We Need The Westminster Government To Change Their Attitude Towards Wales

In the delayed House of Commons debate to mark St David's Day, I spoke about how the Tories stand by while Welsh Labour stands up for Wales. We need a government that will support our steel industry, give the go ahead to the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, stop the ill-judged plans for a Baglan prison, ensure fair funding for Wales and a Brexit that can reunite our country.

Stephen Kinnock: I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who is not in his place, for securing today’s debate. It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin).

I rise today to speak about a gross injustice visited upon the people of Wales not far from this House. On 10 February 2018, the Welsh people were quite simply robbed blind. With this being the delayed St David’s day debate, I would expect many rugby fans to be here, but for those who do not know what I am talking about, I am referring to the recent outcry in the Wales v. England six nations rugby match, when the referee fatally denied a legitimate Welsh try, which proved decisive. We saw Wales denied what we were due, and we were ignored by those in power. I am afraid that that is a running theme in political and public life. The rugby pitch is not the only place where England and Wales are not on a level playing field; not the only place where better judgment and match reviews are needed. In spite of all that, we persist.

Just as I have faith in the talent and promise of Welsh rugby, so I have faith in the talent, promise and future of Wales. Our best days are still ahead of us. Whitehall may not play fair, Westminster may ignore us and Downing Street may break its promises, but Wales will persist, and we shall we succeed.

The Conservative record in Wales is one of false and broken promises; it is the record of a Government who do not listen and do not care. What happened to rail electrification? What happened to the tidal lagoon? What happened to supporting our steel industry and to investing in our young people?

Geraint Davies: To add to the comments about what happened to the £700 million for rail electrification, as my hon. Friend knows, Network Rail also took out an extra £1 billion. We want extra investment in electrification, straightening lines, the Swansea metro, yet, proportionally, there is far less investment in Wales—something like 1% versus 5% of the population and 6% of the network. Does my hon. Friend agree that we are massively underfunded and desperately in need?

Stephen Kinnock: 

I agree absolutely that if the Government are serious about rebalancing the British economy, which is grossly skewed towards London and the south-east, that has to start with infrastructure investment. The difference between the per capita sums that are spent in London and the south-east and those that are spent in the rest of the country is a chasm that has to be filled.

When the Prime Minister famously declared in Wrexham that “nothing had changed”, she did so in front of a sign claiming that she had a plan for a “strong and ​prosperous future”. But building that future requires investment, not platitudes; action, not warm words. More than a year ago, the Hendry review—a Government- commissioned review, carried out by a former Conservative Minister, no less, reported back, calling for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon to get the go-ahead. It is a groundbreaking project that would power 150,000 Welsh homes for 120 years, creating thousands of jobs and using Port Talbot steel. Yet nothing has happened. Fourteen months on, and the Government have not even bothered to respond to the review. It is just like the sector deal for steel. For six months, a comprehensive plan for how we can turn our steel industry from one that is surviving into a sector that is thriving; a plan that would allow our communities to fulfil their potential, has sat on a shelf, gathering dust. The plan would mean an additional £1.5 billion of investment over the next five years, increasing production by 40%, creating 2,000 more jobs, training 200 more apprentices a year and increasing investment in R&D. It has the support of all the steel companies and unions, but to unlock that investment, the Government need to act to cut energy prices, which are, on average, 50% higher than those of our competitors.

The steelworkers of Port Talbot, Llanwern, Trostre and right across Wales have shown the lengths they will go to to save our steel industry, but when they agreed to changes in their pensions to save the industry the Government did nothing. They ignored our calls for changes to deemed consent that would have helped many to maximise their savings, and they did nothing when dodgy pension advisers—vultures—swept in to rip off our steelworkers.

Since the 2015 election, Labour MPs have called on Ministers over 700 times to stand up and support our steel industry. While the Business Secretary was on a jolly in Australia, I was in Mumbai with Community union fighting for the future of our steelworks and our industry. How much longer is this meant to continue? On the tidal lagoon and steel, we seem to have a Government incapable of making any decision, a Government frozen by their own ineptitude and shortcomings. While the Westminster Tories have stood by and done nothing, Welsh Labour has gone to the very limits of what it can do, announcing tens of millions of pounds of support for the Welsh steel industry and a plan for millions to support the lagoon. While the Tories stand by, Welsh Labour stands up.

Without more powers, however, there is only so much we can do. That is why powers must be given to Cardiff Bay, not hoarded by Westminster after Brexit. We have seen that we cannot trust the Tories with those powers. They promised electrification through to Swansea. It was in their manifesto. The then Welsh Secretary not only assured me, but promised when I challenged him at question time back in 2015 that we would have electrification. However, the day before learning of millions in new investment in London with Crossrail 2, we were told the electrification would be cancelled and that instead we would get hybrid diesel trains. As the Secretary of State experienced—it is a pity he is not in his place so I could remind him—those trains are not so reliable. After his finely balanced photo op with the Transport Secretary, the train broke down and started leaking on its inaugural journey.

The people of Wales deserve better than that. And we deserve better than a Government forcing a prison on Port Talbot, against the wishes of the community, in a ​totally inappropriate site. I agree that we should be investing in better and newer prisons, but they must be in appropriate sites, not right next to schools and retirement homes on marsh land with poor communications. It must be done with the consent of the local community. We need a Government who listen and a Government who will not try to build our future on the cheap. Since 2008, some £78 million has been cut from Neath Port Talbot’s annual budget and it is expected to find an additional £60 million over the next five years. If it manages to achieve that, it will be the equivalent of it scrapping the entire social services budget. It is a textbook example of the Tory strategy of the devolution of blame: Westminster cuts budgets and forces local councils to cut services or to break the law.

As the central Government budget cuts have grown deeper, it has been impossible to sustain many services, but in Aberavon we are a community and we stand together. Residents, service users and the council workforce have all played their part in meeting those savings. Council staff took a voluntary pay cut and the community banded together to take on responsibilities, volunteering their time and experience to keep facilities open, such as the libraries in Taibach, Briton Ferry and Cymmer. Volunteers have worked hard to keep open the Noddfa community centre in Glyncorrwg, the Gwynfi miners hall and the Afan Valley swimming pool and to take control of bowling greens and sports pitches. When the Government have stood by, our community has stood up, but they should not have to. Community action should be in addition to the state, not in place of it.

There are times when I worry for the future of our country. We have a Government short-changing the present: a Government who claim to know the cost of everything, but know the value of nothing, and a Government who seem incapable of taming the Brextremists, whose reckless, hard Brexit would devastate steel communities like those in my constituency. But then I remember the steelworkers willing to make personal sacrifices to save their industry, community and way of life, to save our steel. I remember people standing by the tidal lagoon, despite Government delay and incompetence. I remember the residents standing up for their services.

Above all, I think of the young people in my constituency, in particular the incredible young women of LEAD— the leadership, enterprise, activism and development programme—delivered by RECLAIM. Through LEAD, those 12 and 13-year-old girls from Aberavon are engaging with the issues that face our community and are gaining the confidence and skills, so that they too can be change makers, leading change and making a difference in Aberavon. The girls of PT Perfect have put together their manifesto of the issues that are important to them, such as homelessness, supporting local businesses and giving girls the opportunity to be seen and to be heard. They have campaigned tirelessly on those issues and have engaged actively with a range of community figures about them. Last month, they were in Parliament to mark the centenary of women receiving the vote. This month, they have been selected to appear on stage at the WOW—the Women of the World—festival at the South Bank.

It is for these girls and for the cohort of boys that will start the LEAD programme in a few weeks’ time and for the thousands of youngsters across Aberavon that ​we need the Westminster Government to change their attitude towards Wales. Labour understands the potential that we have in Wales and is willing to do what is required to allow us to fulfil that potential. The people of Wales deserve better. The people of Port Talbot deserve better and all in our country deserve better, because we have much to give and much to achieve, but to do that we need support from a Government that believe in Wales and will invest in our people.