Following the Queen’s Speech earlier this week, I am supporting the call for the UK to remain a member of the customs union. I have signed a parliamentary motion (Early Day Motion) to that effect. There will be a huge number of issues arising out of the decision to leave the EU, but the issues of the single market and the customs union, along with the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK to remain here, are in my view the most critical.
Almost two-thirds of Welsh goods are exported to the European Union free of any tariffs. So if tariffs (charges) are applied to those goods we export when we leave the EU, the impact on Welsh business will be devastating. This problem is even more acute in Cardiff. Of all the cities in the United Kingdom, Cardiff is the fifth most reliant on EU exports, with 61% of everything we sell going to the European Union.
For all the hot air and reassuring noises we hear from the Tory Government on life post Brexit, those statistics clearly demonstrate that any disruption to our trading links with the EU could put jobs in Cardiff Central at risk.
Being outside the Customs Union would mean that there would have to customs checks for all freight of a certain size entering Welsh ports, and that Welsh goods going to Europe would be subject to significantly greater checks and documentation requirements to be allowed through to Europe. All this makes our businesses and the goods we sell less competitive and less attractive to buyers.
Early Day Motions represent a chance for backbench MPs from any party to support statements that might not make it to the floor of the House of Commons to be formally debated. Whilst the Government does not have to formally respond to them, they can put pressure on the Government. For instance, over 200 MPs signed the Early Day Motion in the last Parliament condemning the proposed state visit to the UK by Donald Trump. There was no mention of the visit in this week’s Queen’s Speech.
You can read the full Motion below;
This House notes the benefits of UK membership of the European Union (EU) Customs Union which removes costly and time-consuming customs processes and red tape for trade with other EU member states, allows the operation of a soft Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland border that would be in jeopardy were the UK to leave, and allows the UK to fully benefit from 56 existing trade agreements signed with external countries which by leaving could result in less preferential terms under any other bilateral trade re-negotiations; and further notes that the terms of UK membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are currently governed by its membership of the EU Customs Union, and that by leaving in order to become an independent member of the WTO the UK’s existing WTO commitments would need to be renegotiated; and calls on the Government to negotiate for the UK to remain a member of the EU Customs Union following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
If we needed anything to confirm that Theresa May is in Government but not in power, this Queen’s Speech was it.
A thin, measly script that wouldn’t be fit for one year of parliamentary business never mind the two it will cover. Labour voters can be proud that through their votes they have stripped the Tory manifesto to its bare bones eliminating the majority of its flagship pledges; the possible repeal of the fox hunting ban; scrapping the triple lock and winter fuel allowance for pensioners; the dementia tax; grammar schools in England; scrapping school meals and a possible change of emphasis on the approach to Brexit negotiations. We’ll no longer be having the “Great Repeal Bill” instead, the “Repeal Bill.” Maybe Theresa May has finally realised leaving the EU isn't such a "great" idea after all?
So what are we left with? Having already failed to secure the deal they want with the DUP this zombie Government looks anything but strong and stable. Is legislating against allegedly bogus whiplash claims to boost insurance company profits above the already eye watering £8 billion a year really the government's priority?
Public sector pay will remain frozen whilst our public services and the loyal workforce that keeps them going will be asked to do even more for less. UK growth is at the bottom of the G7 tables, our productivity levels remain stubbornly low and the Government is still refusing to tell us where it wants to go as we lurch towards exit from the European Union.
In complete contrast, the Labour Party's manifesto would move quickly to address the deep seated problems in our economy; investing to boost jobs and infrastructure; introducing a national education service and ending tuition fees; bringing in 10,000 extra police officers and working to end the long squeeze on wages and people’s pockets.
It was the top rate tax cuts and the endless slashing of public service budgets that so angered people, and took away May’s majority, but they remain in place. Students will remain burdened with astronomical debt, the cost of using our railways will continue to increase on the back of public subsidy that ends up in the hands of the German, French and Dutch governments because Tories legislated to prevent public owenship of our railways. Far too many of the very real problems that we have will not be addressed by any of the measures brought forward in this Queen’s Speech. The people have spoken, but once again it seems that the Prime Minister has not listened.
This month I led the Shadow Wales team at Welsh Questions calling on the Government to confirm post Brexit support for almost a billion pounds of funding in Wales.
I asked the Minister if he would commit to protecting the pre-existing loans from European Investment bank loans to organisations & public bodies in Wales which total around £830bn.
In his answer the Minister refused to commit to protect and underwrite these loans post-Brexit, and so put at risk the prospect of defaults on loans for projects like the £110m to support Viridor’s ERF Programme in Cardiff, the £60m to help to pay for the Swansea Bay Campus in Neath Port Talbot Council area and £430m for improvements to the Great Western Mainline.
In the same session, the Minister also refused to commit to supporting jobs in the Ford plant in Bridgend post-2020, and would not offer Ford the same post-Brexit guarantee as recently given by the UK government to their competitor Nissan. The 100m investment recently announced by Ford was a reduction from the originally scheduled 180m. The company blamed 'global uncertainty' on the reduction, and with over 1,800 jobs dependent on the Bridgend plant, I called on the government to do more to offer Ford certainty that post-Brexit they would be able to operate in Wales without tariffs and on the same terms as competitors such as Nissan.
In refusing to give guarantees to Ford, Alan Cairns is offering businesses in Wales a worse deal than those in Scotland or Northern Ireland, after his cabinet colleagues David Mundell and James Brokenshire committed at the despatch box to offering the same protections for businesses in Scotland and Northern Ireland as those offered to businesses in England.
Alan Cairns must be embarrassed by his complete absence of influence around the Cabinet table. Today he demonstrated his failure to stand up for people in Wales by refusing to protect the loans already funding vital works across the country.
The lack of clarity from Theresa May on her post-Brexit plans is creating huge uncertainty for businesses in Wales and putting the future of sites such as Ford plant in Bridgend at risk. We need to know what the terms of future trade will be, and instead of secret deals company by company, to protect jobs in Wales they need to know that major employers like Ford will be offered the same guarantees on tariffs as their competitors
This morning was my first appearance at the despatch box as Shadow Secretary of State for Wales. I was joined by my Shadow Ministerial colleague Gerald Jones.
With the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster so present for many in Wales this week, I took the opportunity to pay tribute to the spirit and resilience of the people of Aberfan in the face of such a tragedy.
I then questioned the Government on their priorities for infrastructure in Wales, asking the Minister to confirm when work would be accelerated to improve Cardiff Central Station.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Guto Bebb, refused to commit to the project or acknowledge the disparity between the lack of action in Cardiff despite modernisation programmes having gone ahead in Edinburgh and Birmingham.
On Thursday 15th September I asked the Transport Secretary if he believed that current legislation for taxis and private hire vehicles is adequate for the 21st Century given technological advancements in how we use private hire vehicle services.
The main legal framework governing taxi services has not undergone any significant reform for nearly 200 years. Private hire services legislation is more recent, dating from 1976 in most of England and Wales and 1998 in London.
There are no national standards, resulting in a very variable national picture. The piecemeal evolution of the regulation of taxi and private hire services has resulted in a complex and fragmented licensing system; the relationship between taxi and private hire services is not clearly defined. Mobile phones and the internet have revolutionised both the taxi and private hire trades, yet regulation has failed to keep pace. Sadly the Minister failed to really answer my question.
This month in my role as Shadow Prisons Minister I gave the Labour Party’s response at a Westminster Hall Debate on Prison Safety.
The debate was secured by Chair of the Justice Select Committee and MP for Bromley and Chislehurst Bob Neil, and focused on the Justice Select Committee’s report into prison safety which was published in May 2016 and the Government’s response which was published earlier this week.
Today in Justice Questions I asked the Justice Secretary what she is doing to improve the numbers of prison officers recruited in our public prisons, and called on the Justice Secretary to hold an urgent review quality of pre-sentence reports for the courts following the Government's privatisation of the probation sector.
The number of frontline officers working in public-sector prisons has fallen over the last year, despite Ministry of Justice plans to recruit additional staff to help respond to the highest levels of violence, suicide and self-injury since recording practices began.
Statistics show that there were 14,689 frontline officers (full time equivalent) in England and Wales in June 2016, down from 15,110 a year earlier. This leaves prisons with barely more frontline staff than the lows of 2014, which prompted the Ministry of Justice to embark on a major recruitment exercise.
As the prison population has grown and frontline officer numbers have fallen, safety in jails has deteriorated significantly.
I took the opportunity to ask the newly appointed Justice Secretary what she had planned that differed from her predecessor in recruitment more people into the prison service.
Since the EU referendum result there has been a resounding silence from the Government on whether they will keep the workplace and employment protections that EU law has developed and underpinned in the UK for many years.
Our right not to be discriminated against on grounds of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religious belief and age are there because of EU law. The same goes for vital health and safety at work protection.
This month I led for Labour in Attorney General Questions and focussed on seeking commitments from the Government law officers that none of these rights will be watered down or removed altogether as a consequence of us leaving the EU.
You can watch the exchanges here.
As my constituency includes three universities - Cardiff University, Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of South Wales - I am very passionate about holding the government to account and securing a good future for research and learning in higher education.
This afternoon and evening Parliament debated the government's Higher Education and Research Bill. The Bill, according to the Government, is aiming to make University education attainable for a wide range of people, increase access and maintain high teaching standards.