It is such a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones). She has made a real impact since coming to Parliament some months ago, and she is also in the process of organising the Welsh parliamentary Labour party social. That is an excellent role and a task for which she is perfectly qualified, and I am glad she has taken it on.
I want to look forward to this year, because I think 2020 promises to be truly memorable. That is not because it will be the first year of this Tory Government—far from it—but because having waited 58 years to reach a major tournament in 2016, the Welsh football team, just like a London bus, is now back at the Euros. Let us cast our minds back to 2016—what a summer that was! Great memories. Who can forget Gareth Bale’s free kicks against Slovakia and particularly England, or Hal Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn in the comeback win over Belgium, en route to the semi-finals? Euro 2020 may be even more extraordinary and unforgettable—I certainly hope so.
The summer of 2016 typified what it means to be Welsh: a proud nation, punching above its weight, with everybody coming together. Indeed, that was summed up by the team’s motto, “Together Stronger”, and over past few weeks, as Wales has been buffeted by truly terrible weather—first Storm Ciara, and then Storm Dennis—“Together Stronger” has felt appropriate. More than a month’s worth of rain fell in just 48 hours, and despite being left to fend for ourselves as usual by the part-time Prime Minister and the Tory Government, communities across Wales stepped up to the plate. I pay tribute to them, and to our wonderful emergency services and brilliant council workforces who have worked tirelessly in these challenging circumstances.
We have always been tough and resilient in Wales, but we are experiencing more and more extreme weather, and such events bring into sharper focus the need to do more to address the climate and environmental crisis that we face. Out of every crisis should come an opportunity—an opportunity for Britain to lead the world in renewable energies. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon would have provided heat to thousands of homes, using clean, green, reliable and sustainable energy, and saving almost 0.25 million tonnes of carbon during each year of its operation. If the Government are serious about tackling climate change, they should reconsider that opportunity and back that game changer for the industry. What an opportunity to “level up” the country, as the Prime Minister likes to put it, by putting the Swansea bay area at the forefront of that clean, green, energy technology.
In reality, while the Tory Government talk a good game on caring about Wales, they are not willing to put their money where their mouth is. Just look at rail electrification to Swansea. In 2016, the then Secretary of State for Wales gave me a categorical commitment on national TV to electrify the line to Swansea. It was even a Tory manifesto commitment in 2017, but it has fallen foul of one of those famous, or perhaps I should say infamous, Tory U-turns. The entire budget for electrifying the main line to Swansea would be less than 1% of the vast sums that will be spent on High Speed 2. Will the Secretary of State do what his predecessors have failed to do, and stand up for Wales by committing to electrify the main line to Swansea?
This is not just about rail infrastructure. For decades, wealth, power, opportunity and talent have been agglomerating in our major cities at the expense of industrial, rural and coastal areas. To truly rebalance our economy, or level up as the Government like to say, we need the Government to back a modern manufacturing renaissance, starting in places like Aberavon. Part of the package must be a sector deal for steel. Steel is a 21st-century industry and is integral to our everyday lives—to transport, to infrastructure and to our defence industry. It underpins our entire manufacturing base. HS2 will use 2 million tonnes of steel and is a real opportunity for the Government to back British steel through a patriotic approach to procurement. The Government need to strike a sector deal for steel if they are going to foster growth. Automotive, aerospace and construction all have sector deals. Why does the steel industry not have one? Action on energy prices is essential. UK steelmakers are paying prices that are double those of our German competitors and 50% higher than in France. UK steelmakers are fighting with one hand tied behind their back.
Industrial towns need clarity on replacing EU funding. The UK shared prosperity fund—I am proud to chair the all-party group—is set to replace EU funding, but it has taken on near mythical status. What has happened to the promised consultation? Everything about the fund is still to be worked out and the clock is ticking down every day towards 1 January 2021. What is certain is that the Government must not use the fund to row back on the devolution settlement or to short-change communities like Port Talbot by a sleight of hand in Westminster. The Government must guarantee not a penny less and not a power lost. It is the duty of the Secretary of State to be a strong voice for Wales on this issue.
The Welsh Government must also give Wales a voice in the EU trade negotiations. The First Minister today made clear that the Government’s negotiating position would almost certainly result in a loss of jobs in Wales and a diminishment of livelihoods. He made it clear that there has been no consultation on the UK’s negotiating mandate and that we are not represented in the talks.
Labour is a proud party of devolution, but devolution only works if the UK Government respect the devolution principle. The Welsh Government have suffered a decade of diminishing budgets. Even with the previous Chancellor’s extra £600 million for Wales, the Welsh Government’s budget for 2021 will be £300 million lower in real terms than it was in 2010-11. As a result, my council, Neath Port Talbot Council, has had to remove more than £80 million from its budget since 2010 and is expected to find a further £42 million in cuts between now and 2023. Despite the sterling efforts of the Welsh Government and Welsh councils to shield our communities from the worst of the cuts, my constituents have suffered due to the Conservatives’ dismissive attitude towards Wales. They are quick to devolve blame, slow to devolve resources. The first step must be to junk the Barnett formula and replace it with a fair funding formula for Wales.
This year marks 35 years since the end of the miners’ strike, which will be marked in mining communities across Wales and in coalfield communities across the UK. During the strike, we saw the true meaning of community spirit. That has not left us and it never will. As the grandson of a coalminer, I know that that never-say-die attitude and commitment to local community has been passed down through the generations. It is with that spirit that I will continue to fight for Aberavon in Westminster. My Aberavon constituents deserve better than what is being offered by the current UK Government. They need a Government who deliver on their promises to Wales and recognise the potential of our fantastic, vibrant and talented communities. We in Wales know that together we are stronger. It is high time that the Government realised that, too. Diolch, and happy St David’s Day.