that it signed with Plaid Cymru in the Senedd—Plaid and Welsh Labour Members are sitting together almost seamlessly this morning—I hear the First Minister when he appears before the Welsh Affairs Committee and says that the Union is finished, and I look at some of the other decisions taken by the Welsh Government to create space between themselves and the United Kingdom, and I question what kind of journey Welsh Labour is on. Welsh Labour used to be an absolute bastion of the Union and could be relied on to defend the United Kingdom. I question what kind of journey it is on, because I do not see it as that same Unionist party.
Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, time after time, the First Minister has referred to the fact that, during the pandemic, Wales gave personal protective equipment to England, and Wales benefited from PPE coming from England to Wales? Most recently, Wales has given 10 million tests to England. Time after time, the First Minister has emphasised the importance of working together across the United Kingdom.
I thank the hon. Lady for the intervention. I have heard Vaughan Gething describe himself as a Unionist. I may be wrong, but I am not sure I have heard the First Minister describe himself as a Unionist. I think there is a division at the heart of Welsh Labour that should concern us all, as it is in perpetual government in Cardiff Bay. I will leave that thought hanging. I thank Committee members for their time.
We have until 11.25 am. Speeches should be around six minutes long. I call Beth Winter.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Davies, am y cyfle i siarad heddiw, ac am y cyfle i siarad yn Gymraeg.
Rydyn ni’n trafod cwestiwn yr Undeb Prydeinig, ac fel pob undeb arall, mae’r nerth yn dod o dderbyn a pharchu gwahaniaethau, gan gynnwys iaith, diwylliant a gwleidyddiaeth. Mae’r cyfarfod Pwyllgor heddiw yn ddigwyddiad amserol i ni, gyda’r cytundeb cydweithio a gyhoeddwyd yn ddiweddar rhwng y blaid Lafur a Phlaid Cymru i ddod â pholisïau radical i fodolaeth yng Nghymru, gan roi buddiannau pobl Cymru o flaen llinellau plaid cul. Roeddem yn gallu gwneud hyn yng Nghymru, a’i wneud mewn ffordd ystyrlon, oherwydd bod ein harweinwyr gwleidyddol yn deall eu bod wedi’u hethol i wasanaethu buddiannau’r bobl y maent yn eu cynrychioli ac nid am unrhyw reswm arall.
Hefyd, ein hanes sydd wedi’n gwneud ni fel yr ydym. Mae gan Gymru draddodiad o hanes radical, o godi’r faner goch gyntaf ar gomin Hirwaun, drws nesaf i’r pentref lle rwyf i’n byw, Penderyn, yn ystod oes y Siartwyr, hyd at sefydlu’r gwasanaeth iechyd gwladol. Y traddodiad hwn sydd wedi ysbrydoli Llywodraeth Cymru i ddatblygu polisïau o safon mwy uchelgeisiol na’i chymar yn San Steffan: er enghraifft, diogelu’r gwasanaeth iechyd gwladol fel gwasanaeth mewn eiddo cyhoeddus, ac ein hymateb gofalus yn y Senedd i covid.
Senedd ddatganoledig Cymru oedd y gyntaf yn y byd i basio argyfwng hinsawdd. Yn ddiweddar, mae’r Senedd wedi sefydlu Gweinidogaeth ar newid yr hinsawdd. Roedden ni’n gyntaf gyda Deddf Llesiant Cenedlaethau’r Dyfodol (Cymru) 2015, ac yn ysbryd y ddeddfwriaeth honno, pasiodd Llywodraeth Cymru Fesur yn caniatáu i bobl 16 ac 17 mlwydd oed bleidleisio yn etholiadau Cymru.
Mae Cymru hefyd yn helpu i arwain y ffordd o ran datblygu economi gynhwysol, sylfaenol, yn bennaf gan ddefnyddio dull partneriaeth gymdeithasol i hyrwyddo gwaith teg. Mae hyn wedi’i wneud yn erbyn cefndir o ddiffyg cyllid digonol. Mae dros 10 mlynedd o lymder creulon wedi tynnu £1.6 biliwn o gyllidebau cynghorau Cymru, ac mae fy awdurdod lleol, Rhondda Cynon Taf, wedi colli dros £90 miliwn. Nid yw fformiwla Barnett ar gyfer cyfrifo cyllid Cymru yn addas, nac yn ddigonol, i ddiwallu anghenion Cymru. Felly, rydyn ni’n dal i ddioddef y problemau tlodi, amddifadedd ac anghydraddoldeb y mae gweddill y Deyrnas Unedig yn eu hwynebu.
Bydd yr argyfwng costau byw yr ydym i gyd yn ei wynebu yn ergyd drom i bobl Cymru. Gwyddom oll eisoes am bobl yn ein hetholaeth sy’n gorfod dewis rhwng bwyta neu gynhesu. Bydd y sefyllfa yn galetach eleni wrth i realiti polisïau’r Torïaid, fel y toriadau lles, y costau tanwydd cynyddol, a’r cynnydd mewn yswiriant gwladol a ddaeth yn sgil y Llywodraeth Dorïaidd hon, ein taro. Nid yn unig nad yw’r Llywodraeth Dorïaidd hon yn poeni am neu’n deall anghenion pobl fel ein hetholwyr, maent yn rhoi’r gwaith da a wnaed hyd yma gan Lywodraeth Cymru i ddiogelu gwasanaethau a datblygu ein heconomi mewn perygl difrifol wrth iddynt symud i ganoli pŵer a thanseilio’r setliad datganoli. Amlygir hyn gan y Ddeddf Marchnad Fewnol y Deyrnas Unedig 2020, ac ar hyn o bryd, y gronfa codi’r gwastad, fel y’i gelwir. Ni fydd yn syndod bod y rhan fwyaf o’r cyllid lefelu wedi mynd i etholaethau a ddelir gan y Torïaid yng Nghymru. O’i gymharu â chyllid yr Undeb Ewropeaidd, roedd yn gyfraniad gwarthus.
(Translation) Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak, Mr Davies, and to do so in Welsh. We are here to discuss the question of the Union. Like all other unions, its strength comes from accepting and respecting differences, including in language, culture and politics. The Committee meeting is a timely event for us with the collaborative agreement announced between Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour to bring radical policies into existence in Wales, putting the interests of the people of Wales before narrow party lines. We can do this in Wales, and in a meaningful manner, because our political leaders understand that they have been elected to serve the interests of the people they represent and not for any other reason.
Our history has made us as we are. Wales has a tradition of radical history, from raising the first red flag—on Hirwaun common, next to the village where I live now, Penderyn—during the time of the Chartists, to establishing the national health service. This tradition inspires the Welsh Government to develop policies with more ambitious standards than we see here in Westminster, including safeguarding the NHS as a public service; the Senedd’s careful response to covid.
The devolved Senedd in Wales was the first in the world to declare a climate emergency, and recently established a Ministry on climate change. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 was also a first. In the spirit of that legislation, the Welsh Government passed a Bill to permit 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in Welsh elections.
Wales is also helping to lead the way in developing an inclusive, foundational economy, predominantly using a social partnership approach to promote fair work. That has been done against the background of a lack of adequate funding. More than 10 years of cruel poverty has pulled £1.6 billion out of Welsh council budgets, and my local authority, Rhondda Cynon Taf, has lost over £90 million. The Barnett formula is not appropriate or adequate to meet the needs of Wales. We therefore continue to suffer the problems of poverty, deprivation and inequality that the rest of the United Kingdom faces.
The cost of living crisis that we all face will hit the people of Wales hard. We already know of people in our constituencies who have to choose between eating and heating, and the situation will be even harder this year as the reality of Tory policies, such as the welfare cuts, the increasing cost of fuel and the national insurance increase hit us. Not only do the Tory Government not care about and fail to understand our constituents’ needs, but they have put the good work of the Welsh Government to safeguard services and develop our economy in serious jeopardy as they move to centralise power and undermine the devolved settlement. That is manifest in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and also in the so-called levelling-up fund. It is no surprise that the majority of the levelling-up funding has gone to constituencies held by Tory Members in Wales. Compared with European funding, it is a shameful contribution.
Sorry, but I will not give way.
Mae enghreifftiau eraill o’r Llywodraeth Dorïaidd yn diystyru hawliau pobl Cymru a’i Llywodraeth ddatganoledig yn cynnwys y Mesur Cenedligrwydd a Ffiniau, sy’n tanseilio dyhead Cymru i fod yn genedl—
(Translation) There are other examples of the Tory Government disregarding the rights of the people of Wales and their devolved Government, including the Nationality and Borders Bill, which undermines Wales’s desire to be a nation—
Will the hon. Lady give way on a very important point? I hope she will at least acknowledge that Rhondda Cynon Taf—her own local authority— was one of the major recipients of funding in the latest round. She should withdraw or at least qualify the comments that she made about the financial arrangements favouring Conservative seats. She needs to look at the statistics and possibly come back to the Committee with a correction.
I disagree, sorry. All the local elected representatives are clear about the reduction in funding and the terrible impact that that has had on our constituents. If the Government looked at the research, it will confirm what I say.
Felly nid yn unig y mae’r Llywodraeth hon yn benderfynol o anwybyddu a chael gwared ar Lywodraethau datganoledig, mae’n benderfynol o danseilio ein hawliau democrataidd yn llwyr. Rydyn ni ar bwynt peryglus, yn fy marn i, o ran democratiaeth a datganoli. Nid yw diwygio cyfansoddiadol a datganoli yn faterion anghysbell, ymylol. Mae arnom angen system lle mae’r pedair gwlad yn cael eu trin yn gyfartal, nid system o’r top i lawr fel yr hyn sydd yna ar hyn o bryd. Dylai pob rhan o’r Deyrnas Unedig gael ei hariannu’n briodol ac yn deg, heb fod angen bowlen gardota pryd bynnag y bydd anghenion ychwanegol yn codi.
Dylid gwneud penderfyniadau gwleidyddol a gwariant mor agos â phosibl at y bobl y maent yn effeithio arnynt. Ni allwn ganiatáu i’n pwerau gwario gael eu cymryd i reolaeth ganolog. Bydd yn atal Llywodraethau datganoledig a lleol rhag mynd ar lwybrau gwahanol economaidd sy’n bodloni amcanion polisi cyhoeddus rhanbarthau a chenhedloedd y Deyrnas Unedig. Mae angen i ni gydio yn y cyfle ac archwilio a thrafod opsiynau sydd o’n blaenau ac ystyried beth sydd orau i bobl Cymru.
Yn arbennig, mae angen i ni ymgysylltu â’r holl bobl a chymunedau lleol a’u cynnwys yn y drafodaeth a’r ddadl ar yr hyn y mae datganoli yn ei olygu iddynt hwy a’r hyn a welwn fel ein dyfodol. Bydd y comisiwn cyfansoddiadol a benodwyd yn ddiweddar yng Nghymru yn gyfle i godi proffil y ddadl hon a fydd yn cynnwys cymaint o bobl â phosibl.
(Translation) Not only are this Government intent on getting rid of devolved Governments, but they are determined to undermine our democratic rights. We are at a dangerous point for democracy and devolution. Constitutional changes and devolution are not distant matters. We need a system whereby all four countries are treated equally, not the top-down system that currently exists. All areas of the UK should be funded appropriately and fairly without having to beg when additional needs arise. Any political decisions on funding should be made as closely as possible to the people they affect. We cannot allow our spending powers to be taken under central control. That will prevent devolved and local governments from going down different economic paths to satisfy regional public policies and different nation policies.
We need to grab the opportunity to investigate and discuss the opportunities ahead and to consider what is best for the people of Wales. In particular, we need to interact with all our local communities and include them in the discussions and debates on what devolution means for them at the moment and what they see as our future. The constitutional commission that was recently appointed in Wales will be an opportunity to raise the profile of this debate and include as many people as possible.
A yw’r Foneddiges anrhydeddus, fel aelod o’r blaid Lafur, yn gyfforddus gyda’r ffaith bod y comisiwn wedi dweud eu bod nhw’n mynd i edrych ar bob cwestiwn, gan gynnwys annibyniaeth? A yw hi’n hapus, fel cefnogwr yr Undeb, eu bod nhw’n mynd i ystyried hyn?
(Translation) Is the hon. Lady, as a member of the Labour party, comfortable that the commission has said that it is going to look at every question, including the question of independence? Is she happy that it will consider that?
Diolch am y cwestiwn. Rwy’n hapus bod y comisiwn yn mynd i edrych ar bob posibilrwydd achos penderfyniad pobl Cymru yw e beth fydd y dyfodol i Gymru. Does dim problem gyda fi ynglŷn â hynny. Mae’r comisiwn ei hun yn cynnwys trawstoriad eang o gymdeithas Cymru gan gynnwys academyddion ac undebwyr llafur yn ogystal â gwleidyddion ac mae ganddynt feddwl agored, fel rydych chi wedi dweud, o ran beth y gallai’r argymhellion fod yn y dyfodol. Mae angen i ni drawsnewid y Deyrnas Unedig yn bartneriaeth wirfoddol o genhedloedd sy’n gyfartal ac yn ddemocrataidd lle mae pobl yn teimlo eu bod wir yn gallu cymryd rheolaeth yn ôl.
Os ydym yn wleidyddion er mwyn cynrychioli buddiannau mwyafrif y bobl, mae angen gweledigaeth o fath gwahanol o wlad: un sy’n seiliedig ar degwch, a rhoi pobl cyn elw, ac sy’n datganoli pŵer gan roi cyfoeth, cyfle a phŵer yn nwylo pobl a chymunedau lleol.
Mae’n hen bryd ein bod ni’n cael y drafodaeth hon am ddyfodol yr Undeb oherwydd mae’n ymwneud â democratiaeth, ynglŷn â sut yr ydym yn llunio ein dyfodol a chymryd rheolaeth yn ôl, rhoi llais i’r rhai yr ydym yno i’w cynrychioli a gweithio ochr yn ochr gydag eraill i greu dyfodol tecach, gwyrddach ledled y Deyrnas Unedig sy’n cydnabod ac yn parchu gwahaniaeth ac felly’n wirioneddol ddiwallu anghenion pobl Prydain.
(Translation): Thank you for the question. I am happy that the commission will look at every possibility, because it is the people of Wales who should decide the future of Wales, so I have no a problem with that.
The commission itself comprises a wide cross-section of Welsh society, including academics and labour unions as well as politicians, and they have an open mind as to what the recommendations could be in the future. We need to transform the UK into a voluntary partnership of nations that are equally democratic and where people feel that they can really take back control. If we are politicians to represent the interests of the majority of the people, there needs to be a different vision of a country, based on fairness, putting people before profit and devolving powers, thus giving wealth, opportunities and power into the hands of local communities.
It is high time we had this discussion about the future of the Union, because it is to do with democracy and how we form our future and take back control, to give voice to those we are here to represent and work hand in hand with others to create a fairer, greener future across the UK that recognises and respects differences and therefore satisfies the needs of the people of Britain.
Bore da—good morning. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Like my Welsh colleagues here today, I take great heart from the fact that under this Conservative Government, the Union, specifically as it relates to Wales but also across our United Kingdom, has grown stronger and continues to do so. It gives me particular pleasure to be seated next to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham, with whom I share the county borough of Wrexham. It is a great pleasure to work hard with her on a wide range of issues that affect our two constituencies—in particular, recently, city status and city of culture status for Wrexham.
There has already been much mention in this morning’s debate of the way in which the UK Government have assisted the Welsh Government, and Wales overall, during the pandemic. There are two particular points that I would like to draw out and perhaps have not been mentioned so far. The first is that the vaccines are of course the way out of the pandemic, and the UK Government have secured and purchased vaccines on behalf of the whole United Kingdom; over 6.5 million doses have now been delivered across Wales. I think it is very important to stress that the speed and scale of that programme would never have been possible if we had stayed in the EU, which is very much the avowed policy of the First Minister and many members of the Welsh Labour party.
Secondly, the UK’s armed forces continue to play a crucial role in the fight against covid-19 in Wales and we are hugely grateful for their commitment and expertise. Four hundred and eleven military personnel are currently available to support the pandemic response in Wales. That includes 313 personnel supporting the Welsh ambulance service and 98 personnel deployed to assist the seven health boards across Wales. That is an absolutely key example of the benefits of the Union to Wales and across the rest of the UK.
There has been much talk about the financial benefits that have flowed from the UK Government’s policies, so I will not go back over those, but I know from my own experience in my constituency of Clwyd South how many businesses have said to me, when I have visited them, that they are extremely grateful for the prompt, well directed and generous support that has been provided by the UK Government to businesses across Wales. My constituency of Clwyd South has historically been starved of investment by the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff Bay, but under the UK Government over the last two years we have seen renewed vigour to correct that injustice, with unprecedented levels of funding coming into the region. A key example is the £13.3 million levelling-up fund bid, developed by Wrexham and Denbighshire councils and which I sponsored, which has been successful. It will be matched by £1.7 million of funding, giving a total package of £15 million.
There are three interconnected projects that make up this levelling-up fund bid, which will transform parts of my constituency. First, there is the Trevor Basin Technical Masterplan. Not only does it improve the famous site with the great aqueduct created by Thomas Telford, but it will be highly regenerative to parts of the constituency that are suffering under a post-industrial situation. It is a combination of regeneration and of valuing our heritage and assets, which are so important to us in the constituency of Clwyd South.
The second area that the fund will benefit is Denbighshire. The project supports cross-border visitor connectivity in the Dee Valley at the Horseshoe Falls, the Four Great Highways and Plas Newydd in Llangollen, and also the Llangollen active travel corridor, including the old railway line and Chirk. The third part, which is perhaps for me the most exciting part, is in the Corwen area. Corwen is a beautiful town, but it has been left behind because it has not received much investment—indeed, hardly any at all—from the Welsh Government over a long period. It will enable us to create a new and improved Western Gateway to the Dee Valley and the world heritage site, and it will improve connectivity and infrastructure.
The funding will improve the town centre assets in Corwen and the area between the railway and the car park, including a new platform canopy. This links together the famous Llangollen steam railway, and it will take visitors up along the railway to Llangollen and then links into the canal. It is doing what we desperately need in Clwyd South: bringing hope, vigour and investment to a key heritage asset and to important parts of the constituency. It will not only provide jobs and a much-needed economic boost, but will improve the wellbeing of our residents by widening access to recreation, outdoor and other amenity activities. It will also celebrate the amazing history, language and culture of our part of Wales and bring them to a wider audience.
Another example of UK Government investment has been the step-free access at Ruabon railway station. I was pleased to welcome the Secretary of State for Transport on a visit to the station last year, and he has said that the station can now progress to the next stage of the Access for All programme to help secure step-free access for station visitors. That comes after many years of campaigning by representatives, organisations and residents in Ruabon, and I believe it also highlights the commitment of the UK Government to our communities in Clwyd South and the rest of north Wales, which for so long have been taken for granted by a complacent Labour party in Cardiff Bay.
Finally, in contrast to the investment from the UK Government, we can see a corresponding lack of interest and funding from Welsh Labour. For example, I had the opportunity recently to visit the landslip on Newbridge Road in my constituency, where I was able to see first hand the damage that had been caused on the road, which has severed the vital link between Newbridge, Cefn and the wider communities of Chirk, Plas Madoc and Ruabon.
I used the visit to call on the Welsh Government to urgently conduct essential repairs, which have been badly needed since the storms hit a year ago. Since the visit, funding of £175,000 from the Welsh Government has been confirmed to make technical studies regarding the repair, which is a small step in the right direction on fixing the damage to Newbridge Road, but clearly a great deal more needs to be done. It is astonishing that the Welsh Labour Government have taken so long to react, and there can be no further delays on their part in ensuring that these repairs are done as quickly as possible. To quote a frustrated local,
“If this road had been in South Wales, we would be talking about the opening date by now.”
That is the opinion of my constituents about the care of the Welsh Government when it comes to major infrastructure projects in Clwyd South.
In conclusion, it was my pledge in the 2019 election to work constructively to deliver the change and investment that Clwyd South needs. I am proud to have worked closely with the Secretary of State, the team at the Wales Office and many Ministers across the UK Government. But it is high time that Mark Drakeford and the Welsh Labour Government step up and deliver, particularly for our communities in north Wales, if we are to make a difference and improve the lives of the people of Wales.
The polls come and go, but the essence of what I am saying is that we are delivering a constructive and particular project. I have tried to focus on my own constituency, so that my remarks are not generalised but particular. In a part of Wales that has been left behind and has significant deprivation, the UK Government are stepping in where the Welsh Labour Government should have been for decades.
I would like to finish on the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb). He referred to the way in which the Welsh Government are playing a dangerous game consorting with the nationalist cause. As someone who grew up in Wales and has lived there most of my life, I think the value of the Union is of huge importance. It is extremely dangerous that the Welsh Labour party is not providing the support, vigour and representation for that cause.
First, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on winning Clwyd South? He, myself and the Prime Minister have stood there, but the hon. Gentleman is the only won who has ever won. I invite him to say, or perhaps not say, that co-operation between us and the Labour party to bring forward a large number of positive policies—46 points in the agreement—is not necessarily damaging to the Union.
I am pleased that I am the one of the trio who made it across the line in Clwyd South. I have every respect for the hon. Gentleman as a Member of Parliament and a vigorous representative of his constituents. With regard to his point about the programme put forward jointly by the two parties, it is important that there is clear accountability for Plaid Cymru in that arrangement. It strikes me that they are trying to have their cake and eat it by supporting the Government but not being quite part of them, and not being willing to be held to account for what they are doing. There needs to be clarity in how they operate and what they are trying to do.
To go back to my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, the Labour party in Wales needs to be clear whether it is really supporting the Union, or whether political expediency is allowing it to blur the line. There are two particular quotations that its members have come up with recently: they have called the UK nothing more than “an insurance policy” and said that support for the existence of the UK “is not unconditional”. Welsh Labour needs to be clear about where it stands on the Union, to the benefit of everybody across Wales.
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that saving lives is above everything? The Welsh Government have put saving lives above everything. If that runs contrary to what the UK Government are doing in England, they are doing more to cause the break-up of the Union than anyone else.
I thank the hon. Member for her contribution. I have listened to many of her contributions in the Chamber and I have a great deal of respect for the vigour and integrity of what she says, but in this case, actually, the death rate is higher in Wales than in England. This is not a statistic that I particularly wanted to dwell on, because we are all in this together, but to be specific, the death rate is 260 per 100,000 in England and 289.5 per 100,000 in Wales.
With reference to the intervention by the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the Welsh Government cannot have it both ways. We have seen some of that already this morning: they try to blur the line on whether they are responsible for the death rate and the way the covid crisis has been dealt with, but on the other hand, day to day, they are always saying how good they have been in treating the pandemic. All I am saying is: let us have a bit of honesty and accountability on these matters. I think that would benefit everyone.
In conclusion, the last two years have shown the huge support that the Conservative Government are delivering for Clwyd South and the rest of Wales. Only the Welsh Conservatives can be trusted to defend Wales’s place in our strong United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I am grateful to you for calling me to speak this morning, as this afternoon I will be in the Chamber dealing with the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. Anyone who is here will be welcome to join us in the Chamber this afternoon.
Our country is at a crossroads; our Government are partying and the Union is in peril. Far from being strengthened, our United Kingdom is being let down by a Prime Minister who is out of his depth and a Government who are out of step with the needs, wants and aspirations of people across Newport West and the whole of Wales. We have heard from colleagues already that so much of life as we know it has worsened as we approach the 12th anniversary of the election of a Conservative Prime Minister. As the Leader of the Opposition has noted, we have the worst possible Prime Minister at the worst possible time.
The current sleaze in this place goes right to the top. Time after time, this Conservative Government have treated the people of Newport West and Wales with utter contempt. They make laws for us and then break them when they want to, as though the rules just do not apply to them.
The facts are simple. No. 10 denied that any party or gathering took place—according to them, it just did not happen—and then a picture came out showing the exact opposite: the Prime Minister and others enjoying wine and cheese in the Downing Street gardens. I raised this in the Chamber last week with the Paymaster General, who was sent to cover for the Prime Minister. I asked him why anyone should believe a word the Prime Minister says ever again. The answer was dither, delay and deflection. I was given no reason to trust the Prime Minister, and following Prime Minister’s questions the following day, like many across Newport West, I trust him even less.
While the people of our community were unable to see loved ones and family, Mr Johnson was partying. While the people of Newport West were anxious about breaking the rules and endangering others, he was chatting and having a glass of wine at a party. While he would hold his 5 pm press conference every day, telling people to obey the rules, he was quite happy to break them himself for a good time.
There are only two possibilities: either Mr Johnson did not understand what his covid regulations meant and never has, or he knew what they were and broke them anyway. Either way, his time is up. He has been found wanting and we all now know that he is incapable of remaining Prime Minister. He is out of excuses and, as the Labour leader said last week, he should resign immediately.
The leader of the Scottish Tories has called for the Prime Minister to resign. We can only hope that the Welsh Conservatives, here and in the Senedd, find a backbone and call for his resignation too. We do not need to wait for an investigation to find out whether the Prime Minister broke the rules because he has admitted it on the Floor of the House. The facts speak for themselves, and the anger, frustration and outrage of my constituents speaks even louder. I have had so many emails from angry constituents who cannot believe the disgrace that is going on here.
On our welfare system, on peace and justice, on law and order and on global Britain, every step of the way we have seen dithering, delay and disdain for those most in need. This Government are letting down Newport West, letting down Wales and letting down the United Kingdom.
People in Pill, Rogerstone and Stow Hill in Newport West are tired of finding it hard to make ends meet, tired of watching the Government engage in dismantling and destroying the BBC rather than protecting it, and tired of trying to heat their homes and feed their families without breaking the bank. That is why the work of the First Minister of Wales and his Government is so important. We have seen that expertly demonstrated over the last two years.
I am grateful to Mr Drakeford for his leadership as our First Minister, and I want to highlight some of the Welsh Labour Government’s successes, such as the inoculation of more than 1.5 million people with their first dose of covid vaccine just over three months after the launch of the programme. They provided free PPE for everyone working in the NHS and social care, including care homes. They set up the most successful covid contact tracing system in the UK—a public service run by local people. That did not happen in England.
The Welsh Government protected more than 165,000 jobs by providing the most generous business support scheme in the UK. They supported our social care providers through the £150 million covid fighting fund and investing more than £24 million to protect charities and promote volunteering. They helped 3,200 into temporary accommodation across Wales, and helped many more from becoming homeless. They also guarantee free school meals—during the holidays, too—for all eligible pupils up to and including Easter 2022. That is how the people of Wales got through the crisis to where we are today, setting an example to all parts of the United Kingdom.
On Brexit, this Government have been wanting every step of the way. Our departure should have been a chance to see a new way forward in an Union of equals. Instead, the Prime Minister has tickled the fancies of his right-wing Back Benchers, while selling out the good people of Northern Ireland. We were promised money from the EU would be matched by the UK Government, and in Wales we are still waiting.
On the environment, we have yet to see tangible outcomes from the COP26 summit in Glasgow. I would like to use this opportunity to urge the Government to adopt Labour’s pledge to deliver a standalone clean air Act. On trade, this Government have sold out Welsh farmers to make the Australians and Americans happy. Forget down under—with this Government, Welsh farming will go under. On steel, following years of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip insulting President Obama, Secretary Clinton and the Democrats, the British are now at the back of the queue into the Oval Office. Is the Prime Minister more focused on making excuses for his string of Downing Street parties than taking steps to lift the damaging steel tariffs?
Our Union is stronger together, our generations of shared values and experiences endure, and our vision of a better world stands resolute. To meet the expectations of a better, more inclusive world, with Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales thriving and succeeding, we need a Labour Government, respectful of the devolved settlement and focused on developing better relations between the Welsh Labour Government and a Labour Government in Westminster. I look forward to that happening very soon.
Diolch yn fawr. Let us keep up with the Joneses—I call David Jones.
It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I congratulate the Secretary of State on securing this session of the Welsh Grand Committee. The Committee has an important function. It is a great shame that, because of the pandemic, it has not been able to meet in this Parliament, but I hope that this will be the first of many sessions.
The Union is a matter of central importance to almost all right hon. and hon. Members here today. Most of us are members of Unionist parties. I must take issue with my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, because clearly the Welsh Labour party is a Unionist party; after all, the shadow Secretary of State is sporting a fetching face covering emblazoned with the initials “UK”—I mention that for the benefit of Hansard. I believe that the Union is precious and nothing should be done to weaken it; indeed, everything possible should be done to strengthen it.
Devolution has been a feature of the political landscape of this country for many years—in the case of Wales, over 22 years. It is an established part of the British constitutional system, to the extent that the Wales Act 2017 carries the ringing declaration that devolution is a permanent part of our constitutional arrangements.
The Welsh Assembly, founded in 1999, has now evolved into a Senedd with a range of primary law-making powers and, with the Welsh Government, it is a firm part of the UK’s constitution. Devolution should not mean, however, that Wales is any less an integral part of the United Kingdom, the constitutional face of which has changed radically over the last 25 years. Wales has two Governments: one in Cardiff and one here at Westminster. That state of affairs is well understood, and most Welsh residents are entirely comfortable with it. Those two Administrations should be working in a co-operative and complementary fashion. Each has its own place, and each should co-operate with the other in delivering the best for Wales and her people.
I have no doubt at all that Wales, as a small constituent nation of the United Kingdom, benefits hugely from its place in the Union, most obviously in financial terms. In 2020-21, public expenditure in Wales was £14.5 billion more than the revenue raised there. That equates to £4,500 per head of the Welsh population. Those financial benefits became all the clearer during the coronavirus pandemic. An extra £3.8 billion has been provided to the Welsh Government this year, in addition to the £5.2 billion extra that Wales received in covid funding in the last financial year, coupled with interventions in Wales by Her Majesty’s Government, including furlough, the self-employment income support scheme, the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, the bounce back loan scheme, and goodness knows how many other interventions. It is clear that a huge number of Welsh residents have benefited from Wales’s place as a constituent part of a major world economy with the financial clout to look after all its citizens.
This is not just about money, however. Wales benefits hugely, in practical terms, from its place in the Union. Residents in north Wales, for example, usually value the medical services that they obtain from specialist centres in north-west England, whether orthopaedic services delivered in Gobowen, cardiac treatment at Broadgreen hospital, paediatric services at Alder Hey children’s hospital, or neurosurgery at the Walton Centre in Liverpool. Patients in north Wales know that they can access the services they need that are not regularly obtainable within the boundaries of north Wales.
Frankly, the only barrier or cause of delay in obtaining those services is usually the fact that the Welsh health boards do not pay at the same rates as English commissioners. Treatments obtainable in England are frequently slower for patients resident in Wales. That is a matter that the Welsh Government should address. It is nothing new; politicians across Wales have been complaining it for some considerable time.
Similarly, medication obtainable in England is sometimes not available in Wales, and one has to ask why. The drug Inclisiran, for example, is potentially life-saving for cardiac-arrest and stroke patients—one of my constituents is trying to access it. It is available in England since NHS England did a deal with Novartis, the drug’s developer, to obtain it at a discounted rate, but it is not available in Wales. Why did the Welsh Government not join with NHS England in seeking to obtain the drug at a similar rate? The national health service is, after all, supposed to be a national UK health service. It should provide an equivalent service for everyone in the UK, and the niceties of devolution should not frustrate that essential principle. If Wales cannot do that itself—in which there is no shame—it should join England in seeking to obtain the drugs at the same rate.
Of course, some differences are an inevitable consequence of devolution. Those differences will sometimes be for the benefit of the citizens, but not always. It sometimes makes more sense to do things the same way as in other parts of the country. After all, devolution should not result in poorer services. People in Wales pay their taxes at exactly the same rate as people in England, so they are entitled, broadly speaking, to equivalent services. That is not always the case, however.
Educational attainment in Wales is significantly worse than in other parts of the UK. Wales is continuously slipping further and further behind in the PISA rankings for science, reading and maths, and that is before the impact of the pandemic is taken into account. Quite clearly, that state of affairs needs to be addressed. One wonders to what extent the Welsh Government are consulting with other constituent Governments of the United Kingdom in an effort to improve performance. Devolution does not mean that individual Governments operate in a silo; it should mean sharing best practice and trying to benefit from the experience of others.
Order. Sorry to cut you off mid-stream, Mr Jones, but I will call you again when the meeting resumes at 2 pm.
The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.
Strengthening the Union as it Relates to Wales (Second sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: †Geraint Davies, Sir Charles Walker
† Antoniazzi, Tonia (Gower) (Lab)
† Atherton, Sarah (Wrexham) (Con)
† Baynes, Simon (Clwyd South) (Con)
Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)
Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
Cairns, Alun (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)
† Crabb, Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
† Crosbie, Virginia (Ynys Môn) (Con)
† David, Wayne (Caerphilly) (Lab)
† Davies, David T. C. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales)
† Davies, Dr James (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)
† Davies-Jones, Alex (Pontypridd) (Lab)
† Doughty, Stephen (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
† Edwards, Jonathan (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)
† Evans, Chris (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
† Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
† Harris, Carolyn (Swansea East) (Lab)
† Hart, Simon (Secretary of State for Wales)
† Jones, Mr David (Clwyd West) (Con)
† Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)
† Jones, Gerald (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
Jones, Ruth (Newport West) (Lab)
† Kinnock, Stephen (Aberavon) (Lab)
† Lake, Ben (Ceredigion) (PC)
† McMorrin, Anna (Cardiff North) (Lab)
† Millar, Robin (Aberconwy) (Con)
† Morden, Jessica (Newport East) (Lab)
Roberts, Rob (Delyn) (Ind)
Saville Roberts, Liz (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)
Smith, Nick (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
† Stevens, Jo (Cardiff Central) (Lab)
† Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Thomas-Symonds, Nick (Torfaen) (Lab)
† Wallis, Dr Jamie (Bridgend) (Con)
† Williams, Craig (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
† Williams, Hywel (Arfon) (PC)
† Winter, Beth (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
Huw Yardley, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Welsh Grand Committee
Tuesday 18 January 2022
[Geraint Davies in the Chair]
Strengthening the Union as it Relates to Wales
Question again proposed,
That the Committee has considered the matter of strengthening the Union as it relates to Wales.
I advise the Grand Committee that, given the number of speakers, people will need to confine their speeches to five minutes in order to get everybody in. It is a great pleasure to ask David Jones to resume his speech—I am sure he will not take all his five minutes.
Thank you, Mr Davies. You will recall that just before the Adjournment I was mentioning the difficulties the Welsh Government were having in delivering medical and educational services. I made the point that devolution should not mean operating in a silo, but should mean sharing best practice and trying to benefit from the experience of others. Frequently, in Cardiff Bay, that is not the case. There is a sort of constitutional teenage angst and some stubborn reluctance to co-operate with other partners in the Union, which, frankly, should have disappeared now that devolution has matured. I hope that will change.
There is cause for hope that it will, with the publication last week by the Government and the devolved Administrations of the review of intergovernmental relations, which notes that the four Administrations of the United Kingdom will work collaboratively. We are told that it is
“built on principles of mutual respect and trust, respecting the reserved powers of the UK Government and Parliament and the devolved competences of the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive and their legislatures.”
That is extremely encouraging. These new structures
“will provide for ambitious and effective working, to support our COVID recovery, tackle the climate change crisis and inequalities, and deliver sustainable growth.”
This seems to herald a new relationship of mutual respect of one another’s competencies.
As the Welsh Government have just signed up to that review, and that the constitution is a reserved competence under the Wales Act 2017, I find it hard to understand why the Welsh Government have set up a commission under the joint chairmanship of no less a figure than the right reverend and right hon. Lord Williams of Oystermouth, the former Archbishop of Canterbury,
“to consider and develop options for fundamental reform of the constitutional structures of the United Kingdom, in which Wales remains an integral part.”
Quite frankly, under the terms of the devolution settlement as we have it, the constitution of the United Kingdom is no business of the Welsh Government. It is firmly a reserved matter. One really has to wonder how the Welsh Government would react if Her Majesty’s Government, having regard to the deficiencies in the delivery of medical services and educational services in Wales, decided that they would set up a commission into the delivery of those services by the Welsh Government. There would be absolute horror and outrage. The Welsh Government would be affronted. There would be a violent and adverse reaction.
It is clear that the Welsh Government are doing very well out of the Union, as indeed are the people of Wales. It is also clear that the Welsh Government have acknowledged, by signing up to the review of intergovernmental relations, that there are limits to their devolved competence. I strongly urge the Welsh Government, in the interests of good relations with the other nations of the United Kingdom, to confine themselves within those boundaries. The review is a sound basis for future co-operative relations within the Union. I hope that it will be adhered to by all parties that have signed up to it, and that it heralds a new chapter in inter-governmental relations within the United Kingdom.
Rwyf wrth fy modd yn cymryd rhan yn nadl yr Uwch-Bwyllgor hwn, y cyntaf mewn pedair mlynedd.
Dydyn ni erioed wedi gweld gwahaniaethau mor ddwys rhwng Lloegr a Chymru. Fel Aelodau Seneddol, rydyn ni yma yn San Steffan ar ran ein hetholwyr, pobl Cymru, a fy etholwyr i yng Ngogledd Caerdydd: y bobl hynny sydd wedi dioddef torcalon, trafferthion ac anobaith dros y ddwy flynedd ddiwethaf fel nad ydyn ni erioed wedi eu gweld o’r blaen, wrth i bob un ohonom ni geisio ymdopi â’r pandemig hwn.
(Translation) I am delighted to take part in this grand Committee debate, the first for four years.
We have never seen such profound differences between England and Wales. As Members of Parliament, we are here in Westminster on behalf of our constituents, the people of Wales, and my constituents in Cardiff North: those people who in the past two years have suffered heartbreak, struggle and despair never experienced before as we have all tried to cope with the pandemic.
It has been heartbreaking for so many—having to say goodbye to loved ones over an iPad; forced to live with the fact that a parent, a husband, wife, brother or sister died alone, looked after by our incredible NHS, but nursed by someone behind a mask and a visor; and not being able to hold their hand, stroke their head or kiss them goodbye. Those are the realities of this dreadful pandemic that we have all been touched by in some way. And this pandemic has not gone away.
The difference in how our Welsh Labour Government continue to respond to the pandemic is stark. It is no surprise that The Sunday Times declared the First Minister of Wales
“comfortably the most popular UK leader”,
while the Prime Minister’s approval ratings drop to their lowest ever. Our First Minister followed the science. The Prime Minister ignored it. Worse, he partied, and No. 10 became the most popular venue in England for illegal parties. While people made unimaginable sacrifices, lost loved ones, isolated themselves from family and friends and did not see people for months on end, No. 10 sent someone out with a suitcase to get more wine. That the Prime Minister did not know or did not participate is nonsense. The contrast with our Labour Government in Wales is stark.
In October 2020, Wales was put into a firebreak lockdown, as the science advised, but the Prime Minister decided against it for England, leading to a longer lockdown starting in November that year. In December 2020, the Welsh Government announced the most generous business support package in the UK. By May last year, the Welsh Labour Government had spent £2.3 billion on covid grants and reliefs to businesses—£400 million more than England.
Mark Drakeford repeatedly called for a four-nation approach to covid, which the UK Government continually undermined. Instead, they have made it impossible to work together, not least because they are simply not a functioning Government right now. Excluding the devolved nations at every opportunity seems to be the default.
The Joint Ministerial Committee, where the four nations come together, is supposed to be the vehicle to make crucial decisions, but it has not met once during the pandemic, and not once during the Prime Minister’s leadership, if we can call it that. It is clear that the Government’s priority is to dismantle the democratic powers given to the devolved nations and instead demonstrate a blatant power grab for themselves.
Owing to the pandemic, the whole of the UK has witnessed the contrast in approach. We have all been able to see Mark Drakeford’s careful, measured approach, his quiet consideration of questions and his full and honest answers, even when they have not been easy or palatable.
I totally endorse the points that my hon. Friend makes. I pay tribute to Cardiff and Vale health board. My hon. Friend and I have spent many hours on phone calls, with Members from all parties and people from this Parliament and the Senedd, being transparent and having open discussions with officials and getting the information that our constituents need. Does my hon. Friend agree there is a contrast with what we have heard from colleagues in England, who have not been getting that information from their health boards, in some cases, perhaps because the Department of Health and Social Care encouraged them to hold back that information?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that brilliant point. Cardiff and Vale health board has been exemplary in its handling of the pandemic. All its staff across the health board have gone the extra mile, as they have done in rolling out the vaccine quickly and efficiently.
The people of Wales are truly grateful. They rewarded Mark and his Government with the biggest mandate for Labour in the Senedd elections last year. Unfortunately, it is always a fight with Westminster. “You will get what you are given” is a concept that Wales has become all too familiar with, after more than a decade of Tory Governments.
The hon. Lady takes the view that the Conservative Westminster Government are on a power grab and that they undermine devolution at every turn and do not respect it. How does she reconcile that view with the fact that the Senedd has never been given more powers than it has under Conservative Governments, since 2010—including a referendum in 2011, which we respected?
I thank the hon. Member for his point, but we are undermined at every opportunity in making those decisions. That has been evidenced throughout the pandemic. We face a huge cost-of-living crisis as a result of this Tory Government’s disastrous decisions. It seems that, at the very heart of their decision making, the Government’s intentions have been to undermine our democracy and underfund our services. The community renewal fund and the levelling-up fund excluded the Welsh Government, so that the funding can be controlled entirely by UK Government Ministers. It is clear that they are trying to strip powers away from the Welsh Government and level down Labour Wales.
And what of Brexit, that great promise from this Prime Minister? Let us just say that honesty has never been his strong point.
On the levelling-up, shared prosperity and the community renewal funds, does the hon. Lady share the sentiments of the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, which was incredibly successful in the levelling-up fund? Does she share my view that this is actually proper devolution, in that it is asking local authorities what they might want from the schemes, rather than a diktat from the centre?
Indeed, that does not surprise me at all; that is symptomatic of a Tory Government that only seem interested in themselves.
We were assured that Wales would not lose a single penny of EU funding after Brexit. Fast forward, and Wales is set to receive just 5% of the community renewal fund, which equates to around £450,000 per local authority. If we had remained in the EU, Wales would have received at least £375 million each year for seven years from January 2021. It is yet another lie. [Interruption.]
Perhaps you might want to rephrase that.
Perhaps I can respond and give a brief explanation.
You do not want to give way.
Order. I know that, as a point of fact, we do not actually know whether the money will eventually arrive, but obviously you have used the word “lie”. I am in the Chair and you are putting me in a very difficult position. I would be grateful if you would withdraw that.
Order. Will you just withdraw that for the record?
Order. We are trying to have a grown-up debate. Carry on.
Thank you, Mr Davies.
This Tory Government are punishing Wales and our communities, and it is the people of Wales who pay the price. Thankfully, we have a radical Labour Government in Wales who are able to mitigate the worst of this UK Government. In June 2021, a new climate change super-Ministry was established to help Wales to meet its legally binding target of reaching net zero by 2050. All the while, the UK Government’s own climate advisers warned that the UK Government were failing to deliver on promises to cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. The UK Government are talking the talk, but failing to act.
I am proud that, as a special adviser in the Welsh Labour Government for six years, I was able to bring forward legislation on the environment and on climate, and to create the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, a groundbreaking Act that puts sustainability at the heart of decision making in the public sector.
In November 2021, it was announced that all primary schoolchildren in Wales would be given free school meals. In that same year, the UK Government stopped similar measures being brought forward in the School Breakfast Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck).
I am proud that Wales has become a world leader in the treatment of refugees. As a nation of sanctuary, we ensure that refugees who have been displaced by the trauma of war or division can find a home in Wales. That is in stark contrast to the UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which increases the risk of discrimination and human rights violations.
I am also proud that in Wales we have our own Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015.
I do not really have time.
Seven years later, the UK Government have still not followed suit and there is still not a legislative commitment to ending violence against women and girls. That is heart-breaking. Most women who I speak to say that they would not repeat having to put themselves through this broken justice system. This UK Government are failing women and girls—failing victims—everywhere. Far too many of them are let down and treated as an afterthought. Unless we put victims and their experiences at the centre of justice, we will not get anywhere. If the UK Government are unable to do that, then give us the powers to do it ourselves.
It is clear that this UK Government have failed, and continue to fail, to understand or support devolution. As a result, they fail the people of Wales. This Tory Government are probably doing more to break up the Union than any of our nationalist parties. How much longer do we put up with this chaos impacting our communities in Wales as a result of this shoddy, corrupt Westminster Government?
Mae’n bryd cael gwared ar y Prif Weinidog hwn a sicrhau bod pobl Cymru bob amser yn dod yn gyntaf.
(Translation) It is about time we got rid of this Prime Minister and ensured that the people of Wales will always come first.
The last speech took about 13 minutes. Speeches need to be nearer to four or five minutes in length—and with HS2 in mind, I call Jamie Wallis. [Laughter.]
Thank you very much, Mr Davies; it is a genuine delight to see you in the Chair today; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
I believe this debate is one of the most important that I have participated in since being elected to Parliament. I stood for Parliament precisely because I am unashamedly a staunch Unionist and I believe that Wales and specifically my constituents benefit immensely from being part of the United Kingdom.
The Union ensures greater prosperity and security for Wales while also being representative of our shared culture and history, which is far greater than political divisions. Yet it angers and saddens me that the Welsh Labour Government, propped up by their nationalist coalition allies in Plaid Cymru, have no interest whatsoever in strengthening the Union. Instead, they remain focused on pursuing a reckless separatist agenda. When the First Minister of Wales stated that his support for the Union is “not unconditional”, it proved that he cannot be trusted to value and protect our United Kingdom.
There is also the grave constitutional damage that the First Minister caused when he failed to support delivering Brexit, even when 52.5% of the Welsh public voted to leave the EU—more than those who voted for the formation of the Senedd in 1997. Welsh Labour and Plaid ignored the will of the Welsh people, instead painting Brexit as a ludicrous venture. Labour and Plaid, ignoring the largest democratic mandate in our country’s history, continued to show their disdain for the Welsh people through their demonstration to break up Britain. A separate and politically isolated Wales would benefit neither my constituents, nor the wider Welsh population.
Under the current First Minister, a vocal supporter of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and his bid for the national leadership of the Labour party in 2015, we have been given a taste of the illogical and authoritarian measures that we can expect from a separate Wales. Here are some examples: banning the purchase of non-essential items in supermarkets, which led to mass confusion and cases of women being unable to obtain sanitary products; proposed curfews on men; and a focus on taking performative, woke actions on statues and street names, rather than a focus on important issues such as health and the economy. Because of Welsh Government inaction, one in four people wait more than 52 weeks to be seen for non-urgent treatment. Even Lee Waters, the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, admitted that they
“don’t really know what we’re doing on the economy.”
Yet even while the Welsh Government continue to undermine our vital Union, the UK Government continue to make the positive case for strengthening it. For example, the UK Government agreed to the largest funding settlement since devolution was implemented in 1998. Now that we have taken back control of our own laws, thanks to the UK Government delivering Brexit, the global trade deals that we have done are helping to increase Welsh exports and direct growth for companies in my Bridgend constituency.
The UK Government’s freeport scheme has been enthusiastically welcomed across the whole of Wales, and it is my firm belief that freeports will bring economic growth and job creation to the whole UK—another clear benefit of our Union. I welcome the fact that the UK Government continue to pledge to establish at least one freeport in Wales as soon as possible, despite the Welsh Government at times acting as an obstacle to this. I suggest once again that the Port Talbot and Bridgend area could lend itself fantastically to the establishment of the UK Government’s first freeport in Wales, creating up to 15,000 jobs in the process.
Crucially, the Union has ensured that we can effectively respond to the greatest public health crisis in over a century. The most successful elements of our response have been when the four nations have worked together. It has enabled us to secure vaccines for the whole United Kingdom. Without it, we would certainly have been unable to deliver the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe. At the same time, our political Union protected the NHS across all of the UK and ensured that it could cope with the additional strains that the pandemic created, with the UK Government providing £34 billion of emergency support this year alone.
Lastly, the UK Government’s swift and decisive action mitigated the virus’s impact on the economy, with £400 billion of support, protecting more than 14.6 million jobs through the furlough and self-employment support schemes. Many of those are my Bridgend constituents.
I urge my political opponents to cease this dangerous separatist agenda. I am proudly British, but I am also proudly Welsh. We must be proud of our shared history and culture. Wales plays a vital role in our United Kingdom. Indeed, we are more than just a Union; we are four nations united as one country.
Mae’n bleser cyfrannu i’r ddadl yma yn yr Uwch-Bwyllgor Cymreig ac i wneud hynny yn y Gymraeg.
Mae testun y ddadl heddiw yn un diddorol, am ei fod yn amlygu paranoia’r pleidiau Unoliaethol am ddyfodol y wladwriaeth Brydeinig. Yn y degawd diwethaf, mae dau ddigwyddiad seismig wedi gosod bom niwclear o dan gyfansoddiad y wladwriaeth Brydeinig, sef refferendwm annibyniaeth yr Alban ac wrth gwrs, Brexit.
Cyn hyn oll, roedd Cymru a’r wladwriaeth Brydeinig ar daith gyfansoddiadol esblygiadol. Roedd pwerau cynyddol yn trosglwyddo o’r lle yma i lawr yr M4 i Fae Caerdydd ac roedd y ddadl yn troi o gwmpas pa mor gyflym y dylai hyn ddigwydd, yn enwedig wedi refferendwm 2011. Roedd gwleidyddion fel finnau am weld y trosglwyddo yn digwydd ar raddfa fwy cyflym, gydag Unoliaethwyr yn cefnogi proses fwy araf.
Mae Brexit wedi newid y cyd-destun yma yn llwyr. Bellach, mae’r garfan sydd yn cefnogi datblygiad gwleidyddol cenedlaethol Cymru yn gorfod amddiffyn y pwerau i ni ennill dros y degawdau diwethaf, ac yn wir datganoli ei hun. Mae hyn yn digwydd oherwydd bod athroniaeth Brexit am lawer mwy nag ail-rymuso San Steffan trwy adennill pwerau o Frwsel.
Mae’n amlwg bellach bod Brexit yn cael ei ddefnyddio i ailsefydlu goruchafiaeth San Steffan dros Gymru a’r Alban. Yn ystod refferendwm Ewrop, roedd cefnogwyr Brexit wedi gwneud pob math o addewidion am fwy o bwerau newydd i Gymru os oedden ni’n pleidleisio d ros adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd. Yr addewid oedd i drosglwyddo pwerau yn uniongyrchol i Senedd Cymru o Frwsel. Beth sydd wedi digwydd, wrth gwrs, yw’r gwrthwyneb yn llwyr gyda Llywodraeth Prydain yn dwyn pwerau Cymru heb unrhyw fandad democrataidd Cymreig i wneud hynny. Yn gynyddol, rydyn ni’n symud at setliad datganoli mewn enw yn unig, gyda Llywodraeth Cymru bellach yn etifeddu’r teitl dirmygus Gweinyddiaeth ddatganoledig yn hytrach na statws cenedlaethol.
Yn y Britannia Brexit, dim ond un Llywodraeth genedlaethol sy’n cael bodoli. Ar ôl canlyniad refferendwm Ewrop a phenderfyniad Llywodraeth Prydain i ddilyn llwybr Brexit eithafol gan rwygo Prydain allan o’r farchnad sengl, roedd angen creu marchnad ar gyfer Cymru, Lloegr a’r Alban gyda fframweithiau a rheoliadau newydd.
(Translation) It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate in the Welsh Grand Committee this afternoon, and indeed to do so in Welsh.
The title of today’s debate is interesting, as it brings to the fore the paranoia of the Unionist parties regarding the future of the British state. During the past decade, two seismic events have placed a nuclear bomb under the constitution of the British state: the Scottish independence referendum and Brexit. Before all that, Wales and the British state were on an evolutionary constitutional journey. Increasing powers were being transferred from this place along the M4 to Cardiff Bay and the debate turned around how quickly that should happen, particularly following the 2011 referendum. Politicians like me wanted to see the transfer happening at a faster pace, with Unionists supporting a slower process.
Brexit has changed the context entirely. Now, those who support Wales’s national political development have to defend the powers that we have gained over the past decade, and indeed devolution itself. This is happening because the philosophy of Brexit is about far more than simply re-empowering Westminster by regaining powers from Brussels.
It is clear that Brexit is being used to re-establish Westminster’s supremacy over Wales and Scotland. During the referendum on Europe, Brexit supporters made all manner of promises about new powers for Wales if we voted in favour of leaving the European Union. The promise was of powers being transferred directly to the Welsh Senedd from Brussels. What has happened, of course, is absolutely the contrary, with the UK Government stealing Wales’s powers, with no democratic Welsh mandate to do so. Increasingly, we are moving towards devolution in name only, with the Welsh Government now inheriting the sardonic title of a devolved Administration rather than national status.
In Brexit Britannia, there can be only one national Government. After the outcome of the European referendum and the UK Government’s decision to follow an extreme Brexit route, tearing Britain out of the single market, a market needed to be created for Wales, England and Scotland with new frameworks and regulations.
Ar y pwynt am Brexit eithafol, yr unig reswm rydyn ni wedi cael Brexit clir ydy oherwydd bod Aelodau Plaid Cymru a’r blaid Lafur wedi pleidleisio yn erbyn y cytundeb gan fy Nghyfaill gwir anrhydeddus yr Aelod dros Maidenhead (Mrs May). Ydy’r Aelod anrhydeddus yn credu y dylid dangos yr un parch tuag at ganlyniad refferendwm Brexit yng Nghymru, fel mae Aelodau’r blaid Geidwadol yn ei ddangos tuag at y ffaith fod pobl Cymru wedi pleidleisio o blaid y Senedd a’r Cynulliad?
(Translation) On the point about an extreme Brexit, the only reason we had a clear Brexit is because Plaid Cymru and Labour Members voted against the agreement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). Does the hon. Member believe that we should show the same respect for the outcome of the Brexit referendum in Wales as Conservative Members showed for the fact that the people of Wales voted in favour of having the Senedd and the Assembly?
Rwy’n ddiolchgar iawn i’r Bonheddwr anrhydeddus am yr ymyriad yna a’r ymgais i ailysgrifennu hanes. Roedd fy safiad i, ac yn wir Plaid Cymru, yn hollol gryf. Fe fydden ni wedi pleidleisio o blaid Brexit pe byddai polisi Llywodraeth Prydain i aros o fewn fframweithiau economaidd Ewrop. Y rheswm mae hynny’n bwysig, wrth gwrs, yw oherwydd y cysylltiadau economaidd cryf a phwysigrwydd allforion i economi Cymru. Mae hynny’n dod â fi’n ôl at sefyllfa Gogledd Iwerddon. Fe fyddai i’n siarad lot mwy am hynny wrth i’r araith fynd yn ei blaen.
O fewn cyd-destun dyfodol y cyfansoddiad Prydeinig, dim ond dau ddewis oedd ar gael wedi gwneud y penderfyniad i adael y farchnad sengl Ewropeaidd. Y dewis cyntaf oedd ar gael i Lywodraeth Prydain oedd creu marchnad newydd ar sail cyfartaledd rhwng Llywodraethau Cymru, yr Alban a San Steffan—model aml-begynol yn debyg i’r Undeb Ewropeaidd, gyda phob aelod yn gyfartal ar sail strwythurau rhynglywodraethol clir–gyda pherchnogaeth ar y cyd dros y farchnad ac unrhyw gyrff rheoleiddio. Byddai strategaeth o’r fath wedi cryfhau’r Undeb o ran y perthynas ar ynys Prydain Fawr, ond penderfynu ar yr ail drywydd wnaeth Llywodraeth Prydain, sef canoli grym, pŵer a dylanwad yn San Steffan.
Yr athroniaeth yw ail-ddyfeisio ynys Prydain fel gwladwriaeth unedol a throi cefn ar ddegawdau o gynnydd gwleidyddol Cymreig ac Albanaidd. Mae deddfwriaeth ôl-Brexit, megis Deddf Marchnad Fewnol y Deyrnas Unedig 2020, Bil Rheoli Cymorthdaliadau a chynlluniau fel y gronfa ffyniant gyffredin yn dwyn pwerau Cymru. Mae hyd yn oed deddfwriaeth megis y Bil Iechyd a Gofal, y Bil Etholiadau, Bil yr Heddlu, Troseddu, Dedfrydu a’r Llysoedd, y Bil Cymwysterau Proffesiynol a’r Ddeddf Amgylcheddol 2021 i gyd yn tanseilio pwerau Cymru. Yn wir, tybiaf fod Llywodraeth Prydain bellach yn defnyddio unrhyw ddeddfwriaeth i danseilio ac erydu sofraniaeth wleidyddol Cymru.
Cyn Brexit, y confensiwn clir oedd na fyddai’r Llywodraeth Brydeinig yn deddfu mewn maes datganoledig—confensiwn Sewel. Cyn 2018, ble roedd San Steffan yn cydnabod bod y maes yn ddatganoledig, ni phasiwyd unrhyw ddeddfwriaeth gan Lywodraeth Prydain heb ganiatâd Senedd Cymru. Yn ystod y cyfnod yma, byddai gweithredu heb ganiatâd wedi arwain at argyfwng cyfansoddiadol. Bellach, mae Llywodraeth Prydain yn diystyru yn llwyr yr angen i dderbyn cydsyniad cyn ymyrryd mewn meysydd sydd wedi eu datganoli i Gymru a’r Alban.
O ystyried yr holl rethreg am gryfhau’r Undeb, y gwirionedd yw bod cytundeb Brexit Llywodraeth Prydain wedi rhannu’r wladwriaeth Brydeinig yn ddau barth economaidd, gyda chwe sir Gogledd Iwerddon i bob pwrpas yn aros yn y farchnad sengl a’r undeb tollau Ewropeaidd. Tra roedd yr Aelod gwir anrhydeddus dros Maidenhead yn Brif Weinidog, gwrthododd rannu’r wladwriaeth Brydeinig yn economaidd er mwyn cael cytundeb Brexit. Cam cyntaf y Prif Weinidog presennol oedd cytuno i safiad negodi gwreiddiol yr Undeb Ewropeaidd—sef gosod ffin yn y môr Celtaidd.
Ers arwyddo’r cytundeb, wrth gwrs, rhwyfo’n ôl fu strategaeth Llywodraeth Prydain, a dyna pam rydyn ni’n parhau i wynebu’r holl helynt dros brotocol Gogledd Iwerddon. Mae gan Unoliaethwyr Gogledd Iwerddon bob rheswm i feddwl eu bod wedi cael eu bradychu. Mewn dadl ar gryfhau’r Undeb, felly, mae’n bwysig nodi bod Llywodraeth Prydain wedi cyflymu’r broses o ailuno Iwerddon yn sylweddol.
Ond yn ôl i Gymru. Rwy’n tybio fod rhai ar y Meinciau Ceidwadol yn brolio am agwedd ymosodol Llywodraeth Prydain tuag at sefydliadau democrataidd Cymru,. Oond strategaeth tymor byr yw hi. Yn yr hir dymor, yn enwedig wrth edrych ar ddatblygiadau ar ynys Iwerddon ac yn yr Alban, gwanhau’r Undeb yw canlyniad agwedd Llywodraeth Prydain. Yn ddi-os, mae mwyafrif clir yng Nghymru o blaid datganoli, ac wrth i Lywodraeth Prydain danseilio’r setliad presennol, maen nhw’n gorfodi dewis rhwng annibyniaeth a rheolaeth uniongyrchol o Lundain. Mae twf rhyfeddol mewn cefnogaeth i annibyniaeth dros y blynyddoedd diwethaf yn dyst i hynny, yn enwedig ymysg pleidleiswyr y blaid Lafur. Tra bod egni gwleidyddol y blaid Lafur yn cael ei sugno gan drafod modelau fel ‘home rule’ neu‘datganoli radical’ mewn ymgais i roi sgwâr ar gylch, mae pobl Cymru yn canolbwyntio ar y gwir ddewis a fydd yn eu hwynebu yn y dyfodol. Felly, i gloi, megis dechrau mae’r frwydr dros Gymru.
(Translation) I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and the attempt to rewrite history. I was completely clear, as, indeed, was Plaid Cymru, that we would have voted in favour of Brexit if UK Government policy had been to remain within the European economic frameworks. That is important because of the strong economic connections and the importance of exports to the economy of Wales. That brings me to the situation in Northern Ireland, and I will say a lot more about that as I proceed.
In the context of the future of the British constitution, there were only two choices available when leaving the European single market. The first choice available to the UK Government was to create a new, equitable market between the Governments of Wales, Scotland and Westminster —a multi-polar model similar to the European Union, with all members equal on the basis of clear intergovernmental structures, with joint ownership of the market and any regulatory bodies.
I think such a strategy would have strengthened the Union from a Great Britain point of view, but the UK Government chose the second option: to centralise power, force and influence in Westminster. The philosophy is to re-engineer the island of Britain as one state and disregard decades of political progress made in Wales and Scotland. Post-Brexit legislation, such as the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and the Subsidy Control Bill, and schemes such as the shared prosperity fund, are stealing Wales’s powers. Even the Health and Care Bill, the Elections Bill, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the Environment Act 2021 all undermine Wales’s powers. Indeed, I surmise that the UK Government are now using any legislation to undermine and erode Wales’s political sovereignty.
Before Brexit, the clear convention was that the UK Government would not legislate in any devolved area— the Sewel convention. Before 2018, when Westminster acknowledged that an area was devolved, no legislation would be passed by the UK Government without the consent of the Welsh Senedd. During this time, acting without consent would have led to a constitutional crisis. Now the UK Government are wholly disregarding the need to gain consent before intervening in areas that are devolved to Wales and Scotland.
Despite all the rhetoric about strengthening the Union, the truth of the matter is that the UK Government’s Brexit agreement has divided the British state into two economic zones, with the six Northern Irish counties to all intents and purposes remaining inside the European single market and the customs union. While the right hon. Member for Maidenhead was Prime Minister, she refused to split the British state economically just to secure a Brexit agreement. The first move made by the current Prime Minister was to agree to the European Union’s original negotiating position of placing a border in the Celtic sea. Of course, since signing the agreement, the UK Government’s strategy has been to back-pedal, which is why we continue to face such a to-do over the Northern Ireland protocol. Northern Ireland Unionists have every reason to think that they have been betrayed. In a debate on strengthening the Union, therefore, it is important to state that the UK Government have significantly accelerated the process of reunifying Ireland.
Returning to discussing Wales, I imagine that some on the Conservative Benches are gloating about the UK Government’s aggressive attitude towards Wales’s democratic institutions, but it is a short-term strategy. In the long term, particularly as we look towards developments on the island of Ireland and in Scotland, the outcome of the UK Government’s approach is to weaken the Union. Without a doubt, a clear majority in Wales is in favour of devolution, and as the UK Government undermine the current settlement, people have to choose between independence and direct control from London. The incredible increasing support for independence over recent years is testament to that, particularly among Labour voters. While Labour’s political energy is being depleted by discussions about home rule or radical devolution models, in an attempt to square a circle, the people of Wales are focusing on the real choice they face and the choice they face in the future. To conclude, the battle for Wales is merely beginning.
I now call Craig Williams. Craig, keep to four minutes if you can.
It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies—mainly so that I can mention a couple of subjects such as Brexit and perhaps, through your impartial chairmanship, you will not be triggered. It is none the less a great pleasure to take part in this debate and to see you there.
It is also a great pleasure to follow the opening remarks from the Secretary of State and those of several Opposition Members. It is worth reflecting on the fact that since the last Welsh Grand Committee, four years ago, the world has changed a little bit. It has changed in terms of not only our relationship with the European Union, but our dynamic in public discourse and the fact that we have been living through a pandemic; now, arguably, we are at the start of an endemic phase. We move to a different place and there will be different reactions.
What has stabilised during the pandemic crisis, from a constitutional point of view, is that there is no doubt that there are four Governments within the United Kingdom, but clearly the UK Government, throughout this crisis, have had the depth, strength, forward thinking, agility and ability, and not just through the vaccination programme—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Aberavon would like to interrupt from a sedentary position, so be it, but I cannot hear him through his mask, luckily.
In going through the process of thinking about what the UK Government have been able to achieve throughout this crisis, Members may reflect on the fact that nigh on 18 months ago we were fearful of huge unemployment and a huge recession. We now sit in this Chamber reflecting on the labour shortage. We are having this debate in the context of huge pressures in terms of getting people into work, and historic employment. Those are terrific challenges to have. I dare say that if we had had a Welsh Grand Committee two years ago, they would not have been the challenges that those on the Opposition Benches would have been charging us with.
We are also looking at the strength of the Union and at what the new relationship means, now that we have left the European Union. We can also look at the mid-Wales growth deal fund. It was a great pleasure to see the leader of Ceredigion, from Plaid Cymru, and the leader of Powys, an independent conservative, agreeing with the UK Government and the Welsh Government on how great it is to sign the mid-Wales growth deal. It was a pleasure to see the Minister committing significant amounts of money to mid-Wales, which is often a completely forgotten part of Wales. It is hugely overlooked by a very Cardiff-centric Welsh Government. It was a great privilege to watch multiple different parties, colours, and two different Governments—the Welsh Government and the UK Government—get together and deliver a significant investment.
There is also the levelling-up fund, which is the new iteration, the new way of getting what used to be the European funding—well, normally into some revenue-driven job-creation scheme in the valleys that added very little to gross value added over the long term but allowed short-term press releases that we all remember certain Members crowing about. The levelling-up fund is not an attack on devolution at all. I do not know how anyone can call it that when local authorities have carte blanche and are working with their local businesses, their local communities, their county councillors, their community councillors and their third parties to put together bids into a funding pot that is really and truly delivering for the whole United Kingdom.
I took great delight in the wins in Powys, because Powys missed so many times, and mid-Wales missed so many times, any opportunities of getting any structural funds. Now, for the first time ever, we are seeing real opportunities to—I can see, Mr Davies, that you are already indicating that I should probably think about shutting up. I cannot do so before I mention the Montgomery canal, of course. There will be huge regenerative opportunities if Powys County Council comes to the table with us and puts a master plan on the back of that huge public sector injection of cash.
To finish, there are great opportunities for Welsh lamb out there. Randall Parker, one of our biggest abattoirs for Welsh meat, has just been bought by Pilgrim’s UK. That will see a new ramping up of investment and ability. I am extremely excited by the sanitary and phytosanitary changes, and I hope that I finish in a consensual fashion by saying that, of course, those SPS checks would probably have happened had we still been a member of the European Union. However, it is extremely welcome that we have managed it on our own, to deal with our US counterparts. With other trade deals in the Gulf, we will see a regeneration in Welsh lamb around the world. I am excited, my constituents are excited, and businesses and farmers are excited. I will let other Members speak.
Rwy’n falch iawn o gael cyfle i siarad, Mr Davies, a chyfle i siarad yn Gymraeg i ddechrau ac yn Saesneg wedyn.
Mae perthynas ar unrhyw safon, rhwng aelodau’r un tîm, neu gymdeithas, neu ar safon ryngwladol rhwng gwledydd gyda safbwyntiau hollol wahanol, yn dibynnu ar ddadl, ar gonsensws, ar ymgynghori ac ar gyfaddawd.
Roedden ni’n deall wrth gwrs, ar ôl i ni adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd, y byddai pwerau oedd gan yr UE i benderfynu egwyddorion ar sut i wario arian, yn dod yn ôl i’r Deyrnas Unedig. Yn ôl addewid y Llywodraeth Geidwadol,byddai Cymru yn dal i gael yr un swm o arian. Dim o gwbl. Addewid sydd wedi cael ei dorri. Beth ddigwyddodd i “ddim ceiniog yn llai”? Roedd Cymru yn arfer cael 24% o gronfeydd strwythurol yr Undeb Ewropeaidd sy’n dod i Brydain, ond ar ôl datganiad y Canghellor, rydyn ni’n cael dim ond 7%.
Beth sy’n od iawn yw pam mae Llywodraeth Dorïaidd y Deyrnas Unedig wedi penderfynu osgoi siarad a chydweithio gyda Llywodraeth Cymru i benderfynu sut i wario’r arian yma. Mae gan Lywodraeth Cymru flynyddoedd o brofiad o ddelio ag arian Ewropeaidd, o ddatblygu cynlluniau strategol gyda chynghorau lleol i benderfynu blaenoriaethau gyda’n gilydd.
(Translation) Thank you for the opportunity to speak, Mr Davies, and in particular to speak in Welsh to begin and then in English.
Any worthwhile relationship, between team members or in society, or internationally between countries with completely different viewpoints, depends on debate, consensus, consultation and compromise.
We understood that, having left the EU, the EU decision-making powers on how to spend money would pass to the UK. The Tory Government promised that Wales would continue to receive the same amount of money—but not at all. It is a broken promise. What happened to “not a penny less”? Wales used to have 24% of EU structural funds but, after the Chancellor’s announcement, we receive only 7%.
What is strange is why the UK Tory Government have decided to avoid talking to or collaborating with the Welsh Government about how to spend that money. The Welsh Government have years of experience of dealing with the European funding and of developing strategic plans with local authorities to prioritise jointly.
Ydy’r Foneddiges anrhydeddus yn cytuno ein bod ni wedi trafod y ffordd rydyn ni’n mynd i wario’r arian gydag awdurdodau lleol? Ydy hi’n croesawu’r ffaith ein bod ni’n gweithio nawr yn agos iawn gydag awdurdodau lleol ledled Cymru?
(Translation) Does the hon. Lady agree that we have already discussed how we to spend the money with the local authorities? Does she welcome the fact that we now work closely with local authorities across Wales?
Rwy’n meddwl ei fod e’n bwysig iawn ond y ffaith yw y dylai fe fod rhwng cynghorau lleol, Llywodraeth Cymru a Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig. Dydw i ddim yn deall pam mae Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig yn osgoi y bobl yn y canol, Llywodraeth Cymru, achos maen nhw wedi gweithio’n agos iawn gyda chynghorau lleol trwy’r pandemig. Dyna beth sydd wedi digwydd. Mae’r berthynas yn arbennig o dda, nid yn unig gyda chynghorau dan arweinyddiaeth Llafur ond hefyd dan arweinyddiaeth o farn gwleidyddol arall.
Yn ogystal, yn Lloegr doedd rhai cynghorau ddim yn gwybod beth oedd yn digwydd yn eu hardaloedd nhw y noson cyn iddyn nhw fynd i mewn i gyfnod clo—dyna beth ddigwyddodd yn Lloegr. Mae’r contrast yn llawn gyda beth ddigwyddodd yng Nghymru lle mae’r berthynas rhwng y cynghorau a Llywodraeth Cymru yn gryf. Fe ddylai fod yn dîm—Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig, Llywodraeth Cymru a chynghorau lleol.
Does dim sgwrs o gwbl wedi bod rhwng Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig a Llywodraeth Cymru ynglŷn â’r gronfa adfywio cymunedol a’r gronfa codi’r gwastad, er bod yr arian yn mynd i gael ei wario mewn meysydd sydd wedi cael eu datganoli. Dyna’r pwynt. Dylai penderfyniadau ar sut i wario’r cronfeydd yma gael eu gwneud gan Lywodraeth Cymru.
O leiaf gyda newid agwedd oddi wrth Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig, ac ymrwymiad diffuant i ymgynghori ac i gydweithio gyda Llywodraeth Cymru ar gamau nesaf y gronfa codi’r gwastad, fe allem ni gael defnydd llawer mwy effeithiol a gwerth am arian.
Mae dau gwestiwn i’r Ysgrifennydd Gwladol. Beth am sicrhau yr un safon o ariannu y mae Cymru wedi ei dderbyn o’r cronfeydd Ewropeaidd—dim ceiniog yn llai—i drio gwneud iawn am fethiant hanesyddol ei Lywodraeth ef i fuddsoddi’n ddigonol yng Nghymru? Mae siawns nawr gyda fe i wneud hyn. Yn ail, beth am ddechrau’n awr i gydweithio gyda Llywodraeth Cymru o ran cynghorau lleol ar sut i ddefnyddio’r gronfa codi’r gwastad, i adeiladu ar ei phrofiad, i adlewyrchu’n well barn cymunedau ar draws Cymru ac i ddefnyddio’r gronfa yn fwy strategol?
Yn anffodus, rydyn ni wedi gweld yr un peth gan Lywodraeth Dorïaidd y DU gyda’r Ddeddf Marchnad Fewnol y Deyrnas Unedig 2020. Wrth gwrs, rydyn ni i gyd yn moyn hyrwyddo masnach ar draws y Deyrnas Unedig. Byddai wedi bod yn bosib creu strwythur i roi mwy o barch, mwy o werth, mwy o lais i’r gwledydd datganoledig, yn lle mynd yn ôl ar y cytundebau datganoli.
(Translation) It is important, but the reality is that that should be between local authorities, the Welsh Government and the UK Government. I cannot understand why the Tories avoid the people in the middle, the Welsh Government, because the Welsh Government worked closely with local authorities throughout the pandemic. The relationship is excellent, with not just Labour-led councils, but those led by other political parties.
Also, in England some authorities did not know what was happening in their areas the night before they went into lockdown—that is what happened. There is a huge contrast with what happened in Wales, with the strong relationship between the local authorities and the Welsh Government. They should all be a team—the UK Government, the Welsh Government and the local authorities.
There was no conversation at all between the UK Government and the Welsh Government on the community renewal fund and the levelling-up fund, for example, even though the funding will be spent in areas that have been devolved. That is the point. Any decisions on how to spend the money should be made by the Welsh Government.
If there was a change of thinking from the UK Government, with a strong commitment to consult and collaborate with the Welsh Government on the next steps of the levelling-up fund, we could use it in a much more effective way, with value for money.
There are therefore two questions for the Secretary of State. First, how about ensuring the same level of funding as would have been received from European funds—not a penny less—to make amends for is Government’s historical failure to invest adequately in Wales? He now has the opportunity to do that.
Secondly, how about starting to work with the Welsh Government and local authorities on using the levelling-up fund to build on their experience and better reflect the views of communities across Wales, using the formula more strategically? Unfortunately, we have seen the same thing from the UK Tory Government with the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. We all want to promote commerce across the UK. It would have been possible to create a structure to give more respect, more value, and more voice to the devolved countries, rather than reneging on the devolution agreement.
It may seem ironic, but in order to create a stronger Union we need a clearer, more firmly embedded devolution settlement that cannot easily be torn up at the whim of Government. Much has been written about this, with ideas set out by the Welsh Labour Government, starting with “Reforming our Union”. Most importantly, it is a matter of having respect between the UK Government and the devolved Governments.
The paper proposed that the UK Government should not normally seek to legislate in areas that are devolved to the Welsh Government without the Welsh Government’s consent. That concept of “not normally” should be entrenched and codified by proper definition. It also references the importance of developing
“common frameworks, shared delivery mechanisms and joint governance arrangements…developed on a collaborative and consensual basis.”
Of course, where there are reserved matters with significant impact on Wales, there should be the opportunity for proper consultation, as indeed there should be with trade negotiations. Instead, we have seen the absolutely appalling betrayal of Welsh farmers in the Australia deal.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. It appears to me that she agrees with much of what I was trying to say in my contribution—on the need for collaboration and co-operation between the two Administrations and respecting the devolved competences. How does she feel about the Welsh Government setting up a commission into the constitution of the United Kingdom? Does she not believe that that is a breach of the constitutional settlement?
The point is that, in any constitutional debate, we would want to have views from all levels. The issue is how Wales relates to the United Kingdom, and I think that is a very valid point for the Welsh Government to have a view on. It is certainly something that we need to explore further. As I said, it is part of the discussion that has already been started in previous documents from the Welsh Government. Let us try to get that relationship right, so that we do not see the devolution settlement being rolled back.
Returning to the Australia deal, how on Earth can Welsh farmers possibly compete with the huge farms in Australia, with their lower environmental standards, which we certainly do not want to go down to? I feel that, with the trade deals, there is a real danger that the Government will just open doors to imports that flood the country and leave our farming and industrial base in a very difficult position.
We are already seeing that with steel, where the Government have been very slow and selective in renewing trade remedies—namely limits—on the dumping of Chinese steel. At the same time, they have been slow to get the US to lift tariffs, whereas the EU has managed to get steel tariffs lifted and will obviously have a competitive advantage over us now.
We could discuss the technical detail of how these mechanisms should work, but it is really the feeling—it is about preserving the Union. We want to feel secure and not have our Government threatened. We want to feel respected and valued by the UK Government. Wales has contributed a huge amount to the UK over the years. We have fuelled the UK with our Welsh coal, helped to fill the coffers and provided a strong industrial base, and we continue to do so. That is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent mentioned this morning, the Government now should honour the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee report and look again at the 50:50 split of the mineworkers pension fund. They should split it more favourably for the pensioners who have contributed so much to that fund, especially given that the BEIS report indicates that the 50:50 split for the privatisation fund was an arbitrary decision.
Moving on, we have innovation in our industries. We have world-leading research in our universities. We also have generosity—from helping out in the pandemic to very recently with the 10 million tests. We very much recognise the value of working collaboratively across the UK. We have huge resources to share across the UK. There is the potential for wind, wave, tidal and—do not laugh—solar energy, but we need the UK Government to strengthen the grid to ensure that our vast energy resources can get to the centres of population when needed.
I want to talk about the railways. You know as well as I do, Mr Davies, that we definitely need better investment in the railways, particularly in electrification. It is not just about speed. There are environmental reasons, such as combating climate change and air pollution, and we need to deal with noise. It is important that we feel very proud to be Welsh, proud to be British and also proud of our local communities. We need to ensure that devolution means doing the right thing at the right level, throughout the United Kingdom.
We need to reduce speech times to about four minutes, which is about half of the previous length. Over to you, Virginia Crosbie.
Prynhawn da—good afternoon. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.
Mae’n fraint gen i siarad yn y ddadl hon. Mae’n fraint gen i fod yn Aelod Seneddol dros Ynys Môn. Dwi’n falch o ddysgu Cymraeg, hybu’r iaith Gymraeg ac annog pobl i ddefnyddio’r Gymraeg.
(Translation) It is a privilege to speak in this debate. It is a privilege to be the Member of Parliament for Ynys Môn. I am proud to be a Welsh learner, to promote the Welsh language and to encourage people to use it.
I would like to say how proud I am to be the Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Wales Office at the first Welsh Grand Committee since 2018. I am thankful for the opportunity to speak. I am proud to serve my amazing constituency of Ynys Môn. Our unique island community plays a pivotal role in the Union, with the port of Holyhead at the end of the A55 expressway transporting freight and passengers between England, Wales and Ireland.
You might be expecting me to talk about Wylfa Newydd, Mr Davies. I was delighted that the Secretary of State said it is potentially one of the best nuclear sites in the world. You may also have expected me to talk about my campaign for Anglesey to be Wales’ first freeport. However, today I want to speak about a really local issue that has demonstrated why being part of a strong United Kingdom is so important to my constituents. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is helping local people who are facing challenging situations. Like others in this place, my team and I deal with hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters every single week. They come from residents, businesses, charities and community groups across Anglesey that need help. Their issues range far and wide.
In recent months, I noticed an increase in people concerned about long ambulance waiting times. A survey I carried out highlighted significant problems. I received harrowing descriptions of those in pain, waiting hours for an ambulance. I was alarmed to find that 93% of my constituents were worried that they would not be able to get an ambulance if they needed one urgently on the island. I must stress that local frustrations are in no way a reflection of the professionalism of our ambulance staff. I know that our local crews work exceptionally hard and have just been through two extraordinary, stressful years. I wanted to understand what was at the root of the problem.
I spoke to Jason Killens, the head of the Welsh Ambulance Service, not long before Christmas. He explained that the service was under extreme pressure. Covid measures in hospitals meant delays getting ambulance patients into wards, and staff sickness was running at twice the normal level due to covid and stress. There had been a 25% increase in 999 calls. However, Jason told me that the one thing that was making a huge and tangible improvement to response times was the help that the Welsh Ambulance Service had been getting from MACA—the military aid to civil authorities—since October 2021. At the time I spoke to him, 129 military personnel had been deployed to help. As a result, the service had taken 19 minutes off its longest response time. Jason said that more help is desperately needed, so I wrote to the Ministry of Defence to make his case.
Recently, the Minister for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey), wrote to me to confirm that an additional 184 personnel had now been deployed. The total number of armed forces personnel now supporting the Welsh Ambulance Service is 313. I cannot tell you how many of those are working in my constituency, because our local health authority, Betsi Cadwaladr, straddles the whole of north Wales. What I can tell you is that I have already seen a decrease in my mailbox.
I would like to thank the military personnel who are supporting our ambulance service at this critical time. I want them to know, on behalf of my constituents, that we are grateful for their intervention and for the support of the Union. It is a team effort.
The world has certainly changed since the previous Grand Committee debate in February 2018. If nothing else, we have realised that while we are all from different backgrounds and live in different circumstances, we ultimately face the same potential risks and difficulties when it comes to our health.
Health, and in particular women’s health, is something I have a special interest in. Over the last nine months, I have lived and breathed the menopause. I have probably lived and breathed it a lot longer than that, but publicly, it has been the last nine months. I am very proud to stand up for the 51% of the population who will eventually directly experience this stage of life, and to work with colleagues across the House in a bid to change the narrative. As I have said time and again, there should be no politics in women’s health.
When I first published my private Member’s Bill, the Menopause (Support and Services) Bill, ahead of its Second Reading last October, I imagine there was some confusion over its key ask, which was for the cost of NHS hormone replacement therapy prescription charges in England to be slashed. I count my blessings every day for the good fortune to have been born in Wales—don’t we all? We are so lucky in Wales, as are those living in Scotland and Northern Ireland, because we do not pay for prescriptions, and I wanted to level the playing field for women across the UK trying to access HRT treatment. However, that is only one part of a much bigger picture.
The other aim of my Bill was to totally transform menopause support and services for women across the UK: to improve diagnosis, treatment and pathways; to ensure that women have the understanding and support of their doctors, families, friends and employers; and to develop our school curriculum so that the next generation of girls and boys are better educated and do not face the same barriers as those of us who came before. I was very pleased when the Government took it seriously and introduced a taskforce to look at a wide range of issues and take an holistic approach to menopause care.
I am also delighted with the reaction and response from the Welsh Government. I have lost count of the number of emails, phone calls and Teams and Zoom meetings I have had since we put the menopause high up on the political agenda, but two of the first people I spoke to were very well-respected colleagues and friends in the Welsh Government—Eluned Morgan, the Minister for Health and Social Services, and Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language. Both made an instant commitment to ensure that the Welsh Government are on board and make the necessary changes in healthcare and education so that women in Wales are able to access the support and services they need when it comes to menopause care.
I have always believed that working together is how we achieve great things, whether that is cross-party in this place or by uniting with devolved Governments. Nothing that I have accomplished has happened without doing that—be that the children’s funeral fund, changes in gambling legislation or menopause care. We are better and stronger together and we make the greatest impact by working alongside those around us. The people we represent elect us to work in their best interests, to lead by example and to make the right decisions for the greater good, and this is when we earn their respect. Unfortunately, not all politicians deserve respect. I would respectfully say that we should always put people before party, regardless of the kind of party.
Our combined efforts on the menopause have earned us respect. I am thrilled that the new taskforce is aiming to revolutionise menopause care right across the UK and to keep women wonderful, which I know that all hon. Members agree with. I am delighted that I get to work alongside some fantastic Welsh Government colleagues who will ensure that all our constituents are better served and supported to access the care and services they need. Our Union is strengthened by us—by our commitment to work together and our ambition to make a difference and achieve common goals. I hope it will not be another four years before we attend the next Welsh Grand Committee. While we may not always have this arena, I know that we all have the best interests of Wales at heart.