Welsh Affairs Debate

 

Mr Speaker, I beg to move that this House has considered Welsh Affairs.

It is a great honour to open this debate today, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing a St David’s Day Debate.

Mr Speaker, I beg to move that this House has considered Welsh Affairs.

It is a great honour to open this debate today, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing a St David’s Day Debate.

This debate offers us the opportunity to speak about the challenges and opportunities affecting Wales, and I’m sure that Members will wish to touch upon a wide range of different matters.

But I want to open today’s debate by concentrating on what I believe are some of the most salient political, cultural and economic matters facing our country and people today.

2016 will be a momentous year for Wales. Firstly, we’re on course for a Championship deciding clash with England in the Six Nations. I would of course remind the House that it’s traditional for Wales to win the Six Nations after a World Cup.

But perhaps the most momentous sporting occasion will be when their round ball counterparts make their debut in the European Championships in France this summer.

Its been 58 years since we’ve been in an International Finals. That's too long for a country that has produced footballing greats like Allchurch, Rush, Hughes, and Giggs to be absent from major footballing tournaments.

Welsh_affairs1.jpg“Together, Stronger” was the team’s and supporters’ mantra through qualification, and it is a philosophy that can be applied across many of the issues I wish to speak about today.

When Bale, Ashley Williams and Ramsey are flying the flag for Wales in that contest, campaigners from this House and across Wales will be making the case for Wales and the whole of the UK to remain in the European Union. We will do it with a special zeal:

Wales is a net beneficiary of EU funding. Our membership of the European Union is vital to our economy, security, and to our place in the world.

A Brexit would be a massive gamble for Wales, putting jobs, investment, trade and, therefore, the safety of our community at risk.

The very last thing that we need now if the instability which the possibility of secession from the EU inflicts upon a country which already endures economic fragility and social disadvantage.

More immediately, Mr Speaker, many share my concerns about the months between now and June 23rd and ask whether it is realistic to expect rational decisions to be made around a Cabinet table, beset by mutual loathing.

Hundreds of thousands of Welsh jobs are linked to EU membership, and it is our largest source of investment, bringing growth, quality employment, and higher wages.

Much of our global investment from outside the EU is made possible by the fact that, inside the EU, we provide a gateway to the Single Market.

That is a major reason for international firms to locate in Wales – including Tata Steel in my constituency.

As Hon and Rt Hon members will be aware, Mr Speaker, the Welsh steel industry finds itself in a precarious position, and nowhere in Wales is this felt as acutely in my constituency.

The works in Port Talbot are the productive core of our local economy and community. So the announcement at the start of the year of 750 job losses was a bitter blow, which will of course be compounded as the impact starts to be felt through the supply chain and the wider local economy.

While the steel crisis may be in part the result of global trends and events, what cannot be ignored is that the government has been asleep at the wheel for the last five years.

Far more could and should have been done to give the British steel industry a fighting chance. From the blatantly unfair and distortive dumping of Chinese steel, to the incompetent and complacent management of public procurement, this government has failed to give justified succour or stimulus to steel.

That, Mr Speaker, is because this government operates in a fog of laissez-faire ideology. It prays to the gods of the free market, and hopes for the best.

But, in reality, the market economy can only function effectively if it is regulated. Just as football requires the off-side rule to ensure fair competition, so our steel industry requires the right regulatory framework, so that it can trade in equitable conditions. 

Instead, the government’s blithe faith in the free market is driving them to lobby for China to be given Market Economy Status, and to refuse to support the scrapping of the Lesser Duty Rule.

Mr Speaker, I wish to state now, with utmost gravity, that if speedy action is not taken to prevent the dumping of Chinese steel, we will witness the beginning of the end of UK steel-making.

The government know full well that this foundation industry is hanging by a thread. Neither free market dogma nor cosying up to Beijing should be allowed to impede their patriotic duty to emulate other EU countries and stand up for the men and women who are the backbone of the British economy.

The Minister for Enterprise and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills recently visited my constituency. And I hope they will return so that they can go to the homes of some of my constituents who have lost their jobs. I hope that they will look those men, women and families in the eye, and explain themselves.

Explain how they can claim publicly that they are supporting the steel industry whilst fighting tooth and nail behind closed doors against the lifting of the lesser duty rule, and for market economy status for China.

Explain how they can claim publicly that they are changing public procurement to maximise the use of British steel, whilst allowing the MoD to build the latest flotilla of Royal Navy frigates with Swedish steel.

I hope that they will come to Aberavon to explain the breath-taking contrasts between their words and their deeds.

For the people of my constituency deserve an explanation.

Mr Speaker, I am certain that that the British steel industry has a promising future, if it is given the right support by government.

The men and women of the Port Talbot works make the finest steel that money can buy, and they are breaking all production and efficiency records. But the industry requires a long-term industrial strategy, based on a sustained, comprehensive approach to skills, investment, regulation, energy and industrial relations.

That is why I am proud to be co-chairing a working group of the APPG on Steel that will produce a report, Steel 2020, on formulating a long-term industrial strategy for British and Welsh steel.

But our strategy for the future of the Welsh economy must not be limited exclusively to steel.

In short, we need an industrial revolution, grounded in the new economy of renewables and connected technology, the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ spoken of at Davos.

I see Wales at the forefront of this revolution.

The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon could transform the energy industry but frustratingly its future is under threat due to the government’s perpetual flip-flopping.

A positive decision on the Lagoon would not only put a much-needed tick in the government’s ever-diminishing green credentials, it would also deliver a massive boost to the local economy.

And by committing to sourcing as much steel as possible from the UK, it would significantly help the steel industry.

This project needs and deserves rapid advance. The Government needs to get off the fence, and fast.

Mr Speaker, the government’s short-sightedness is also undermining other forms of renewable energy, such as wind and solar.

These are burgeoning industries in my constituency, with hundreds of jobs at stake, but these are under threat because of the Government’s moves to cut price stabilisation mechanisms, such as the feed-in tariffs.

The government has been on a policy descent from “hug a husky” to, in the words of the Prime Minister “cut the green crap”. Along the way, dozens of fast-growth Welsh businesses have been cut off in their prime.

Mr Speaker, Wales and southwest Wales in particular can also be at the forefront of the Internet revolution.

Swansea Bay City Region has based its City Deal proposal on the concept of an ‘Internet Coast’ to drive the digital future of energy, health and economic acceleration.

All eyes are now on the Chancellor. If he really wants a “march of the makers” he must give his full backing to this exciting vision.

The Swansea University Bay Campus, which is of course located in my Aberavon constituency, has a huge role play in the development of the Internet Coast. 

This outstanding project, made possible by EU and European Investment Bank funding, is one of the largest and most important knowledge economy projects in Europe, producing cutting-edge research focusing on science and innovation.

Mr Speaker, whilst the ‘Internet Coast’ is a plan for the future, it is a pity the same cannot be said of the Government’s own draft Wales Bill, which does not provide anything like the lasting settlement that it was intended to create.

Instead it has thrown up more uncertainties around the legislative process, and succeeds only in generating reams of constitutional red tape.

Just this week, the Welsh Affairs Committee, under the chairman-ship of the Honourable Member for Monmouthshire, called on the Government to pause the proposed timetable on the Bill so that there is opportunity to fully reflect.

That is the least that is needed.

My specific concern is about ministerial consent and the risk that this process is seen as tantamount to an English veto.

But my more general concern is that this Bill has been drafted in a bubble, isolated from the broader debate about the constitutional reform that our country so desperately needs.

Mr Speaker, the UK is more centralised than any other leading industrialised economy and the Scottish referendum demonstrated that the constitutional foundations of the UK are cracking beneath our feet.

The British people need and deserve better. The piecemeal, make-do and muddle-through approach that is epitomised by this Wales Bill is simply not going to get the job done.

We must, therefore, have a full Constitutional Convention that will formulate a bold, radical, rational, root-and-branch reform of our constitution. The Convention would develop a written constitution that is anchored in a confederal UK, an elected senate, a more proportional electoral system, and properly defined devolution of powers to the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. 

We have also seen the results of government by muddle in Wales with the Trade Union Bill.

Having taken a sledgehammer to crack a nut, the Government have found that the nut is not entirely theirs to crack in the first place.

I’m delighted that my Labour colleagues have stood eyeball to eyeball with the Government, and it was the Government that blinked first.

The Trade Union Bill, coupled with the changes in Voter Registration and the alterations in constituency boundaries are blatant and disgraceful attempts to turn the UK into a one-party state. The thinly veiled agenda being to eradicate parliamentary opposition altogether.

Vladimir Putin would be proud of such fixing.

Wales is disproportionately hit by the boundary changes, losing around a quarter of our MPs: reducing Wales’ voice in the House, marginalising the Welsh people. Mr Speaker, there is great potential in Wales, but we will only realise that potential with bold leadership. There is vision and willingness in Cardiff Bay. But we find those qualities abysmally lacking on the benches opposite.

And as we go into elections in May we should remember all that we have to be proud of in Wales.

A Labour government delivering for working people.

Creating 50,000 apprenticeships; getting 15,000 young people back to work with Jobs Growth Wales; ground breaking legislation on violence against women.

A Labour government that has improved the cancer survival rate faster than anywhere in the UK, and is training more nurses than ever before.

And a Labour Government that stood up to Westminster to protect farm workers’ wages.

A Labour government that stood by Remploy, whilst the Tories were shutting it down across the rest of the UK.

And let us remember, it was the work of the Welsh Labour Government, under the leadership of the First Minister Carwyn Jones, which has enabled the creation of 750 jobs at Aston Martin in St Athan. And under Carywn, Labour will make use of the Welsh Governments new powers by cutting business rates for small businesses.

Supporting entrepreneurship, growth and jobs in Wales.

That is the kind of leadership we need in Wales.

Creating jobs, opportunity, industry and enterprise.

Standing up for all in our nation.

That is the kind of leadership we need, the kind of leadership we can be proud of. And that is why it is vital that we see a Labour victory in Wales on May 5th.

Mr Speaker, Wales has the talent and the creativity to emulate our Celtic cousins, Scotland and Ireland, and gain strong recognition in the World. Our people achieve far beyond the nation’s size in rugby, football, athletics, judo, cycling, the creative arts and sciences and much else. We can, with effort and fair chances, do the same politically, technologically, environmentally, culturally and economically.

I am a proud Welsh man, a proud Briton and a proud European.

I am certain that we can make these advances because – in all dimensions - together we are stronger.