I took part in this week’s St David’s Day debate on Welsh Affairs in Parliament. My contribution to the debate is copied below:
This St David’s day debate takes place against the backdrop of Brexit and all the uncertainty that that brings, but, like other hon. Members, I want to talk about some of the positive developments that we have seen in the corner of Wales that I represent with my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) in the year since our last debate. On 14 March, it will be 15 years since Newport achieved city status, and it is no exaggeration to say that there is new life in our city centre thanks to the Friars Walk development, which had 8 million people walk through it in 2016. It has brought 1,500 new jobs and attracted £120 million into the city centre. All credit to Newport Council and its leaders, Bob Bright and Debbie Wilcox, for making that happen.
Coleg Gwent is seeking to relocate to a site next to the University of South Wales to create a knowledge quarter on the banks of the River Usk, and work will begin this month on the international convention centre. Last year, the University of South Wales launched the National Cyber Security Academy, which has been part-funded by the Welsh Government and supported by Airbus and General Dynamics. I am really proud that the cyber-experts of the future are being produced in Newport, in the second-largest cyber-security department after Royal Holloway college. These are positive developments, with Newport Council working with Labour in the Welsh Government and with industry to bring benefits to our constituents.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the Cardiff capital region city deal. The leaders from Newport and Monmouthshire were among the 10 leaders who signed that deal yesterday. The key element in this is the metro. We have had debates in which we have asked the UK Government to guarantee the funding for that, post-Brexit. It is an ambitious project with huge potential for improving connectivity.
As the population grows in the areas of Caldicot, Rogiet, Undy and Magor, it is crucial that we have the infrastructure for a new station in Magor, for which a bid has been put in, and better capacity for the commuter services to Bristol and Cardiff. I hope that the Ministers will pursue this with the Department for Transport.
We should also be talking about the Great Western Cities partnership between Newport, Bristol and Cardiff. This is another potential source of growth, and I am keen to hear from Ministers what they can do to engage with and support it. Those great western cities are interdependent and have key areas that could provide economic growth. Initial work has already shown that the economic benefit that could be generated by improving the connectivity between Bristol, Newport and Cardiff would be greater than that generated by similar investment in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. This is a huge opportunity and I would like to see Wales Office Ministers engaging with the project. I was going to let the subject of the Severn bridge tolls go, on this occasion-[Hon. Members: “No! No!”] I will just say that the Government have moved some way, following our long campaign, but it is not far enough. We will continue to campaign on that issue.
Finally, I want to highlight some other matters on behalf of my constituents. The first is steel. I have spoken many times about the importance of steel to my constituency, and I have been heartened by the investment being put in by Liberty. The Tata workers in the steel industry have made a difficult decision in agreeing to the pension proposals. They are doing their bit, and it is now up to Tata and the UK Government to ensure that there is a sustainable future for the Welsh sites, including Llanwern and Orb.
The second issue is personal independence payments. The Government’s announcement about the changes to PIPs last week has caused huge anxiety out there among constituents who are already struggling with the process. I cannot be alone in seeing surgeries full of people who are waiting too long for assessments and decisions, and long-term disabled people who are getting turned down, with all the distress that that causes. Last week’s statement will only add to that distress. Many disabled people that I know feel that they are always in line for cuts and that there are no guarantees that those facing reassessment will not see their awards cut. Will Ministers take back to the Department for Work and Pensions the message that, rather than making the process more difficult, what is needed are fewer delays, more consistency in decision making and more discussion with disabled people’s organisations before bringing forward regulations such as these.
Last but not least: the police. Today’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary highlights the fact that the police are struggling with cuts and that their response to the public is suffering. Gwent is rated “good” in HMIC’s assessment, and I am really pleased that it is in the top 10 best performing forces for cases involving domestic violence. However, the police are clearly struggling to do much more-there are more complex cases-with less. The debates that we have had in this place have highlighted that fact, and I would like to see Ministers fighting the corner for the Welsh police forces and the service they provide to our constituents, to ensure that they are properly funded and can do their crucial job well.
You can read a full transcript of the debate online at: https://goo.gl/vUOeWh