Aberconwy MP and Wales Office Minister Guto Bebb spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the effects of Exiting the EU on Businesses in Wales.
Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Wales and the Queen’s Speech.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I am delighted to see so many Welsh Labour colleagues on the Opposition Benches; what a shame that there are no Conservative colleagues here to speak from the Government Benches. In the Gracious Speech on 21 June, the Queen said:
“A priority will be to build a more united country, strengthening the social, economic and cultural bonds between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. My government will work in cooperation with the devolved administrations, and it will work with all of the parties in Northern Ireland to support the return of devolved government.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. Does she agree that the Conservatives’ giving money to Northern Ireland outside the Barnett formula and not giving the other UK nations their fair share is hardly likely to strengthen the Union?
I absolutely agree; it is nothing more than a bung to the Democratic Unionist party to hold up a minority Government. In her briefing on the Queen’s Speech, the Prime Minister said that
“this Government will do everything in our power to build a more united nation and strengthen our precious union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We will take seriously our responsibility to govern for the whole United Kingdom and will seek to work closely with the devolved administrations.”
The Prime Minister and her Government have not got off to a very good start, as my hon. Friend referred to. The DUP bung—a minimum of £1 billion in exchange for 10 votes to prop up the Government—hardly builds a more united nation and certainly does not demonstrate a will to work with all parties in Northern Ireland.
Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
Does the hon. Lady think that the deal actually busts the Barnett formula?
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. I know that there has been commentary from the Welsh First Minister about whether it needs to be reviewed. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that in his response.
The paucity of the Government’s programme for this two-year parliamentary Session was laid bare in the Queen’s Speech. Much of the Conservative party manifesto was abandoned: dementia tax; means testing the winter fuel allowance; grammar schools in England—of course, we do not have them in Wales—a vote on repealing the fox hunting ban, although I suspect that Plaid Cymru Members would have been glad at that policy; fixed-term Parliaments; the energy price cap; and the removal of free school lunches. The U-turns and concessions have continued apace since then.
What exactly was on offer for Wales in that Speech and since from the Government? After the dog’s dinner of the Wales Act 2017 in the last Parliament, there has been no progress on tidying up and providing much-needed clarity on the devolution settlement, nothing to offer on rail electrification or anything concrete on scrapping the Severn bridge tolls and no Swansea bay tidal lagoon announcement, despite the Government sitting on the favourable Hendry report since January.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab)
My hon. Friend mentioned rail electrification in north Wales. Although I welcome the announcement of an HS2 hub in Crewe, does she agree that that was an ideal opportunity to announce at least a plan for the future of connectivity from Crewe to north Wales? Electrification could be a part of that.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, which I think demonstrates the Government’s lack of vision for Wales; they are always concentrating on what they can do for England, rather than Wales.
Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)
My hon. Friend also mentioned the Severn bridge tolls. The Conservative party had a very late conversion to scrapping the tolls during the election campaign, yet there was nothing about it in the Queen’s Speech. Does she agree that businesses and commuters in south Wales need clarity about what will happen next?
I absolutely agree. We need clarity on that now, just as we need clarity on so many other things that the Government are dealing with—or not dealing with—at the moment.
Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree that another big gap in the Tory agenda is the issue of low pay in our valleys? Should they not really have brought in a real living wage of £10 an hour, which would make a big difference for our communities?
Absolutely. Our party’s manifesto promised a £10 minimum wage by 2020—a proper living wage, as opposed to the fake living wage introduced by the Government.
There was no confirmation in the Queen’s Speech of any investment to expand our capital city rail station at Cardiff Central and no confirmation that the Wylfa Newydd project will be delivered to ensure a sustainable economic legacy for Anglesey and the wider north Wales region. There was no devolution of air passenger duty and no transitional help for the WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—women of Wales, whose campaign here and in Wales has been led with such distinction by Welsh Labour MPs, including my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and for Ogmore (Chris Elmore). There was also no announcement on scrapping child burial fees, which was another campaign led so passionately in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East. The Government have even cut the number of Ministers in the Wales Office, which is a clear illustration of their lack of interest in Wales.
All we have been offered from the Queen’s Speech is an arrogant, hard and damaging Brexit and a repeal Bill—after reading it last week, I see why the word “great” has been dropped. It is a dangerous Bill that offers two power grabs by the Executive for the price of one: from Parliament and from the devolved Administrations. That continues the Conservative party’s strategy of many years of minimising scrutiny, challenge and oversight. This week we had the deliberate sabotage of our Select Committees and even the disgrace of the public being locked out of presenting online petitions to Parliament until at least September—an undemocratic and desperate act by a desperate Government.
We have all lived and breathed Brexit for the past 15 months, and today I will focus some of my remarks on what influence women, and Welsh women in particular, have had and will have on the path to Brexit. I do not know about other hon. Members here, but I thought that the EU referendum campaign was the worst I have ever been involved in, for a number of reasons. It was not just the nastiness and vitriol spewed out by some—I emphasise “some”—campaigners, using the excuse that it was a discussion about immigration. It was not just because my friend and our colleague Jo Cox was assassinated by a right-wing fascist the week before the referendum. It was not just the insurmountable task of trying to undo 40 years of negative press and stories about the EU and what membership meant, and it was not just because we had to listen to and watch the then leader of UKIP spout bile every single day of the campaign.
I felt alienated by that campaign because the voices I heard time after time were men’s; I rarely heard women’s voices, despite our best efforts to be heard. I wrote a piece in our national newspaper in Wales before the referendum urging women to get involved, to get their voices heard and to talk about the issues that concerned all of us. I particularly wanted young women’s voices to be heard. A University of Loughborough analysis of the referendum campaign showed that men received an astonishing 91% of EU referendum coverage in newspapers and 84% of the coverage in broadcast media.
The voting patterns by gender in the referendum were also interesting. In all age categories up to age 64, women voted to remain in higher percentages than men. In the 18-24 age group, 80% of women voters voted to remain, compared with 61% of men. The majority of women were not heard during the campaign and the majority did not get the result they wanted in the referendum either. However, it was a woman, Gina Miller, who took on the Government after the result. She suffered horrendous abuse and character assassination in the process, but it was her determination and bravery in the face of all of that that led to the Prime Minister being dragged back to Parliament to obtain specific permission to trigger article 50.
What about the withdrawal negotiations, now that they have started? I know the Minister will say this, so I will pre-empt him by saying that I know we have a female Prime Minister. However, her ministerial negotiating team is entirely male: the Brexit Secretary and the Secretaries of State for International Trade and for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Their teams at the Departments for Exiting the European Union and for International Trade, and the Foreign Office are also all entirely male—there is not a single female Minister from the House of Commons in those teams. That negotiating team is working on behalf of 65 million people, more than half of whom are women.
We have a lot to lose through Brexit. Wales is a net beneficiary of EU membership and has been in receipt of EU structural funds for a number of years. The availability of the European social fund has supported a range of programmes in Wales that have focused on not only tackling the causes of poverty, but investing in skills and young people. Many of those programmes have focused on addressing the barriers that continue to hold women back and contribute to ongoing economic inequality. Chwarae Teg’s Agile Nation 2 project is one of them. Others include Agile Nation 1, funded as part of the previous round of structural funds, and the Welsh Government’s Parents, Childcare and Employment programme—PaCE—which provides targeted support to help women gain employment.
On its own, the Agile Nation 2 project is worth £12 million and is funded by the European social fund and the Welsh Government. The project works with women and with small and medium-sized enterprises in priority sectors in Wales to address the causes of the gender pay gap. Those projects not only deliver services that support women; many also provide employment for women. The third sector workforce in Wales is predominantly female, and 66% of the public sector workforce in Wales is female.
European funding has been used to deliver projects directly focused on equalities and, probably more importantly, cross-cutting themes of equality and tackling poverty. So far there has been no guarantee from the Government that funds repatriated to the UK will be made available to Wales to continue work similar to that which has been possible through funding streams such as the European social fund.
Membership of the EU has had a very positive impact on equalities legislation in both the UK and Wales. It is vital that we receive guarantees that the rights and protections from EU-derived equalities legislation in the UK will be maintained post Brexit. The current EU framework of legislation has acted as an absolute equality protection here in the UK. For example, it has prevented the scrapping of parts of the Equality Act 2010 as part of the Government’s one-in, two-out deregulation red tape challenge.
Membership of the EU has ensured not only that legislation is passed that explicitly deals with the causes of inequality, but that the impact of all Government policies on equality is considered, in relation to preventing discrimination and advancing equality. We have kept equality impact assessments in Wales, but the UK Government have scrapped them. As a result, the cumulative impact on women of seven years of austerity policies, such as welfare reform and tax changes, under the coalition Government, the previous Conservative Government and the current Conservative Government has not been accurately assessed by Government Departments, and policy is not being developed with a focus on equality. It has been the Labour party and groups such as the Women’s Budget Group that have illustrated the damaging effect of the past seven years on women in Wales and the UK.
Brexit will lead to a further lack of focus on preventing discrimination and advancing equality, and the full impact of Government decisions on women will continue to be ignored by this Government. The Women and Equalities Committee report, “Ensuring strong equalities legislation after the EU exit”, published in the previous Parliament, made a number of good recommendations. I hope that the Minister has read them and might discuss them with his colleagues. They included bringing forward an amendment to the Equality Act 2010
“to empower Parliament and the courts to declare whether legislation is compatible with UK principles of equality”,
including a clause in the repeal Bill that
“explicitly commits to maintaining the current levels of equality protection when EU law is transposed into UK law”
and developing a cross-Government equality strategy.
I am really concerned about access to equalities data and research and European networks post Brexit. Similar concerns were raised by those who submitted evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee for its inquiry. Wales and the UK must have access to European civil society and equalities networks, and funds must be ring-fenced to allow current equalities research to continue undisrupted. That evidence base is crucial to shaping domestic policy and demonstrating the UK’s progress in meeting international obligations such as the sustainable development goals.
Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)
Is my hon. Friend concerned that the Government are now proposing in the repeal Bill to give themselves so-called Henry VIII powers to modify a whole raft of legislation as seems appropriate, which could have an impact on legislation relating to women?
That is absolutely right. Those Henry VIII powers are part of the strategy I mentioned earlier of avoiding scrutiny, challenge and debate.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
My hon. Friend mentioned the WASPI women. Did we not see here in Westminster Hall recently the Government’s contempt for Parliament when the motion on that debate was rejected by Members, and instead of there being a deferred Division on the WASPI issue, the Government have completely ignored it and not brought it to the Floor of the House? That shows they cannot be trusted with the Henry VIII powers they are bringing in via the Queen’s Speech.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and makes an important point. I do not think there is any trust in what the Government are trying to do with the repeal Bill.
As negotiations progress, it is crucial that thought is given to the financial impact that Brexit will have on women in Wales and the steps that should be taken to ensure that strong equalities legislation is maintained. Leaving the EU must not mean throwing away the decades of positive work that has been achieved in relation to equalities by the trade union and labour movement and progressive labour lawyers. Equality must be at the forefront of the agenda. This is why I, along with the Mother of the House, have written to the Prime Minister to express our concern about the lack of women involved in the Brexit negotiations. Where is our voice? I cannot see where it will come from.
The Prime Minister has said:
“As we leave the European Union…we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.”
I am afraid I simply do not have faith in those negotiating with our EU partners. I am going slightly off-piste here, but does anyone remember the opening lines of the song from the “Pinocchio” Disney film?
“When you get in trouble and you don’t know right from wrong, give a little whistle.”
After the £350 million a week to the NHS promise on that bus, the Foreign Secretary’s latest insult to the EU 27 just reinforced his Pinocchio credentials. I make a joke of it, but when the task ahead is almost too large to comprehend, we need to have confidence in those negotiating on our behalf, and I do not.
Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend think that one of the rare shafts of light that occurred during the general election campaign from the Prime Minister was her refusal to guarantee the people of Wales that they would not suffer by losing out financially as a result of the Budget negotiations? Will my hon. Friend ask the Minister to give an assurance that there will be no reduction in the settlement for Wales as a result of the Budget negotiations and the conclusion of the deal?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. The Minister heard the question, and we look forward to hearing his answer.
There are more than 40 years of laws made in the context of European Union membership. The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, has described Brexit as unleashing a “legislative tsunami”, and he thinks it will be the greatest challenge in history to the integrity of Parliament’s procedures. The repeal Bill published last week does nothing to reassure us that the integrity of Parliament’s procedures will be sustained, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) gave the example of what happened in the WASPI debate.
The Bill does nothing to reassure me and women across Wales that the Government will protect and maintain our hard-fought-for rights when we exit the EU. When I hear the Brexit Secretary say, for example, that all current workers’ rights under existing law will be protected, I am not convinced at all. It is not a promise, and it is certainly not a guarantee. We know what the Government are up to with the inclusion of those dangerous Henry VIII powers in the Bill. As we all know, Henry VIII’s powers never did much good for women—I’m here all week.
Wales is far more dependent than the United Kingdom as a whole on trade with the European Union. We know that 67% of Welsh exports went to the EU in the last quarter of last year. More than 190,000 jobs in Wales are connected to demand from the single market, yet the Wales Office has declined to publish any formal analysis of the effects that different forms of trade partnership with the European Union would have on the Welsh economy.
On higher education, we have more than 5,500 students from the EU enrolled in Welsh universities. Analysis from 2011-12 shows that EU students generated nearly £133 million for the economy and more than 1,200 jobs. Cardiff University in my constituency has gained from live framework programme 7 and Horizon 2020 projects awarded up to the end 2016, amounting to more than £24 million, with further applications to Horizon 2020 in the pipeline to the value of another £20 million. For Cardiff University alone, European structural fund projects are worth an additional £39 million, with a further £22.5 million of projects in development. One significant recipient of the funding is CUBRIC—Cardiff University brain research imaging centre. That is set to become one of Europe’s leading facilities for brain imaging, but it was able to exist only because of more than £4.5 million of EU funds.
Cardiff University is collaborating with other EU universities on more than 50 research projects, and 16% of Welsh university research funding comes from the EU; that is far more than the 10% from private sources. More than 4,500 students and nearly 1,000 staff from Welsh universities have studied in other countries under the Erasmus scheme. Where is the guarantee from the Government that the EU funding streams will be replaced in full after 2020? Please will the Minister address that when he responds to the debate?
However, the most pressing issue, which has left at least 3 million EU citizens in Britain and more than 1 million UK citizens in the EU in complete uncertainty, is their immigration status. EU citizens moving to the UK at the moment do not know under what immigration rules they will have to apply to live here. The Home Office website currently states:
“The cut-off date will be agreed during the negotiations but we are clear that it shouldn’t be earlier than 29 March 2017…or later than the date the UK leaves the EU.”
That raises the possibility of the Government telling EU citizens who arrived in Wales after 29 March 2017 that they will have to apply under a completely different set of immigration rules, despite that deadline not existing when they arrived here. Not only have the Government failed to guarantee the rights of EU citizens, but the repeal Bill is absolutely clear that the Government will have the power to modify, limit or remove the rights that UK law gives to EU citizens. That can be found on page 10 of the explanatory notes to the Bill if anyone wants to look at it.
There are 73,000 EU nationals living in Wales. Welsh public services are acutely reliant on non-UK citizens to take on public sector roles, and about one third of non-UK citizens living in Wales work in the public sector.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
I apologise for not being here at the start of my hon. Friend’s speech. She is touching on a very interesting point. During the general election campaign, I met a flower seller in Mountain Ash market who is Italian and lives in Cardiff. He said he was very upset, and when I asked why, he said, “Because ever since Brexit has been talked about, people keep coming to me and saying, ‘You’ll be going back home now, won’t you?’” He has lived in Cardiff for 15 years and is extremely upset. There are many people in that situation, as I am sure my hon. Friend will agree.
I agree entirely: we will all have examples of families and individuals in our constituencies who feel exactly the same way. This is a complete mess. People want to know what will happen to them. It is having a terrible effect on their lives, their family life and their work.
I will give an example. Just last week, a couple came to see me who are living and working in the United Arab Emirates. He is a UK citizen; he is from Cardiff Central and has a home there. He has worked abroad for 20 years, in Greece and now in the UAE. His wife is a Greek national, and their child was born in Greece but has a UK passport. His wife has never lived in the UK and neither has the child. They want to come back to Wales in order for their child to sit his A-levels, and they wanted to know whether they should come back to Cardiff before March 2019 and, if so, whether they would all be able to stay and work in the UK, or, if they left it until after March 2019, whether the mother, with a Greek passport, would be allowed to live and work in the UK. I cannot advise them on what to do. I have absolutely no idea whether they will be able to do that or when they will be able to do it, and I do not even know when I might be able to tell them. I do not think the Prime Minister knows either. Why are the Government treating people in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England in that way?
I have mentioned before in the House my constituent Bashir Naderi, who came to the UK more than 10 years ago as an unaccompanied child refugee. Now aged 20, he has been living in Cardiff and made his home there. Last year, the Home Office attempted to remove him forcibly back to Afghanistan. Before fleeing Afghanistan as a child, he had seen his father murdered by the Taliban; that happened in front of him. He does not know whether any of his remaining family are still alive. In Cardiff, though, he has a girlfriend, Nicole, and a Welsh family who love him. He has been to school in Cardiff and then to college. He has worked hard to complete his training and is now ready, as an adult, to play his part in the economy and the workplace. That is what Wales needs—people who have worked hard and developed skills to play a part in our communities.
We handed in to the Home Secretary a petition with nearly 15,000 signatures. I organised it, along with Bashir’s family and supporters, and it was presented to the Home Secretary in January. I have raised in the House Bashir’s case and the wider policy issues about child refugees, and I have written to the Home Secretary about it. However, I have not even had an acknowledgement of my letters, never mind the petition, and when I will get a substantive answer, I do not know.
The Government’s current policy on child refugees such as Bashir—forcing them to reapply for asylum when they turn 18—is not only callous, but an ineffective use of Home Office time when the Government could be supporting people who need it. I have large numbers of constituents, as I am sure many hon. Members have, who are appealing Home Office decisions to reject asylum claims.
Mr George Howarth (in the Chair)
Order. I am sure that the hon. Lady is about to relate her remarks back to Wales and the Queen’s Speech. I can see the direction of travel, but perhaps she will want to get there a bit sooner.
Thank you, Mr Howarth; I will do that. I gave that example because many of these constituents have skills that they want to contribute to the Welsh economy, but they are not allowed to do so because they cannot work while their asylum status is unconfirmed. That is UK Government policy that applies to Wales and is affecting the ability of people to contribute to the Welsh economy.
The current target time for asylum appeals to receive a court date is 48 weeks. That is 48 weeks when people are in limbo. It is partly because of civil service cuts, but also because of cuts to the tribunals service, which have left Wales with inadequate services, too few people to process cases and insufficient judges to hear them. Without action from the Government to improve case processing and decision making, and increasing capacity in our courts system in Wales, the problem will only get worse, but there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to address it.
Those examples show the negative impact of the Government’s approach to Wales and our people, and the general election results confirmed that Welsh voters agree. We saw the loss of three Conservative seats, resources poured into target constituencies that the Conservatives failed to win, and the majorities of their re-elected MPs slashed across Wales. We should not be surprised by that. People in Wales know that the Conservative party does not care about Wales. What exactly is the point of Tory MPs in Wales? They have stood by and let the Prime Minister dole out an enormous bung to the DUP and have done nothing and got nothing for Wales. Wales knows that Welsh Labour MPs, Labour councillors, Labour Assembly Members and the Welsh Labour Government continue to stand up for the people of Wales and to fight for an equal and progressive nation. That is why the Conservative party has never been, and never will be, elected to form a Government in Wales.
Mr George Howarth (in the Chair)
Before I call the next speaker, I would point out that we have just 33 minutes before the winding-up speeches and seven hon. Members hope to be called. I will at this point give informal guidance. If everyone sticks to a five-minute time limit voluntarily, we might just get everyone in. Even then it will be a bit of a push, but I am leaving that as informal guidance at this point. I call Madeleine Moon.
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab)
Thank you, Mr Howarth; I will speak fast. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) for an amazing speech and for arranging for the debate to take place. The focus on the rights of women in relation to Brexit was spot on and something that no one else has raised so far. I am so pleased that she has done so.
One highlight of the Queen’s Speech was the customs Bill. I want to focus on that and the impact in Bridgend and in particular on Ford’s automotive engine plant. Like many other automotive companies in the UK, Ford relies heavily on tariff and customs-free trade. Automotive experts, including the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, have made it crystal clear that customs barriers and tariffs will cripple the industry. It is no secret that the single market and customs union have been critical to the sector’s competitiveness. That is critical; we cannot allow that to change. The most recent figures show how significant the industry is to the UK economy. Its turnover was £71 billion and it supports 800,000 jobs. The EU is the largest market for the UK’s automotive sector, with 56% of exported cars going into it.
The Government should heed calls from the sector and ensure that the benefits of the single market and tariff and customs-free trade with the EU is retained. That is essential. Keeping free trade and the supply chain unaffected is imperative, otherwise costs will increase. It is estimated that the effect on the automotive industry of losing free access to the customs union will be catastrophic. This is a highly integrated global industry, with vehicles and parts crossing borders multiple times in the assembly process. It relies on the just-in-time manufacturing process, so we need to maintain a seamless customs arrangement. Without that just-in-time process, we will have companies’ cash tied up in making sure that parts are available and stockpiled rather than arriving just in time. That will have a devastating impact on the viability of the automotive trade in the UK.
Leaving the EU without a deal would mean reverting to World Trade Organisation tariffs and customs checks at UK borders, which would increase delays, significantly increase costs and impact competiveness. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders found that a 10% tariff on finished vehicles because of World Trade Organisation rules would cost the industry a staggering £4.5 billion, which would inevitably increase costs for consumers—the average cost of a car in the UK is expected to rise by £1,500 as a result. Research from the PA Consulting Group has found that the cost of moving to a World Trade Organisation regime would impose a 4.5% tariff on vehicle components alone, including the parts needed for the engines being built in Bridgend. That would impact the competiveness of companies such as Ford in Bridgend, and then there is the knock-on effect of 14,000 jobs associated with that factory in Bridgend—14,000 jobs that I am determined to protect.
I cannot stress enough how important tariff and customs free trade is. Investment in the UK car industry has already sharply declined in the first half of this year to just £322 million, compared with the total of £1.66 billion that was invested in the UK’s automotive sector last year. Companies are delaying spending because it is difficult to plan amid uncertainty over our future trading arrangements and concerns relating to the World Trade Organisation tariffs. The Government should carry out an impact assessment on how changes to customs procedures will affect the automotive industry, and absolutely avoid the possibility of resorting to World Trade Organisation rules.
The industry needs concrete reassurances and further details on how the customs Bill will ensure frictionless trade. Nothing is being told to the companies, everyone is living with uncertainty and employees are deeply concerned about their future, their ability to invest in mortgages and the uncertainty of their job prospects. Are they actually going to be in work in two years’ time? Nobody knows. Without doubt, the imposition of tariffs by losing access to the single market and customs union puts our businesses across Wales, such as Ford, at a significant disadvantage.
My hon. Friend is making a very important point about the Government’s industrial strategy. It talks about the whole of the UK, but in the automotive sector they have done a sweetheart deal with Nissan, putting greater uncertainties on the other car plants in the United Kingdom. If we are going to have an industrial strategy for all, there must be a level playing field.
This Government do not like level playing fields. They do bungs to the DUP, and goodness knows what bung has gone into the north-east—I don’t know, nobody knows. We have to have transparency, and we do not have transparency.
A completed car being exported into the EU would face a tariff of 10%, with 4.8% on assembled engines and 2% on components. Currently, banking passporting of capital across the EU is allowed. Is the Wales Office monitoring the number of Welsh businesses applying for banking licences in the EU? SMEs will need time to cope with dealing with the customs transition. Are SMEs going to have support, training and opportunities to ensure awareness of the impact of exiting the customs union on their businesses? There is a great deal of concern that that is not there. Finally, will the Minister comment on REACH rules, on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals, which are used widely in the automotive industry, and say what he is doing to look at the impact on the automotive industry in Wales?
Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) on securing this debate and on her very fine speech.
This is a pivotal period in our history. It is a point that will determine the future of our economy, our governance and our relations with the rest of the world—that is, the world beyond just England—but I regret to say that the Prime Minister’s legislative programme is a deficient plan for defining times. The UK Government have no majority of their own, a compromised mandate and, as far as I can see, no real plan for Wales. They do have a split Cabinet, a lame duck premier and a legislative programme dominated by what one senior EU diplomat described to me recently as a vanity project for a few politicians who have now largely jumped ship—all that based on an unassailable sense of entitlement and an optimism that all will be well and the world will beat a path to our door.
My contribution today will be focused on two of the most wretched elements of the Queen’s Speech: the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the Government’s wilful neglect of Wales’s infrastructure. It is now quite clear that Westminster intends to claw back powers from the people of Wales. The UK Government intend to encroach on our basic power to govern ourselves, trashing the settlement that, since 1999, has allegedly been based on an agenda of respect. Plaid Cymru MPs will do all that we can to oppose the Bill. We have always said that we will never vote for legislation that takes power away from the people of Wales. Now that the Brexit Secretary has conceded that his withdrawal Bill will need the consent of the devolved Governments, the way that he achieves his purpose will be revelatory, if not miraculous. I look forward to how he will explain himself, but there we are—we live in very strange times.
One way to avoid the provisions of the withdrawal Bill that would most damage Wales would be to make it largely unnecessary by maintaining our economic links with our soon-to-be-former partners. Staying in the single market and the customs union would render much of the Bill nugatory. Yet, as I said, there is no majority, no mandate, no plan, a split Cabinet, a lame duck premier and a legislative programme dominated by a vanity project. As the Prime Minister might say, “Remind you of anyone?” Well, actually, it does; but it is more John Major than Margaret Thatcher.
Turning to infrastructure commitments, where is the concrete commitment—literally concrete—to deliver for Wales? There is a further commitment to HS2, and Welsh taxpayers will be contributing to building the most expensive railway in the world without an inch of it being in Wales. Whatever benefits might come to north and north-east Wales, and perhaps even my constituency, objective commentators have said that it will actually damage the economy of much of the south of our country. I do not think that has been given the attention that it should have been.
The most glaring omission is the electrification of the south Wales main line. I understand that we are to have a further Government U-turn—possibly today, or perhaps it has already been announced—just before we leave for our constituencies. The Prime Minister said the other night that she hoped we would leave Westminster to settle down. Well, we are here not to settle down but to settle up. The Labour Government promised us full electrification in 2009—I took their word for it then, and I am sure their intentions were sincere—and full electrification was promised again in 2010. It is enough of a scandal that eight years later we are still waiting for it, but for the British Government to scuttle electrification of the line to Swansea while expecting the people of Wales to stump up for England’s HS2 is breathtakingly arrogant and totally indefensible. I should be glad to hear the Minister’s attempt to defend it.
The UK Government are backtracking on the electrification of the south Wales main line. As for the equivalent electrification of the north Wales main line, I suppose we can join the long line of honest people queuing up to whistle for their money from this dodgy Government.
David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
I think not, because time is rather short.
The Queen’s Speech claws away at our ability to strengthen our country, and it indulges the country’s constitutional obsessives and imperial Walter Mittys at the same time. Plaid Cymru will oppose this destructive and offensive stupidity.
Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) on securing the debate. We had to wait longer than we expected for the Queen’s Speech, apparently because the ink took longer than expected to dry on the vellum. When it came, it made no mention whatever of the tidal lagoon. It did include five interesting objectives: working with the devolved Administrations to ensure prosperity outside the EU; an industrial strategy that spreads opportunity throughout the UK; backing infrastructure to support economic growth; backing new industries; and acting to reduce energy bills. However, it seems to me that, unless I can be convinced otherwise, the Government have no interest in Wales.
Five years ago, in 2012, the first formal planning document for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate. The construction of the tidal lagoon featured in the Conservative party manifesto in 2015, but not in 2017. In January this year, former Energy Minister Charles Hendry published his independent review of tidal lagoons, which concluded that the Swansea bay tidal lagoon would be cost-effective and
“a significant economic opportunity for Wales and the UK more generally.”
Crucially, Hendry stated that moving ahead with a lagoon off the Swansea coast should be seen as “a no-regrets policy” and that it should be built
“as soon as is reasonably practicable.”
The Swansea bay tidal lagoon is set to be the blueprint for tidal energy in the UK. It is a game changer for Wales, but despite the support of the Welsh Government, a number of MPs, AMs, councillors, Wales Office Ministers and Charles Hendry, the UK Government have still not committed to backing the project. We have had enough.
As Cardiff bay, which attracts more than 1 million visitors per annum, has shown, developments that increase the attractiveness and usefulness of Wales’s shoreline can provide a catalyst for further investment and leisure use. There is a strong expectation that the new tidal lagoon would support national events and raise Swansea’s profile. It could build on Swansea’s very strong existing maritime heritage, which includes the National Waterfront Museum and the water sports centre of excellence. As hon. Members will have read in the review, the range of employment opportunities will be far-reaching, not just in design, build and manufacturing, but in related services such as tourism, recreation and recruitment. That will be of huge benefit not just to Gower, Swansea and Wales but to the rest of the United Kingdom. I feel I need to highlight that point, because we are being very short-sighted.
As an educationalist, I feel it pertinent to note how the University of Wales Trinity Saint David is responding by focusing on the skills, needs and opportunities that the tidal lagoon will bring, including the digital skills that are needed to deliver it.
Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on the tidal lagoon. It is also worth mentioning that 100,000 tonnes of British steel will go into the project. The Prime Minister said that she was disappointed with Donald Trump for withdrawing from the Paris climate accords, yet she refuses to give the go-ahead to this vital, clean, green energy project. How are those two positions compatible?
Mr George Howarth (in the Chair)
Order. The hon. Gentleman may be leading the hon. Lady down a rose-strewn path—unless she can find some way of relating his point to Wales and the Queen’s Speech.
I can tie it back in: the Government missed the opportunity to include our green agenda in their Queen’s Speech.
It is through education and training that we can provide job opportunities for our young people to thrive and prosper in the communities they grew up in. I feel strongly about that, as does a very good friend of mine, an Assembly Member for Llanelli. We do not want the children of Gower to think that they have to get out of Wales to get on. Let them have opportunities locally so that families and future generations can survive in Gower and Wales.
My constituency and the Swansea bay area, which is represented by several hon. Members present, will not see realise the project’s full benefits unless the Government commit to it. Recent reports have stated that the tidal lagoon is in its most precarious position since its inception; it is in danger of not happening. Funding is available until Christmas, but what will happen then? We need answers. More than £200 million has been provisionally committed, with investors ready to raise hundreds of millions more to fund the project, but David Stevens, the founder of Admiral Insurance, recently said:
“If there’s no evidence that the government is committed then at some point the patience of investors will be exhausted”.
He is right. Swansea tidal lagoon investors have reportedly now decided to delay their investment. We have to have the go-ahead. It is reported that staff have been asked to cut back to a four-day working week. In the words of Mr Stevens, unless the Government act,
“an opportunity will have been lost and it will be very hard to piece together again”.
This is about the future of my constituency. The tidal lagoon would provide a £1.3 billion infrastructure investment in Swansea bay and the surrounding areas. In each year of operation, it would save approximately 236,000 tonnes of carbon, while still fully powering 155,000 Welsh homes.
My constituents and I are very disappointed. I am led to believe that the last Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), was pushing the tidal agenda forward quite forcefully, but the incumbent is stalling. Like my predecessor, he has failed to deliver for Gower and Wales.
Why have the Government not given their support? Are they not interested in green energy, or do they simply not care about Wales? The tidal lagoon project would bring billions to the local and national economy. Wales and the UK would lead the world in exploring green energy alternatives. This project was started five years ago, and now it could be at an end—unless the Government give the tidal lagoon in Swansea the go-ahead immediately.
David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) on securing the debate. One thing she said that struck me forcibly was that the Government lost the general election in Wales. I was pleased to see my hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) and for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) gain their seats from the Conservative party.
Having three new Labour Members of Parliament in Wales is relevant to the Queen’s Speech, because it has put a stop to the Government’s grammar schools policy, their proposed legislation on free schools meals and their dementia tax proposals, which caused tremendous upset in my constituency during the election. Positive things have happened because of the general election result, such as last week’s announcement of the inquiry into contaminated blood that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) had demanded. The Minister looks quizzical, but he knows that 28 Labour Members and four Plaid Cymru Members were elected in Wales. The Government’s majority is non-existent in Wales.
To secure the passage of the Queen’s Speech through the House of Commons, the Government have effectively had to bribe the Democratic Unionist party with more than £1 billion. I ask the Minister: if the Government are going to give a significant £1 billion boost to Northern Ireland—including £400 million for infrastructure development, £150 million for the roll-out of ultrafast broadband, an extra £200 million investment in health, and further investment to tackle deprivation and mental health issues—is the Barnett formula now dead, as the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) suggested? I support the Barnett formula; it works well, ensuring that UK Government expenditure is distributed on a par across the regions of the UK. However, if the Government can find £1 billion from the magic money tree that they said did not exist and give that money to Northern Ireland to invest in things that Wales also needs, such as broadband roll-out, strategic transport infrastructure, housing support and investment in health, then they need to come to defend the Queen’s Speech today.
As the First Minister of Wales has said, if that £1 billion had been apportioned correctly to Wales, it would have meant an extra £1.6 billion for the economy of Wales. That money would have been used, for example, to help to boost the projects that other hon. Members have mentioned today, including not only the south Wales tidal lagoon but proposals for a tidal lagoon in north Wales. It would also have helped us to build on the announcement made by the Secretary of State for Transport two days ago on High Speed 2 at Crewe, to ensure that we get the benefits of HS2 in north Wales through investment in the line from Crewe to Chester and the electrification of the lines across to north Wales. It would have ensured that we met the commitment that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made in the Budget statement to provide money for a growth deal for north Wales, which I am yet to see; I hope the Minister will give some indication of it in his winding-up speech today. There are a range of things that could have been done in the Queen’s Speech, but which the Government failed to do while giving money to Northern Ireland.
I will mention one other thing, because it is happening today. Today in the House of Lords, there is a by-election for a Member of these Houses of Parliament. It is a by-election for an hereditary peer, and among the hereditary peers who are standing is one of my constituents, Lord Mostyn. I had to fight an election six weeks ago to convince thousands of people to vote for me. His electorate today is 31 people—hereditary peers. I hope the Government will bring forward proposals to ban hereditary peers, to stop this nonsense in the House of Commons and the Houses of Parliament. We must abolish hereditary peers and end this system today.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Guto Bebb)
Who created that system?
The Labour Government did in 1999, with the pledge to abolish it at an appropriate moment. Now is the appropriate time—let us do it today.
Mr George Howarth (in the Chair)
We have approximately seven minutes before I have to call the Front-Bench speakers to respond to the debate. I ask the remaining two Back-Bench speakers to divide the time judiciously between them.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab)
Thank you, Mr Howarth, for calling me to speak. I will certainly do my best to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) to make a contribution on equal parity.
The Queen’s Speech was an opportunity lost. It was a two-year programme that did not have a Welsh dimension, which is an absolute disgrace, particularly when we heard warm words from the Prime Minister, and indeed in the Queen’s Speech, that there would be a programme for the whole of the United Kingdom.
I will concentrate on three main points; other Members have touched on them, but I want to elaborate on them and get some answers from the Minister. The first is the north Wales growth deal. We have seen Cardiff and Swansea city deals, which I welcome. In no way do I want to take away from them, but north Wales needs a focus of attention. This growth deal has been announced in numerous autumn statements. It is supposed to be bottom-up from the councils in north Wales, but the reality is that they have been squeezed; they do not have the finances or other resources that are needed. If we are to have an industrial strategy for the whole United Kingdom, we need the United Kingdom Government to take the lead and not pass the buck.
Many of us here in Westminster Hall today received increased mandates from the people of Wales, including the people of north Wales. We want to have a voice when it comes to growth deals, and we want to be able to say that we can help deliver the best for our constituents, so I ask the Minister: what is happening with the north Wales growth deal and why are we as MPs being excluded from its consideration?
I know that the Minister has sympathy with me on the second issue I will raise, which is Welsh ports. That is because Welsh ports will be impacted by Brexit more than any other ports in Europe, because they are the corridor to the Republic of Ireland. If we are to have a “seamless” or “frictionless” border, we want to know what that means; businesses need to know exactly what that means. If we have tariffs in Welsh ports, including Holyhead, then we will have delays and additional costs, which will impact on jobs in north Wales, in Wales as a whole and in the whole United Kingdom. We need clarity on that. I understand the issues with the border in Northern Ireland—I understand the Good Friday agreement and the fragility of that policy. However, the issue of Welsh ports is very important, and thus far it has not been given the attention it deserves.
Finally—I want to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore to make as long a contribution as possible—I will refer to the Hendry review and the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. The policy has just been kicked into the long grass, with excuse after excuse. I support the policy, and when I was on the Energy and Climate Change Committee we conducted an inquiry into it. We concluded, across parties, that it was a good thing for British energy and British industry. The Hendry review was an independent inquiry, based on a model that this Government had put in—contract for difference strike prices. It is their model, it is their review and it is time they delivered.
I will finish with one last point. The DUP has had £1 billion—in many ways, good on it—but that has taken money and attention away from Wales, which is a disgrace. It is the job of the Wales Office to stand up and be the voice of Wales in Westminster, but it is failing us.
Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Howarth; I am grateful for the brief time I have.
I want to make three points. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) on securing the debate. I agree entirely with her, and indeed with the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams), about the power grab that the repeal Bill is now conducting against the Welsh Government. I believe that we could be bordering on a real constitutional issue in how devolution moves forward if—at the moment it appears that this will be the case—not all the relevant powers that currently reside with the EU are devolved to the Welsh Government by the UK Government.
There were two things missing from the Queen’s Speech that I feel quite passionate about, because they have an impact on Wales and should have been referred to. The first relates to rail electrification. We have had the Transport Secretary on the train to Paddington and we have had the Welsh Secretary driving the train from Paddington to Cardiff, and then saying that we will have additional funding for electrification to Swansea. That would have a significant impact on my constituency and many others across the south Wales belt, and it would have further implications for the electrification of the valleys lines, including the lines through Pencoed up to Maesteg and possibly even to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon)—that would create a transport hub in Bridgend.
That electrification is vital, and the UK Government—the Conservative Government—are failing the people of Wales by not securing it. That is simply unacceptable, especially given the hundreds of promises that Ministers have made time and again to provide electrification. Maybe the Transport Secretary and the Secretary of State for Wales just like driving trains—that might explain why they are so keen to make false promises.
The key area I wish to focus on is the impact of pension changes on women born in the 1950s, which was not considered in the Gracious Speech. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central for plugging the work of our hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and myself on this issue. The issue is specific to Wales—
And to the rest of the UK.
Yes—sorry; it was a comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, rather than by myself.
There was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to aid women born in the 1950s. As a result of the pension reforms introduced by the Conservative Government between 1990 and 1997, and indeed by the coalition Government—we must not forget the role of the Lib Dems in this, because it was their Pensions Minister who made the changes—those women have been severely disadvantaged. I am sure that every Member was made well aware of the issue by their constituents during the general election campaign. These women, who account for about 8% of my constituents, had planned their retirements, from both a financial and a social perspective, only to have the goalposts moved. That is a grave injustice, and this Government continue to ignore it.
Public pressure is mounting. Since the swathe of public opinion was made known at the general election, there has been another spike in support for these women. My understanding is that close to 50 Conservative MPs now publicly support the campaign, in addition to all the opposition MPs across parties. I encourage all Members who are concerned about the issue—I will make a plug here—to attend the all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women, which is meeting in Committee Room 5 at 3 pm. Perhaps the Minister would like to come along and listen to accounts of the issues these women face.
In conclusion, the Queen’s Speech was littered with missed opportunities. The repeal Bill, in its current form, flies in the face of devolution and makes no effort to respect the constitutional arrangements in Wales while arranging our exit from the EU. The continued lack of clarity about the electrification of the Cardiff to Swansea railway line will serve only to aggravate my constituents and local businesses. The silence on the issue of women born in the 1950s shows the continued ignorance about the injustice of the Government’s pension changes. The Queen’s Speech was a disappointment and serves only to show that this Government are not seriously considering the issues that impact Wales.
Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) on her very good speech and on securing this debate. We in Scotland share many of the concerns she outlined. She spoke about the lack of vision for Wales in the Queen’s Speech and asked what was on offer for Wales from the Government. She then went on to mention a long list of major projects they have failed to announce. There was also no mention of transitional help for the WASPI women. We have had all that while the Government also apparently cut the number of Ministers in the Welsh Office. It hardly suggests a Government greatly interested in listening to Welsh concerns.
The hon. Lady went on to highlight the dangers for Wales of the repeal Bill, which features power grabs from the devolved Administrations, as the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales made clear in their joint statement condemning it. She deplored the nastiness and vitriol of the EU referendum campaign, and I very much share those concerns. She rightly deplored the awful attack on Jo Cox and highlighted the drowning out of women’s voices in the campaign, quoting figures and giving examples that I continue to find shocking, and I look forward to the Minister explaining those.
The biggest part of her speech was on Brexit and the mess we should expect from the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. I, too, think the situation is unsustainable. There is still no proper formal input from the Welsh and Scottish Governments on an issue that we all know will cause massive damage to both nations. The Government’s obstinacy is matched only by their eagerness to get a deal done with the DUP, as several Members have highlighted. What are the priorities? Does the DUP get a greater say than the Governments of Scotland and Wales? When will there be proper engagement? If I may press the Minister, what happens if either Scotland or Wales, or both, withhold legislative consent for the repeal Bill?
In a Backbench Business debate on 2 March, the hon. Lady laid out the huge damage being done to the higher education sector in Wales by Brexit and how much damage was likely to follow as research funding dried up. To be clear, Scottish MPs have the same concerns for Scottish universities, but does she consider that the damage will be so great and so long-lasting that it will be too much for Wales to bear? She might conclude that she should be doing whatever she can to frustrate the headlong rush of the Government and her party towards a Brexit cliff.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) rightly highlighted the threat to the automotive industry from Brexit, specifically to Ford in her constituency. As was mentioned, Nissan received some assurances from the Prime Minister early on after the Brexit referendum. I do not recall any similar help or assurances being offered to Ford at Bridgend. Forgive me if I have missed that, but I cannot recall a Minister ever having said that action would be taken to help the Ford workers keep their jobs. What investments will the Government consider to help keep Welsh jobs?
The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) made a very good speech. He spoke of a deficient plan for defining times and focused on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, the clawback of powers from Wales and the lack of investment in Welsh infrastructure. His comments about the power grab from the devolved Administrations were rightly scathing. We in Scotland very much share his view. I must also mention the very good contributions from the hon. Members for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and for Ogmore (Chris Elmore). [Interruption.] Apologies for that pronunciation; my Gaelic is not too bad, but my Welsh is sadly lacking.
Finally, looking at the list of Bills in the Queen’s Speech that affect Wales, I cannot escape the conclusion that those things would be better done in Wales. Does anyone seriously believe that Welsh agriculture is better served by legislation made here rather than in Cardiff? Tackling domestic violence and abuse in Wales—would that be better done here or there? I think the Welsh people are plenty smart enough to do those things and a whole lot more in their own capital city.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. You are known throughout Parliament as a just and fair man and an excellent Chair.
Mr George Howarth (in the Chair)
Order. May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman does not put it to the test?
I withdraw. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) on securing this important debate and so eloquently illustrating her points about Brexit by way of graphic examples from her constituency. I pay tribute to her for highlighting a refreshing and original analysis of the gender imbalance in the whole Brexit debate. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), who spoke about Brexit issues and the impact on the car industry in her constituency.
This debate should have been about the Government’s vision for Wales and the rest of the UK. It debate should have offered the Government an opportunity to show their deep understanding of the needs, wants and aspirations of the people of Wales. It should have provided us all with an opportunity to discuss and improve the Government’s Wales-specific proposals. Regrettably, as contribution after contribution has highlighted, there is no such opportunity, because the Tories have no vision for Wales. The Tories have no programme for Wales. The Tories have no understanding of Wales. We are an afterthought.
The people of Wales saw through the Tory manifesto in the general election. They realised they were being sold a pup—a pig in a poke—and rejected the offer, instead choosing Labour’s visionary manifesto. That risible Tory offer stands in stark contrast to Welsh Labour’s general election manifesto. From a position of weakness, the Tory Government are now asking for consensus and agreement to get their emasculated manifesto into statute. In the spirit of co-operation, I wish to highlight some of Labour’s positive popular policies, which they are welcome to introduce. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the Government have already flattered Labour by stealing our ideas for an energy price freeze and ending austerity, which is being discussed in the higher echelons of the Tory party. The more they steal Labour’s policies, the more they show themselves to be a party bankrupt of ideas, out of touch with ordinary people and lacking in leadership.
However, there are other policy areas where the Government could learn from Labour to create a more prosperous, healthier, fairer country in Wales. Our manifesto had Wales-specific policies. It had a proudly Welsh agenda, with Welsh values of community, equality, efficiency and hope. It shows that a UK Labour Government working with a Welsh Labour Government would not launch a power grab. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for highlighting that aspect of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. It is a naked power grab to take powers back to Westminster. The manifesto shows that a UK Labour Government would be committed to investing in Wales, not another five years of austerity, cuts and indifference.
Many families in Wales, and indeed the UK, are financially worse off than they were 10 years ago. On average, a family is £1,400 worse off. Voters are sick to their hind teeth with austerity, which does not work. Low and middle-income earners are taking all the pain, and the high-income earners are making all the gain. Even Tory Ministers now accept Labour’s analysis of austerity. Our manifesto promised investment, reward for hard work and, most of all, hope. It made a commitment to work with the Welsh Government to tolls on the Severn bridge—I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), who highlighted that—and pledged to end years of Tory under-investment in national rail infrastructure. We promised to commit more than £700 million from a national transformation fund to fund electrification of the Great Western main line to Swansea. That was highlighted by my hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock).
The manifesto contained a commitment to transform transport networks in north Wales, with electrification from north Wales to Crewe, which would link the region with HS2 and create capacity for new, more frequent services into Liverpool, and beyond to the north of England. The manifesto had clear support for the Wylfa Newydd project to ensure a sustainable economic legacy for Anglesey and the wider north Wales community. Those issues have been thoroughly explored by many Members today, especially on the Labour Benches. Also mentioned many times was the impact on our proposals for the tidal lagoon. I commend and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on raising that issue.
I have outlined numerous Labour policies, but which of those bold, much needed commitments have the Government committed to fully fund in their Queen’s Speech? The answer is none—not a single one. Perhaps we should not be surprised, because not only do the Government have no vision for Wales; they have no overall mandate for Wales. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) mentioned the Conservatives’ target seats and my success and that of other hon. Members in the Chamber today. The Tories proposed a Labour wipeout across Wales. They tried to plant their Tory tanks on Labour lawns in Bridgend, Wrexham, and Newport East. The ConservativeHome website listed the seats they were going to win from Labour Alyn and Deeside, Bridgend, Cardiff South and Penarth, Cardiff West, Clwyd South, Delyn, Newport East, Newport West, Wrexham, Ynys Môn and Torfaen.
Mr George Howarth (in the Chair)
Order. I am following the hon. Gentleman closely. I do not remember any of that being in the Queen’s Speech in relation to Wales. Perhaps he will return to the matter of the Queen’s Speech and Wales.
I will return to the Queen’s Speech and Wales and probably the grubbiest element, Mr Howarth: the alliance of the Conservative party with the DUP. The Prime Minister was reduced to securing her own position by throwing money from the magic money tree, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn—the magic money tree that Conservatives alleged Labour had. Well, I want a branch of that magic money tree in Wales. Does the Minister want a branch of that tree in Wales? [Interruption.]He says he will respond in due course. I hope that will be in the positive and the affirmative.
So there is a magic money tree in Northern Ireland that is worth £1 billion. As has been mentioned before, if it was transferred to Wales, that would mean £1.6 billion that we could invest in the infrastructure of Wales. After years of cuts from central Government, amounting to £1.2 billion a year from the Welsh block grant, our constituencies are suffering because of the lack of infrastructure and investment.
I hope the Minister will address the issue of the magic money tree for Wales when he winds up. We are in the mother of Parliaments. We are one of the best democracies in the world, yet we are reduced to pork-barrel politics for Northern Ireland, which is not a way to run a democracy. We need fair, open and transparent funding across the UK. Our people are crying out for it. The Minister knows his people are crying out for it. That is why his majority was reduced by such a massive amount and why I am here today. I will not have a word said against my benefactor and patron, the Prime Minister, who has allowed me to return to this place.
I thank my hon. Friend for his “Hear, hear.”
The debate has been very good. There was not much to debate because there was not much in the Queen’s Speech to benefit Wales, but we have picked over what little scraps there were. We have done justice to the people of Wales by analysing the Conservative programmes, or lack of them, proposed in the Queen’s Speech.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Guto Bebb)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) on securing this debate. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) on his return to the House and to the Front Bench. I am not sure whether that is a reflection of the fact that nobody else was willing to take the position under the current leader of the Labour party. It certainly seems that the only speech to indicate support for the leader of the Labour party was the final speech, from the shadow Minister, but we might have expected that.
The debate has been interesting. It has drifted away from the Queen’s Speech as it affects Wales on numerous occasions. Westminster Hall is a forum where hon. Members have more of an opportunity to make a point that is relevant to their own constituencies or to highlight issues of a partisan nature.
On the issue of my survival, which the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd highlighted, I remember that in 2015 the hon. Gentleman was in my constituency on the Wednesday prior to the election. I can assure him that I was not in his constituency in 2017, because I was looking after my own patch. If a little less hubris had been shown in 2015, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would not have had a two-year break. Now I will take an intervention.
On the Minister’s point about debating the Queen’s Speech in Westminster Hall, is it his intention to have a fuller debate in the Welsh Grand Committee, which was set up for Welsh issues only? It would also provide an opportunity for Conservative Welsh Members to attend and to speak up for Wales.
Mr George Howarth (in the Chair)
Order. Welsh politics has always held a great fascination for me, although I do not think this debate is the occasion to run either the last general election, or, as the Minister seems to be doing, the one before that. If we can stick to the issue at hand, I am sure the people of Wales will be very grateful to us.
I will take your advice on board, Mr Howarth, and will quickly respond to the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen). We agreed to a Welsh Grand Committee on the subject of the Queen’s Speech, but the people of Wales would think it odd if we had the same debate twice. However, we will of course have a Welsh Grand Committee in due course.
It is important to highlight that the point of the Queen’s Speech, to be perfectly frank, was to deal with the issue of Brexit. The hon. Member for Cardiff Central is a passionate advocate of remain. I have nothing but respect for her position, but I question whether her comments were more of a cry for help against the Labour manifesto rather than a complaint about the Queen’s Speech.
We are dealing with a decision taken not only by the people of the United Kingdom, but by the people of Wales. The decision was made in Wales, in the constituencies of many Labour Members, that Wales would leave the European Union. A vote was held and I suspect that every person here would describe themselves as a democrat. As such, we are left in a situation whereby the Government have an obligation to legislate for what was decided democratically in a referendum by the people of Wales and the United Kingdom. The Queen’s Speech therefore highlights the fact that a significant portion of the Bills in it deal with our leaving the European Union. It is clear from the constructive and not so constructive comments made by Opposition Members that everybody recognises that the process by which we will leave the European Union will be complicated and difficult and will require a degree of co-operation across the Floor of the House. I am certain that that will happen. The intention of the Government is to work with, not against, Opposition parties on these issues.
Before we turn to the content of the Queen’s Speech, it is worth reminding hon. Members that there was little difference between the Labour and Conservative manifestos at the general election when it came to leaving the European Union. Although the Government remain united in dealing with our exit from the European Union, in contrast with the Labour party, which has already lost shadow Ministers following disagreements about leaving the European Union. I therefore say to Labour Members that although we have 27 Bills in the Queen’s Speech, the vast majority of which have an impact on Wales, it is worth highlighting that the aim of the legislation on leaving the European Union is to provide clarity, continuity and certainty for people, businesses and organisations in Wales that are dealing with leaving the European Union.
As the Minister has said, the bulk of the Queen’s Speech is about exiting the European Union. Is he confident that the economy, foreign affairs and a whole host of other issues will get the attention they require while we spend our time discussing the minutiae of the regulations on fish fingers or whatever?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is imperative that all of us try to ensure that while we deal with this complex issue in a constructive manner, we also do not take our eye off the day job. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman’s comment.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was introduced in the Queen’s Speech. The aim is to provide certainty and continuity to businesses, workers and consumers in Wales and across the UK as we leave the European Union. The aim of the Bill is to fulfil the Government’s promise to end the supremacy of EU law in the UK by repealing the European Communities Act 1972, removing the supremacy of EU law and returning control to the UK. That is the only way for the UK to leave the European Union and ensure that our future laws are made in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.
That is an important point. We have talked about this so-called power grab, and I assure hon. Members that there is no intention whatever of a power grab. The first person to talk of the importance of UK frameworks as we leave the European Union was none other than Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales. I agree. We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where we leave the EU single market and damage the UK single market. The whole point of frameworks within any future settlement is to ensure that the UK market and the UK system work on the basis of equality between businesses and individuals across the United Kingdom. Although I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), who represents the Scottish National party, would disagree, it is fair to say that I am surprised that the Labour party, which claims to be a Unionist party, seems to be very annoyed at the prospect of having rules that apply across the United Kingdom agreed across the United Kingdom as part of the withdrawal process.
It is clear that withdrawing from the European Union and repealing the European Communities Act 1972 will leave a large hole in our statute book. We therefore have to ensure that there is no cliff edge on the day that we leave the European Union. Part of the intention of the legislation is to ensure that the body of law is incorporated into UK law, which will be known as EU retained law, to ensure that on the day after departure, businesses, consumers and so forth will be in a situation of certainty, knowing that the rules and regulations that applied on the day before we left the European Union apply the day after we leave. That is an effort to ensure continuity, which will be absolutely crucial.
As the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) highlighted in a passionate speech—I agreed with every single word, I must say—the certainty that businesses require in our departure from the European Union means that the regulations currently in place as part of EU law need to be in place as part of our own law, on the basis of continued EU legislation within the UK. We are trying to ensure that the issues raised about Bridgend are dealt with as we leave.
If the point really is about providing certainty, why include all the Henry VIII powers in the repeal Bill? That is what is leading to the mistrust. We believe—we are certain—that the Government will try to change EU law as it comes back into UK law.
The hon. Lady is a member of the Labour party, so I understand her suspicion of the intentions of a Conservative-led Government, but the aim of the Henry VIII powers are to correct deficiencies within the law as it stands. There will be thousands of deficiencies where legislation refers to European regulations and European laws. There will be a need to correct them. The same need to correct deficiencies will be granted to the Governments in Cardiff, Edinburgh and, I hope, Belfast. The intention is to correct deficiencies. The last thing the hon. Lady would want to see on the day after we depart the European Union is for our legal system to be inoperable. That would be a dereliction of duty on behalf of this Government.
I hope that gives some degree of comfort to the hon. Lady. Ultimately, there is an obligation on the Opposition to scrutinise as we go through the process of putting that the legislation in place.
Would the Minister give way on that very point?
Not for the time being; I have to make some progress.
Converting EU law into UK law is not enough to ensure a functioning statute book on exit day. As I have mentioned, retained EU law will contain a broad range of deficiencies that need to be corrected; the intention is that that those deficiencies can be corrected both at a devolved level and in Westminster.
In addition to the withdrawal Bill, there will be other EU exit Bills, which are absolutely essential for the way in which we can operate as we leave the European Union. The customs Bill will provide for a stand-alone UK customs regime on exit, and the trade Bill will put in place the essential and necessary framework to allow the UK to operate our own independent trade policy. I suspect Opposition Members, who respect the result of the referendum, would not argue against the need for a customs Bill or a trade Bill.
On the comments of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn about ports, the Wales Office is aware of the issues in relation to Holyhead port. I think I am right in saying that the Secretary of State has visited. I have recently had meetings with Irish Ferries, for example, to discuss the issue in detail. Although we all recognise the sensitive nature of the border in Northern Ireland, it is imperative that we ensure that the ports in Wales are also protected. The Wales Office is certainly very aware of that issue, and I am more than happy to deal with the hon. Gentleman on that in due course.
The trade Bill is also crucial because, as has been pointed out by many hon. Members, Wales is more dependent on exports than any other part of the United Kingdom. We saw a significant increase in our exports in the year to March 2017. When I hear the doom and gloom of Opposition Members about the Welsh economy, I would remind them that our exports are increasing, not decreasing, and we are exporting more to the European Union than we did in the year prior to the decision to leave the European Union. That is some source of comfort.
It is also imperative that we have an immigration Bill that deals with some of the issues raised about the concerns of EU citizens and the wider implications. On the point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff Central about her constituent and the lack of response from the Home Office, I would personally be more than happy to take that up on her behalf with the Home Office, if she would care to write to me about it. Such a delay in responding is simply not acceptable; I will happily look into it on her behalf.
We will also bring forward a fisheries Bill and an agriculture Bill, which will undoubtedly have an impact on Wales. Some 60,000 people are employed in the agriculture sector in Wales—we all know the importance of agriculture to our rural communities. We need to ensure that we have a functioning sector as we leave the European Union.
There are other pieces of legislation in the Queen’s Speech that are important to Wales. We will bring forward a number of proposals, for example modernising the courts system and dealing with domestic violence through the creation of a domestic violence and abuse commissioner. Those issues are not England-only; they apply in Wales.
I will try to respond to some of the points raised by hon. Members. I have touched on the fact that a number of pieces of legislation in the Queen’s Speech have a direct impact on Wales. Anybody who denied that would be wrong.
On the financial settlement for Wales, hon. Members have very short memories. Just before Christmas, we announced a fiscal framework for Wales that ensured a Barnett floor—something that has been called for by many interested parties in Wales for a very long time and was never delivered by the Labour party when they were in power in Westminster and in Cardiff Bay. It has been delivered by this Conservative Government. The fiscal floor currently ensures that for every £100 spent in England, £119 is spent in Wales. It guarantees that there will be a floor. In other words, because of that funding commitment, the Barnett squeeze will not happen again.
Over and above the Barnett consequentials, the Government have also delivered support for growth deals for Cardiff and Swansea. I assure the hon. Member for Ynys Môn that we are working very hard on achieving a growth deal for north Wales. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) is in discussions with us on a regular basis on the growth deal for north Wales.
Will the Minister give way?
I do not have time.
I have recently met every council leader and chief executive in north Wales, and I will be meeting the final ones this afternoon. If the hon. Member for Ynys Môn wants to meet me about the growth deal, I would be more than happy to have such a meeting.
I would point out to the hon. Member for Arfon that he is incorrect in stating that there are no consequentials from the High Speed 2 project. There are: HS2 is included in the Department for Transport budget and therefore there have been consequentials.
Mr George Howarth (in the Chair)
Order. Although it is not required, as a courtesy, the Minister normally allows the Member who introduced the debate time to wind up.
Yes, I am aware.
There have been Barnett consequentials to the Welsh Government’s capital budget from HS2. I also support the fact that the Crewe hub is essential for north Wales and will be very positive for that area. I hope that I have highlighted that the Queen’s Speech is not just positive but relevant for Wales, and that this Government are delivering for Wales.
I thank you, Mr Howarth, for your robust chairmanship this morning. I also thank all hon. Members on this side of the House who contributed to an excellent debate. The fact that we have debated much that was not in the Queen’s Speech for Wales but should have been is indicative of the current Government’s attitude, as is the fact that we have had no contributions whatever from Conservative Members to the debate, other than the response from the Minister. I am sure we will pick this up in September. I hope that “in due course” means September for a Welsh Grand Committee and that we can carry on with these discussions later in the year.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Wales and the Queen’s Speech.
The debate is also available online at https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-07-19/debates/EFFA5002-B594-4CAC-9B3E-AFDB8FAAAA30/Queen%E2%80%99SSpeechImplicationsForWales.