You can read my full speech below, or follow the record of the debate on Hansard here.
Bore da. Good morning.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship Mr Davies and I am delighted that today, all Welsh members of this House have, after four years, the opportunity to debate “strengthening the Union as it relates to Wales”
So, where to begin, chair?
Let’s start with the Minister for the Union, the Prime Minister. Whose job it is, in everything he says and everything he does as Minister for the Union – to strengthen the Union.
He holds the most important office, one that is vital to the integrity of our politics, our government and our democracy.
How shameful and degrading it is for the Union, to have a Conservative Prime Minister mired in law-breaking, deception and incompetence leading a government whose ministers at best attempt to deflect from the Prime Minister’s offensive and inherent personal failings and at worst, publicly and repeatedly endorse both them and him.
The Union, far from being strengthened by the Prime Minister and the government, is being degraded and weakened.
Because for all his flag waving and plastic patriotism, no Prime Minister has ever done more to undermine the Union than the current one.
He has irretrievably damaged public trust and confidence in UK Government and UK politics.
That’s a bad enough legacy at any time, but when it’s during a public health emergency, it’s unforgiveable.
As the leader of the Opposition has so rightly said, “
“he’s the worst possible Prime Minister at the worst possible time.”
But it’s not just the Prime Minister who degrades and devalues the Union.
Denigration, and disinterest towards all our devolved Governments runs through the core of the Conservative Party.
Only last week, the Leader of the Commons, branded the Scottish Tories’ leader a ‘lightweight’ for calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation in the wake of the Downing Street law breaking parties.
The following day when he was challenged in Business Questions by my hon friend, the member for Cardiff West, he couldn’t even remember the name of the leader of the Welsh Conservatives.
These aren’t just slip-ups, or careless words, they lay bare the true attitude of the Conservative Party to Wales and to the Union.
We on the Labour benches believe that our Union is strengthened through valuing the importance of our common endeavour, fostering cooperation between the nations of the UK, and sharing wealth, according to need.
We are better together than any of us would be apart and each of our nations can speak with a progressive voice.
So all our energies, at all levels of government, across every nation of the UK must be focused on recovering from the pandemic, rebuilding the economy and addressing the climate emergency.
This is why our Union of nations must be a Union based on and strengthened by security, prosperity and respect.
Chair, I’ll deal first with why security is so important to the strengthening of our Union.
The first duty of the UK Government is the security of its citizens.
Security for the United Kingdom, for Wales and for every community, large and small, wherever we live.
But instead of strengthening the Union through strengthening our security and safety, successive Conservative Governments have weakened the fabric of the UK and torn our communities apart; nations, regions, cities, towns and villages, North and South, East and West.
Their policies driven by the aim of creating division, controlling power and undermining devolution.
There’s no clearer example of the impact that nearly twelve years of Conservative (and Liberal Democrat) Government has had on our security than the rising numbers of victims of crime.
The Government has decimated police staffing numbers, with cuts of more than 25,000 police force staff across the country. 11,000 less police officers, 8000 less police staff and 7000 less PSCO’s.
The Welsh Labour Government, has stepped in and funded 500 PSCO’s in Wales and will fund a further 1000 during the current Senedd term.
But the political choices made by a series of Conservative Home Secretaries to cut police funding has resulted in less safe communities and more crime in Wales.
Violent crime up 5.5% compared to pre-pandemic figures.
Stalking and harassment up 35.3%
Drug offences up 18.4%
And nearly a quarter of a million recorded non-fraud crimes in the 12 months to June 2021. Everyone of those nearly 250,000 people, a victim.
Across England and Wales, there is an epidemic of violence against women and women and girls feel unsafe on our streets.
The number of women homicide victims is at its highest level in 15 years.
Rape prosecutions and convictions are at a record low.
Countless victims are abandoning their trials due to delays the Government has created, with Crown Court delays where those serious offences are heard, at a record high.
And the Government has absolutely no desire to fix the mess it has created.
No plan to create new laws to keep women and girls safe.
Labour has set out dozens of proposals in our Green Paper that the government has rejected.
A Labour government will take security seriously and provide crime prevention teams in every neighbourhood. New Police Hubs will be visible in every community. Because security is a matter of social justice.
Labour will also introduce new employment rights and protections so people feel more secure at work.
The Party opposite promised – although the Conservative manifesto has turned out to be a work of fiction – an Employment Bill that would make Britain the best place in the world to work.
That would strengthen the Union wouldn’t it?
So where is it?
Instead of the promised Bill we had members opposite queuing up in the lobby twelve months ago to vote down a Labour member’s Bill to outlaw the practice of fire and rehire.
My constituents working as engineers at British Gas needed the legal protection that Bill would have provided.
Instead they were sacked and had the Hobson’s choice of no job or a job on lower wages and less favourable terms.
Chair – one of the key things the pandemic has taught us is that everyone needs decent pay when they are sick. But that’s not the case for millions of workers across the UK.
For those who are on low wages, have insecure work or who are self-employed who have been ill or have had to self-isolate it has been disastrous.
The sorry state of sick pay in Britain was an issue before the pandemic but the Chancellor’s inaction has made people poorer and led to an increase in the spread of the virus.
We know that Ministers have had advice throughout the pandemic through SPI-B, that decent statutory sick pay was the key mechanism to ensure people could afford to self-isolate.
Research published yesterday by the TUC estimated that nearly 268,000 workers in private firms were self-isolating without decent sick pay or any sick pay at all last month.
The UK has the least generous statutory sick pay in Europe. Just £96.35 a week. Which the former Health Secretary admitted he could not live on.
2 million workers, mostly women, do not qualify for statutory sick pay.
But the Chancellor continues to ignore them and say no.
Yes to national insurance rises. No to increased and improved statutory sick pay.
A Labour Government will improve the level of statutory sick pay and increase its coverage to reflect the modern world of work, AND value the many employers who do provide decent sick pay for their workforce.
Finally on that primary duty of the Government of the Union to keep its citizens safe.
The Prime Minister missed 5 COBRA meetings at the start of the pandemic.
The Government allowed PPE stockpiles to run down.
It delayed lockdowns 1, 2 and 3.
It ignored SAGE advice on a circuit break lockdown for 6 weeks.
It allowed people to enter the UK without checks.
It allowed PPE to be exported.
It handed contact tracing to private companies with no record and PPE contracts to cronies with no record.
It gave contracts to companies to provide PPE that couldn’t be used.
It created a scheme to help hospitality which helped the spread of the virus.
And it over promised and under delivered every step of the way.
Contrast that with the actions of the Labour First Minister in Wales.
Who listened to the science, considered the evidence, took the advice of the experts and did absolutely everything he could to keep Wales safe.
Coming out of the pandemic and after twelve years of Conservative Governments starving our public services and failing to invest, we need to rebuild.
Instead we have inflation rocketing to 5.1%,
GDP growth for this quarter has been revised down.
The Government is trapping all four nations in a low growth, high tax cycle, hitting working people with tax rise after tax rise, with national insurance and council tax going up in a couple of months.
By 2026/27, the average household will pay more than £3000 more in tax than when the Prime Minister took office.
Households are dealing with a cost of living crisis, and a growing cost to businesses, with petrol, food and energy bills skyrocketing.
And this isn’t just because of Covid or global problems.
There’s no plan to boost skills and jobs for workers across Britain.
Or deal with the bottlenecks at our UK borders.
All five of their flagship policies in their “Plan for Jobs” are failing. They have no plan for jobs.
The UK is faced with a labour shortage leading to gaps on our shelves and rising prices.
We want the UK to be a prosperous country again, with a proper industrial strategy to improve our productivity to ensure we Buy, Make and Sell more in Britain and that we equip people with the skills and opportunities to contribute to that.
But what are the Government focusing on?
Only yesterday we had the Culture Secretary vandalising the BBC, a globally renowned and envied British institution in its centenary year, in a pathetic attempt to divert public attention from a shamed and failing Prime Minister whose premiership is hanging by a thread.
The BBC’s role in our creative industries in Wales is a huge success story. Every £1 of the BBC’s economic activity in Wales generates £2.63 in our economy.
The growth in the number of creative jobs and business as a result of the BBC ‘s integral role in Wales has outstripped growth in the sector across the whole of the UK.
Did the Secretary of State even get consulted before the Culture Secretary got let loose on her twitter account?
And I know he’ll say that S4C is getting £7.5m a year to support its digital offering, but in 2010, S4C’s annual budget was nearly £102m. This year its £81.3m. That’s a real terms cut of £51m by his Government.
The Union could also be strengthened had the Government made a much better fist of negotiations over post Brexit trade deals and tariffs.
The Government’s own impact assessment shows a £94m hit to the UK farming, forestry and fishing sectors and a £225m hit to the UK’s semi-processed food industry as a result of the trade agreement with Australia.
A 6000% increase in imported Australian beef is on the cards with meat produced to far lower animal welfare standards than in Wales and across the UK.
The Japanese trade agreement will benefit Japanese exporters five times as much as UK exporters.
And on the New Zealand trade agreement, the National Farmers’ Union and other farmers’ representatives have warned that many Welsh and UK farmers could be pushed into bankruptcy because of the impact of lower price competition from imported foods.
But its not just agriculture trade where the Government is failing British and Welsh industry.
The International Trade Secretary’s humiliating failure to get agreement from the US administration on face to talks on its steel and aluminium tariffs.
If the Prime Minister wasn’t having to focus solely on his disintegrating premiership, he’d be able to heed Labour’s call for him to personally intervene on this issue and show the leadership required to protect Welsh and UK steel and aluminium jobs.
And instead of defending the Prime Minister on the media and telling the public he is “trustworthy” the Secretary of State could be telling him to sort it out.
Finally Chair, on the issue of respect.
We could probably have had a whole Welsh Grand debate on this one issue because it is at the very core of strengthening the Union.
Respect for people and for places must be at the heart of our Union of nations.
Everyone has a right to be treated with respect.
No places should be left behind.
Respect between the four Governments of the United Kingdom needs to be embedded in everything we do.
The 2019 Conservative Manifesto contained an entire chapter on strengthening the Union.
But just like the other promises “guaranteed” and already broken by the Prime Minister such as his pledge not to raise National Insurance, we have seen the Conservative Government deliberately undermine and roll back the devolution settlement.
How about the Internal Markets Act for starters?
Or the promise that Wales would receive not a penny less in replacement funding than it received from EU structural funding on exit from the EU. We’re £375m down and counting.
Or the deliberate bypassing of Welsh Government on areas of devolved competence within the Levelling Up Fund and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – if we ever get the actual details of it.
The UK Government’s approach towards Welsh Government has been less say and less money.
That approach is already negatively impacting on businesses, local government, post 16 education and third sector organisations in Wales.
Its risking creating unconnected investments that are poor value for money, negative competition and significant funding gaps across a range of sectors in Wales.
And as the Minister for Economy in Wales has confirmed, this threatens national schemes that are critical to our recovery in Wales such as Business Wales, apprenticeships and the Development Bank of Wales.
And on the subject of apprenticeships, can the Secretary of State explain why Welsh Police Forces are required to pay around £2m a year into the apprenticeship levy, but they receive nothing back?
Welsh Police Forces are, in effect, paying twice for the professional training of their Officers.
This isn’t just unfair, it’s yet another example of the UK Government’s waste of public money.
Labour introduced devolution to empower Wales and Welsh communities, bringing decision making closer to people.
But the Conservative Government’s deliberate policy of disrespect to the Welsh Government and the people of Wales is undermining the devolution settlement and doing the opposite of strengthening the Union.
[The pandemic has shown the Union both at its best, and at its worst.
Last month, Wales loaned the English NHS four million lateral flow tests to boost stocks in England which were running dangerously low.
But when the Welsh Government asked the UK Treasury for furlough support in autumn 2020 to bring in new measures, its request was declined.
A month later, England was in lockdown and furlough was reinstated.]
We will need a new and durable constitutional settlement. Which is why I am delighted to be part of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Commission on the Future of the UK, together with First Minister Mark Drakeford, that will chart a new course for our Union of nations.
It was a Labour UK Government that delivered devolution.
From that knife-edge referendum win in 1997, whether the Conservatives like it or not, devolution now enjoys consistent majority support amongst the people of Wales.
We want and expect to see our Governments working constructively together, united under the values of security, prosperity and respect.
And with a Labour UK Government and a Welsh Labour Government, we will do so once again.