Parliament

Welsh Affairs

Published date : 29 February, 2024
May I say what a pleasure it is to speak once again in this annual, if sadly truncated, debate on St David’s Day? I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) on once more putting in the leg work to make sure that we had the opportunity for such a wide-ranging and good-natured debate on matters Welsh.

I was not intending to mention the rugby, mostly out of politeness, but the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) raised the three straight defeats. I have to say, from a Scottish perspective, that we gave Wales every chance in the second half, but perhaps I had better just move on. Just to say that the SNP wishes everyone in this House and beyond a very happy St David’s Day when it comes.

This is always a good opportunity to look back at history, but also to look forward. In looking forward, there is no issue of greater import, I would argue, to young generations than the climate, the energy transition and the economy, and we need to get all those parts working together, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) said so powerfully in her own contribution.

The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) spoke about the role that the Crown Estate has to play in that. I can speak from the perspective of Scotland, and when the Crown Estate was devolved, the Scottish Government used that to forge ahead in granting licences for over 25 GW of offshore wind development, which in many respects puts us at the forefront of offshore wind development globally. That is double the UK’s existing offshore capacity, and it will create high-quality jobs and draw in significant investment.

Having that power devolved has clearly been a huge benefit in Scotland, and as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley said—she did not quite say this, and I hope I am not putting words in her mouth—it is beyond time that Wales was able to directly benefit from its own resources, instead of only being able to catch a little bit on the way past as those resources are exported.

Those on the Treasury Bench sometimes get quite excited whenever that is brought up in the Chamber, but in light of the failure of the wind auctions, as the hon. Member for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith) pointed out, we can see why. I think this is an area where the UK Government are in danger of being on the wrong side of Welsh opinion. YouGov conducted a poll that found that 58% of people in Wales support devolving the Crown Estate to Wales. That has also come out as a recommendation of the independent commission on the constitutional future of Wales, alongside other matters such as the devolution of justice and the devolution of railways, with a fair funding settlement to go along with them.

Another telling headline, at least from my perspective, from the independent commission’s report was the willingness of that cross-party body to say that independence for Wales was a viable option for Wales’s constitutional future. That might bring mixed reactions but I would say, from my perspective as a supporter of Scottish independence, that being able to get such a group to agree on that point is a pretty positive place to be, because it shows the respect there has to be between the different views on the constitutional position.

Too often in Scotland attempts are made to shut down debate around independence as if it is in some way too difficult or even, implausibly, unviable. The question should not be about whether this could happen, but should always be about whether it should happen; that is a good place for a respectful debate to take place. Support for independence in Wales now regularly polls at about 30% with apparent majority support among those aged under 34, so this discussion will find itself in the public domain to a greater extent in the years ahead.

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I am not about to open up my phone to look at the exact polling, but I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman after the debate to show him the figures and apologise if I am wrong or claim a pint if I am correct.

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I absolutely agree with that point. The principle of consent is enshrined in the Good Friday agreement for Northern Ireland and implicit in that is that it is a decision for the people. I would argue that that is the position Scotland ought to be in—it is a position for the people—and of course it is for the people of Wales to decide how to form a Government best suited to their needs and to then bring whatever pressure they can through the ballot box to bring that about.

Two other recommendations came out of the commission that struck me: the need to secure a duty of co-operation and parity of esteem between the Governments of the UK; and that the Sewel convention ought to be strengthened. That is something on which a Labour Government in Cardiff and an SNP-led Government in Edinburgh could probably find a lot of agreement. My party is often happier to find ourselves in agreement with the Labour party than the Labour party is to find itself in agreement with the Scottish National party, but there are examples that creep up where the Scottish Labour party appears to be at variance with its colleagues in Wales and I would like to use my remaining time to highlight one example.

When the UK Government find their record under attack, they point the finger, not always fairly I would say, at the record of the Labour Government in Wales, and in turn that Labour Government in Cardiff point a finger back about the funding settlement that is in place and it being imposed by the UK Government. Yet when Labour in Scotland tries to criticise the Scottish Government, it seems completely oblivious, in a way its Welsh counterparts are not, to the funding strictures also in place in Scotland. I do not know whether Welsh Labour ever speaks to Scottish Labour, but if they have not swiped right on each other yet, I would be more than happy to effect the introductions—I would be very happy to set up a blind date if that would be helpful.

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Time is short and the right hon. Lady makes her point very deftly as always, but I want to come back to the point from the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire about the proposed expansion of the Senedd and the electoral system. I have to say that having multi-Member constituencies is not a new thing. They exist in Northern Ireland and also in Scotland for the regional lists, and they exist in local government here, and yes, of course, elected representatives treat people without fear and without favour, and without regard to who anyone voted for or even if they voted at all. [Interruption.] Yes, really, and certainly that is how any elected representative worth their salt will go about things. Conservatives, at least as I always understood it, used to be in favour of consumer choice and this means voters have an element of consumer choice in terms of who they wish to take their concerns to, or indeed if they wish to engage the services of more than one Member. There are examples which I would be more than happy to discuss with the right hon. Gentleman later, because it really is not the end of the world, as he is portraying it to be.

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