The following is an official transcript of the speech given by the Rt Hon David Jones MP during the 2015 St David’s Day Debate, which took place in the House of Commons on 5 March 2015.
Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con): May I say what a great privilege it is for me to follow the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy), who has been such an outstanding Member of the House? I am sure I speak on behalf of all the Members present when I say that we all wish him a very happy retirement, although I half suspect that we may be seeing a bit more of him in the years to come.
The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), too, will be leaving this House after a distinguished career. He and I have known each other for a very long time—longer than either of us would care to mention—since we were both practising law in the magistrates courts of north Wales. I wish him, too, a very happy retirement.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) for his opening speech and the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to this debate. It is an important debate, which we should have every year because it is, as the right hon. Member for Torfaen points out, extremely important that the unique issues that concern the people of Wales should be ventilated in this Chamber.
We are in the final weeks of this Parliament and this debate is as useful an opportunity as any for us all to take stock. In constitutional terms, Wales has seen great changes, some of which were initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), who gave strong and sterling service as Secretary of State. But there are more changes to come, which were announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Cardiff last week. These will be matters for the next Parliament and we will all have our views as to the course that those changes should take, but this is a useful opportunity to consider what has happened over the past five years.
In 2010 the incoming coalition faced the worst set of economic circumstances that any incoming Government had faced since, possibly, the 1930s. The country was still reeling from the crash of 2008 which, although a global catastrophe, was more keenly felt in Britain than perhaps in any other country in the developed world because Britain was carrying the worst structural deficit of any major country, largely as a consequence of what I would term the economic mismanagement of the Labour Government. The coalition Government therefore, in which I had the privilege to serve for more than four years, had difficult decisions to take. We are constantly criticised for what are styled as cuts by the Opposition, but cuts were essential. It is the easiest thing in the world for any Government not to take the difficult decisions. We took those difficult decisions.
David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest cuts that we have made is in the amount of interest that we are paying the banks on the increasing amount of money that we were previously borrowing, and that that is one cut we should be making?
Mr Jones: The interest is declining—that is the point. Had we not taken those difficult decisions, we would be spending more money on paying interest to banks than on providing services to the people of this country, so my hon. Friend is right.
Five years on from that—
Owen Smith: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the styled cuts, as he put it, also resulted in a massive increase in in-work poverty, resulting in an extra £9 billion spending on social security under this Government?
Mr Jones: The decisions that we took were difficult and, clearly, people have felt pain. But people across the board have felt pain. It is interesting to hear the criticisms from the Labour party. What would have happened if that party had remained in power? Where would we be now? Under this Government 1.85 million new jobs have been created. That is 1.85 million people with the security of a pay packet every week and the dignity that employment brings.
Owen Smith rose—
Mr Jones: No, I will not give way. I will continue for a while.
Those new jobs would not have been created, had the hon. Gentleman’s party been in power.
In my constituency, Clwyd West, the improvement is tangible. The last Labour Market Statistics showed that over 12 months, the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance or not in work and claiming universal credit fell by 519 over 12 months—an annual decline of 34.5%. Those figures are mirrored right across Wales and right across the UK. In January, the International Labour Organisation measure of unemployment was 1.86 million people, down 486,000 on the previous year.
Owen Smith rose—
Mr Jones: No, I will not give way for the moment.
These are strong, substantial changes, which we should all welcome, even the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), while acknowledging the task ahead. [Interruption.] He will have plenty of time to speak.
I would like to focus my attention today primarily on north Wales, which is the part of Wales in which I have lived nearly all my life and which I know best. I was brought up in the village of Rhosllanerchrugog near Wrexham, a very unusual, unique and wonderful village. At the time of my boyhood, most of the working men were employed in coal mines and in the steelworks. Since then, there have been huge changes. We all know that the coal industry has virtually gone and the steelworks in north Wales are much smaller than they used to be. But now, north Wales is the home of dynamic new industries.
The wings of every Airbus aircraft that flies anywhere in the world are made in Broughton, in north-east Wales. Close to Broughton is the Deeside industrial estate, part of which is now an enterprise zone. There, high-tech industries serve customers across the globe. Deeside is one of the most dynamic, forward-looking, thrusting industrial areas of the United Kingdom and we should all take huge pride in it. On the other side of the region of north Wales is the island of Anglesey, where we see the Wylfa nuclear power station, which will soon, I hope, be replaced by a new power station, Wylfa Newydd. That will be a gigantic project employing many thousands of people for many years during the construction phase, and many people for decades after the station is up and running. It will provide the opportunity for the creation of centres of excellence in skills, education and training and I am tremendously pleased that the island of Anglesey has welcomed the developers so warmly.
Wylfa is only one element of what I believe is a bright future for north Wales as an energy hub. Out to sea, we have the Gwynt y Mor, Rhyl Flats and North Hoyle offshore wind farms, one of the largest groupings of offshore wind farms anywhere in the world. Let me be frank: as many hon. Members know, I have never been a huge fan of wind power. I believe that it is unreliable, supplying only intermittent and unpredictable energy, and it is far too heavily subsidised. Furthermore, onshore wind, and to a certain extent offshore wind, blight—as my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire put it—the spectacular landscapes, both onshore and offshore, of north Wales.
Nuclear power, by contrast, provides predictable and reliable base-load generation, which is precisely what is needed. However, nuclear must be seen as part of an energy mix. Wind is currently part of that mix, but I was extremely pleased when the Prime Minister indicated only a few weeks ago that subsidies for onshore wind farms will be phased out under the next Conservative Government.
A new technology, and one that has been developed in Wales, is that of tidal lagoons. I remember taking evidence on tidal lagoons several years ago when I was a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee. I was immediately struck by what a tremendous opportunity they represented for Wales, given its huge tidal ranges. The technology has been slow in coming, but it appears that it will soon be here. The company Tidal Lagoon Power has not only made an application for development consent for a new lagoon in Swansea, but has ambitions to create a chain of lagoons stretching from Lancashire in the north, right around the coast of Wales, to Somerset in the south. Only a few weeks ago I chaired a meeting in Colwyn Bay to discuss proposals for a huge tidal lagoon there. It would have a potential generating capacity of 4 GW, which is equivalent to a very large nuclear power station.
Lagoons have the advantage of being green—they produce no carbon emissions—but they also have what wind power lacks: they are entirely reliable. Nothing on the planet is more reliable than the ebb and flow of the tide. As a result, each tidal lagoon would have the capacity to generate for 22 of every 24 hours. This is a new technology, and a British technology. Moreover, it could be centred in Wales. I believe that Wales could become a leader in what could rapidly become an important export industry.
Obviously there are environmental issues to consider, not least with regard to transmission infrastructure, which is having a catastrophic effect across Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire mentioned the impact that transmission lines would have in Montgomeryshire. Equally, in my constituency of Clwyd West there is now a strong campaign aimed at requiring the transmission lines serving the new Clocaenog wind farm to be buried underground. Saving the planet should not mean at the same time trashing our landscapes and seascapes. I therefore strongly support the proposition that developers of wind farms, which are heavily subsidised, should be required to pay the cost of laying transmission cables underground.
I would like to touch on transport in north Wales. The railways are increasingly important in north Wales, and they are being used increasingly heavily, as is the case across the country. Journey times have improved tremendously. When I was first elected to his House some 10 years ago, the journey back to London from Colwyn Bay on a Sunday took some four and a half hours. As a result of efforts by both the previous Labour Government and this Conservative Government, that has been reduced dramatically—the same journey now takes almost exactly three hours. The fast train, which I hope to take tonight, takes approximately two and three quarter hours.
That is all commendable, and it is a tribute to the work done by Network Rail, but we must look to the future. We know that HS2 will be built and that it will go to Manchester. It is important that north Wales should benefit from it, which is why I believe that the new hub proposed for Crewe should be built and that there should be a fast connection right through to Holyhead. We must bear it in mind that north Wales is very much part of the north-western economic region; economically, the region has always looked to the great cities of the north-west, Liverpool and Manchester. I was therefore delighted when last year the Chancellor announced funding for the reopening of the Halton curve, which will put Liverpool and the expanding Liverpool John Lennon airport within easy travelling distance of north Wales.
In north-east Wales we should seek to maximise the economic benefit we can derive from the new enterprise zone at Deeside by encouraging synergy with the new enterprise zone at Wirral Waters in Birkenhead. There is a railway line linking Liverpool and north Wales, but the difficulty is that passengers have to change at Bidston from an electric train to a diesel one to take them through to Wrexham. I believe that a very good improvement, and one that could be achieved at relatively low cost, would be to electrify that line, certainly between Bidston and Shotton, where a new interchange is proposed. That would mean that the two great enterprise zones at Deeside and Wirral Waters would be within easy commuting distance of each other.
Tourism has always been the mainstay of the north Wales economy, but I believe that more could be done for it. One simple measure that is acquiring support from hon. Members from all parties is to give serious consideration to reducing the rate of value added tax on tourism businesses. That has been tried out in competitor countries, not least Ireland, and has been found to be entirely successful. It has been calculated that the immediate loss of revenue would be made up within four years. The big problem is that, in areas such as north Wales, most tourism businesses are run by small family undertakings that, in order to remain competitive one way or the other, try desperately to avoid being registered for VAT, the consequence of which is that they are deterred from expanding and improving their businesses because they cannot have the benefit of input VAT to set against the cost. Therefore, one measure which should appeal to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and to which I hope he will give serious consideration in the impending Budget, is to reduce the rate of VAT for tourism businesses to 5%.
Finally, I want to touch on a matter that is worrying to everybody with a constituency in north Wales, namely health care. I know that the issue is a hot potato in this House and that Government Members are frequently criticised for criticising the Welsh Government’s delivery of health care. The fact is, however, that areas such as north Wales are almost entirely reliant on the north-west of England and the midlands for very specialist medical care. It has been a concern for many years that north Wales patients have to wait considerably longer than their English counterparts for elective surgery in English hospitals, simply because of the way in which the Welsh Assembly Government fund health care.
The situation is getting worse. Yesterday in Prime Minister’s Question Time the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) mentioned his constituent, Mr Irfon Williams, who has been obliged to move out of Wales to Ellesmere Port in order to access drugs that he would have got routinely had he been resident in England. He is not by any means a unique example. I have a number of constituents who, because they live in Wales, simply cannot access the medicines they need. They have to go through the most byzantine consenting procedures if they are to have specialist treatment. Frankly, the matter is causing huge distress in north Wales. The situation was compounded recently by the decision of the Betsi Cadwaladr university health board to downgrade maternity care in Glan Clwyd hospital, the reason being that it is finding it difficult to attract staff of the necessary calibre and quality.
I believe that that shows that there are structural difficulties with the health care system in Wales under the Welsh Government. It is suggested that the Welsh Government have been subject to cuts, but the fact is that the Barnett formula protects the health budget in Wales. The simple fact is that the Welsh Government, of their own volition, decided to cut the health budget, and the consequence is that patients in my and other north Wales constituencies are suffering.
I am rapidly coming to the view that the Welsh Government are finding it almost impossible to run a decent health system in Wales. Before I sit down, I plead with them to look very carefully at the misery being inflicted on a lot of people in north Wales and to turn to the Department of Health in Westminster for advice. They should not be too proud to do so. Until they do so, I believe that health care in Wales will only continue to decline.