This morning I attended Cardiff Airport's annual report briefing to Members of Parliament. Cardiff Airport, which is publically owned by the Welsh Labour Government, has gone from strength to strength, showing a nearly 50% growth since it was taken into public ownership, along with new airlines and routes every year.
Allowing the rates of Air Passenger Duty (the tax applied to the price of flight tickets) to be decided here in Wales, for Wales, rather than controlled centrally is a fantastic opportunity for the Welsh Labour Government to incentivise new and longer-haul airlines to fly from Cardiff. This in turn would add to the Cardiff and South Wales economy, bringing tourism to the region and enabling more Welsh passengers to jet off abroad straight from Wales.
The recently-passed Wales Act 2017 was a missed opportunity to devolve responsibility for Air Passenger Duty to Wales but I am continuing to campaign for this as it will bring huge benefits to us here.
As usual, the Leader of the House responded to my question with a suggestion that I ask again in Treasury Questions. I'll keep standing up for Wales on this issue, even when the Secretary of State doesn't seem to want to, and my Labour colleagues and I won't be letting the UK Government off the hook.
The Rohingya refugee crisis continues in Bangladesh, with Rohingya people fleeing a genocide at the hands of the Burmese military. Bangladeshi authorities are working hard to support as many refugees as they can, but are reliant on international aid contributions such as those made by the UK.
Cathays Labour Councillor Ali Ahmed, along with colleagues from the Cardiff Bangladesh Association, has recently travelled to Bangladesh to present a £40,000 cheque for the relief effort, raised by Cardiff business owners and members of the community.
This week my Labour colleague John Spellar MP introduced a bill which would help to protect live music venues in England using the Agent of Change principle, which the Welsh Government has led the way by introducing in Wales.
I was proud to be a sponsor of the bill, which has had cross-party support, and part of a demonstration outside Parliament at which many musicians, unions, and people working in the industry were joined by MPs supporting the change.
At this morning's Exiting the EU Questions I had the opportunity to ask the Minister about the effect of leaving the EU on participation rates in the Horizon 2020 research funding programme, and in the Erasmus + programme.
There a three universities in Cardiff Central and I have continually pressed the government on assurances for their futures after Brexit. The UK's universities rely on international, and European, co-operation in order to attract the best minds and continue their world-leading work.
As usual a clear reply from the government was not forthcoming, with the Minister confirming that the UK would remain part of the Horizon 2020 scheme up to its current end point in 2020 but it was not clear that any discussions had taken place about the future of research funding beyond this point. The Minister also declined to make any statement at all on the Erasmus + programme.
When Theresa May became Prime Minister, she stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised that she would govern in the interests of the “just about managing” acknowledging that people can work every waking hour and still be struggling to make ends meet. But this agenda is increasingly looking like a sham. Last week, the entire Social Mobility Commission which was set up under the Tory and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government resigned, with the Chair, Alan Milburn saying that “the worst position in politics is to set out a proposition that you’re going to heal social divisions and then do nothing about it.”
The numbers are damning. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity has published a report this week setting out figures showing that since 2010/2011, nearly 400,000 more children have fallen into poverty, and they mostly come from families where the parents are in work. This is compunded by the proposed two child limit on child tax credits, that the Government is insisting on ploughing ahead with. Analysis by the trade union UNISON has found that a couple with one earner, who have a third child born after the 6th April 2017, will be £2,780 worse off as a result of the Tories’ two children limit on tax credits. This breaks the Prime Minister’s promise to help the “just about managing”, represents a direct tax on a child, and is an attack on the idea of family. It will leave some families unable to make ends meet.
We also know that the amount of unsecured debt is spiralling in the UK as families struggle financially. But, calculations by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies show that this Tory tax credit “reform” will make things worse for just about managing families, not better. Nearly 600,000 families with 3 children will on average lose around £2,500 per year and 300,000 families with four or more children will on average lose £7,000 per year once the change has been fully rolled out.
These changes are a deliberate tax imposition on third children born on or after 6th April 2017, but they of course impact on all members of affected families, adults and children alike. The changes make no allowance for families falling on hard times, no matter how hard the parents have worked, or how much they have paid into the system.
The new rules are an attack on the very idea of family. If a single dad caring for two children and a single mum with a child of her own, wanted to join their families together under these rules they would face a financial penalty of £2,780 if any of those children were born after April 6th 2017. Families come in all shapes and sizes, with circumstances that can and do change.
These new rules punish working families. A child born after 6th April 2017 is no less a child, and has no fewer needs, than a child born a day earlier. There can be no policy important enough, or the marginal saving worth enough, to justify deliberately placing children into poverty. Let’s be clear, without this money some families will be unable to meet their basic needs. Hunger and cold do not discriminate between the “deserving” and "underserving". Therefore, every child deserves support regardless of the choices and circumstances of their parents.
Which brings me onto the other element of this dreadful policy; the “rape clause” exemption.
Exemptions to the tax credit limit of two children include children who have been conceived as a result of “non-consensual” conception.
The rules require rape victims to relive their trauma in trying to justify their tax credit claim on an application form they must complete. They must name the child. The Department of Work and Pensions have described the changes to tax credits as a “key part of controlling public spending.”
I can think of a lot better ways to do this. I bet you can too. That’s why I am supporting the campaign to overturn this dreadful policy.
Yesterday's budget from the Tory Chancellor was massively disappointing. We needed creative solutions and rapid action to fix the growing problems in our economy but we didn’t get them.
We needed an end to the Universal Credit chaos with the roll-out paused and the system fixed.
We got a 1 week reduction on the 6 week wait without any money. This means a family claiming tomorrow would still not automatically recieve any money before Christmas. On top of that no pause, no fix and there are still inbuilt cuts affecting people with severe disabilities.
We needed the public sector pay cap lifting and money for Welsh Government to give all public sector workers a well deserved, above inflation pay rise. It’s the least that should happen.
We got the typical Tory divide and rule tactic. Apart from the NHS, any increase in public sector pay above 1% will have to be met from existing budgets. So more failed austerity and no fair funding for Wales.
We needed funding for infrastructure across the country including funding for the redevelopment of Cardiff Central station, the go-ahead for the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon pathfinder project and reinstatement of rail electrification from Cardiff to Swansea.
We got nothing.
We needed proper, sustainable funding for our public services; health, education, and local government after seven years of austerity budgets for Welsh Government.
We got a measly £1.2bn over 5 years for the Welsh Government. That’s £80 a year for each of us. More austerity. No fair funding.
We needed the UK Government to back a UK wide drive to build more homes to meet demand. Creating jobs, creating training and apprenticeships, boosting the economy and providing properly affordable housing for young people who have been shafted by the Lib Dem and Tory governments over the past seven and a half years.
We got more Government bungling. The budget contained an announcement on stamp duty exemption for first time buyers on homes up to £300k. But, the Office for Budget Responsibility confirms today that this will result in rising house prices and the main beneficiaries will be existing property owners. A solution that manages to create more problems and does nothing to help young people get on the property ladder.
Above all we needed a guarantee that Wales will not lose a penny from Brexit. I have asked the Government to confirm that the Shared Prosperity Fund that will replace EU funds after 2020 will match the £680 million a year in EU funding Wales will lose through leaving the EU.
The Shared Prosperity Fund was not mentioned once in the budget. And the preparations for Brexit (never mind the cost of actually exiting the EU) will cost £3 billion.
It is clear that the Tories are out of ideas. We need new ideas and solutions to fix our economy. They can only be delivered by a Labour Government.
Yesterday, I asked the Immigration Minister what plans the Government has to make sure that post Brexit, the brightest and best international students are able to work here after their studies using their skills and talent for the benefit of the UK economy. Research by ComRes shows that 74% of people think that international students should be able to stay on the UK after their degrees to work before returning home. Most of the public don’t consider international students as immigrants and that’s why I pressed for their removal from the net migration figures that the government bases its targets on.
International students contribute significantly to the economy, directly contributing almost £170 million to our city economy through the Universities and local businesses. All I got from the Minister in response though were some warm words about the importance of international students but no answer on the critical issue of what will happen post Brexit.
This morning I questioned the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the independent review the department has commissioned into the future of S4C.
Euryn Ogwen Williams' review will look at all aspects of the Welsh-language broadcaster and make recommendations for government on its future.
Voting for the people who represent you is one of the fundamental rights of citizens in a democracy. There is, however, a problem with our current system. Millions of people are missing out on having their say.
Within the current procedure for voter registration, all eligible voters must pro-actively register with their local electoral registration office, and then re-register if they move address, even if it's within the same electoral area.
Along with making it hard for individuals, the system also relies on already over-stretched and underfunded local authorities to track down and chase missing voters in their area.
Evidence has shown that a large percentage of the people not on the register are younger or from minority ethnic backgrounds.
Clearly, this is not acceptable. The already marginalised are getting less of a say at the ballot box.
Fortunately, there's a better way. Today I proposed a Bill in the House of Commons that would require the government to register voters automatically.
This would happen when people are issued with a National Insurance Number or, for people already over 16, using data held by government departments like HMRC and the DVLA.
Using this existing, trusted data is the practical solution we need to fully enfranchise every eligible voter so they can have their say.
We're living in an age of big data and 'digital by default' so it seems counterintuitive for the government not to make use of the solutions available to make sure the electoral register is complete.
Around the world there are many successful examples of automatic voter registration systems, for example in Canada where electoral information is continually updated from records held by government agencies, and in Chile where a recent change added over 4.5million voters to the register, many of them under the age of 30.
Closer to home Denmark, Germany, Italy and Sweden all use a version of automatic registration.
I think it's about time we caught up here in the UK and moved to an automatic voter registration system.