Welsh Affairs

– in the House of Commons am 3:17 pm ar 29 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 3:17, 29 Chwefror 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Welsh affairs.

It is good to see you back in the Chair for the annual debate on Welsh affairs, Mr Deputy Speaker. We call it the St David’s day debate, although this year it falls just prior to St David’s day. I wish all Members a very happy St David’s day for tomorrow—Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus.

Let me start my remarks, however, on a slightly discordant note. It is a bit disappointing that yet again the debate on Welsh affairs, the annual St David’s day debate, is being squeezed in the timetable. Two very important debates were scheduled for this afternoon and anybody present in the Chamber for the previous debate will have heard the serious remarks and speeches made in it, but may I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to give us some guidance during the course of the debate on how we can get back to a situation where we protect the time for Welsh Members to have their one day a year to raise matters of importance for their constituents? There is a feeling among many of us that the smaller nations of the United Kingdom are not being served in this institution at the moment.

Putting that aside, it is good to have this debate again and, as the Member of Parliament for Preseli Pembrokeshire, I am extremely honoured to represent the city of St Davids. We have argued before during these debates about whether David was born in Ceredigion or in Pembrokeshire, but the fundamental point for those of us from Pembrokeshire is that this 6th century monk who founded the bishopric is hugely importance to us culturally, socially and economically in continuing to attract visitors from all over the country and indeed the world to the city of St Davids.

A few weeks ago I was honoured to attend the cathedral for the enthronement ceremony of the 130th bishop of St Davids, Bishop Dorrien, who represents just the latest in a continuous line of bishops going all the way back into the mists of the dark ages to the time of David himself. That is remarkable and marks out our corner of west Wales as somewhere very special indeed. I am sure that all Members who represent Wales in the House, particularly those with constituencies in the diocese, will wish Bishop Dorrien all the best.

It is a massive privilege for me to have been Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee in this Parliament. Given that this will be the last St David’s day debate of this Parliament, I put on record my huge thanks to my fellow members on the Committee, who are a joy to work with. I learn so much from them, and I thank them for the hard work they have put in to the Committee’s work over the past four years. I also thank the Clerk of the Committee, Alison Groves, and the previous Clerks we have had, starting with Adam Evans, Anwen Rees and Sarah Ioannou, all of whom are incredibly intelligent and diligent and have made my job as Chairman so much easier.

I was conscious, when I became Chairman of the Committee, that I was following in massive footsteps—the shoes no less of the current Secretary of State for Wales, who was not only an outstanding Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, but a popular one. I knew I had big shoes to fill, but I started off with three objectives that I outlined to the Clerks team when I became Chair. Those were to see whether as a Committee we could: show relevance; improve our visibility; and, through that, improve our impact as a Committee not only on Government decisions, but more broadly on national life in Wales. In how we have gone about our work as a Committee over the past four years, we have tried to stay true to that. Although those things are difficult to measure, we feel we have put a lot of worthwhile effort into the Committee, and many of the inquiries we have investigated have borne fruit.

We have looked at some big picture issues, such as the future of broadcasting in Wales. At a time of enormous change in the global broadcasting industry, we have looked at the particular risks for Welsh public service broadcasters, which are the bedrock of Welsh broadcasting success, and the role of Welsh language broadcasting in our national life. We hope that the Government continue to take note of the recommendations we made on that subject.

We have also looked at some specific, sometimes quite technical issues, such as grid capacity in Wales. That was a technical issue for us to grapple with, but it is of such importance for unlocking all the opportunities and potential for renewable energy in Wales and for ensuring that our constituents see the benefit from the energy revolution through such things as the rolling out of electric vehicles and charging points. We have also tried to be reactive as and when new information and data have come to light on issues of public importance. We have tried to respond quickly.

Water quality and the scandal of sewage pollution in Wales is one issue that we have focused on. We have held not just one, but two sessions with the bosses of the water companies in Wales, Natural Resources Wales and Ofwat. We held the second session because we were not satisfied with some of the answers we got in the first, and because of new information that came to light that appeared to suggest that Welsh Water knew it was pumping illegally large volumes of sewage into waters in Wales.

One of my priorities in leading the Committee has been to try to get the Committee out and about in Wales. Some of the most meaningful meetings we have had as a Committee have not necessarily been with people on the parliamentary estate or upstairs in a Committee Room, but in Wales. I think, for example, of meeting A-level students at Gower College and talking to them about their aspirations, how they consume media, and in particular the role of social media in their lives. So little of what they consume through these new digital channels has any Welsh-specific content and we discussed the implications that might have for the future.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Llafur, Dwyrain Abertawe

Purely for the record, and as a fellow of Gower College Swansea, can I ask the right hon. Gentleman to include the full title for Hansard?

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Gower College Swansea—the hon. Lady has made her point with her usual force and eloquence.

I think as well of the meeting we had with apprentices at the magnificent Airbus factory in Broughton. The Airbus apprenticeship scheme must be the most impressive, and probably the most competitively applied for apprenticeship, anywhere in the country. What we saw there was really impressive.

I also think about the meeting we had a few weeks ago at His Majesty’s Prison Cardiff, where we spent the morning, which finished up with a sit down session with a group of prisoners who opened up to us in the most remarkable way. They talked about their upbringing, struggles with relationships and addictions, past failures and mistakes, and their hopes for the future. What really struck a chord with me was how they talked about feeling respected by the staff at the prison and feeling that they could give respect back. There was hardly a dry eye in the room at the end of that session, which was probably the most powerful and moving thing I have done as a Member of Parliament in the past 18 years.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

The right hon. Member is giving a really interesting introduction. I am glad that he mentioned the work done by prison staff, because their work is so critical. He must agree that we have an anomaly in the justice system in Wales whereby so many of the critical support services for prisoners coming out of prison are run by the Welsh Government. That situation is not reflected anywhere else in the England and Wales legal system, and, sooner or later, that must come to a close, because it is insufficient.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Order. Before Mr Crabb comes back in with a response, I will let people know that there will be an unofficial five-minute limit. I also very much take on board what Mr Crabb had to say about ensuring a decent amount of time to discuss Welsh affairs in future.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I do not agree with the right hon. Lady. We have been taking evidence on exactly that issue and we have come across extremely professional people working in those public services and the prisons to ensure that the jagged edge of devolution, if you like, does not create disadvantages for Welsh prisoners. We will continue to look at that during our current inquiry.

Let me move on—briskly, if I can. I have been very encouraged by the engagement we have had with UK Ministers. I thank the Secretary of State and his predecessors for the 10 public evidence sessions they have had with us over the last four years. It is also worth noting that we have had the First Minister of Wales in front of us four times, and we have had 10 other sessions with other Welsh Government Ministers. I believe that that level of engagement with the Welsh Government is unprecedented, and I hope it will continue, whoever leads the Welsh Affairs Committee in the next Parliament.

The Committee has also been able to question the chief executives of some of the devolved bodies, including: Transport for Wales over deterioration in rail performance in Wales; the chief executive of Natural Resources Wales about water quality; and, as we did yesterday, the chief executive of the Development Bank of Wales, which is of course responsible to the Welsh Government.

I have also tried to change how the Committee works as a team. One thing I have done is exploit the Standing Orders that allow guesting. I am pleased that we have had Welsh Members of Parliament who are not members of the Committee plugging in and taking part in individual inquiries where they have a specific interest. Notably, Kevin Brennan has done so for the broadcasting inquiry and my hon. Friend Sarah Atherton has done so when we have been looking at the defence industry in Wales. I have also sought to involve some of the Chairs of the Senedd Committees. I was pleased that Delyth Jewell joined us for the broadcasting inquiry, and Llyr Gruffydd joined us when we were questioning the chief executive of Transport for Wales.

We will have a challenge in the next Parliament, as we will have significantly fewer Members of Parliament from Wales, which—I say this with great sadness—will inevitably mean a weaker Welsh voice in this institution. Both in absolute and relative terms, Welsh representation will be smaller in the next Parliament. In terms of ensuring that the Welsh Affairs Committee can continue to build on the good work we have done—I have a great interest in this—I think we will have to change how the Committee works. The Welsh Grand Committee is effectively moribund, and nobody is mourning its slow death, but the Welsh Affairs Committee has proved its worth.

I would like to us to move to a situation where all Welsh Back Benchers have the opportunity to participate in different inquiries, depending on their interests and availability. I have written to the Leader of the House and the Chair of the Liaison Committee about that issue. A lot more work is to be done to get progress on that. I would like Members who hope to be back in the next Parliament to bear that in mind as we think about how to ensure that Welsh representatives make their presence count here at Westminster.

My final note is about Senedd reform, because that is the other side of the democratic coin in Wales. The Welsh Government plan to expand the Senedd quite significantly, with 36 additional Members, and different figures have been put on the cost. My big concern is about how they intend to elect those Members. I have questioned the First Minister about the fact that there will be multiple Members for the same constituency. The First Minister did not think it presented such a problem, and suggested that one of the strengths of the new system will be that someone who might want to take an issue to a Conservative Member of the Senedd could do that, or they could take it to Plaid Cymru Member, because that might reflect their political preference. That is a fundamental shift from how we go about our business as Members of Parliament in our constituencies. I do not care whether someone voted, how they voted, or whether they put up a sign for me or did everything they could to get me out of office. I will represent that person to the very best of my ability.

I fear that with a “plurality of representation”—to use the First Minister’s words—in these new supersized constituencies, we will end up with a fuzzier, more diluted sense of democracy in Wales at a time when both in Westminster and in Cardiff we need Welsh politicians to be much more effective and show value to all our constituents and get the change that we want in Wales, as it desperately needs. I will bring my remarks to a close here, and I look forward to hearing what other Members have to say.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:31, 29 Chwefror 2024

I thank Stephen Crabb for securing this debate—one that I look forward to every year. Even though this year we are here off the back of three defeats so far in the men’s Six Nations, the potential of a young squad under the leadership of Warren Gatland is very exciting. My glass continues to be half full. I am also looking forward to watching the women’s Six Nations and to seeing them run out on to the Principality pitch.

Our national joy of rugby must have a mention, but I spoke about rugby in the last two debates so I will not make hon. Members suffer it again. Instead, I will sing the praises of my wonderful constituency. I make no apologies about stating that I represent the most beautiful constituency in Wales. [Hon. Members: “No!”] I know that other Members may argue for their patches, but that only goes to show that we are very lucky to call Wales home.

As hon. Members all know, the Gower peninsula was the first designated area of outstanding natural beauty, not just in Wales but across the whole of the UK. Over the recess I paid a visit to The View Rhossili, an aptly named hospitality business overlooking the remarkable Rhossili bay, to discuss the issues of hospitality in Wales, especially VAT. Rhossili bay is often included in lists of the best beaches in the world. There is no question for me that it belongs with the likes of Bondi and Venice beaches. My favourite walk is the one to Worms Head. It is only four miles from the car park, but it is an amazing walk with every type of terrain. I pay tribute to the Coastwatch volunteers at the end, as Princess Anne did only a few weeks ago in the constituency. The work of the volunteers there to keep our people safe when walking out to the Worm is second to none.

Other parts of Gower are renowned for other reasons. Last week I paid a visit to Selwyn’s Seafoods, which harvests cockles and laverbread collected from Penclawdd. The cockle industry has been part of the life of Penclawdd since at least the Roman period, with cockles sourced there sold worldwide. History is so important for the Gower families, who have travelled widely to sell their cockles. It really warms the cockles of your heart, to coin a phrase.

I would like to take a moment or two to recognise the boundary changes, which the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire mentioned. They will affect me: should I be successful at the next election, I would lose my constituents in Clydach. I would like to thank them for their commitment to me and for their support. In October last year, I was lucky enough to be at the opening of the restored Clydach lock. I pay tribute to the work of the Canal & River Trust and especially to Councillor Gordon Walker, who handed me an axe with which to open the lock. No damage done, Members will be pleased to know, but it was one of the highlights of my seven years in this place.

The Gower constituency may be losing Clydach, but it will gain Cockett, Dunvant and the rest of Killay, Mayals, and the newer ward of Waunarlwydd, so I thought I might include a few fun facts. I will have to cut them short, but the Cockett ward includes Fforestfach, which used to be home of not one but two greyhound racing stadiums. On Dunvant and Killay, Dunvant is most famous as the home of the Dunvant male voice choir, the oldest continuously singing choir in Wales, founded in 1895. After campaigning for years, the Mayals ward is now home to Mumbles Skatepark, a fantastic addition to the Mumbles seafront. Finally, Waunarlwydd—or “one eyelid” to the locals—is a ward that split out of Cockett. I had the pleasure of playing women’s rugby there for a little bit and I have many, many good friends as a result—I had to get rugby in one more time.

It is a testing time in Wales at the moment, and Tata Steel jobs are having an impact on people in my constituency, but I am always there to support them. It is also a testing time in agricultural communities across Europe, not just in Wales: this is not a singular particular issue. We have to work together cross-party and with our farming communities, and encourage all constituents who want to make their voice heard to respond to the consultation with the Welsh Government before it closes on 7 March.

I look forward to hearing the rest of today’s speeches. I speak better French and Italian than I do Welsh, but I will dust off my famous phrase and say, “Dydd gŵyl Dewi hapus, pawb.”

Photo of David Jones David Jones Ceidwadwyr, Gorllewin Clwyd 3:37, 29 Chwefror 2024

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb on securing the debate and mildly support his criticism of its attenuated nature; it is really not acceptable.

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of hosting the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my right hon. Friend Michael Gove, as he visited the town of Ruthin in my constituency. Ruthin is—I apologise to Tonia Antoniazzi—arguably the finest, most beautiful small town in the whole of Wales. It is benefiting from a levelling-up award of some £11 million. The Secretary of State was very impressed with the levelling-up proposals for Ruthin and he received a warm welcome.

That was in contrast with what happened two days previously, also in my constituency, when the Welsh Government’s First Minister decided to cancel a visit to Colwyn Bay, having received a warm welcome of a rather different nature from farmers in Rhyl the previous day. The farmers were protesting about the Welsh Government’s sustainable farming scheme, which they consider detrimental to their interests. I fully share their view. The Welsh Government’s proposals, which as we have heard are currently subject to a consultation, would require farmers to set aside 10% of their land for tree planting and another 10% for wildlife habitats to qualify for subsidy payments. The Welsh Government say that the aim of the scheme is

“to secure food production systems, keep farmers farming the land, safeguard the environment, and address the urgent call of the climate and nature emergency.”

It is hard to see how reducing the productive land available to each farmer by 20% will either “safeguard food production systems” or “keep farmers farming the land”, and it is impossible to see how any measures introduced by the Welsh Government, in almost any context, will make any appreciable difference to the climate emergency.

The Welsh Government’s plans, quite simply, will damage agriculture in Wales, and that is not just my view. It was also the conclusion of the Welsh Government’s own impact assessment, which predicted that the policies would result in

“a 10.8% reduction in Welsh livestock numbers;
an 11% cut in labour on Welsh farms;
and a £125.3 million hit to output from the sector and a loss of £199 million to farm business incomes.”

Given that their own impact assessment has predicted such dreadful consequences, it is almost impossible to understand why the Welsh Government think it is a good idea to plough on, so to speak, with what is clearly a catastrophic policy.

There is no doubt that climate change is a reality, which needs to be addressed and, indeed, is being addressed very effectively by the Westminster Government. However, when deciding whether the Welsh Government’s proposals are sensible or proportionate, we should take into account the fact that Welsh greenhouse gas emissions are already very low indeed. In 2021, the United Kingdom contributed only 0.77% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Of those emissions, Wales was responsible for just 7.5%, and the Welsh agricultural sector was responsible for only 15% of those Welsh emissions. Welsh agricultural greenhouse gas emissions therefore constitute just 0.008866% of the global total. Nigel Lawson famously observed that to govern is to choose. It is clear that the Welsh Government have deliberately chosen to penalise Welsh agriculture, damage Welsh farming incomes and decimate the ranks of those employed in the rural economy in order to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that will, in global terms, be wholly insignificant.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

May I suggest, very respectfully, that rather than winding up the rhetoric, the right hon. Gentleman should encourage his constituents to respond to the consultation? There is still a whole week to go.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Ceidwadwyr, Gorllewin Clwyd

I can assure the hon. Lady that my constituents have responded to the consultation, both on paper and physically. Several of them were in Cardiff yesterday, objecting to this ludicrous proposal.

If large numbers of Welsh farmers are forced off their land, which the Welsh Government’s own impact assessment predicts that they will be, the consequence will be increased rural depopulation. Welsh culture will be undermined, the Welsh language weakened, and it will be another nail in the coffin of the Welsh rural way of life—but that, it would appear, is entirely acceptable to the Welsh Government, provided that it results in a pitifully small reduction in emissions.

Of course, it is not just the farming community that is being damaged by the disproportionate pursuit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing emissions was used to justify the ludicrous 20 mph speed limit that now prevails across built-up areas in Wales—a measure so hated that nearly 470,000 people have signed a petition calling for it to be scrapped. The same justification was given for last year’s decision to abandon all major road- building projects in Wales, including the desperately-needed third Menai crossing.

When he announced the policy, the Welsh Government’s Deputy Minister For Climate Change—yes, they apparently have a Deputy Minister as well as a Minister—acknowledged that

“None of this is easy.”

He was quite right in that respect. It is not easy for farmers, for commuters, for business people or for families. Livelihoods are being put at risk and lives are being made miserable by a Welsh Government who are putting dogma ahead of common sense. Let me repeat that to govern is to choose. The Welsh Government could, and should, make a new choice. They should recognise that they are the Administration of a relatively small, lightly populated part of the United Kingdom, and that they should be serving its specific needs and addressing its priorities in a proportionate manner. Wales needs better health care, better schools, better roads, a better economy and a better quality of life, and those needs are not well served by the dead hand of climate change fanaticism.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 3:44, 29 Chwefror 2024

It is a huge pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate Stephen Crabb on securing it. I have to say to my hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi that we have the best views in Wales—she cannot deny that.

I have to confine my remarks to two topics so that there is time for other colleagues to come in, and I would like to talk first about railways. Wales accounts for around 11% of the route length of the rail network in England and Wales, but has had only 1.6% of rail enhancement spending in the last decade. We in south-west Wales have a vital railway link from London to the ports of Pembrokeshire, where ferries provide a link to Ireland, but we desperately need investment in the line.

We have had the fiasco of the stop-start on electrification. When Labour left power in 2010, we had plans to electrify the line all the way from London to Swansea. The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition Government cancelled the section from Cardiff to Swansea, then reinstated it after campaigning from MPs—only to cancel it again. When Simon Hart was Secretary of State for Wales, he stood at the Dispatch Box and claimed that it was not worth doing because the nature of the track meant that there would not be any significant improvement in speed, so the journey time would not be any shorter. That completely misses the point, because electrification of the lines is vital for other reasons.

The first reason is tackling climate change, as using electricity from renewable sources means that we can make a significant contribution to cutting emissions. The second reason is pollution; it is much better to have nice, clean electric trains, rather than the diesel fumes that are currently pumped out into our stations and urban areas. The third reason is noise. In Central Square in Cardiff, the noise and pollution coming from the diesel trains in the station is dreadful, and it is certainly not improving our city centre environment.

Then we come to the state of the railway. Time after time, colleagues and I find ourselves delayed on our journeys to and from London, and all too often it seems to be because of a basic failure of infrastructure. The failure of signalling systems means that some lines are blocked. There is points failure, damage to overhead electrical wires and defective track, with delays and cancellations between London Paddington and Reading. Often we are told that there is congestion through the Slough and Reading areas. There simply does not appear to be the capacity to carry the traffic, yet this is a major railway line linking south and west Wales to London. It provides an international route to Ireland, yet the problems are constant. It is an embarrassment that people coming to our capital city of Cardiff for important events are delayed, and the problem is that it is not an occasional occurrence but a regular problem. I find it easier to count the times that the train is on time than those when it is delayed.

If the issue is not technical problems, it is flooding in the Swindon area when there is heavy rain, as happened only 10 days ago. That results in a massive detour around Bath, with people packed like sardines on the train. We are told that these storm events are likely to become the norm and not the exception, so solutions should be found and improvements made. I urge the Secretary of State for Wales to lobby the Secretary of State for Transport for the badly needed improvements to the line. The connectivity is vital, and we want people to enjoy coming to Wales—whether for pleasure or business.

Coming further west, yes, we have seen improvements to the Loughor bridge, but we need a real commitment from the Government to invest in and upgrade the railway line all the way through Llanelli and Carmarthen to Pembrokeshire. We need pressure from the Government to ensure that Network Rail maintains its assets to the highest standards, not least to minimise flooding in areas along the coast from Llanelli to Carmarthen, through Ferryside.

I turn to energy. We in the Labour party are absolutely committed to making Wales and the UK a renewable energy superpower. Indeed, the Welsh Labour Government have already facilitated significant investment in wind energy and a range of marine technologies. We all understand that that is massively needed in order to slash people’s electricity bills, power the transport of the future and cut our emissions, as well as to give us energy security so that we are not dependent on foreign despots. We have such potential for renewable energy in Wales. We have continued to develop wind energy, whereas the Tories have banned it in England.

In south-west Wales, we have potential not only for onshore wind, but for offshore wind and floating offshore wind. Floating offshore wind can be deployed further out to sea, in deeper waters, where the wind is stronger and more electricity can be produced. We also have ports such as Milford Haven and Port Talbot, which can be used both in the construction phase and in the maintenance of offshore floating wind, but we face two significant dangers: first, that investors do not come to that part of Wales at all; and, secondly, that we do not maximise the opportunities for a local supply chain.

As colleagues and I have previously said, we had a calamitous result in last year’s bidding process when not a single company made a bid because the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero was either too inept or too stubborn to heed the industry’s warnings about needing to adjust the strike price to take account of the surge in inflation. Although we had no bidders for floating offshore wind, the Irish worked with the industry and had a very successful bidding process.

Then there was the complacency of the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, Graham Stuart, who effectively just said, “There’s next time.” That is a whole year in which other countries will be stealing a march on us. This year, I ask the Secretary of State to work with Government colleagues to ensure that we get the very best, including the scale of investment we need in floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea. We need to have a number of different players taking part in the process.

The UK Government need to be aware of the stiff competition we face from other countries around the world. The investment in our ports and infrastructure has to be really attractive, as business wants clear direction, certainty and incentives from the Government. When I look around and see the investment in the United States due to the Inflation Reduction Act, when I see similar initiatives across Europe and when I see how countries such as Oman—countries that have hitherto been dependent on oil—are now investing massively in renewables and clean steel, the UK has to do more to develop a competitive edge. Ministers need to be cognisant that the problem for our ports is that a huge investment has to be made up front before they see any returns.

The other great danger is that of not maximising the supply chain opportunities. We in Llanelli have a strong engineering and manufacturing tradition, and the development of offshore wind should open up supply chain opportunities, but for this we need a very clear commitment and consistency from Government on the size and the timescale for the development of floating offshore wind. We need realistic support for upgrading our ports, a detailed analysis of the factors that will help or hinder the development of the supply chain industries in Wales, and a proper strategy and understanding of what will make it attractive to develop such supply chains in Llanelli, Port Talbot and the surrounding areas, rather than importing components from abroad. The tragic irony is that, just as we have a tremendous opportunity with the development of offshore wind, we could see the end of steel production at the blast furnaces in Port Talbot while the new electric arc furnace is still not up and running, nor is the quality of its product proven for the uses we may require.

Another essential area of UK Government responsibility is upgrading the national grid to provide the connections and transmission to get the electricity generated to the areas where it is needed. I know that the Welsh Government’s Climate Change Minister, Julie James MS, has been raising this matter.

The Crown Estate’s Celtic sea blueprint, published this month, gives a lot of detail on the components that will be needed for floating offshore wind, the port infra- structure required and the shipping needed. The report acknowledges the value of Celsa in Cardiff as the UK’s primary rebar supplier, but it also refers to other steelmakers. The worry is that the capacity will not be there. The report also identifies a need to grow port capacity in the region, and to use it effectively.

I stress that we need a joined-up effort from the Government, particularly from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and the Department for Business and Trade, to ensure that we get the maximum benefit from this fantastic opportunity.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Ceidwadwyr, Ynys Môn 3:53, 29 Chwefror 2024

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for supporting this important debate, and I thank the excellent Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb. We have heard some fantastic speeches across a broad spectrum.

Some of the oldest churches on my island constituency of Ynys Môn are to be found on the coast, at places like Llaneilian, St Seiriol, St Padrig and St Cwyfan, otherwise known as the “church in the sea”, by Aberffraw—it is arguably one of the most beautiful spots in Wales. The early Christian communities settled there because the missionaries who carried the gospel to Ynys Môn arrived by sea and built their simple churches where they landed.

Much like Dewi Sant, who we celebrate tomorrow, these missionaries left an indelible mark on Ynys Môn and the whole of Wales. Many of our place names stem from the age of the saints. The many villages whose name begins with “Llan”—Llanfaethlu, Llanfachraeth, Llanddeusant, Llanbedrgoch and so many more—give us a clue to their origin. The ancient Welsh word “llan” means a clearing in the trees where a church was built.

Some 1,500 years of the Christian church’s existence in Wales has left a positive mark on language and culture, on history and geography, and on the values of the people, for which we have Dewi Sant and the many other missionaries of the Celtic age to thank. What many do not realise, however, is that we have the Christian faith and a British monarch to thank for the survival of our Welsh language. In 1588, Queen Elizabeth I, who spoke Welsh, among other languages, and was descended from the Tudors of Ynys Môn, commanded that the Bible be translated into Welsh. That translated Bible gave us the endearing story of Mary Jones, whose Christian faith was so important that she saved for five years and walked 26 miles just to purchase a Bible in her native tongue. In the 18th century, it was the same Welsh Bible that clerics such as Griffith Jones from Llanddowror used to provide Welsh literacy skills to children and adults alike, long before the state had even contemplated building schools. Thus, the Bible became a key tool to teach literacy, as well as religion.

The Welsh language is spoken by nearly 60% of the population of Ynys Môn and for many it is their first language. It is the language in which most council and public sector meetings are conducted, and the language we hear spoken in the streets and shops of Amlwch, Llangefni and Caergybi/Holyhead. It is important to me and my constituents that we preserve our language and culture, which is why I use specially-commissioned bilingual headed paper to write to my constituents. It is also why I have a Welsh website as well as an English one, and why I produce bilingual newsletters and use excellent local translators Alun Gruffydd, Ceri Hughes and the team at Bla Translation in Llangefni when I need to.

Although I grew up speaking English, because my father had to leave Wales to find work, I am doing all that I can to promote and preserve the native language of Ynys Môn. I continue to learn Welsh, and I read my oath of allegiance to this House in Welsh. I also support Anglesey Council’s applications for UK Government funding, for example, from the community renewal fund, which is used to promote and support the Welsh language on Ynys Môn.

Above all else today therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, Dydd gŵyl Dewi reminds us of the impact that faith has had on Wales. Much as the wind and the rain has shaped the Welsh landscape, so the Christian Church has shaped the character of the nation and a British Queen preserved its language. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General) 3:56, 29 Chwefror 2024

It is an honour to be here again on St David’s Day, Dydd gŵyl Dewi, to discuss our separate set of circumstances, issues and problems, and to celebrate what makes Wales unique, even if we each have only five minutes to do so today. Calls for a longer period of time in future would be very welcome.

This debate is particularly important this week because we are standing on the threshold of the spring Budget and we all have a duty to recognise how what we do here reverberates directly and indirectly in Wales. As each of us is a representative of the fairest constituency of Wales, we have a duty to aspire to and to seek to bring about fairness and ambition for our country. That bring us to the question of what is in the gift of the UK Government specifically to do to make a real difference.

What Governments can do is invest in what will make a material difference, and of course I would propose that investing in fair consequentials for the funding allocated for HS2 would indeed make a material difference. Not only are we owed about £3.9 billion from that fiasco, but the Prime Minister, in his autumn conference speech last year, promised us the electrification of the north Wales main line route for £1 billion. He did so despite that figure being based on a 2015 case and the Welsh Government saying that no development work has been done on the project in the intervening nine years, and so I imagine that prices have changed. This was like the previous promises that were made of an electrified south Wales main line—things have also gone quiet on that front, with Transport Ministers reluctant to give a timeline. Of course we will have heard, because we are in the run-up to an election, of plans to spend HS2 money in the midlands and the north of England being detailed.

A second thing that would make a real material difference to Wales would be to devolve the Crown Estate, whose asset value in Wales was £853 million, with its marine portfolio amounting to £603 million, two years ago. In 2020-21, the estate made £8.7 million, with £8.6 million from the marine portfolio. That goes directly to Treasury coffers, and 25% goes to the monarch via the sovereign grant. Imagine what we could achieve in Wales with that money.

Devolving the Crown Estate would also give us rights to offshore leasing. It would allow us to have our own green industrial strategy and save bill payers over £300 million each year through offshore wind, all while generating public funds for the Welsh Government to help better people’s lives. We need only look at what is evolving in Scotland, where the Crown Estate is devolved, to see what is possible. Twenty projects approved through offshore leasing are projected to raise £28.8 billion of investment, and £700 million would be passed to the Scottish Government for public spending.

So many of the problems that we experience could be solved by fair funding. That requires reviewing and replacing the outdated Barnett formula with a system that delivers equitable funding for all parts of Wales. There are several reasons why the formula must be replaced. First, it does not address our needs; it has not for decades. Wales’s funding floor is not based on Wales’s current assessed need, but on estimates made by the Holtham commission in 2010, which drew on—wait for it—2001 census data. Secondly, the formula is not clear or transparent. When funding is announced in England, it may take weeks or months to find out if Wales will receive Barnett consequential funding, and if so, how much.

Thirdly, we all know the formula is open to political manipulation, with Wales being robbed of at least £3.9 billion through HS2 funding. Northern Ireland recently received a funding package of £3.3 billion from the UK Government to address its funding problems. If Wales were to receive an equivalent per capita funding package, it would get £5.4 billion. Looking ahead to the spring Budget, I hope that the Government will show, somehow or other, that they intend to tackle the deep structural problems that Wales faces, but I will not hold my breath.

For 14 years, Wales has had a UK Government who ignore and belittle our needs, wants and values, and use devolution—our democracy and our Senedd—as a political punchbag. That is bad for our democracy in the UK and in Wales, and we need to find a better way to deal with the UK as it stands.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Ceidwadwyr, Aberconwy 4:01, 29 Chwefror 2024

I thank my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb for securing the debate, and I echo his remarks on the time available to us.

I was born in Bangor. While it is my great privilege to represent Aberconwy and part of the area where I was raised, it will be my great privilege to contest the new seat of Bangor Aberconwy at the next election. My childhood was also privileged. How else could anyone describe enjoying north Wales’s plunging valleys—scrambling up and occasionally rolling down its rugged mountainsides —and learning about its heritage, ways and language? As a result, I grew up in the firm belief that ours—mine—was a community and culture to be cherished. Although I had yet to put an understanding or reason to it, I knew intuitively, in my bones, that people and place mattered. There was also something else: a feeling shared by so many whom I grew up with that I would have to leave this home and north Wales to seek opportunities, develop a career and make something of myself. That was what I determined to change, to the best of my ability, when I became an MP.

Numbers give those ideas shape. The 2021 census revealed that Wales’s Welsh-born and working-age populations are shrinking. Young people are leaving. The population is ageing. Fluency in Welsh is declining, as those raised speaking it find that they, too, must leave. This youth drain is not evenly spread. Data from the real estate site Compare My Move reveals that 72% of those moving home in north Wales leave north Wales, but fully 61% leave Wales altogether. Ours has the highest rate of outward movement of any Welsh region.

Analysis by the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveals that movers are disproportionately educated. One in five Welsh-born people leaves Wales, but a full third of all Welsh graduates leave Wales. A recent report by the Wales Governance Centre identified that growth of middle to higher-earning roles in Wales has remained stagnant since 2000. The 2023 Bevan Foundation report “Poverty in Arfon in the 21st century”, commissioned by Hywel Williams, for which I commend him, reports that 37% of the jobs there are in the public sector, compared to a UK average of just 18%. The north-west Wales economy is dominated by agriculture, tourism, hospitality, public sector employment and few well-paid jobs. It is characterised by long hours and hard work that is honourable—honest, even—but the picture cannot be described as one of growth and opportunity, or full of prospects for the next generation.

How to respond? Liz Saville Roberts correctly identified a need for investment, but the last major investment in north Wales was in the Conwy tunnel nearly four decades ago. A combination of the revised responsibilities of devolution and the lack of ambition and vision from the Welsh Government in Cardiff has led to little response to the challenges. Their report in 2016 identified that congestion, poor connectivity and a lack of resilience—traffic is set to increasing by 2038—represent a threat to locking in the benefits of proposals associated with the nuclear power station in Anglesey. Just last year, another of their reports found that proposed A55 and bridge upgrades could boost investment, but it concluded that such schemes would be

“inconsistent with Welsh Government’s aim of reducing car mileage per person by 10%”.

It was the same last October. On receiving news of the UK Government’s investment in the electrification of the north Wales mainline, the response of the Welsh Government was that the scheme was not a priority for them.

However, I want to conclude on a note of hope for our young people, and to give clear, real evidence of the prospect of change coming down the line. The creation of a freeport in Anglesey with £26 million of seed funding will ensure that investment, skilled jobs and housing can flow into north-west Wales. An £80 million investment in an investment zone in Wrexham will leverage £1.7 billion more into high-value, advanced manufacturing, and the commitment of £1 billion to electrify the north Wales mainline carries the potential for faster journey times, higher frequency of travel, cheaper fares and more freight travel. That bumper investment is a huge step up in our regional competitiveness. There is nothing predetermined about decline. We are kindling the ambition that was once there in the ’80s, expanding our infrastructure, liberating and connecting our communities and businesses, and securing for our young people a future that combines both prosperity and cultural continuity. The future for our young people in north Wales is brighter because of this Conservative Government, and of that I am proud.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Llafur, Dwyrain Abertawe 4:07, 29 Chwefror 2024

I thank Stephen Crabb for securing today’s Welsh affairs debate ahead of St David’s day tomorrow. Like others who have spoken and will speak, I am very proud to be Welsh. I am proud of my country, my family, and the community that I represent, which is steeped in true Welsh values. I see them every day—people supporting each other and helping their neighbours, working collectively to tackle the issues affecting our communities. For me, that is most evident during the Everyone Deserves campaign, which has become an institution, not just in Swansea East but in communities across Wales, during the Easter, summer and Christmas school holidays. Everyone Deserves a Christmas 2023 shattered previous records, not just in the number of families that we supported, but in the number of people who answered the call to turn up and help.

It is always bittersweet talking about that, because although I am immensely grateful for all the support, and proud of what we achieve, it saddens me that the demand is so high, and that so many families in our communities are struggling to make ends meet. The cost of living in recent years has crippled households in Swansea and right across Wales. It is not only families struggling during the school holidays; last month, we saw the shocking results of a Bevan Foundation study on pensioner poverty in Wales, which found that one in 10 pensioners is skipping meals, and one in five is going without heating. Indeed, Everyone Deserves saw a rise in the number of pensioners seeking help last Christmas.

I will not talk about every person who helped with the campaign, because there are genuinely too many, but I must mention my local heroes, who show their support time and again. The Swans and the Ospreys, who are legends on the pitch—my hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi might disagree—are always there, unloading vans, packing boxes and delivering hampers. The wonderful ladies of the Valley Rock Voices choir, who have the voices of angels and hearts of gold, raise money throughout the year, week in and week out, for Everyone Deserves, and even throw impromptu concerts while packing hampers to keep everyone entertained. Pentrehafod School—I remember its headmaster being born, which is rather scary—helped to launch the Christmas appeal, did bucket collections at the football, and is hosting us again this Christmas, so that we have space to pack the hampers. My very dear friend Mal Pope went one better this year and actually wrote a brand new Christmas song to raise funds for us. I have known Mal literally all my life. I am so proud of him, because he celebrates 50 years in showbusiness this year, and I am so grateful for his unwavering support. There are so many more people whom I could mention, because this really is a whole community effort. In fact, it has spread way out of my community. Last Christmas, for example, we stretched even further, delivering hampers to Swansea East, Swansea West, Neath, Aberavon, Blaenau Gwent and the constituency of my hon. Friend Gerald Jones.

I hope one day to be able to say, “There are fewer people needing help this year,” and that Everyone Deserves has had fewer referrals, but I fear that may be a while away. Until then, it is an honour to provide support. That support may be provided directly into someone’s home, involve funding a play session for Swansea’s National Autistic Society or Hands Up For Downs, or even go to holding a coffee morning for the Swansea City Disabled Supporters’ Association, which tomorrow, on St David’s Day, launches the “Everyone Deserves a Cuppa” sessions. I am always proud of people’s willingness to help each other, especially those who may need a little extra support.

We are a nation who wear our hearts on our sleeves— I do so more than most, probably. From the hillside to the vales, we thrive on welcoming people. There will always be a welcome for people who come to our home in Wales.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Llafur, Cwm Cynon 4:11, 29 Chwefror 2024

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Dirprwy Lefarydd, a dydd gŵyl Dewi hapus i bawb. Rydw i’n caru Cymru, yn enwedig Cwm Cynon, lle ges i fy ngeni a fy magu, ac rydw i’n dal i fyw yno. I am just saying that, like everyone else in this Chamber, I love Wales, but especially Cynon Valley, where I was born and raised, and where I still live.

In our history, our plentiful natural resources have generated vast wealth. Sadly, though, the people of Cymru who created that wealth have not reaped all the benefits from it. Our wealth has been extracted. The profits to be made, whether from coal and steel, or, increasingly, from wind and waves, have been siphoned off by a tiny few,s while the many who helped to create and generate it suffer poverty, hardship and inequality.

This year, we commemorate 40 years since the miners’ strike, when a Tory Government took on the coal mining industry, decimating local communities in south Wales in the process. Although the heavy industries that defined the Cynon Valley have retreated, the extraction continues in different guises. Almost 3,000 jobs are under threat at the Tata steelworks in Port Talbot. In Cynon Valley, the wind farms atop our hills are owned by the Swedish state, and the sandstone that makes up the steep valley sides is extracted for profit by a German multinational.

This is the story of Cymru’s past and present, but it does not have to be the story of Cymru’s future. In recent years, we have seen an unprecedented recentralisation of power in Westminster, which forces through legislation that conflicts with the position of the Welsh Government and the people of Cymru. Today, the Senedd has voted to withhold legislative consent to the anti-boycott Bill that was passed here in Westminster.

The final report of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales last month is a landmark moment in Cymru. It concludes that

“the status quo is not a viable option for providing stability and prosperity for Wales.”

It proposes three options: enhancing devolution; a federal structure; and independence. The commission’s proposals provide an opportunity for a much-needed overhaul of both political and economic power for Cymru, because the prevailing neo-liberal economic orthodoxy is inextricably linked with current constitutional arrangements.

On the economy, there are a number of demands to be made of the UK Government if it is to begin to redress the economic imbalance. They should replace the Barnett formula with a fair, needs-based funding system, and secure prudential powers, increasing the borrowing cap and winning an increased reserve for Wales. They should fund the safety of the 2,500 coal tips requiring £600 million of remediation works, a legacy of Welsh coal production, and ensure that the former mine workers are compensated properly, as demanded by the national mineworkers pensions campaign. The UK Government should uphold the forced-Brexit promise to Cymru, pay the Welsh Government the £1.2 billion owed and give them the reins of power on that. They should pay the billions of pounds in High Speed 2 consequentials. Finally, they should ensure that the £850 million of revenue from the Crown Estate in Cymru can be used to build a Welsh sovereign fund.

Such measures would give Welsh Government greater power to invest in big-ticket initiatives to transform the economy in the long term, whether that be major renewable generation projects or large-scale retrofitting of homes. The independent commission’s proposals provide the opportunity for a future Cymru where we not only generate wealth, but retain and reinvest our wealth in our communities for the benefit of all, and in a way that tackles the climate crisis. This new approach of community wealth building—cymunedoli—is gaining traction from Blaenau Ffestiniog in north Wales to my constituency.

To conclude, none of that is possible unless we gain the involvement and confidence of the people of Cymru. The existing democratic deficit—the disconnection between conventional politics and the people of Wales—is extremely serious. Democracy is not just about voting once every five years, so that we can sit in Westminster or Cardiff representing or misrepresenting people; it is about giving people a voice, working collaboratively to bring about, for me, a socialist future for the people of Wales.

Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media & Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Housing, Communities & Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (The Constitution and Welsh Affairs) 4:16, 29 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to contribute to this St David’s Day debate, although I add my own concerns about the lack of time. I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, to hear you say that in future we might have longer to discuss all the many important issues that face Wales.

I congratulate the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Stephen Crabb, and thank him for securing the debate and for the way in which he has chaired the Select Committee. In his opening remarks, he mentioned that we have in recent years taken a broad view of the issues facing Wales and its communities, none more so perhaps than the changing population of Wales and the demographic trends that we have witnessed not just recently but over decades. Robin Millar touched on that important point. The dynamic, I am afraid, affects Ceredigion just as it does his part of north Wales. It has long been the case that young people who grow up in Ceredigion leave for study or for work and seldom come back. The 2021 census reported that, sadly, Ceredigion’s overall population has declined by some 5.8%, which is a remarkable figure, the largest decrease anywhere in Wales.

Within those figures, there is a story of real change in the demographic make-up of Ceredigion: fewer young people—children and young adults—and therefore a higher proportion of the population over 65 years of age. Indeed, Ceredigion has a remarkable demographic make-up, in that 13% of its population are under the age of 15 and 25% are over the age of 65. That is a problem that we should be considering in both Westminster and Cardiff, because it has real consequences for the ability to deliver public services in an effective and appropriate manner.

That also has something to do with the ability to ensure that we have vibrant communities. I do not want—I think no one else in the Chamber would want—parts of Wales, be that in west Wales or elsewhere, just to become places that shut for half the year, only coming to life during the summer months. We want a vibrant economy through the year, where young people can expect to pursue exciting careers in the place in which they were born and raised.

Others have mentioned investment, and I want to touch on the importance of investing in digital connectivity as part of the solution to develop the economy of rural parts of Wales. That is something I have raised in this Chamber before. Sadly, Ceredigion does not have a very good record when it comes to digital connectivity. Access to the internet has long been an essential, not a luxury, for people in the modern age, but our access to full gigabit broadband is constrained to just 37% of households compared with 76% for the UK as a whole, and 10.7% of households in Ceredigion receive broadband speeds below 10 megabits per second—the equivalent UK figure is 3.6% of households.

Although progress has been made in recent years, much more needs to be done. Not only would that help to ensure that people can access essential services, which are increasingly going online, but it could prove a bit of a boost for the local economy. I am very pleased to say that some companies are looking to relocate their head offices to Ceredigion, in the few villages and towns where we do have full gigabit broadband, because, as long as they have access to the internet through a reliable full gigabit connection, they do not mind being in west Wales—in fact, it is an advantage, and that can be quite an advantage for us, too, if we are serious about developing the rural economy.

In the moments that I have left, I will make a plea to the Secretary of State, because I know that he is also keen on rural broadband. Project Gigabit—the UK Government scheme—has been in existence for a few years now, but progress in rural areas is still too slow. In Ceredigion, we are still waiting to understand which premises will be connected in the next iteration of the scheme, and those who will not be connected will need to find alternative solutions. The sooner we have clarity, the better, because the quality of the lives and the services that can be accessed by those without connectivity are much diminished. If we could have greater prominence and priority for the connection of rural areas, I would be very grateful. More specifically, perhaps the Secretary of State could suggest to his Cabinet colleagues that they work outside-in for the next round of Project Gigabit, so that rural communities are connected first.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:21, 29 Chwefror 2024

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am very pleased to be able to speak in this shortened but perfectly formed debate. I pay tribute to the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Stephen Crabb for securing the debate, and to the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. This is my fifth St David’s Day as the Member of Parliament for Newport West, and I want to use the few minutes available to me to talk about what is best about Newport West and Wales. I will touch on what we need and how my community represents some of our best qualities as a nation in our United Kingdom.

I also take this chance to send my best wishes to our First Minister, Mark Drakeford MS, who will stand down at some point in the coming months. Mark has worked tirelessly for Wales, often at great personal sacrifice to himself and his family. We all continue to mourn the passing of his wife, Clare. On behalf of the people of Newport West, I thank him for his service to our country and his commitment to public service. We wish him well.

As you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, Wales is the land of song, and Newport has long played a role as a beating heart for new and emerging music, including the successful Goldie Lookin Chain, an absolute favourite of my predecessor, the late Paul Flynn MP. More generally, Wales has seen the prowess of Dame Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, the Manics, Stereophonics, Feeder and Super Furry Animals—I could go on. I must not forget our hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), who have voices that are second to none.

Acts, bands and singers cannot thrive unless they have spaces to perform, and in Newport West, I dare say that we have one of the best spaces in Wales: Le Pub, a welcoming, community-owned independent music and arts venue. It is a gem in the heart of Newport city centre, and I acknowledge the wonderful Sam Dabb, who is the inspiration, brains and hard work behind that wonderful venue.

Newport West is soon to have another live music venue in the form of the 500-seat capacity Corn Exchange. I checked before the debate, and the first show will be by the band The Bug Club. Before hon. Members go rushing to get tickets, I must tell them that it is sold out—sorry. There will be many more shows and bands performing there in future, however, so I encourage all Members to look at the events calendar and to come and see us in Newport West to hear something a little different and to enjoy our hospitality.

I would also like to acknowledge Barnabas Arts House, an independent art gallery run by Janet Martin—another venue that I encourage Members to add to their bucket list. The transformative nature of art can break out of set spaces; we have seen that in Newport at the Place of Wonder, a collaboration of 12 artists also led by Janet Martin, which has transformed Ruperra Lane from a derelict passage to an astonishing art haven.

It would take too long to name all the successes in Wales that have planted their roots in Newport soil, whether that is the international triumph of Tiny Rebel, the local coffee found at the Rogue Fox, or the small business of the wedding venue in the West Usk lighthouse. All are rooted in my constituency, and I deeply appreciate being surrounded by such entrepreneurs and to have the chance to represent them in this place.

Of course, I cannot miss the opportunity to give a big shout-out to the semiconductor cluster in south Wales, as well as Newport Wafer Fab and all the brilliant workers there, who are crying out for certainty, clarity and a coherent strategy from the Government. Hopefully, in his wind-up today, the Secretary of State will be able to give us some positive news—we can live in hope.

The past 14 years have been difficult, but I do not want to dwell on them today. Instead, I will say to all the teachers, NHS staff—professionals and volunteers—carers, transport workers, council officers and everyone else who lives, learns and works in Newport West and Wales, “Thank you for all you do to make our nation and this country what it is today.” However, I cannot end my speech without mentioning steel. Steel produced, recycled and repurposed in Wales is as Welsh as it gets, from Port Talbot to Llanwern and Sims Metal and Island Steel in Newport West. We all want a transition to green steel production, but that must be a just transition. We need to utilise a blend of technologies, because decarbonisation must not mean de-industrialisation.

As we mark St David’s day 2024, we have the chance to champion all the great and good that makes Wales what it is today; to appreciate what we have in Wales, and acknowledge that we could have so much more. We are not far from having the chance to deliver that change with a change of Government here in Westminster. The people of Wales need it, and they deserve it too—the sooner the better.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland) 4:27, 29 Chwefror 2024

I start by echoing the thanks given to Stephen Crabb for securing the debate, and to the Backbench Business Committee for granting it.

Today, I will focus on a small number of key issues that are facing the communities I represent—areas where I believe this Government could be doing more to help, and in some cases, a lot more. The first issue I wish to raise is that of the once great Post Office, the foundation of a strong community spirit, which we in Wales are hugely proud of. In recent memory, almost every city, town and village had a local post office, once called the “front office for government”. Local sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses knew their customers and could offer a wide range of government, financial and postal services.

Post offices were once the hub of every community—a trusted British service that was the envy of the world and the fabric of our communities—but sadly, that is now a thing of the past. We are all familiar with the truly appalling way in which the Post Office has treated its own loyal staff in the Horizon scandal, but the culture at Post Office Ltd seems to be ingrained. Post Office managers are turning their back on our communities and secretly closing post offices without any public consultation. It is an all too familiar pattern: a sub-postmaster or sub-postmistress retires or resigns. Post Office bosses initially claim that the closure is temporary, and promise to update elected representatives in 12 months if the branch is still closed. A whole year passes; with vital services closed, residents make alternative arrangements through necessity. Post Office managers then claim that it is simply not viable to reopen the branch, as there is no customer base. Is there any wonder, if a branch has been closed for a whole year?

The Post Office has pulled that trick in Merthyr Tydfil. Five years ago, Treharris post office closed when the sub-postmaster left, and no replacement has been provided. Just last week, the sub-postmaster in Pantysgallog resigned, and the Post Office—which initially said that it would be a temporary closure—was forced to admit that it had no plans to recruit. Post offices are being closed, almost always permanently, and there is zero consultation with the communities that use them. This arrogance from the Post Office cannot continue. The Government must change the rules so that if a sub-postmaster or sub-postmistress leaves and there are no plans to recruit, Post Office Ltd must consult with residents and elected representatives. That is the very least that our communities deserve.

I also want to talk about the cost of petrol and diesel, which continues to be a major issue for people right across the country. Motorists filling up their car in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney are paying considerably more than those in areas just a few miles away—often as much as 10p per litre more. I have been campaigning on the impact that this petrol pump rip-off is having on residents in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, and have asked retailers to explain why prices are so much higher; none has been able to provide any reasonable justification.

I am afraid that, to many of my constituents, that looks like price gouging, and I agree. I have encouraged motorists to use apps such as PetrolPrices, but with prices remaining comparable in the local area, there is little scope to shop around. In Northern Ireland, the Consumer Council published a fuel price checker in September 2020, which has helped to keep fuel costs below those in Wales and England. People are continuing to suffer because of the Conservatives’ cost of living crisis, and I believe that the Government must do more to ensure there is genuine competition and to end the petrol pump rip-off in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

The last area on which I would like to focus is pension credit. As we know, the Tory cost of living crisis has hit pensioners particularly hard. It should shame the Government to their very core that almost 1 million pensioner households across the UK are estimated to be missing out on vital support from pension credit, with a staggering £2.1 billion of pension credit left unclaimed. Just think what that £2.1 billion could do for pensioners who are struggling to pay their bills. Working with the citizens advice bureaux in both Merthyr Tydfil and Caerphilly, I organised a pension credit day of action, when in a single day we helped people claim over £200,000 in missing benefits. Just imagine what the Government could do if they really wanted to. Ministers must do better in getting cash out of the Treasury and into pensioners’ pockets.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to end by taking the opportunity to wish a very happy St David’s Day—dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus—to you and to all those celebrating tomorrow.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business) 4:31, 29 Chwefror 2024

May I say what a pleasure it is to speak once again in this annual, if sadly truncated, debate on St David’s Day? I also congratulate Stephen Crabb on once more putting in the leg work to make sure that we had the opportunity for such a wide-ranging and good-natured debate on matters Welsh.

I was not intending to mention the rugby, mostly out of politeness, but Tonia Antoniazzi raised the three straight defeats. I have to say, from a Scottish perspective, that we gave Wales every chance in the second half, but perhaps I had better just move on. Just to say that the SNP wishes everyone in this House and beyond a very happy St David’s Day when it comes.

This is always a good opportunity to look back at history, but also to look forward. In looking forward, there is no issue of greater import, I would argue, to young generations than the climate, the energy transition and the economy, and we need to get all those parts working together, as Beth Winter said so powerfully in her own contribution.

Liz Saville Roberts spoke about the role that the Crown Estate has to play in that. I can speak from the perspective of Scotland, and when the Crown Estate was devolved, the Scottish Government used that to forge ahead in granting licences for over 25 GW of offshore wind development, which in many respects puts us at the forefront of offshore wind development globally. That is double the UK’s existing offshore capacity, and it will create high-quality jobs and draw in significant investment.

Having that power devolved has clearly been a huge benefit in Scotland, and as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley said—she did not quite say this, and I hope I am not putting words in her mouth—it is beyond time that Wales was able to directly benefit from its own resources, instead of only being able to catch a little bit on the way past as those resources are exported.

Those on the Treasury Bench sometimes get quite excited whenever that is brought up in the Chamber, but in light of the failure of the wind auctions, as Dame Nia Griffith pointed out, we can see why. I think this is an area where the UK Government are in danger of being on the wrong side of Welsh opinion. YouGov conducted a poll that found that 58% of people in Wales support devolving the Crown Estate to Wales. That has also come out as a recommendation of the independent commission on the constitutional future of Wales, alongside other matters such as the devolution of justice and the devolution of railways, with a fair funding settlement to go along with them.

Another telling headline, at least from my perspective, from the independent commission’s report was the willingness of that cross-party body to say that independence for Wales was a viable option for Wales’s constitutional future. That might bring mixed reactions but I would say, from my perspective as a supporter of Scottish independence, that being able to get such a group to agree on that point is a pretty positive place to be, because it shows the respect there has to be between the different views on the constitutional position.

Too often in Scotland attempts are made to shut down debate around independence as if it is in some way too difficult or even, implausibly, unviable. The question should not be about whether this could happen, but should always be about whether it should happen; that is a good place for a respectful debate to take place. Support for independence in Wales now regularly polls at about 30% with apparent majority support among those aged under 34, so this discussion will find itself in the public domain to a greater extent in the years ahead.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Ceidwadwyr, Aberconwy

I have never seen a poll showing any more than 20% in favour of independence.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business)

I am not about to open up my phone to look at the exact polling, but I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman after the debate to show him the figures and apologise if I am wrong or claim a pint if I am correct.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Llafur, Cwm Cynon

On the point about the independent commission, which is a landmark moment, does the hon. Gentleman that it is really important that the commission did not pick any of those three options but instead said very strongly that it was up to the people of Wales to decide? Does he agree that that is the right way forward?

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business)

I absolutely agree with that point. The principle of consent is enshrined in the Good Friday agreement for Northern Ireland and implicit in that is that it is a decision for the people. I would argue that that is the position Scotland ought to be in—it is a position for the people—and of course it is for the people of Wales to decide how to form a Government best suited to their needs and to then bring whatever pressure they can through the ballot box to bring that about.

Two other recommendations came out of the commission that struck me: the need to secure a duty of co-operation and parity of esteem between the Governments of the UK; and that the Sewel convention ought to be strengthened. That is something on which a Labour Government in Cardiff and an SNP-led Government in Edinburgh could probably find a lot of agreement. My party is often happier to find ourselves in agreement with the Labour party than the Labour party is to find itself in agreement with the Scottish National party, but there are examples that creep up where the Scottish Labour party appears to be at variance with its colleagues in Wales and I would like to use my remaining time to highlight one example.

When the UK Government find their record under attack, they point the finger, not always fairly I would say, at the record of the Labour Government in Wales, and in turn that Labour Government in Cardiff point a finger back about the funding settlement that is in place and it being imposed by the UK Government. Yet when Labour in Scotland tries to criticise the Scottish Government, it seems completely oblivious, in a way its Welsh counterparts are not, to the funding strictures also in place in Scotland. I do not know whether Welsh Labour ever speaks to Scottish Labour, but if they have not swiped right on each other yet, I would be more than happy to effect the introductions—I would be very happy to set up a blind date if that would be helpful.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will join me in wondering about the fact that nobody would come forward to recommend the status quo and the commission did not do so, because there are evidently no advantages to the status quo in the present devolution settlement.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business)

Time is short and the right hon. Lady makes her point very deftly as always, but I want to come back to the point from the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire about the proposed expansion of the Senedd and the electoral system. I have to say that having multi-Member constituencies is not a new thing. They exist in Northern Ireland and also in Scotland for the regional lists, and they exist in local government here, and yes, of course, elected representatives treat people without fear and without favour, and without regard to who anyone voted for or even if they voted at all. [Interruption.] Yes, really, and certainly that is how any elected representative worth their salt will go about things. Conservatives, at least as I always understood it, used to be in favour of consumer choice and this means voters have an element of consumer choice in terms of who they wish to take their concerns to, or indeed if they wish to engage the services of more than one Member. There are examples which I would be more than happy to discuss with the right hon. Gentleman later, because it really is not the end of the world, as he is portraying it to be.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Wales 4:39, 29 Chwefror 2024

It is good to see you in the Chair again for this annual debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I also thank the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Stephen Crabb for securing the debate, and I gently echo his sentiments about the time we have for this debate today. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it and all colleagues present for their contributions to what is always a wide-ranging debate on Welsh affairs.

I will mention just a few contributions. My hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi talked about rugby and cockles. My hon. Friend Dame Nia Griffith gave a great speech about rail infrastructure, renewable energy, offshore wind delays and steel. My hon. Friend Carolyn Harris is formidable, and she spoke about her “Everyone Deserves” campaign. If she asks you to help, you dare not say no, Mr Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend Beth Winter talked about our proud industrial past. My hon. Friend Ruth Jones talked about music and culture in her constituency, and I am very much looking forward to visiting the Corn Exchange this weekend. My hon. Friend Gerald Jones talked about two very important issues: post office closures, which I entirely recognise from the experience of my constituents in Cardiff Central, and the Government’s poor roll-out of pension credit.

St David’s Day is a time to celebrate Welsh heritage and national identity, and the Labour party is fiercely proud of our Welsh heritage. Ever since devolution, delivered by a Labour Government, Labour-led Welsh Governments have delivered positive change for the people of Wales: free prescriptions, free school lunches for all primary schoolchildren, the highest number of nurses and consultants in the Welsh NHS for a decade, the protection of the NHS bursary, unlike in England, and a ban on fracking, unlike in England, and those are just a few. Labour is the party of devolution. We are committed to reinforcing the status of the Senedd.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

The right hon. Lady has made several contributions, so I will carry on, if she does not mind. We are committed to reinforcing the status of the Senedd, strengthening intergovernmental working and pushing power out of Westminster and into the hands of our communities.

Wales is brimming with potential. Yesterday, pupils from my constituency from St Philip Evans Catholic Primary School in Llanedeyrn came to Parliament, and I met them and their teachers at the end of their day here. They were fascinated by what they had seen and they gave me quite an enthusiastic grilling, with excellent questions, but they, like all children from across Wales, including those who visit Parliament’s wonderful education centre—I thank all the staff there for the tremendous job that they do—are our future. We all have a responsibility to make sure that they have a good future, full of the opportunities that they deserve.

I am ambitious for a future fuelled by the talent and innovation I have seen up and down Wales. I am proud of our roots in industry. Industry has been our history, and it can be our future, too, but the chaos and failure of the Government risk squandering that future. My hon. Friends have rightly mentioned steel several times today. Steelmaking is the lifeblood of communities across Wales, the backbone of our local economies and the foundation of our manufacturing capability, and that is why the deep cuts to jobs mooted at Port Talbot are a kick in the teeth.

Instead of having a proper industrial strategy like Labour, Conservative Ministers have compounded the risk to likelihoods, forking out £500 million in taxpayers’ money to see up to 3,000 people made redundant and forfeiting our ability to make virgin steel. The Secretary of State for Business and Trade—not known for diplomacy, I might add—said that Wales should consider it a win, and the Welsh Secretary said that it is mission accomplished on saving Welsh steelmaking. I am afraid that that attitude shows casual indifference to the thousands of people across Wales who have so much at stake here, and it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of our Welsh economy and a total disregard for the need to preserve the UK sovereign steelmaking capability.

However Conservative Ministers try to spin it, the loss of sovereign steelmaking is a fundamental threat to our UK economy and security—[Interruption.] Mark Jenkinson can chunter as much as he wants. However Tory Ministers try to spin it, that is the truth.

The floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea that we have heard about this afternoon and the new nuclear power plant at Wylfa that Virginia Crosbie has been begging for year after year, and which Labour Members want to see, will need significant quantities of steel. Where is it going to come from? In an increasingly uncertain world, the Government are surrendering our sovereign capability to build the Royal Navy ships we need to keep our shores safe and our shipbuilding industry strong.

The Secretary of State has said on numerous occasions that no one will be left behind. He talks about his role as chair of the transition board—a monument to his party’s failure to secure the future of sovereign steelmaking in Wales. I want to put a marker down here and now. If these job losses go ahead, I will be holding him to account every single step of the way.

I have seen this happen before. I grew up just take a few miles from Shotton steelworks, which in 1980, under a Tory Government, became scarred by its closure. The resulting loss of 6,500 jobs remains the biggest industrial redundancy on a single day in western Europe. It totally decimated the area. Nearly everyone at my school had family who worked in the steelworks or in the supply chain. The impact of those mass redundancies in our area was felt for years: all those skills and the potential of my generation wasted—the rug pulled from under our feet. I am deeply concerned that we will see that again, but this time in Port Talbot and right across our steel communities.

It is not just steel. On nuclear at Wylfa and on Newport Wafer Fab—the jewel in the crown of our high-tech south Wales cluster—the Government drag their feet while workers and their families nervously wait, jobs and investment go and opportunity withers.

Labour has a different view of how things could be, and we have set out our plan. A UK Labour Government will invest £2.5 billion in the UK steel industry by the end of their first term—that is on top of the Government’s earmarked £500 million. We will increase domestic demand for steel by more than doubling onshore wind capacity, tripling solar power and quadrupling offshore wind. We will get Britain building again.

A general election is coming. It is an opportunity for voters to make their voices heard. My pitch to them after 14 years of Conservative Government is this: if people feel it is no longer true that when they work hard they get on, if people are bored and frustrated with watching a chaotic, failed Government more focused on holding their party together than on governing, and if people feel like it is time for a change, they should look to Labour. We can build the economy of the future, create good-quality jobs, drive down energy bills and provide energy security, and we in Wales will play a critical role in powering the whole UK through a decade of national renewal, rekindling Wales’s proud industrial roots with the industries of the future.

Photo of David Davies David Davies The Secretary of State for Wales 4:48, 29 Chwefror 2024

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Dirprwy Lefarydd, am y cyfle i ateb y ddadl heddiw. Thank you for allowing me to say a few things in this St David’s day debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb, the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, for bringing forward the debate.

Let me turn straightaway to the comments made by Jo Stevens. First, on what has actually been delivered by the Welsh Labour Government in Wales, with due respect, she left a few things out. She did not want to mention that the Welsh Labour Government have delivered the longest waiting lists in the whole of the United Kingdom. She did not want to mention that the Welsh Labour Government are now having to build air filters to blow away the diesel fumes from the ambulances that wait for nine, 10, 11 or 12 hours at a time outside Welsh hospitals. She did not want to mention that the Welsh Labour Government, after more than 20 years of devolution, have delivered the lowest educational standards in the whole of the United Kingdom—that is according to the OECD. She did not want to mention that the 20 mph limit is causing extra congestion in Wales. She did not want to mention that the Welsh Labour Government are damaging the economy by bringing in a ban on any new roads being built.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Can I correct the right hon. Gentleman? He keeps repeating this ban on all road building, which he knows is not correct. If hon. Members on the Government Benches want to complain about 20 mph zones, they might want to look at their own Department for Transport, which promotes them, and the Tory-run councils that have introduced them. The right hon. Gentleman wanted 20 mph in his own constituency. The organisers of the anti-20 mph social media groups in Wales are run by a Conservative councillor from Sunderland who—wait for it—has supported the measure in his own patch. You could not make it up!

Photo of David Davies David Davies The Secretary of State for Wales

Like all Members of Parliament, I support a 20 mph limit outside schools, hospitals or other places where there are vulnerable people. What I have never done—and neither have the Conservative Opposition—is to support a blanket 20 mph speed limit. What I would never support is a suggestion of bringing back Severn bridge tolls, which was put forward by a Labour council in Monmouthshire—it is in its own leaflet. What I would never do is bring forward a tax on the tourism industry, which will destroy more jobs in one of the most important industries in Wales.

What I certainly would not do is to tell farmers that they have to put aside 20% of their land for planting trees and other wildlife schemes dreamed up by people who do not know what the countryside is all about. What I would not do is spend over £100 million on just about the only effective job creation scheme the Senedd has ever come up with—to create dozens of extra Senedd Members. The hon. Lady and various others, including Richard Thomson, mentioned the independent commission, which frankly was not that independent. The commission itself expressed grave reservations about the closed list voting system brought forward by the Welsh Labour Government without any proper discussion with the public upon whom it will be visited.

The hon. Lady wanted to talk about steel, so I suggest that she stop giving false hope to steelworkers in Port Talbot, or suggesting that this has come about as a result of a Government decision. The hon. Lady made a few comments that were simply factually incorrect; I might need to educate her a little about how steel is produced. First, there is no sovereign capability to make steel in a blast furnace, because every single bit of iron ore is bought in from abroad, as is all the coke, not least because the hon. Lady’s party wanted to shut down all coalmines because of concerns about the climate emergency. There is no possibility of virgin steelmaking because all the ingredients come from abroad. Secondly, as far as I am aware, none of that steel is being used by the Royal Navy, but steel is being produced for the Royal Navy in the United Kingdom—from Sheffield Forgemasters, and it comes out of an electric arc furnace.

Labour says that it has a plan for steelworkers in Port Talbot. I actually visited Mumbai about two weeks ago and spoke to the global head of Tata, and the head of Tata Steel. They made it very clear that no such plan was put to them by the shadow Front Bench team. There is no plan that they are looking at. The reason that they are shutting down those two blast furnaces is that they are losing over £1 million a day. The only plan that they were going to consider was insolvency, and pulling out of steelmaking in the United Kingdom all together.

The plan that the Government came up with was not a plan of giving half a billion pounds to fire 3,000 people; the Government were presented with a situation where Tata came in with insolvency practitioners and said, “We are pulling out of the United Kingdom.” Had it done so, it would have cost 8,000 jobs and 12,000 more in the supply chain. The Conservative Government, which I am proud to be serving, came up with a scheme whereby we put half a billion pounds towards building an arc furnace—a scheme that will save 5,000 jobs and a supply chain. It is absolutely wrong and misleading to suggest that we have given a steel company half a billion pounds to fire 3,000 people, when we have given them half a billion pounds to save 5,000 jobs, and to ensure that steel continues to be made in Wales.

The danger is that the hon. Lady’s words are being heard by Tata in India. Many people there will be thinking to themselves, “Do we actually want to continue investing in the United Kingdom if we can’t be certain that any deal we have will continue if there is a different Government?” The hon. Lady’s words are also going to be seen by workers in Port Talbot, who may be thinking to themselves that there is some secret plan that could save their jobs. There isn’t. If the hon. Lady does a little bit of research, she will find out very quickly that there is no plan C. There was a plan A, which would have shut the steelworks and cost every job, or a plan B, which saves 5,000 jobs.

The hon. Lady did not mention anything about the £100 million transition fund. The Government are not going to turn their backs on workers in Port Talbot. The Government have £100 million set aside to make sure that every single person who loses their job has access to the training they need to get further employment. The Government have saved jobs and are standing by the people of Port Talbot. I really hope she will find out a little bit more about it before trying to comment further.

I am also very proud of the work that the Government have been doing to level up across the rest of Wales. Under this Conservative Government, we have been responsible for four growth deals, three rounds of levelling-up funding, two investment zones, two freeports—including one in Port Talbot, which will encourage more industries to come in—the electric arc furnace, and the £1 billion project to electrify the north Wales coast main line. The Government have been doing an enormous amount to put money into Wales.

Following Brexit, the Government promised that farmers would not lose out by one single penny as a result of our leaving the European Union. We calculated what agriculture was getting during the last control period—it was about £337 million a year—and we made sure that that money continued to be delivered. It is very disappointing, therefore, that the Welsh Government have decided to take that money and plough it into a scheme that will reduce the amount of land available for growing agriculture, increase food miles, and throw 5,000 people out of work. Yes—there will be 5,000 job losses on the Welsh Government’s own figures as a result of the agricultural scheme that the hon. Lady’s party’s Government are planning to bring in.

I will just mention one or two other points in the last minute or so I have left. Ben Lake mentioned gigabit connections. I agree with him that we need certainty on where they will be and that there are challenges in rural areas, but I would point out that in 2019 about 11% of properties had a gigabit connection and that has now increased to 69%. The work is going on at pace.

Gerald Jones made a very good point, as did Carolyn Harris, about the cost of living. I am not decrying anything the hon. Lady has done, because she does do a lot of good work, but I again point out that this Government have ensured that pensions and benefits have all gone up in line with inflation. The living wage has gone up in line with inflation. There have been extra payments to pensioners and to those on benefits, and also to those in houses with a disability. That is not to say that that solves all problems. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney also rightly drew attention to the fact that some companies are perhaps not behaving as they should on petrol prices. I agree with him. The Government are following up the recommendations of the Competition and Markets Authority to bring forward a scheme to provide extra transparency.

I think I have only about six seconds left, unfortunately; hopefully, a little more time will be allocated to us next time. I apologise to anyone I have not mentioned, although I am certainly not going to forget my hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie, who continues to champion nuclear. I will continue to work with Members of Parliament and many others to ensure that the floating offshore wind industry goes ahead. I also wish Members Dydd gŵyl Dewi hapus I chi gyd—a happy St David’s Day to you all. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 4:58, 29 Chwefror 2024

I thank all Members who participated this afternoon in what has been a very good debate. I am particularly grateful to fellow members of the Select Committee who joined me in the application to the Backbench Business Committee. We thank that Committee for granting the debate. We look forward to future St David’s Day debates that are perhaps longer and more expansive.

I was particularly encouraged to hear the speech from Dame Nia Griffith, which highlighted the opportunity for Wales of floating offshore wind. For a nation like Wales, which does not see many new industrial opportunities come along, that is the opportunity the UK Government and the Welsh Government together should be seizing. We look forward to some good news, hopefully, from the Secretary of State and his colleagues on port funding in Milford Haven and Port Talbot to help capture all the economic benefits that that new industry could bring to our communities. Thank you again, Mr Deputy Speaker, for chairing this St David’s Day debate. Dydd gŵyl Dewi hapus.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered Welsh affairs.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Let me just say, before everyone leaves, that I have heard very clearly what has been said about the time constraints that all Members had to endure during the debate. I have chaired a few Backbench Business debates in the past that have finished early, but if this debate had been allowed more time, it would clearly have gone the distance, and people would have had the opportunity to say far more things. I will raise that with Mr Speaker tomorrow.

Let me also say that I was at St Margaret’s Church yesterday for the memorial service for John Morris, Lord Morris of Aberavon. Not only was it a wonderful service, but hearing the London Welsh Male Voice Choir boom out “Calon Lân” made me feel incredibly proud to be Welsh. It has been an honour and a privilege to chair the debate, and I end by saying: dydd gŵyl Dewi hapus i bawb.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Llafur, Cwm Cynon

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. During the statement on the security of elected representatives earlier today, I made a measured contribution on the need to protect not only MPs but the public’s right to peaceful protest. The Minister for Security appeared to lose control of himself, and said in his response to me that I supported organisations that would “close this Parliament” or “end our democratic processes”.

The code of conduct for Members of Parliament states:

“Members shall never undertake any action which would cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of... its Members generally.”

Mr Deputy Speaker, how can you ensure that the code is adhered to by Ministers during difficult discussions? How I can put on the record the fact that I do not support organisations that would close this Parliament or end our democratic processes, and that that is not the goal of organisations such as those that were lobbying MPs and protesting in Parliament Square last Wednesday? People were legitimately protesting about hundreds of thousands of casualties, including and 30,000 deaths, in Gaza in recent months. I found what was said particularly offensive, insensitive and inappropriate, given that much of the House’s time today has been taken up by issues relating to abusive language, and threats to Members of Parliament, and to women specifically.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

I was not in the Chair at the time, and indeed the Chair is not responsible for the content of Members’ speeches, but the hon. Lady has expertly put her views on the record, and I know that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard what she said and will pass it on to the Minister.