Stephen Crabb – 2006 Speech on Human Rights in Burma

Stephen Crabb

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Crabb on 24 October 2006.

Today, Burma’s democracy leader, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will mark a total of 11 years under house arrest.

It is therefore highly appropriate that the House consider once again the current situation in Burma, the gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the military regime there, and the actions Her Majesty’s Government can and should take to address the growing crisis. And it’s been more than a year since we had a debate in this House on this subject.

There are other factors, too, which make this is a particularly timely moment for Members to have this debate.

Last month the UN Security Council formally discussed Burma for the first time. And last week the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, Paulo Pinheiro, presented his report to the UN General Assembly.

This debate has attracted much interest from various NGOs and I am particularly grateful to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Burma Campaign – among others – who have asked me to consider various research notes and other pieces of evidence as I have prepared for this debate.

I am sure I am not the only one who thinks that 90% of everything said from a platform during party conference season is instantly forgettable. And I am sure that this applies equally to all the parties.

But at the beginning of this month, in Bournemouth, I listened to one of the most confident, passionate and meaningful speeches I have ever heard in any political forum. It didn’t come from one of our Shadow Cabinet, or from one of our rising star A-list candidates, or even from one of our elder Tory statesmen.

The speaker was a 25 year old Burmese woman, named Zoya Phang, who used an appearance at the conference to make a heart-cry for her people and for her country.

Zoya spoke of how, at the age of 14, she witnessed a savage assault on her village by troops of the Burmese regime; she spoke of mortar bombs exploding and soldiers opening fire; of her family running, carrying what they could, leaving their home behind. And she spoke of her memories of those killed on that day and the smell of black smoke as her village was destroyed behind them.

But she also brought questions to our conference: Why has it taken 16 years for the United Nations Security Council to even discuss Burma? Why are there no targeted economic sanctions to cut the economic lifeline keeping this regime afloat? Why is there is not even a UN arms embargo against her country?

It was Zoya Phang’s testimony, more than anything, which made me ask for this debate today. And I would like to use my contribution to bring these questions, and others, to the Minister.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent the last 11 years of her life in detention. Despite an overly optimistic assessment of the situation by UN Under-Secretary General Ibrahim Gambari, who was permitted a brief audience with her in May this year, her detention was extended by a further year just days later.

In addition to the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, there are over 1,100 other political prisoners in jail in Burma today. They face widespread and horrific forms of torture – and since December last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been forced to suspend all its prison visits, due to the restrictions imposed by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

During that month, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma published a report, The Darkness We See, detailing the different forms of torture used. And many political prisoners do not survive the harsh conditions and torture they face in Burma’s prisons.

Another report, Eight Seconds of Silence, details the deaths of at least nine political prisoners since last year. And last week, it emerged that another prisoner, Ko Thet Win Aung, aged 34, died in Mandalay Prison.

Will the Minister and his colleagues demand an independent investigation into the causes of his death and for the findings to be made public?

The 27th September this year marked the 18th anniversary of the establishment of the National League for Democracy (NLD). Yet, even at the same time as messages of support were being sent to the NLD from politicians of all parties around the world, several leading dissidents in Burma – who had already spent many years in prison and had been released – were being re-arrested, including Min Ko Naing, Ko Gyi and Htay Kwe.

Could the Minister please tell the House what action he is taking to raise the issue of these arrests with the SPDC and to secure the prisoners’ release?

Burma has the highest number of forcibly conscripted child soldiers in the world, according to Human Rights Watch. Over 70,000 children have been forced to join the Burma Army.

According to the human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which has interviewed former child soldiers who have managed to escape, these children – some as young as 10 or 11 – are taken from bus stops or train stations, or from the street on their way home from school.

I know, from hearing previous answers given by the Minister for Human Rights, that he feels passionate about this specific issue of child soldiers.

Please could the Minister with us today update us on what the Government’s most recent actions have been to challenge the regime on their use of child soldiers.

As if the suppression of democracy, the widespread use of torture, the imprisonment of people for their political beliefs, and the forcible conscription of child soldiers were not enough, the human rights violations perpetrated by the SPDC against the ethnic nationalities, in particular the Karen, Karenni and Shan, amount – according to many analysts – to crimes against humanity and, arguably, genocide.

Since 1996, over 2,800 villages in eastern Burma alone have been destroyed. This has been reported by human rights organisations for several years. Last week, in his report to the UN General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma acknowledged this figure for the first time.

It is estimated that over one million people are Internally Displaced within the jungles of Burma – on the run, “hunted and shelled like animals” in the words of one report, without adequate food, medicine or shelter.

This year, the number of IDPs rose still further. In the SPDC’s biggest and most savage offensive against Karen civilians in almost a decade, over 20,000 Karen civilians had to flee their villages.

Reports from the Free Burma Rangers and the Karen Human Rights Group reveal horrifying atrocities, including beheadings, severe mutilations and the shooting of civilians at point-blank range. A nine year-old girl was shot, after seeing her father and grandmother killed.

It is essential that we see this campaign for what it is. The European Union and others in the international community have been, in my view, far too timid in the language they have used. They have described this year’s events as an offensive against the Karen National Union (KNU), the Karens’ resistance organisation.

But in reality it was nothing less than a genocidal assault on the Karen people themselves. The vast majority of the victims were innocent, unarmed civilians who had nothing to do with the resistance.

And evidence of the widespread, systematic use of rape continues to mount. Documented in reports such as Licence to Rape by the Shan Women’s Action Network, and others by the Karen Women’s Organisation and the Women’s League of Chinland, it is clear that there is a pattern that wherever SPDC troops are stationed, women are extremely vulnerable.

A Kachin woman told Christian Solidarity Worldwide that rape is “very common” and that “rape happens in every area where there is an SPDC army camp”.

The Kachin have a ceasefire with the SPDC, so rape cannot simply be dismissed as a consequence of “counter-insurgency” operations. Similarly in Mon state, where there is also a ceasefire, women are taken as sexual slaves for the army, as described in the devastating report Catwalk to the Barracks.

In his report the Special Rapporteur says: “Serious incidents of sexual violence against women continue to be reported throughout Myanmar (Burma). Women and girls in ethnic minority areas remain particularly susceptible to rape and harassment by State actors.”

In light of UN Security Council resolution 1674, passed this year, which calls for the protection of civilians in armed conflict and resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, what action is the Minister considering at an international level to bring the regime to justice for these crimes?

Will the Minister assure the House that in the debate at the Security Council in two days time on resolution 1325 on women, peace and security the United Kingdom will raise the situation in Burma, and encourage other countries to do so too?

Will the United Kingdom call on the SPDC to bring an end to the system of impunity for grave violations committed by State actors, including rape and sexual violence?

I would like now to focus on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Burma.

In September, the Backpack Health Workers Team – a group of courageous medics who work in the conflict zones of eastern Burma, at huge risk to their lives, to deliver medical assistance – published a report, Chronic Emergency: Health and Human Rights in Eastern Burma. The findings in the report are an indictment of the regime – and of the international community’s failure to respond.

According to this report, and a similar one published earlier in the year by John Hopkins University, Burma is facing a dire public health crisis, caused by the regime’s lack of investment in health care and its violations of human rights. Eastern Burma, in particular, is now one of the world’s worst health disasters

Chronic Emergency claims that the situation is as bad as the poorest countries in Africa – and yet Burma receives only a fraction of the aid and attention given to Africa. Malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS have reached epidemic proportions.

Infant mortality rates and deaths from treatable diseases are among the worst in the world. Yet Burma’s regime, which spends over 40% of its budget on the military, invests less than $1 per person per year in health and education combined. In the World Health Organisation’s assessment of health care, Burma is ranked 190 out of 191 states. Only Sierra Leone has a worse record of caring for its citizens.

There continues to be a debate about the most effective ways to deliver aid to the people of Burma. Undoubtedly we want to avoid channelling money through the SPDC. I do not intend to try to address all the complexities here – but I want to raise one very simple point.

I am aware that the Department for International Development is in the final stages of carrying out a review of its policy on Burma. I welcome the fact that they have had a review, and I look forward to hearing the outcome. I hope very much that DFID will find a way to provide substantial and much-needed assistance to the over one million IDPs who are as yet unreached by DFID funds.

There are outstanding organisations carrying out life-saving work – groups such as the Backpack Health Worker Teams whose report I have just referred to – and they deserve our support. There is a precedent, as I understand that four other Governments do fund such humanitarian groups. I hope that DFID will join them.

I want to turn now to current political developments – first, within Burma, and then internationally. Just two weeks ago, the SPDC began the final session of its National Convention to draw up a new Constitution for the country.

I hope the Minister will assure the House that Her Majesty’s Government does not give the SPDC’s National Convention one iota of credibility and that he will recognise it for what it is: a sham, and a desperate bid by a brutal military regime to rubber-stamp its own agenda and give itself a civilian face.

The delegates at the National Convention are handpicked and threatened with severe penalties if they criticise the process. The NLD and the major representatives of most of the ethnic nationalities are excluded.

The SPDC plans to put the new Constitution to a referendum. Nobody has any confidence that it will be a free and fair referendum.

What plans does the Minister have to put pressure on the SPDC to invite international and truly independent monitors, not just on the day of the referendum but in the run-up to it?

What hope does he have that there will be a proper period of public awareness raising, information, education and consultation, including freedom for groups to campaign for a “no” vote?

Following a referendum, as I understand it, the SPDC then plans to hold new elections. Only this time they don’t want a re-run of their defeat in 1990. So they have ensured that the proposed Constitution assures them victory. A third of the seats in the legislature will be reserved for the military.

The President must be someone with at least 15 years’ experience in the military. The regime’s civilian militia – the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) – is expected to be used by the SPDC to contest the seats that are not already reserved for the military. The USDA, it should be remembered, are the thugs who attacked Aung San Suu Kyi in Depayin three years ago, during which more than a hundred of her supporters were beaten to death. This is the new face for Burma?

Does the Minister agree with the UN Special Rapporteur, who described the National Convention as “meaningless and undemocratic” and added: “It will not work on the moon … it will not work on Mars”?

Does he also agree that the only way forward for real change and national reconciliation in Burma is tripartite dialogue between the SPDC, the NLD and the ethnic nationalities. The NLD and the ethnic nationalities have repeatedly stressed their willingness to talk. What action is he taking to push for meaningful tripartite dialogue?

Just over a year ago, the former Czech President Vaclav Havel and the former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu commissioned an international law firm to assess the case for bringing the issue of Burma to the UN Security Council agenda.

Their report, Threat to the Peace, concluded that there was an overwhelmingly strong case for bringing Burma to the Security Council agenda. It concluded that Burma meets all of the major criteria for Security Council action.

It recommended a Security Council discussion, and a binding resolution which would require the SPDC to release all political prisoners, to open the country to international human rights monitors and humanitarian aid organisations without restriction or interference, and to engage in meaningful tripartite dialogue and a transition to democracy.

And last month, a year after Threat to the Peace was published, the UN Security Council formally discussed Burma for the first time. This followed two informal UN Security Council discussions on Burma which have taken place over the last year.

I am aware that the United Kingdom, along with the United States and others, worked very hard to bring Burma to the formal agenda, and I wish to express my appreciation for the Government’s efforts and welcome the successes that have been achieved. However, I also want to urge the Minister that the need for a binding resolution on Burma has never been greater. The discussion at the Security Council recently is a very significant step forward. But talk is not enough.

The UN Special Rapporteur recommends specifically to the UN General Assembly to call on the Security Council to: ‘respond to the situation of armed conflict in eastern Myanmar (Burma) where civilians are being targeted and where humanitarian assistance to civilians is being deliberately obstructed, and to call on the Government of Myanmar to authorise access to the affected areas by the Special Rapporteur, the United Nations and associated personnel, as well as personnel of humanitarian organisations and guarantee their safety, security and freedom of movement’.

Does the Minister support the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations? What action is the United Kingdom taking to bring about a binding resolution, and to ensure the support of other Security Council members?

I wish to conclude by looking at some other steps which the United Kingdom could take. I applaud the robust statements made in the past by the Minister for Human Rights, and I reiterate my gratitude to the Government for the efforts made within the UN Security Council to seek a stronger international position. But I wish to suggest that there are some additional steps that could be considered.

Firstly, with great respect to the efforts of the Honourable Member for Makerfield, I would like to see greater engagement in the issue of Burma at a higher level in the Government – by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.

I recognise that there are many challenges on the international scene at the moment, but given Britain’s history with Burma, and given the severity and the duration of the suffering of the people of Burma, I hope that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will give the situation a higher priority than they have done so far.

Secondly, the UK is the second largest source of approved investment in Burma. Although most major British companies which previously invested in Burma have withdrawn, companies all over the world use Britain to invest in Burma via British-dependent territories such as the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda. The Government could introduce legislation to ban investment in Burma from Britain or British-dependent territories.

Thirdly, the Minister should consider ways to strengthen the EU Common Position when it is reviewed this year.

Will the Minister tell the House why, despite the Common Position’s provision for a freeze of assets held in Europe by listed regime officials, less than £4,000 has been frozen across all 25 EU member states?

What action is the Government taking to address this within the EU?

The strongest feature of the EU Common Position is a limited investment ban, introduced in 2004. European companies are banned from investing in a number of named state-owned enterprises. But on this list of named state-owned enterprises are a pineapple juice factory and a tailor shop, but no enterprises in the key sectors of oil, gas, mining and timber.

The military regime in Burma is propped up by oil, gas, timber and gems – surely not by pineapple juice?

Fourthly, DFID provides no financial support for Burmese pro-democracy and human rights operating in exile but carrying out vital work in documenting and disseminating information – groups such as the Shan Women’s Action Network and the Karen Women’s Organisation who have helped to bring the issue of rape to the world agenda; media organisations such as the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) Radio and Television stations which broadcast news into Burma and provide an essential source of information; and democracy organisations such as the Government-in-Exile, the National Council of the Union of Burma or the trade union movement.

If developing democracy and civil society is to be a priority, why does DFID not fund this kind of work for Burma?

Finally, it is becoming increasingly obvious that what is occurring in eastern Burma, particularly to the Karen, Karenni and Shan, amounts to more than just the “counter-insurgency” that the SPDC call it.

The crimes of widespread rape, forced labour, mass displacement, torture, use of human minesweepers, destruction of villages, destruction of livelihoods and destruction of lives, surely amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. There is a strong case to be considered of genocide, or attempted genocide.

Article 2c of the Genocide Convention provides as one definition of genocide: “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. Genocide does not have to involve the destruction of a whole race. Nor does it even entail mass killing.

Earlier this month the Hon Member for Cardiff North asked the Minister, by way of written of PQ, if genocide is being committed inside Burma. His answer expressed no view on this. At the end of June, to the Hon. Member for Buckingham, he said that ‘there is currently insufficient evidence to establish that the intent to commit genocide exists.’

I would like to ask again whether it is the view of HMG that the Burmese regime is committing genocide.

Does the Minister agree that there is a need to thoroughly investigate allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide or attempted genocide? If so, what action is he taking?

In describing the current situation in Burma, I have barely begun to scratch the surface of the regime’s legacy of fear and suffering.

I have not, for example, described the use of forced labour; nor have I detailed the lack of religious freedoms which blight the lives of Christians among the Karen, Kachin and Chin ethnic groups, and the Muslims among the Rohingya.

But it is clear that, across the full range of basic human rights, the Burmese dictatorship systematically restricts, denies and undermines the freedoms that should be enjoyed all peoples in Burma.

In his book, The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky describes the differences between freedom societies and those he calls ‘fear societies’ which are ruled by regimes which deny freedoms to their peoples and suppress human rights.

A community of free nations throughout the world will not, he says, emerge on its own. ‘It will require both the clarity of the democratic world to see the profound moral difference between the world of freedom and the world of fear, and the courage to confront fear societies everywhere.’

We have a duty to confront – in the ways I have described – the fear society that has been imposed by the regime in Burma.

I will close with the words of Zoya Phang at the Conservative Conference three weeks ago: ‘Promoting human rights and democracy is not imperialist. It is not a cultural issue. It is everyone’s business.’

We need to use our privileged position here in the UK to make the situation in Burma the urgent business of the international community.

Stephen Crabb – 2006 Speech at the Welsh Conservative Party Conference

Stephen Crabb

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Crabb at the Welsh Conservative Party Conference held in Llandudno on 4 March 2006.

One year ago this conference met at the Millennium Stadium – Wales was running away with one of the most stylish rugby Grand Slams of recent times.

And Michael Howard was knocking us all into shape to fight an election campaign which brought our Party its first increase in Westminster representation in 22 years and our first seats here in Wales since 1992.

Now, whatever problems our national rugby squad may currently be having in terms of leadership and on-field performance, and we hope they are a temporary blip.

Under David Cameron, our Conservative Team is building strongly on Michael Howard’s success and taking us closer to Government than we have been for a very long time.

They liked the policies, but not the party. We have made considerable progress in the last twelve months. But let’s not pretend that winning the next election will be easy. There is still a lot of ground to make up.

One of my most frustrating experiences during the general election campaign was to regularly come across voters who would tell me, passionately, that they could not wait to see the back of Tony Blair, and that they supported our policies for more police or our policies for to help pensioners, or our stance on immigration…

… then only to be told by these very same people that they still would not be voting Conservative on May 5th.

And a lot of my colleagues in Parliament encountered exactly the same thing: many people just could not bring themselves to vote Conservative despite the huge and manifest failures of the Labour Government.

There is no question that our campaign themes were high on the public’s agenda; and no question that they liked what we were offering.

So why couldn’t they vote for us?

Let me suggest one reason: In the society we live today, there are many voters who just cannot and will not lend their support to a party which they feel does not embody their own fundamental values and aspirations.

No matter that we had some strong headline policies which they liked a lot. They want to support a party that is on their side.

And currently, there is a perception – a misperception – that the Conservative Party is not.

Too many people feel – wrongly – that the Conservative Party just does not exist for them;

Three months ago David Cameron was elected Leader of this great, historic Party with a mandate to ‘Change to Win’.

A mandate to go out there and demonstrate to the British public that our Party is able to renew itself; is able to adapt to the changing world; and understands just what needs to be done to improve life in early 21st century Britain.

And at the heart of that mission to reconnect with a wider audience in the country is a mission to tackle poverty and social injustice.

As the Leader himself said ‘I want the next Conservative Government to care about every Briton’s quality of life… Patriotism is about the crown, the flag and our nation’s institutions but it is also about believing in justice for everyone… People are crying out for a change, for fairness and opportunity’.

And this part of the Conservative package cannot be a bolt-on extra.

This mission – to address the most difficult social questions of our time – has to be at the centre of everything we say, and everything we stand for, in the months and years ahead.

Because, without it, I am afraid too many people will still think we are on someone else’s side.

We need to ‘Change to Win’.

But let’s not think the social justice message is just part of some clever plan to get us the keys of Downing Street.

It’s at the heart of the new agenda for our Party precisely because we are living in such a damaged, broken society where too many people are denied the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

And, here in Wales, we don’t have to look very far to see just how enormous is the task we face.

If the Welsh Conservative Party is looking for a mission for the coming Assembly elections – then this is it – to re-focus public services in Wales in accordance with a radical, social justice imperative because Wales desperately needs new thinking and new action.

Take homelessness.

National Assembly figures show that the number of people recorded as homeless is continuing to rise.

The number of homeless households in Wales doubled between 2000 and 2004. And Shelter Cymru estimates that at least 50,000 people experience homelessness in Wales every year.

Since Labour came into power in 1997 the use of temporary accommodation has trebled.

And if these figures aren’t bad enough, just remember that Wales also has the worst housing conditions in the UK, with an estimated 225,000 people living in unfit accommodation.

Take dentistry.

Wales is only just waking up to the social justice implications of the collapse in NHS provision in many parts of Wales.

As increasing numbers of adults – and children – now find themselves without access to any dentist, what will be the consequences for oral health among the poorest and most vulnerable in society?

Ladies and gentlemen, if you had told the people of Pembrokeshire back in 1997 that, within 8 years, they would see the near-wholesale disappearance of NHS dentistry in their County under a Labour government they would not have believed you.

Yet, this is exactly what has happened; and is happening in many other parts of the country. And I predict Labour will reap a whirlwind because of it.

Or we can look at low pay.

Low pay, especially among women, is an increasingly significant cause of poverty in Wales.

One in four women in full-time jobs and 60 per cent of those in part-time jobs are paid less than £6.50 and hour.

Rural communities like Pembrokeshire, Gwynedd and Powys are among the worst affected, where too many women – especially single mums – cannot afford to go out to work because of childcare, travel and other costs.

This is just one of the reasons why 27 per cent of children in Wales are living in poverty, a figure higher than the British average.

We also need to examine closely the link between disability and poverty.

Why is it that the proportion of disabled adults living in poverty is double that of people who do not have disabilities?

Why are three quarters of all those receiving the main out-of-work benefits for two years or more disabled?

Why is it that a disabled person with a degree is more likely to looking for work than a non-disabled person with no qualifications?

And why is it that a disabled person is paid, on average, 10% less than a non-disabled person for doing exactly the same job?

Never again must we go into an election with the majority of disabled people thinking that the Conservative Party does not stand for them.

We could look at so many other areas and see the negative social impacts created by Labour’s failure in Wales:

Farming – where thousands of farmers earn a wage that would be illegal in any other industry – being brought to its knees by a Government that has ignored every opportunity it has had to get a fairer deal for Welsh farming families.

Or Education – where the number of children achieving GCSE grades is lower in Wales than in the rest of the United Kingdom, and truancy rates are unacceptably high.

Or Household Debt – where too many Welsh families face crippling levels of debt. A quarter of all households in Wales now have consumer credit commitments amounting to more than 10% of their annual income.

All these must be key battlegrounds for us at the next election.

Building social justice starts with an agenda to restore competitiveness to the UK economy and to capture more of the fruits of the enormous increase in global trade.

It requires policies that encourage stable families and gives relationships – especially where children are involved – every chance of success.

And, yes, it requires action to remove the disincentives created by the tax and benefit system that serve to undermine marriage in our society.

It will also mean unleashing the dynamism and creativity of the voluntary sector in a way we have not seen for many years.

So many of the really effective projects I see providing solutions to social problems are not linked to the state at all, but are organised by motivated and focussed voluntary groups which have a deep understanding of the communities in which the are working.

And building social justice will require radical reform of our public services.

Gordon Brown has tried the old fashioned model of just pouring huge sums of money into services with the result that public sector employment has increased massively at the expense of commerce and productivity has declined.

Too few benefits are being seen at the sharp-end by the people whose lives depend on high quality public services.

This has to change.

Conference, I believe that the Conservative mission for this country is to ensure there is a safe floor beneath which no man or woman can fall, but also no ceiling above which no man or woman can rise.

Today in Wales, far too many people are finding that the floor is not at all secure and that there is a very low ceiling indeed, trapping them in their circumstances.

Even one of Labour’s very own think tanks now admits that inequality is increasing under this Government.

We must make this our agenda.

We have always been the Party of opportunity

We must show now that we are also the Party of social justice.

That we stand for everyone in society, especially those on the margins.

That we want to make sure that everyone can fulfil their own unique potential;

And that no-one gets left behind.

Stephen Crabb – 2017 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Crabb, the Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, in the House of Commons on 26 June 2017.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak so early in the debate. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins); I enjoyed listening to his speech and appreciate the spirit in which he made it. I think that many Members on both sides of the House will wish to return to the theme of working together pragmatically. It will certainly inform some of the remarks that I make in the next few minutes.

I have not taken many of the opportunities that we have had in this House over the past 12 months to speak about Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. In part that is because I had campaigned strongly for us to remain and on referendum day found myself part of the minority in the country, and certainly in my constituency, which voted strongly to leave. I have spent part of the past year trying to understand what drove that vote, not least in my constituency and across Wales, and how the debate is evolving. I have one or two observations to make.

First, I have been deeply impressed by the pragmatic and assiduous approach taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State over the past 10 months. I think that it has been appreciated on both sides of the House and, judging by what people on the continent tell me, deeply valued in the discussions with our European counterparts. Listening to his remarks today, and to those of the shadow Secretary of State, the newly right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), I was struck by the fluidity and room for manoeuvre that exists in both Front-Bench positions.

That fluidity might reflect different shades of opinion within the Government, and certainly within the Opposition, on how we should take forward the Brexit negotiations, but it also reflects a level of pragmatism. Listening to both Front Benchers this afternoon, I asked myself whether a pragmatic centre ground might be emerging around which Members on both sides could coalesce. One of the things I took from the general election campaign is that the country remains hopelessly divided on this issue. If we in this Chamber are to do anything over the next two years, it should be to provide some kind of leadership that helps bring the country together.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)

No tariffs; frictionless trade; the best possible access to, but not membership of, the single market—is not the truth that there is vanishingly little difference between the strategic priorities of those on both Front Benches? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would help our constituents, and indeed our negotiators, if all parties were to make that clear?​

Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir David Amess)

Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, I appeal again to the House, because the more interventions there are, the less time there will be for the very many Members who wish to speak, including those who wish to make their maiden speeches.

Stephen Crabb

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I was about to say that I was also struck by how similar the strategic objectives of both Front Bench positions actually are. The outlines are emerging of what I hope will be a pragmatic, sensible Brexit deal that can command widespread support across the country. The Government and the Opposition are united in wanting to prioritise jobs and prosperity and to protect workers’ living standards and the interests of our business community—I do not think that there is any dispute about that. However, getting an outcome that actually delivers that will require more direct honesty about some of the trade-offs that need to be made.

In particular, we need to be far more honest with the public about the trade-off between maximising access to the single market—that is not the same thing as retaining membership of the single membership—so that we can enjoy as many of the benefits of those trading relationships that we currently enjoy, and the posture we adopt towards future EU workers wishing to come to this country. We had a good discussion earlier today about the offer being made to EU citizens currently living here, and we debated it at some length. Again, the point needs to be made that, despite the acknowledgment that clearly important details have yet to be resolved, we have the outlines of a deal with the European Union, which is a big step forward. If we carry the same spirit of pragmatism and generosity that has informed that offer into our negotiations on future EU workers, while also keeping an eye on the economic importance of people coming from overseas to work in this country—we do not debate that enough—there is a deal to be done that will give us a good chance of maximising trading access to the single market and protecting our economic interests as far as possible.

Over the past year I have looked at different economic sectors and asked myself which group of EU workers, whether in the NHS, the road haulage industry or our agri-food sector, should not be here in a post-Brexit scenario. The truth is that one cannot put one’s finger on any significant group of EU workers currently here and contributing to our economy about whom we would say, “It would be better for this country if they weren’t here, and actually we should design a Brexit that will stop them coming here.”

By focusing on our economic interests and being honest with the public—there is a particular challenge on my side of the House to us to debate this with our constituents in a more direct and honest way than we have perhaps been willing to do in recent years—I think we can move some of the opinion in the country that undoubtedly opted for Brexit a year ago because people thought that that was the change button for reducing immigration. The truth is that it is not, and we need to be honest about that.

I am optimistic, having listening to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, that there is a pragmatic and sensible centre ground that can emerge and around which we can ​coalesce, that will command the support of the business community—which at the moment feels that its voice needs to be louder in the Brexit discussions—and trade unions, and will reassure British workers and give us the best possible chance of enhancing, not diminishing, our prosperity in the years ahead.

Stephen Crabb – 2005 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Stephen Crabb
Stephen Crabb

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Stephen Crabb in the House of Commons on 25 May 2005.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech on the final day of debate on the Queen’s Speech. It was a pleasure to listen to the maiden speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) and for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), and by the hon. Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck), for Worsley (Ms Keeley), for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). I wish them all the best in their parliamentary careers. I would like to add my own tribute to those that have already been made to the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) for his excellent work, both in Northern Ireland and in the Principality.

I count it a huge honour to be elected as the new Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire. I am only the second Member to represent the constituency, which was created before the 1997 election, when it was won by Jackie Lawrence, and again in 2001, for the Labour party. Jackie retired at the end of the last Parliament. She and I were opponents in the election held four years ago, and we both fought robust campaigns. The more that I saw of her during that election, however, the more that I was struck by the sincerity and humanity with which she carried out her duties as a Member of Parliament. She entered Parliament for exactly the right reasons—to improve the lives of Pembrokeshire people—and served her constituents well during her eight years as an MP. Her parting remark to me on election night in 2001 was, “Best of luck with your parliamentary career, Stephen, just not here in Pembrokeshire.” I am afraid that I have disappointed her, but it was typical of her integrity and grace that not only did she send her congratulations after my win on 5 May but, last weekend, she welcomed my family and me to her home, where she passed on some excellent advice on being a Member of Parliament and treated us all to excellent home-made scones. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will join me in wishing her all the very best in retirement.

Preseli Pembrokeshire, with much justification, can be described as one of the most beautiful parliamentary constituencies, containing as it does much of the Pembrokeshire coastal park with its 185 miles of footpath running alongside scenes of spectacular beauty. The coastline is important to Pembrokeshire. We are surrounded by the sea on three sides, and that has been the source of our comparative economic advantage throughout our history. Even today, after whaling, fishing, oil refining and defence-related industries have all flourished and then declined, the sea is still important to our local economy.

We have two ports: Fishguard, with its ferry service to Rosslare in Ireland; and the port of Milford Haven, which is the UK’s fifth largest port, with major oil interests, a remnant of the fishing industry, and an Irish ferry from Pembroke dock. As I speak, construction is under way on two major liquefied natural gas terminals near Milford Haven. When completed, those could provide 30 per cent. of the UK’s natural gas needs, which will be shipped into the nearby port of Milford Haven. Not surprisingly in an area of such outstanding natural beauty, the liquefied natural gas development is not without controversy, and some specific issues need to be addressed. The LNG investment, however, will bring a vital injection of economic activity to west Wales, which could provide a substantial long-term pay-off for many years to come.

As well as our coastal heritage, Pembrokeshire is also home to Britain’s smallest city, St. David’s, with its picturesque streets and beautiful ancient cathedral. St. David’s was a site of huge importance in early Christendom. It lay on the intercontinental route that took Irish pilgrims through Britain on the way to Rome and sometimes Jerusalem. Still today, the A40 trunk road, which leads from Fishguard through Pembrokeshire towards the M4 corridor is recognised by the EU strategic trans-European network, which links western Ireland with mainland continental Europe.

Travelling along the single-lane A40 through Pembrokeshire can be a slow and frustrating journey, however. Upgrading the A40 to a dual carriageway is certainly overdue. Local business needs it, local people want it, and while I am a Member of this House I want to do whatever I can to make the case for it, and, I hope, to persuade the rather Cardiff-centric Welsh Assembly of the need for investment in critical infrastructure in other parts of Wales.

In the heart of Pembrokeshire is the old town of Haverfordwest—the county town of Pembrokeshire—which I am blessed to be able to say is my home town. I grew up there, in a street of council housing, which backed on to my old secondary school. Many of the houses in that street have now been bought and had small porches, kitchen extensions and other improvements added to them. I want to add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), who said that no one should lose sight of what the Conservative right-to-buy scheme did for hard-working, working-class families in constituencies such as mine. Of course we need to provide an adequate rented sector for individuals and families who might, through different circumstances in their life, have to fall back on social housing, but the aspiration of the vast majority of people in this country is towards home ownership, which should be recognised as a key goal of housing policy.

There have been Crabbs in Pembrokeshire for many generations, and not just on our wonderful beaches. My grandfather was a baker in Haverfordwest at a time when, like other small market towns, it was full of independent traders, grocers, shopkeepers and tradesmen. In those days, there was no such thing as a small business sector; there were only small businesses. Times change, and today Haverfordwest has a Tesco, a Morrisons, a Kwiksave and an Aldi, and I am told that we will soon have a Lidl store as well. I am not a betting man, but I am willing to wager that not many of our long-suffering local farmers who still constitute a significant part of the local economy will see much of their produce on the shelves of that supermarket when it comes to Haverfordwest.

A principal reason why Pembrokeshire is such an attractive place for the food discounters is that our per capita GDP is so much lower than the UK national average. GDP in Pembrokeshire is less than 70 per cent. of the EU’s 15-member average, which qualifies us for objective 1 status. We are currently in receipt of structural funds through that programme. I do not want to be too controversial today, but I am more than a little sceptical of the long-term success of EU structural funds in closing the wealth gap between regions. The targets for the EU cohesion and structural funds have consistently not been met.

Objective 1 did, however, provide an important opportunity for many stakeholders in west Wales to focus like never before on what needs to be done to improve the region’s economy. My fear is that that was a missed opportunity. Many business people in Pembrokeshire tell me that they do not feel that the business community was actively involved in the objective 1 programme, and that the process was dominated by public sector bodies. I believe that small business is the backbone of the Pembrokeshire economy and I want to do whatever I can while I am a Member of the House to provide a voice for the hard-working men and women who comprise that sector.

I greatly value the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to reducing burdens on business—business regulations. The small business community in my constituency is looking for action, not more words, from this Parliament.

I am grateful for the courtesy of the House this afternoon, and to the people of Preseli Pembrokeshire for giving me the opportunity to be their representative during this Parliament.

Stephen Crabb – 2016 Speech on Transforming Lives Through Welfare and Work

Stephen Crabb
Stephen Crabb

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Crabb, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, on 12 April 2016.

Good morning.

Thank you Claire [Tickell, Chair, EIF] for that introduction.

It’s a pleasure to be here today at the Early Intervention Foundation to make my first speech as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

I know EIF is absolutely committed to transforming the life chances of the most disadvantaged in our country. In that spirit, I’d like to thank you for the work you do to bring new thinking and a better understanding of the evidence of when and how it can be the right thing to intervene early to change lives.

In particular, I know my department asked you to look at how relationships between parents can impact on children’s lives and what interventions might be effective to help improve those lives. That important review, published last month, contains powerful conclusions which demonstrate why we are making family stability a key part of our life chances strategy.

So I look forward to your continued contributions and getting to know you better in the weeks, months and maybe years ahead.

I thought I would use this important opportunity today to share some early thoughts with you about the kind of welfare system I believe in; and about the challenges that lie ahead as we continue the vital task of reforming welfare actually as part of a broader mission to build a society in which the life chances of everyone are improved.

But let me first take a step back.

One of the things that has struck me since taking over at DWP is the sheer size and scale of the department.

There is no other Whitehall department which connects with as many people, at so many important moments in their lives; there’s no other department which spends as much taxpayers’ money.

It accounts for nearly a quarter of all public sector spending in this country. The DWP budget is more than the entire GDP of the nation of Portugal!

And it is therefore not surprising that it attracts strong and passionate views about how, where and why that money is being spent.

The DWP is a department of big numbers; big data; big statistics.

Each year it processes 5 million benefit claims….

….pays £170 billion in benefits and pensions to 22 million people…. ….receives 47 million calls from the public seeking advice and support…. ….and all of this happens in more than 700 jobcentres and contact centres in all parts of the United Kingdom.

But, as I said in that very first statement in the House of Commons just 2 days after I was appointed, “Behind every statistic is a human being.” It’s something I remind myself of and remind my ministerial team of every day.

Because my overriding vision for the Department for Work and Pensions is that, even amidst all of these big numbers, fundamentally, we should be in the business of people….of individuals….we should be in the business of families.

From the very top of the organisation to the farthest flung jobcentre, the thousands of staff, advisers, Ministers – and especially me as the Secretary of State – should understand that we are in the people business.

Welfare that focusses on people also means we must understand the human impact of decisions we take far better. It means that when we talk about the numbers of people receiving benefits or moving on or off of benefits, we also need to understand at a much deeper level the underlying factors for why those individuals find themselves in a set of circumstances that requires support from the state.

A people business does mean providing financial assistance and support to protect people from poverty who, in their current circumstances, cannot provide for themselves. That I think is the mark of a decent society.

But a people business also means recognising that for a great many of those individuals and their families, those circumstances can change; and those circumstances absolutely do need to change. So a welfare system that does not provide this support and basis for transformation in people’s lives falls far short of what a modern welfare system can achieve, I believe.

So these twin objectives should be at the very heart of every reform and at the centre of our welfare system – vital social protection but also the incentives and support to bring meaningful and positive change to people’s lives.

But our efforts to deliver welfare reform should be just one part of a much broader approach for strengthening society, creating opportunity, and breaking down barriers that entrench poverty and disadvantage.

That’s exactly what we mean when we talk about life chances….a relentless focus – an all-out assault as the Prime Minister calls it – on tackling the root causes of poverty in Britain today….On tackling those things which are undermining social mobility and holding people back from reaching their full potential in life.

This is an area which is really close to my heart.

You see, I believe in a society where it should not matter what street you grew up on… how much your mum or dad earn… or where you go to school….

….the society I believe in is one where everyone has a decent set of opportunities to lead fruitful lives.

Over the past few generations, we have seen some incredible and dramatic changes in society. In some ways, society is almost unrecognisable from just a few decades ago.

Never before has so much information been at the fingertips of so many….

the digital communications revolution has transformed people’s access to information and reduced the real life costs of information, it has broken down cultural barriers and made the world a smaller place.

Never before has university been a realistic option for so many. What was the preserve enjoyed by a small privileged elite has been opened to millions.

Never before have we seen such a decline of social deference.

And the pace of this change has been astonishing. The impact this has had on people has been palpable.

And so with these trends in the way people view society, in education, in the reach of digital communications, the revolution in technology….you could be forgiven for thinking that we should be living in a golden age of social mobility.

But for many, that is simply not the case. Today, far too many people have their life chances determined before they have even had the chance to explore all that life has to offer.

We cannot deliver true social mobility, we cannot help people live their lives to the fullest, without fighting the very real factors that hold people back from reaching their potential.

Yes, we’ve seen some really encouraging progress, with record levels of employment, a huge expansion in apprenticeships – over 2 million since 2010 – and lower youth unemployment.

But we need to do much more. So, during my time at the Department for Work and Pensions, 2 things will go hand in hand – reforming welfare, and a relentless focus on improving life chances.

That means leading a life chances strategy that uses the entire machinery of government to break down some of these barriers to opportunity.

So we will be:

Regenerating estates so children have safe and secure homes where they can thrive.

We’ll be using work experience much more creatively to give young people the encouragement they need to get into further education, employment or training when they leave school.

We’re going to be investing in mental health services to tackle some of the debilitating disorders that can have such a devastating impact on young people’s life chances at a crucial stage in their lives.

And we’ll be supporting those with drug and alcohol addictions to turn their lives around and fully recover.

And I know that these are not new problems. But I think this is a new approach we are delivering. As Chair of the Social Justice Cabinet Committee, I will be leading a more coherent and collaborative government strategy….an approach that mobilises all parts of government to tackle poverty, and improve social mobility for the poorest in our society.

At this point, I’d like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Iain Duncan Smith. Someone who I think will go down as one of the great social reformers of our time. Iain has helped to change the way we as a government look at poverty. He turned the lens on the root causes of poverty rather than just the symptoms and led many important reforms. He has been – and I’m sure will continue to be – a champion for improving the life chances of some of the country’s most disadvantaged people.

All of our life chances work, from the health sector to schools, to decent places to live is vital, but I believe it is a stable home and a family life that gives children the best possible chance.

It is hard to overstate the importance of family. Because no-one can doubt that from a young age, it is the family that helps to define us….

….that tells us who we are and where we’ve come from; it is where we derive our first identity.

Perhaps most importantly, it is from the family that we are first loved and, in turn, we learn to love…

…. where we first learn to fight and to make up….

….and where we first learn to make choices and see the consequences of those choices.

I am not talking about some idealised model of a self-contained nuclear family – society is much more complex than that.

But family is the training ground for life. And a good start provides a great platform for a fruitful life. In contrast, as you well know, family life which is chaotic, violent, broken, damaged, turbulent….

leads so often to a life characterised by educational failure, crime, poverty, and where that cycle is then repeated in another generation. And the impact on the individual, on society, the economy and the welfare budget is massive.

Some have estimated the overall costs of relationship breakdown in our society could be as high as £47 billion. And behind that figure, life chances are squandered.

I know many MPs will see the real human cost of this every week at their surgeries – as I have – with breakdown of relationships often the backdrop to so many of our constituents’ problems.

I don’t think it has to be this way. We believe in the vital and foundational role of the family.

That’s why we have already doubled the funding for relationship support, we have increased the amount of free childcare to support parents and, of course, we are helping families move into work through Universal Credit, which I will come on to in a few moments.

It’s why we have targeted those families that need the most help. Our Troubled Families programme has turned round 120,000 families that had complex and deep rooted problems and we’re extending this to 400,000 more families.

And we’ll go even further, increasing support for new parents with an expanded parenting programme, which will build on the great work of EIF in this area.

If stable family relationships provide the platform, then I believe it is work that provides the economic security and the essential role models which I believe children need to improve their life chances.

Fundamentally, as human beings, we are hard-wired to derive satisfaction from meaningful, fruitful work. Work should be a place where we feel valued – in every sense, where we continue to learn and grow, where we are introduced to new and expanded social networks, a place which is fundamentally good for our physical and mental well-being.

And of course I recognise that for a great many people their own experience of the workplace falls well short of that ideal – but this recognition of the value, the worth of work is very much at the heart of my outlook on welfare reform.

A pound you earn can mean more than a pound provided in welfare.

I have spoken elsewhere about my own personal background and I don’t intend to go over that again here today, but one point I would make about the home life I grew up with was the amazing role model I had of a mother who understood that central importance of work in all its dimensions – for herself personally and for the sons she was raising on her own. That understanding underpinned her own journey from a position of crisis and dependency to a position of ‘economic independence’ – a process which took years by the way.

And I really do believe that a welfare system which does not elevate and reinforce that central understanding of how important work and fruitful activity is for us as human beings is actually very damaging for society.

In 2010, far too many people were being denied those benefits of work. Nearly one in 5 households had nobody in work. Two million children did not see a mum or dad going out to work each day.

There has been much progress since then to restore the value of work within our welfare system. The number of households where nobody works is down over 700,000. The workless households rate in the social rented sector is at its lowest level for 20 years.

Half a million more children are benefiting from having the role model of a parent that works – and the outlook this brings.

The value of this work and the dangers of dependency was something the architect of the welfare state, Sir William Beveridge, recognised and believed in.

His blueprint for the modern welfare state in 1942 was clear about the relationship between welfare and work. Beveridge said:

Getting work … may involve a change of habits, doing something that is unfamiliar or leaving one’s friends or making a painful effort of some other kind. The danger of providing benefits which are both adequate in amount and indefinite in duration, is that men as creatures who adapt themselves to circumstances, may settle down to them.

And he stressed:

The state in organising security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility

But the welfare system we ended up with was one where: Incentives to work were being undermined. Opportunities to get on were being passed by.

The sense of responsibility people had for their own lives was being eroded.

Financial support for people facing poverty is vital – I always tell my colleagues….never, never underestimate the importance of a family in need getting that support in a timely and effective way – but on its own, cash support is rarely enough.

As a result, people were often trapped in the unfair position of being better off staying put on benefits rather than taking the first steps back into work.

The welfare system I believe in – and I want to see – is one that transforms lives rather than traps them.

One that recognises and responds to the fact that people do have hopes, they do have aspirations, they do want to take opportunities to better themselves and their family.

One that responds to the way real people behave in the real world.

It was out of the destruction and devastation of the Second World War that Beveridge’s principles for welfare were forged.

I want to restore and reinforce some of those founding principles of our welfare state that have maybe over the years have been forgotten or eroded.

So my vision for jobcentres is that they should be far more than places where people sign on and receive out of work entitlements. I want jobcentres to be places of true transformation. Places where motivated and skilled teams are supporting positive change in people’s lives.

And it’s already happening.

One of my early visits in the role was to a Jobcentre Plus in Enfield in North London, where I saw

….work coaches helping young people avoid the clutches of gangs and build a more positive life through work….I saw work coaches supporting people with mental health conditions to get treatment and stay connected to the world of work.

This is vital, life changing support on the front line.

And as part of my vision for the organisation I want those skilled work coaches to be really valued in the public eye, in a similar way that nurses and firefighters are respected and valued – because in terms of life-changing interventions, or crises being tackled what our teams of work coaches are doing and achieving is remarkable.

Whatever and wherever it may be in the department, I want everyone in DWP to go to work each day sharing in my twin objectives – protecting people from poverty and supporting people to transform their lives.

And that is what our reforms are about. In particular, Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is a very real human reform. It’s putting people at the very heart of the welfare system for the first time….It has, I believe, the potential to be the most important public sector change project for decades.

It works with people, recognising that people’s lives and circumstances are different. Universal Credit doesn’t treat a person as a number. It’s about a human being in the jobcentre staying with you as you move into work and progress…. ….coaching you….mentoring you….supporting you.

It also provides the right incentives for people to move into work. William Beveridge, I believe would have supported that.

So I am absolutely committed to leading a continued, successful roll out of Universal Credit. That is a priority for me, as is continuing to embed it as the spine that runs through the welfare system.

And to those who are sceptical of Universal Credit, I just say this: ‘look at the evidence so far’. When you compare those who are already receiving Universal Credit to a similar cohort receiving previous Jobseeker’s Allowance, you will see people on Universal Credit:

are spending roughly 50% more time looking for work
they are 8 percentage points more likely to be in work
and when they are in work, they’re more likely to be earning a higher wage
In the words of the chief executive of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, ‘it is a genuinely radical reform….that will clear up some of the most egregious complexities and disincentives that our benefit system has imposed for far too long’.

This month, we will reach an important milestone. Universal Credit will be available in every single jobcentre in the country for single people making a new claim. The next stage will be the ambitious full rollout, so that every person, in every circumstance, who steps into a jobcentre to make a new claim will be on Universal Credit. That will be my focus in the months ahead.

Universal Credit and our other reforms to support people into work are working.

There are now more than 2 million more people in work than in 2010; with the number of workless households at a record low.

But I know there is more to do to ensure the opportunities of work are available to everyone. The diversity of those in work should reflect the diversity of society.

And that, finally, brings me to an area of reform that is another one of my priorities:

And that is supporting disabled people and people with health conditions into work.

We are making progress. Nearly 300,000 more disabled people have moved into work over the last 2 years.

But despite this, there remains a very significant gap in the employment rate between disabled and non-disabled people. Whilst the employment rate for people who are not disabled is 80%, for disabled people it’s less than 50%.

In the context of a very strong labour market and the millions of people that have moved into work over the last few years, I think that gap is simply unacceptable.

I want to be clear. The employment gap isn’t because of a lack of aspiration on the part of sick and disabled people. We know the majority want to work or stay in work.

Some attitudes held by society have stopped disabled people from moving into work for many decades. So I want to challenge health and care professionals, employers and wider society to break down those barriers.

That’s why on my first day as Secretary of State, I announced to Parliament that I wanted to start a new conversation with disabled people, with their representatives, healthcare professionals and employers.

We need to recognise the role that work plays in supporting good health. And importantly, that a health condition or disability needn’t be a barrier to work.

To do that, the workplace, the welfare system, the health service will all need to work much better together….to help people stay healthy in the first place. If someone gets sick, they need the right support so they can stay close to the world of work and re-join it as quickly as possible.

It’s already clear to me that there are lots of interesting ideas emerging. I look forward, with my ministerial team, to listening to all of the ideas and views and discussing them with disability groups, employers and the health, care and welfare sectors.

Together we have an opportunity to do so much better for disabled people – to improve their health and their opportunities.

And this opportunity to have a decent job and the economic security that comes with a regular wage – as well as all the other positive aspects of being in work I have set out today – I think this should be universal.

As such, I want to make sure this opportunity is available in all communities, in all parts of the country, on every street and in every household, across all sections of society no matter what your background, especially for the poorest.

That’s what our life chances strategy is about.

Children growing up in families where there are healthy and strong relationships are the foundation from which they can be supported to step up and grasp those life opportunities.

I am somebody that does believe the state also has an important role to help transform lives. And I am determined that a restless, innovating spirit of reform should continue to shape my department as we place people at the very centre of everything we do.

Because there is still much more to do to create a welfare system that I think is true to its founding principles.

A welfare system that does protect the most vulnerable.
A welfare system that transforms lives rather than traps them.
A system that treats people as human beings with hopes and aspirations and provides the right support and incentives for those to be realised.

If my department isn’t transforming lives, helping people into work every day, it’s not doing its job.

That’s the welfare system that I believe in. That’s the welfare system people deserve. Thank you.

Stephen Crabb – 2016 Speech on Wales and Europe

Stephen Crabb
Stephen Crabb

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Crabb, the Secretary of State for Wales, on 28 January 2016.

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and thank you for this very kind invitation to come and speak to the Cardiff Business Club today. It is a huge pleasure and a privilege to be here with you.

I was really pleased that the Chancellor made Cardiff the location for his start-of-the-year speech about the global economy.

I did tell the Chancellor when we were planning the speech just before Christmas that he would need to bring his chequebook if he wanted to visit Wales.

And I was delighted that during the visit he announced funding for the new Compound Semiconductor Catapult which will make Cardiff a UK centre of excellence in terms of high tech innovation. This was something the business community in this city had been calling for. And it is a down-payment from UK Government on what we hope will be a massively significant City Deal for the Cardiff Capital Region – which we are all working hard right now to seal before Budget day.

One of my favourite moments of last year’s election campaign – aside from 10pm on election night when the exit poll was released – was the visit we did with David and Samantha Cameron to Brain’s Brewery. And I’m grateful to Scott Waddington for facilitating that visit.

The discussion we had with Scott in the boardroom beforehand about a range of key Welsh and UK business issues was really excellent. The PM found it genuinely insightful, and has remarked upon it to me since.

When I spoke to him last week about doing this speech today, he reminded me about the time he spoke at Cardiff Business Club back in 2007… Who knows, I’m sure the PM would welcome another visit back one day.

Because I do see it as one of my tasks as Secretary of State for Wales to get senior Cabinet members visiting Wales regularly.

Firstly, because – and we don’t shout enough about this – there are some truly remarkable things happening in certain parts of the Welsh economy right now. Things which deserve national and international attention, and which I’m determined to help profile.

And secondly, because we do face some major challenges and constraints which are holding the Welsh economy back. And it is vital that these are understood at the highest levels of government.

One of the characteristics of this government, I believe, and why I feel genuinely exhilarated by being a part of the team, is that we don’t shy away from the big challenges.

When we sit round the Cabinet table at 9.30am each Tuesday morning, we do try to wrestle with some of the really knotty issues facing this country and focus on solutions; in areas where we know we have to drive up the UK’s performance – on exports, for example, or on productivity.

And over the last year and a half, I have tried to make the hallmark of my time as Secretary of State for Wales a really strong emphasis on the need to raise our sights in Wales, to raise our ambition, to drive our economic transformation and be honest about where we are as a nation…

…never talking down who we are as a people, but neither ducking from addressing what I think are the big challenges we face in Wales.

And that means, yes, asking from time-to-time the hard questions about how well we’re doing, and it also requires being willing to challenge the dominant way of thinking on certain issues.

This approach also means fronting up to global issues and events, and meeting head-on the big questions that come along to confront us.

And one of the big issues we’ve been wrestling with in recent months is, of course, the question of our membership of the European Union.

And that’s exactly what I want to spend a few minutes speaking to you about today.

Because at some point in the coming weeks and months – certainly by the end of 2017 – this issue will, for a time, totally dominate our political life in the UK. It will become one of those rare issues that gets talked about down the pub and at the hairdressers. It will attract media curiosity from right across the world, and be a point of discussion in the boardrooms of major international companies.

Make no mistake, this referendum will be a global talking point.

But, whether or not the referendum is held during this year, it is already clear that 2016 will be a year of turbulence and uncertainty.

If you follow international markets you will see that this has already been the worst start to the year for global financial markets in more than forty years.

There are some profound things happening in the world economy right now which we are not immune from. We only have to look down the road to Port Talbot to know that we’re not immune from the global head-winds…

… the so-called “slump” in the Chinese economy with growth declining to a mere 6% (enough, by the way, over the next four years to add to its GDP a level of activity equivalent to the size of the German economy).

The key point about China is, of course, that the nature of its growth is changing as it moves to a more consumption-driven economy. And that will present major opportunities and risks to the UK economy…. Not least through massive excess Chinese industrial capacity which is turning international steel markets on their head right now.

Factor in what is the longest, and almost the deepest, slump in global oil prices for 20 years, which can have both benign and negative consequences, then it is pretty clear to me that 2016 will be a year of economic turbulence and big geopolitical challenges.

So this is the backdrop to the decision we will be taking as a nation as to whether we remain a member of the European Union or whether we leave.

We are clear that global turbulence and uncertainty are not reasons not to deliver on our commitment to secure a renegotiated membership of the EU and to present this renegotiation to the people of the country in a referendum.

Because let’s not forget the key reasons which have brought us to this point – in terms of both the demand for the referendum and the necessity of renegotiation.

I’m not going to guess how many of you fall into this category, but you would need to be aged at least 59 to have had a vote in the last referendum on Britain’s membership of the then European Community.

Given how profound the changes inside the EU have been over the last four decades, I think it’s a reasonable proposition that people of this country should have the opportunity to have their say on this issue again…

…made even more urgent by a growing discontent in many quarters about the nature – and the cost – of our membership of the EU, not least in parts of the business community where there is a strong desire to see the EU become more focussed on competitiveness and for EU regulations and directives to have a less burdensome, less intrusive impact.

So we have taken a decision as a Government, backed up by a manifesto commitment, not to just sit back while the sense of alienation, frustration and disillusion felt by many people towards the European Union festers and grows. As a political party, we have been at the forefront in the last twenty years of articulating that discontent and making the case for change…

…for change within the European Union itself (to achieve a better European Union overall) but change also when it comes to the specific terms of our own membership of the EU.

The UK has been protected from membership of the Euro, from Schengen, and from a raft of other integrationist measures while still capturing the enormous trading benefits of the Single Market which was one of Margaret Thatcher’s key achievements…

…And it is that instinct which has driven the need for renegotiation at this time and brought the other Member States back around the table to take seriously the UK’s concerns.

The case for change that is at the heart of our renegotiation is as much about looking to the future as about looking at the past or present failings of the EU. Because we know that in the years ahead the EU will undoubtedly need to change in response to major events like the sovereign debt crisis and the migration crisis.

The EU is going to change in profound ways – the nature of which we do not yet know for certain. But change within Europe is coming.

The answers to these crises which many EU leaders are already reaching for is essentially one of “more Europe” – more and deeper integration across more policy areas. I actually do not believe these are the correct answers as far as Britain’s own interests are concerned.

And so renegotiating the terms of our membership now is as much about trying to anticipate and safeguard against future changes within the EU, or within just the Eurozone, which could present a threat and challenge to key UK sovereign interests.

And I believe this renegotiation matters in very, very significant ways – and it matters for Wales.

There are four objectives at the heart of our renegotiation:
Firstly, to protect the Single Market for Britain and for the other member states who have chosen not to adopt the Euro currency. As I have said previously, the Single Market is an enormous strategic prize for UK business. We have taken the correct view as a nation that membership of the Eurozone, however, would not be. And it is really essential that the rules that the Eurozone countries adopt to ensure a stable common currency must not be detrimental to the interests of those other member states that use sovereign national currencies. That is our first objective in this renegotiation.

Secondly, boosting competitiveness by reducing the burden of red tape coming from Europe. In an unforgiving global economy which increasingly demands that nations become leaner, fitter, more agile, more competitive, the current way that the EU makes and enforces directives and regulations is a recipe for decline; with every year the cumulative impact of EU red tape becoming more and more of a deadweight. If the EU cannot and will not change its approach then the UK must have the ability to tailor its own approach. We have probably the most open economy of any European country. We understand better than anyone else the nature of the global economy. And we are determined to do everything possible to be in a position to compete and win within this global economy.

Our third objective in the renegotiation is to exempt Britain from that central Treaty phrase “ever-closer union” and to bolster the role within the EU of national parliaments. This is not a symbolic change – because that phrase “ever-closer union” has provided the drumbeat for all of the previous treaty changes we have seen in recent decades. It is not a drumbeat I believe should bind and dictate the terms of the UK’s own membership.

Fourthly, and perhaps most difficult and most controversial with some member states, is our determination to restrict the access of EU migrants to in-work benefits such as tax credits when they first come to the UK. My vision of Britain is of a country which absolutely does welcome talent and skills from across the Single Market area but where welfare policies do not create an additional powerful pull factor.

So this is the approach we are taking at this renegotiation. And I believe it is absolutely in tune with where mainstream business and also wider public opinion is at.

The centre-ground is a place of both pragmatism and principle. And that is why businesses across the length and breadth of Britain get what we are trying to achieve. They recognise that the status quo is simply not good enough for Britain.

And confident in the support we have from business, and with a general election mandate behind us, we have gone into this renegotiation determined to get a better deal.

Sure, it is painstaking and difficult work. But actually when you look at the record of the Prime Minister when it comes to European reform, he has shown that he can land a deal even when most commentators were predicting otherwise…

….protecting the British rebate …securing a real terms cut to the EU budget …negotiating vital opt-outs from ever deeper integration.

That is a strong reforming track record. David Cameron has reset the bar in terms of how British Prime Ministers should handle the European question.

I believe a healthy pragmatic scepticism must be a defining characteristic of any future Prime Minister when it comes to Europe. And that same mind-set should be what informs and builds the case to remain inside the EU if the renegotiation is successful.

Beware the wide-eyed shouty enthusiasm of those whose positions, either for leave or for remain, were already fixed long before the renegotiation had begun. And pity the audience who has to watch when these sides go head to head.

Here in Wales, since the start of the year, we have already been served up some of this style of debate. And a pretty unedifying and unenlightening spectacle it was, most commentators seemed to agree.

And the reason why it’s so unenlightening is that essentially the arguments are being made from the two most extreme possible positions – from the viewpoint that basically says the EU has been a disaster for Britain (and hence Wales) and therefore we need to head to the exit door as quickly as possible; and from the opposing viewpoint that says Wales is somehow linked with an economic umbilical cord to the EU and must stay in at any cost.

And to back up these two positions, the temptation for protagonists is to deploy ever more outlandish arguments.

And so those who argue for Brexit have started to present some kind of apocalyptic vision of the EU collapsing amid a wave of migrants which threaten Europe’s very economic, social and cultural foundations…. And that Britain basically needs to get the hell out of there.

The other side say no way, the EU keeps Welsh men and women in jobs and is the only sure foundation on which we can rely – more so than our own talents or productive capacity, more so than our own innovation and enterprise, more so than our own stock of human and intellectual capital. Outside of the EU, they say, Welsh families would be forced onto the breadline. The only possible prosperity is an EU prosperity.

These people say its membership of the EU which creates jobs …Overlooking some much more fundamental things I would argue.

If you think I am exaggerating their position then please look back at the news stories before Christmas where some senior figures in Wales – people who should know better – argued that Welsh farming would be decimated (i.e. reduced to the point of non-existence) if we were outside the European Union.

Sadly, this latter viewpoint has become pretty much the mainstream view in Welsh politics: Stay in at any cost. For some in Wales, EU membership actually seems to be even more important than membership of that one truly successful and dynamic currency union and trading bloc which is of course the United Kingdom.

But if, as a government, we allowed this viewpoint to dictate our posture on the EU, we would never have a renegotiation in the first place. There would never be any hard-headed determination to go back to our European partners and say “hey, this actually isn’t in the UK national interest, we are not going to go along with this.”

No, the case for Wales remaining within the EU cannot be left to those who say stay in at any cost; the argument has to be won with clearer and more thought-through arguments than those that are so often offered up by Welsh politicians.

It won’t be enough to point to the Objective One funding from Europe as some kind of prize we need to hang on to; structural funds are a mark of economic failure not an accolade for Wales…

Wales – where there is an assumption that if you are a senior politician then you must be a bought-and-paid-for member of the EU fan club. I am not, and I reject the notion that this should somehow be an article of faith.

Wales – where the European flag is now more common than the Union Jack; but, by the way, where there has been a collapse in the teaching of French, German and Spanish in Welsh schools.

And as for those Welsh politicians who pray-in-aid the names of major firms with operations in Wales to say we should stay in at any cost, well let me just say that most companies have made it absolutely clear that membership of the EU will not affect their operations in the UK. Airbus, too, is here fundamentally because of the concentration of skills and the generations of high-level aerospace expertise which is located in North Wales.

The case for staying in has to be built on stronger arguments. And for me the starting point is the potential additional benefits we can secure for the UK through a successful renegotiation and a reformed EU. Neither of the two extreme positions is where the centre of gravity of Welsh public opinion or Welsh business opinion is at. The argument about our membership of the EU will not be won or lost on these extremes.

No, the case for remaining inside the EU will be won by the reformers, informed by that healthy pragmatic scepticism I have talked about, who approach this question in a hard headed and clear sighted way, recognising that the story of the 21st century will be a global one and that successful renegotiation will provide the basis on which to say confidently that, in terms of the global risks and opportunities that lie ahead, staying in a reformed EU is the right choice.

Straight after the lunch today, I will be attending an event with Her Excellency Sylvie Bermann the French Ambassador who is here in Cardiff to present the Legion d’Honneur award to a number of servicemen from Wales who fought for the liberation of France during the Second World War. It will be a deeply humbling experience I am sure.

My late father-in-law grew up in Nazi-occupied Paris and was a teenager in 1945 when the war ended. He and I used to argue a lot about the future of Europe back in the late 1990s just before he died.

For him, and for so many people of that generation including many here in the UK, the emergence of the European Union was a matter of cementing the peace in Europe and guaranteeing economic security. And it became for him and so many others an article of faith. What they lived through and what they saw meant this faith was unshakable. I have total respect for that view.

But that is not how many people of my generation think.

The world that shaped my own political outlook has been one which has seen the rapid internationalisation of markets and the extraordinary global digital and communications revolution which has changed forever how we work and how we live.

That’s what’s shaped my thinking about Britain, Europe and the world.

More than ever, economic success requires a global focus and not one limited to the European continent. And that is no different for Wales, I believe.

Take a look at the list of the Welsh Government’s ‘Anchor Companies’. These are the fifty companies in Wales that have been identified as being crucial to the creation of jobs, growth and wealth within the Welsh economy through the size of their operations in Wales and the supply chain effects.

As some of the most important businesses in Wales, they provide an insight into our links with the global economy.

Of the fifty companies highlighted, only seven are headquartered in the European Union. By comparison, 15 are from North America. A number of others are from Japan, Asia and the Gulf.

In fact, more than half of these anchor companies are based outside of the UK, highlighting exactly how attractive we are as an inward investment destination, to both EU and non EU countries.

One of the huge privileges of my job is that I get to visit companies all over Wales, and I can tell you now it’s like a tour of the world in terms of where the investment is coming from and where the trade is going. More than half of all Welsh exports are to countries outside the EU and that share is growing.

Britain’s and Wales’ future is as an outward-looking nation with major links to the powerhouses of the global economy.

I have made clear this afternoon that I believe Britain and Wales’ interests are best served in a reformed and reforming European Union.

If the Prime Minister gets the renegotiation then I will be out there making the case for Britain to remain in the European Union… making a strong and pragmatic case, not based on wild and flimsy arguments. But based on a clear-sighted and hard-headed assessment of the risks and opportunities of both outcomes.

And I believe it will be the reformers who will carry the day – the reformers who come from a position of pragmatic scepticism.

But this will hinge on us being able to explain the impact and benefit of the deal we land.

But even after a successful renegotiation, and having put that renegotiation to the British people in a referendum, the issue of European reform won’t disappear.

The truth is, whichever party forms the British Government after this one, and the one after that, needs to be characterised by the same reforming approach that the Prime Minister has shown when it comes to our relationship with Europe.

Because the pressure being exerted back on the UK by a deepening European Union will continue to grow.

It will continue to throw up profound questions about our nationhood and sovereignty and it will be incumbent upon every PM from here on to find answers to them.

We can’t stop pushing for the EU to become a more competitive, more productive component of the global economy. It’s not in the British interest for Europe to wither as a global economic force. So for me it is a question of the balance of risks and opportunities in an increasingly uncertain and turbulent world.

There is no safe, easy, risk-free option. But with a successful renegotiation deal I believe there will be a clear and correct choice – and that will be to remain.

Stephen Crabb – 2015 Speech on Wales in a Changing Union

Stephen Crabb
Stephen Crabb

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Crabb, the Secretary of State for Wales, at the International Politics Building, University Campus, Aberystwyth University on 11 March 2015.

Thank you Professor McMahon.

Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Rydw i’n falch iawn i fod yma heno ym Mhrifysgol Abersystwyth.

It’s great to be back here this evening at Aberystwyth University.

Aberystwyth is, for some, the true capital of Wales, and without any question a unique centre of Welsh learning, culture and the arts.

It provides the setting for one of our successful broadcasting exports of recent years, Y Gwyll / Hinterland, which tapped into the international interest in the Nordic Noir crime genre and has helped to give the Welsh language a new wider profile as the living modern European language it is – as well as showcasing the town here itself.

But I got a glimpse of the shape of things to come for Aberystwyth 14 years ago when Malcolm Pryce published his quirky, off-beat English language crime novel ‘Aberystwyth Mon Amour’ set here in the town but in an alternate reality. My Welsh teacher at the time sent me an early copy, sensing rightly that I needed something different from our recurring grapples with the challenging mutations and sentence structures of Wales’s mother language.

Back in the real word, Aberystwyth University is of course one of Wales’s historic universities and, nearly a century and a half since it was founded, it now has a global reach – with a reputation for academic and research excellence. The International Politics department, where we are this evening, is truly renowned throughout the world.

I have had the pleasure of supporting the department’s Parliamentary Placement Scheme for a number of years, and I can genuinely testify to the quality and drive of the Aber students who have spent a part of their summers working in my House of Commons office. And it’s been a delight seeing them go on to successful careers in the Law, public policy and public relations.

The university’s alumni network is impressive indeed.

I recall on a visit to Rwanda 4 years ago meeting the civil servant, who had responsibility for the entire education service of that country, whose eyes lit up when he heard that I was from Wales and asked me if I knew Aberystwyth. And of course it turned out that he is one of your alumni, having undertaken his postgraduate studies here.

It is fair to say a deep love of Aber and a deep love of Wales have stayed with him ever since – and this is a hallmark of the thousands who pass through the university each year.

Aberystwyth was also the home for many years of the historian and broadcaster Dr John Davies who taught here at the University and who sadly died last month.

His Hanes Cymru, A History of Wales, probably did more than any other book to influence my own thinking about Wales – and Welsh nationhood. It is 8 years now since the English language version was published…

…8 years which have seen some profound changes to the economic and political context in which that nationhood is expressed and given life and meaning.

And that is really the theme of my talk this evening.

Introduction:

I last spoke at Aberystwyth University almost exactly 3 years ago, when I addressed the Centre for European Studies on the case for overseas aid in an age of austerity.

A great deal has changed since then and I now have the enormous privilege of serving as the Secretary of State for Wales in these latter stages in the life of this Coalition Government.

As this remarkable, historic Parliament draws to a close I would like to look back tonight on some of the political and constitutional changes of the last five years and what they have meant for Wales; but also to look forward, to consider what I think are the main challenges for effective governance of this nation of Wales.

Wales as seen from Pembrokeshire: A Personal Reflection

But I would like first to offer some personal reflections on Wales.

Wales as seen from Pembrokeshire: A Personal Reflection
I am a Welshman through and through. Brought up in Pembrokeshire – in the heart of the constituency I now represent – this beautiful historic county located on one of Britain’s western extremities, reaching inwards to the rugged Welsh hinterland but looking outwards too across the wild north Atlantic, had an important influence in my formative years and in framing my outlook on Wales and, indeed, the wider world.

Pembrokeshire has played more than a walk-on part in the unfolding drama of Welsh and British history.

It was of course home to St David, Wales’s 6th century patron saint and national icon. A man of remarkable faith and devotion who founded a prolific number of churches, and who by the 10th century had become associated with the long-running struggle for greater autonomy for the Welsh Church but also – more politically – the struggle of the Welsh people – the Cymry – against the people that some now describe not-quite-correctly as the English.

Pembrokeshire was also the birthplace of Henry Tudor, the future King Henry VII, a son of the upstart Anglo-Welsh family who pulled off that improbable feat of ending the Wars of the Roses and founding a royal dynasty – during the process of which some of the key constitutional, legal and religious ties between Wales and England were forged – ties that shaped profoundly Wales’s place within the Union and which still exist today.

Pembrokeshire was also the 12th Century birthplace of the chronicler Gerald of Wales. Described by some as the most learned man of his age, his works tell us much about Welsh history and geography, and the cultural relationship between the Welsh and the English in the Middle Ages.

Reading Gerald one is never quite sure whose side he is on – the Welsh or the Norman overlord – he had mixed parentage after all – but he too shared that passion for greater autonomy for the Welsh Church – to see the bishopric of St Davids freed from, and elevated to the same status as, Canterbury. In an age that predated the political structures of the unified nation state, this ecclesiastical cause was maybe the closest we have to an ambition for Welsh devolution.

My county is famously divided by the so-called Landsker Line, a boundary of cultural and linguistic division that has existed for nearly a thousand years and marked with a chain of castles. The line that divided places like Crymych and Mynachlog Ddu in the North from the lowland villages like Jeffreyston and Bosherston with their English names and Norman churches.

The imaginary line remains a clear demonstration of how communities a few miles apart in Wales can have different histories, different cultural backgrounds and which may even want different things from the way in which they are governed.

This cultural and linguistic diversity is part of the rich tapestry which makes Wales such a fascinating place.

And it has helped forge my own Welsh identity: a Welsh identity which sits comfortably alongside and within the equally strong identity which comes from membership of a wider family – that is, the family of nations which make up our United Kingdom.

Having a Scottish parent helped, of course.

The Union was in my very DNA.

And for those who want to understand a bit deeper my own journey from being sceptical and hostile to Welsh devolution, as one who saw it as a binary opposite and threat to my proud Unionism, I would point firstly to my own background in Pembrokeshire. This county voted strongly against devolution in the 1997 referendum. At the referendum 14 years later Pembrokeshire – like the rest of Wales except Monmouth – returned a clear majority in favour of full law-making powers for Wales.

It’s quite some journey we have all been on in recent years…

…not so much a road to Damascus moment for me, but a process of reflection and thinking which started with John Davies’s English version of Hanes Cymru in 2008 and culminated in a visit to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood last year as the Referendum storms raged around us…

…a process of understanding the depths of ancient aspirations among Britain’s constituent nations – that desire for a greater autonomy; but also understanding and appreciating afresh the security and benefits that derive from pooled risk and cooperation which provided the very foundations of our Union in the first place – the most successful political union the world has seen.

And so my conclusion from this was that devolution within the framework of a strong United Kingdom offers perhaps the best and only way to satisfy these potentially competing tectonic forces.

And by happy coincidence I have found myself in a position in recent months to contribute to the debate about what successful devolution should look like for Wales in the years ahead – participating as neither the unrepentant devosceptic nor with the wide-eyed zeal and emotion you might expect of a new convert, but rather as a pragmatic and rational devolutionist – which I believe is the right approach for any Secretary of State for Wales.

The role of Secretary of State for Wales:

In working in the Wales Office since 2012, first as Parliamentary Under-Secretary, then as Secretary of State, I have followed in the footsteps of some illustrious predecessors – most notably for me Lord Crickhowell, who as Nicholas Edwards and MP for Pembrokeshire, was the longest serving Secretary of State for Wales, in post from 1979 to 1987.

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the creation of the post of Secretary of State for Wales which some had believed could be a difficult milestone to reach following the devolution to the new elected Assembly of much of the Welsh Secretary’s previous executive role.

‘Why not have just one job for all three territories since almost all of the old executive functions have been devolved?’ asked many observers quite reasonably.

To mark the 50th anniversary I invited all living former Secretaries of State for Wales to a function at Gwydyr House last October – including Peter Hain, William Hague, Lord Crickhowell, Lord Hunt. I was also delighted that Lord Morris of Aberavon came along too. John Morris, born a few miles from here and another one of your distinguished alumni, had been Secretary of State back in 1974-79. His autobiography is important reading for anyone wishing to understand Wales’s stop-start devolution process.

After enjoying the drinks reception John promptly gave a TV interview in my room at Gwydyr House roundly declaring that the Secretary of State post was out of date and should be got rid of.

But also there that night was a former Welsh Secretary from the devolution era – Paul Murphy who will be standing down from Parliament in a fortnight. Paul used his speech last week in the annual House of Commons St David’s Day debate to urge strongly that the position of Secretary of State for Wales should be retained in the next Parliament – and that devolution actually makes the role more important not less.

I don’t believe we should get hung up on the architecture of government or on Cabinet job titles, and I am not someone who believes that because the Secretary of State position has been around 50years that means it should necessarily be here for another 50.

But if the last 5 years – especially the last year – has showed us anything it is that there is still a crucial role to be played by the territorial Secretaries as we seek to achieve lasting and effective devolution arrangements within the United Kingdom. If the positions didn’t exist right now, you would have to invent something very much like them.

But from day one of this Coalition Government, the importance of a full-time Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Secretary at the Cabinet table has been recognised – and in a broader sense than that envisaged immediately for the posts following devolution in 1999.

One can describe the role of Secretary of State in this Government as being to

– Act as a bridge across the devolution divide into Welsh Government

– Be the voice of Wales at the UK Cabinet table

– Be the principal face of UK Government within Wales

– And, in the Prime Minister’s own words, to “be a champion for the economic recovery in Wales”.

When I was appointed the Prime Minister was very clear that he expected his Welsh Secretary to speak up and be heard in the interests of Wales. When it comes to the usefulness of a Welsh Secretary within the Government machine, this PM is a believer.

I was of course extremely fortunate to come into the role at a unique moment for our constitution and at a fascinating time for Wales. A good time to try to make things happen for Wales.

Personally, 3 key highlights stand out from the last 8 months:

First, the NATO Summit in September, the largest gathering of world leaders ever to come to the UK. Wales was centre of the world stage. Our international profile could not have been higher and the Summit was a stunning success. The Prime Minister took a very clear-sighted decision to use the branding of Wales – as a nation – for the Summit rather than just that of a particular city which had been the pattern with previous NATO summits. He saw it rightly as a unique opportunity for Wales to put its best foot forward and it was a great example of partnership working between 10 Downing Street, the Wales Office and Welsh Government.

We followed this two months later with the UK investment summit, where over 150 global investors came to Wales to see first hand why Wales is such a great place to invest – again using the same model of partnership working.

The second highlight was resurrecting and landing the deal with Welsh Government to electrify the mainline to Swansea and the entire Valley Line rail network: part of £2bn of investment this Government is putting into Britain’s railways; the biggest investment in rail infrastructure since Victorian times. Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself would be proud!

But the South Wales electrification issue had become something of a devolution test case – whether two administrations of different party colours could work together to deliver major strategic infrastructure or whether devolution boundaries, compartmentalised budget lines, bureaucratic wrangling… and just old fashioned lack of political trust would determine that this would be a huge missed opportunity for Wales.

It proved to be a moment for the role of the Welsh Secretary and the Wales Office to come into its own.

The third highlight I would point to is the announcement, earlier this month, by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of a landmark package of devolution for Wales. A foundation from which we will build a new devolution for Wales which is clearer, stronger and fairer than the current settlement. I shall say more about that St David’s Day package in a few moments.

The Coalition Government: 5 Years of Achievement:

So we are ending this Parliament showing powerfully, I believe, that devolution can work in the strategic interests of Wales. But also having forged a new vision of what devolution should mean for the future.

The current Parliament has certainly been an historic one for our United Kingdom:

…with the first post-war coalition Government, formed to take on a huge economic challenge: the biggest economic crisis in seventy years and the biggest budget deficit since World War II.

… with the structure of the United Kingdom itself in jeopardy like never before with the rise of Scottish nationalism and last September’s referendum on full independence.

…and with a new political reality in the relationship between the UK and Welsh Governments, with administrations of different political colours at either end of the M4 for the very first time.

When we formed the Coalition in 2010 there was no shortage of naysayers who said that “it wouldn’t last”; that coalition Government would be inherently unstable; and that mutual suspicion would override the need for good government.

They could not have been more wrong.

Coalition: a radical reforming Government:

What no-one really foresaw either was just how radical the government would become in terms of the constitution, devolution and decentralisation. This radicalism has come to the fore both as a response to external events – like the Scottish Referendum and the recognition of the need to rebalance our lop-sided economy away from an ever more powerful London and the South East; and because it is inherent in some of the key political philosophies and traditions within both parties of the Coalition.

But back in 2010 the primary focus was the economic crisis. We set out a plan, agreed across the Coalition, to reduce the deficit, restore order to our national finances and set in place the foundations for healthier, more balanced growth.

Five years later that plan is bearing real fruit for Wales.

There is no question the economy has turned a corner. The UK is the fastest growing major economy. And Wales is the fastest growing part of the UK.

This year already real wages are rising and households are benefitting from record low inflation. Our economy is rebalancing, with the decline in manufacturing reversed and a strong business-led recovery. Wales now has the fastest rate of business creation in over a decade.

A rebalanced economy will need 21st century infrastructure in order to thrive. So we are putting right the chronic underfunding in infrastructure by previous governments, investing a greater share of our nation’s wealth in infrastructure than in the whole period of the last Government.

Investment in the electrification of Wales’s railways I mentioned earlier. Investment in broadband so that homes and business in Wales can access some of the fastest broadband speeds in the world. And major energy infrastructure projects that will help provide cleaner and more secure energy for the future.

But for me, economic growth is never an end in itself. I believe growth should be an enabler of social renewal and that this is the real test of economic policy.

So, turning around a culture where worklessness had become the norm in too many communities in Wales has been a key achievement of this Coalition. In 2010 when we came into office there were 200,000 people in Wales who had never worked a day in their lives. There were 92,000 children growing up in homes where no-one was working.

We now have 46,000 fewer workless households in Wales than there were in 2010 and, crucially, 39,000 fewer children where neither mum nor dad goes out to work.

And so Wales is on a pathway of recovery, economically and socially. There is a mountain to climb – let no one pretend we are not still rooted to the bottom of the UK economic league table – but we are determined to keep creating the right conditions for growth in Wales. And I believe the economic plan we have put in place represents Wales’s very best chance of closing the prosperity gap with the rest of the UK.

But we have shown as a Coalition that making the economy the core focus – the overriding mission – in our programme has not prevented progress on a number of other fronts, including fixing the problems in Welsh devolution.

A Strong Track Record on Devolution:

By the latter stages of the last Government, the truth is that Wales was being treated as an afterthought within Whitehall.

Communication between the administrations in London and Cardiff had become informal, and were often conducted through party rather than proper government channels.

The devolution structures were not built to last. And they took no account of different political parties in Government at either end of the M4.

And the Welsh devolution process itself was in deep freeze… still relying on the clunky, laborious Legislative Competence Orders (the infamous LCOs!) to transfer powers piecemeal to Cardiff Bay.

Everything was sort of stuck.

The Coalition Programme for Government changed that. It put us on the front foot. It included three clear commitments on Wales. First, we completed the final LCO – on housing – within the first few months of taking office.

Second, and much more importantly, we delivered the 2011 Assembly referendum. A referendum which saw a resounding yes vote to the Assembly gaining full law-making powers. This was a game-changer for many of us who remained doubtful as to whether the people of Wales had truly warmed to devolution.

Third, following the referendum we established the Commission on Devolution in Wales – known now to us all as the Silk Commission – to look at the financial and constitutional arrangements in Wales.

The Commission produced two reports. The first looked at fiscal devolution, and recommended tax raising powers for the Assembly, and borrowing powers for Welsh Ministers, for the first time. The Wales Act 2014 which I helped take through Parliament implemented almost all of the Silk I recommendations.

It is a small but ground-breaking piece of legislation, devolving power to the Assembly over stamp duty land tax and landfill tax; allowing the Assembly to trigger a referendum on the devolution of some income tax; fully devolving business rates; and allowing the Welsh Ministers to borrow to help fund capital projects.

The Silk Commission published its second report a little over a year ago, with wide-ranging recommendations for modifying Welsh devolution and improving inter-governmental relations. When I came into post that report was in danger of beginning to gather dust on a shelf.

Meanwhile, the devolution settlement was under pressure like never before with the UK and Welsh Governments arguing about competencies at the Supreme Court. These cases, especially the UK Government’s defeat over Agricultural Wages last July, blew wide open the true nature of the Welsh devolution settlement: unclear, vague, silent on many key subject areas, unstable, not built to last – a payday for lawyers.

Finally, add into the mix the seismic shift in Scottish politics and the independence campaign last year which raised the temperature of the debate in Wales and it meant that the question “Where does this leave Welsh devolution?” demanded an answer.

The St David’s Day Announcement:

The morning after the Scottish referendum on 19th September the Prime Minister said that he wanted Wales to be at heart of a new debate about devolution in the United Kingdom.

The truth is that even before the referendum campaign was over, we knew that the devolution debate would not be the same ever again and that we had to act to correct the problems in Welsh devolution.

So I took the decision to use this unique constitutional moment to bundle up all of the long-running devolution controversies in Wales and seek to bring together all political parties in Wales to consider these issues in a pragmatic and positive way.

So began our St David’s Day process which aimed to achieve agreement on a clearer, stronger and fairer devolution settlement for Wales.

We started by examining the Silk II recommendations to identify which recommendations had political consensus, and to agree a set of commitments to announce by St David’s Day on the future of Welsh devolution. But we also looked at the issue of fair funding for Wales and considered how the current changes in Scotland might also impact on Welsh devolution.

The final package, announced by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister two week ago at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, was an important moment for Wales.

At the heart of the package the Prime Minister announced are three key elements, the building blocks to reset the devolution settlement in Wales; to seek to put an end to the ceaseless never-ending debates about powers and who does what; and to deliver clear and stable devolution for Wales for the longer-term:

First, to deliver more clarity, a new model of devolution in Wales.

In Scotland, where there is the so-called Reserved Powers model, the default position is that everything is devolved except those things that are reserved to Westminster.

In Wales, it has been the reverse. Nothing has been devolved except those specific things which Westminster legislates to let go of.

But as we saw at the Supreme Court, the current settlement is vague and incomplete. It results in confusion about where exactly the boundary of devolution is.

The St David’s Day agreement will change this. Introducing a reserved powers model creates a much more stable platform to enable greater clarity about the responsibilities of Parliament and the Assembly, and of both Governments. It will make governing Wales more transparent, and easier for the people who elect us to understand.

Second, along with changing the foundations of Welsh devolution, the St David’s Day agreement also devolves wide-ranging additional powers to the Assembly.

These include decisions that affect the day to day lives of people in Wales – over whether new wind farms should be built; whether licenses should be granted on fracking; what the speed limits should be on Welsh roads; how taxis and buses in Wales should be regulated; whether 16 and 17-year-olds should vote in Assembly and local government elections; and what the Assembly should call itself.

Many of these new powers are based on those recommendations in the second Silk report on which there was political consensus. It is, if you like, a baseline of commitments by all four main political parties in Wales going into May’s General Election.

It says to the people of Wales that whoever forms the next Government, this is a baseline for Welsh devolution to change in the next Parliament.

It is of course not the end of the story. Political parties can, and will, set out their own proposals on devolution in their party manifestos.

But the St David’s Day agreement sets the framework within which each party can make its proposals. And it provides the firm foundation from which we can move forward on a new Wales Bill in the next Parliament.

Third, and crucially so far as wider Welsh politics is concerned, we’re proposing what’s known as a “funding floor” to protect the level for funding provided to Wales relative to equivalent funding for England.

I’m sure that some of you here this evening are familiar with the nuances of the Barnett Formula. But for those whose eyes glaze at its mere mention, let me just say that the introduction of what is known as a Barnett Floor is really significant, because it will ensure that Wales always receives more money than England, to compensate for greater socio-economic needs.

It is true that Wales is not currently underfunded. “Convergence” – the process by which relative Welsh funding levels slide down to those of England, is not happening at present. Indeed the opposite is happening. And Welsh funding is currently over 15% higher than equivalent funding in England; a level Professor Gerry Holtham concluded was fair when his Commission looked at Welsh funding issues some five years ago.

But we have taken this decision now to introduce a funding floor, to guarantee that Wales always receives a fair level of funding. Because I know that this is the one “devolution” issue that resonates with the people of Wales out on the doorsteps.

And so I am hugely proud to be part of a Government which has finally addressed this long-running sore in Welsh politics. A funding settlement that will provide certainty for Wales and enable the Welsh Government to plan for the future and grow the economy.

The St David’s Day announcement will also enable the Welsh Government to issue bonds to borrow for capital expenditure. This comes on top of the package of tax and borrowing powers the Government is devolving to Wales through the Wales Act 2014.

But there is still some unfinished business.

Welsh Government’s Reaction:

The First Minister’s reaction to this historic announcement has been disappointing, especially as he participated in the process so constructively. He has described our commitment to a funding floor as a “vague promise”.

There is nothing vague about the Government’s commitment. Let me be clear. There will be a funding floor. We will agree the precise level of the floor, and the mechanism to deliver it, alongside the next Spending Review. It is only sensible to take these decisions in the context of UK-wide spending decisions.

This is precisely what the Welsh Government asked for in discussions about funding which took place as part of the St David’s Day process.

So why is the First Minister now so lukewarm?

Well, it comes back to the unfinished business I mentioned a moment ago.

In committing to a funding floor we are removing the last roadblock put in place by the Welsh Government to calling a referendum on income tax devolution – part of the package of tax and borrowing powers in the new Wales Act.

The Welsh Government does not want to be responsible for some of the income tax raised in Wales; for raising significantly more of the money it spends; for linking its decisions on spending to the money that it would take from taxpayers’ pockets. For that entails a whole new level of accountability. The kind of accountability which is the hallmark of any mature government answerable to a strong legislature.

Instead it prefers to continue its existence as essentially a large spending department, where the excuse for any element of under-performance or non-delivery is always, always that the funding is never enough.

So my challenge to the Welsh Government is simple: it’s time to step up.

The Assembly has shown it is now a mature, responsible legislature, passing laws on a whole variety of new and innovative subjects, such as organ donation. And the St David’s Day agreement has reflected this by devolving to the Assembly full control over how it conducts its business, what it should call itself, how big it should be, what the electoral system should be for Assembly elections and who should be eligible to vote in those elections.

The Assembly will be responsible for its big decisions.

It is now time for the Welsh Government also to demonstrate it is a mature Government, ready to accept taking tough decisions about raising revenue, not merely spending it.

In introducing a funding floor to protect against the way the Barnett formula operates for Wales, we have made clear that we expect the Welsh Government will call a referendum on income tax powers in the next Parliament. It means that people can go into that referendum knowing there is a funding guarantee for Wales.

That is responsible devolution and that is real devolution.

Moving towards some responsibility over income tax is the next step for Wales.

Future Challenges:

We are living in remarkable times. The nature of politics is changing, both in the UK and internationally.

There are many future challenges in ensuring Wales is governed well and meets the global challenges of the twenty-first century.

For me, three challenges are particularly relevant to Wales.

Local Decision-Making:

First, we are witnessing a decisive shift in the way people view government. They no longer want “big” government, deciding what’s best for them. They want decisions to be taken more locally, and to feel part of the decision-making process.

I believe in stronger devolved government and stronger local government – devolution down as far as possible, to the most appropriate local level.

That is what we’re doing in England. We’re creating a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, an initiative spearheaded by figures such as the Chancellor George Osborne and Lord Heseltine to deliver radical decentralisation from Westminster to the North of England.

It is about rebalancing the UK economy, reviving the economic and civic strength of the Northern cities to provide jobs, investment and prosperity.

Greater Manchester is blazing the trail, with a devolution package including skills, transport and housing, with a combined authority led by a directly elected mayor. It will also be the first English region to gain complete control of its Health budget – a £6 billion budget.

And it’s not just the Northern cities. We are decentralising powers to local councils and city regions right across England, and across the NHS in England. And in areas which are not devolved, we’ve devolved powers in England and Wales – establishing directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners for example.

We are now in a new age of politics. An age where people are demanding more say at the local level over decisions that affect them directly. This, I believe, is a direct consequence of globalisation. An age where people reject the old notions of one size fits all politics, and look for solutions more tailored to local circumstances.

This is 21st century devolution. Devolution in a digital and global age.

But the localism powers that we devolve to the Welsh Government seem to go no further. Powers are gathered and gripped tightly at Cardiff Bay with precious little sign of devolution downwards and outwards to the communities across Wales.

Welsh Government seems to want to collect powers as someone would collect stamps: for display purposes only. They’re not used. And they’re not devolved down further within Wales to the local communities that could put them to good use.

Devolution should be about empowering communities not institutions.

This is an important part of the devolution debate which has barely even started in Wales where the last 15 years have been dominated by discussion around a 20th century model of devolution.

I want to see powers flowing down to the cities and local communities of Wales, just as they are in England, so that local communities can take decisions on matters that directly affect them, and the diversity of Wales can be fully and properly expressed in the way that we are governed.

The New Pragmatism:

The second challenge is to harness for Wales the new pragmatism that is emerging in politics.

A pragmatism where old ideologies are set aside to work together for the common good. And where the old blinkered vision of party politics is replaced by mutual understanding and compromise to get the job done.

This does not mean surrendering long-held principles. But it does mean being open to ideas and views, and working together for common goals.

The Northern Powerhouse work I described earlier is an excellent example of councils in cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds working closely and co-operatively with Westminster for the common good.

I want this pragmatism to become the hallmark of a new politics in Wales too.

We are not living in an ideological age.

I want the traditional tribalism of Welsh politics to become a thing of the past so that we can focus on how the new powers which will be devolved to Wales can be used to best practical effect – and, in so doing, replace the never-ending debate about devolution with the right focus on economic growth and jobs that Wales needs.

I have endeavoured to apply this principle to my own work as Secretary of State for Wales. But the new pragmatism requires a shift in thinking by all politicians in Wales.

Wales has suffered from too much ideology in the past – from the Right and equally from the Left. Those who pride themselves on being steeped in Welsh socialist dogma should take no pride when travelling through some of our Welsh communities.

A Presumption of Power:

There should be more to devolved government than free prescriptions and charges on plastic bags. The new powers being devolved under the St David’s Day package provide a toolkit to be used for the renewal of Wales. They are powers for a purpose. Powers to be seized boldly and used wisely for the good of Wales.

A New Way Forward for Wales:

But the St David’s Day process has demonstrated that political parties can work together for the common good of Wales. Parties with very different philosophies about the future constitutional make-up of the UK have worked together to agree a set of commitments that form the building blocks for a new devolution settlement for Wales.

I want to see a new Wales Bill introduced early in the next Parliament to deliver a stronger, clearer and fairer devolution settlement for Wales as soon as possible.

But I believe this May’s General Election will not be the only decisive moment for Wales’ future. In fact, I believe the next Assembly elections in May 2016 have the potential to be just as transformative for Wales. Because in 2016, there is the opportunity for a new Welsh Government to take the reins, to make the most of the new powers being devolved to it; to use them sensibly to grow the Welsh economy, create jobs and improve Wales’s public services; and, crucially, to accept the need for greater accountability to the people that elect it.

Conclusion:

We are living in an age of dramatic political and constitutional change – and we haven’t even mentioned the European Union yet.

But the priority of most people remains constant. It is about quality of life, the quality and security of their jobs, and the future for their families.

We need to get the political and constitutional fabric of this country right, so that Governments – both at the UK and the devolved level – can get on with the job of delivering economic growth and a secure future.

I would like to see the focus of future political debate in Wales not to be about which powers should rest where, but instead how these powers are used for the people of Wales.

Politicians, and political parties, should not be shy to forge new alliances, new partnerships, if it helps deliver for the people of Wales.

This is devolution with a purpose.

This is the new pragmatism.

A new politics to enliven democracy in Wales.

An enduring settlement which works for Wales today, tomorrow and for generations to come.

Epilogue:

Finally, I will turn back to Gerald of Wales, who tells a story of the old man of Pencader. King Henry II spoke to the old man whilst journeying to Cardigan Castle to receive homage from the local ruler, Lord Rhys. He wanted to know how the locals viewed the political situation and what they thought about the future.

The old man replied that although Wales might be attacked, even defeated, by her neighbours the English, the country would only ever really be destroyed by divine anger. More importantly, it was the Welsh themselves who would answer for their fate.

As the old man said:

“this nation …will never be [totally] destroyed by the wrath of man, unless at the same time it is punished by the wrath of God.”

And he went on to say:

“I do not think that on the Day of Direct Judgement any race other than the Welsh …. will give answer to the Supreme Judge for all this small corner of the earth.”

I could not have put it better myself.

Stephen Crabb – 2015 Speech to National Assembly for Wales

Stephen Crabb
Stephen Crabb

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Crabb, the Secretary of State for Wales, to the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff on 24 June 2015.

Diolch yn fawr, Madam Presiding Officer.

May I begin by saying what a privilege it is to be here in this wonderful Senedd building for this debate on the new UK Government’s first legislative programme – a One Nation programme that seeks to strengthen the whole United Kingdom.

This is my first opportunity to participate in Assembly proceedings and I am pleased to bring with me the very good wishes of my two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State at the Wales Office – both formerly of this parish and who will be known well to you all.

It is almost a year since I was appointed Secretary of State for Wales.

At that time members of both the UK Coalition Government and the Welsh Government, not least the First Minister, were engaged in the campaign to encourage Scotland to stay within the United Kingdom.

I appreciate that not every Member of this place who went up to campaign in Scotland was on the same side of the argument. But I will never forget, a few days before the vote on one of my visits up there, standing in the Parliament at Holyrood with Ruth Davidson as school groups were taken on guided tours around the chamber, and reflecting on the remarkable moment we were in.

I was struck with the thought that whatever the outcome of the vote that Thursday, there was absolutely no doubt that the place of that Parliament would become ever more important in the life of the Scottish nation, and that the authority and role of that Parliament as a law-making body and as a forum of national debate and argument and resolution would only grow.

And I believe that is the destiny of this National Assembly too.

To be a Parliament

This Senedd is, after all, a place that my own children visit on their school and Urdd trips to learn about democracy in Wales;

– it is the place where the First Minister and I stood side by side with Cardiff schoolchildren and watched that remarkable fly-past to mark the close of the NATO summit last September;

– it is the place where members of the French community gathered with Wales’ senior Rabbi and the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Wales days after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist atrocities in Paris – a place of grief and solidarity;

– and it is to this Senedd where communities from across Wales come to protest over changes to their hospital services.

Because a Parliament without protests is barely a Parliament at all.

Increasingly and unquestionably, this is an important gathering place: a place of deliberation and decision making, a symbol of Welsh national life.

And I stand here this afternoon recognising that this very procedure I am complying with – to come here and speak about Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech – envisaged and legislated for in the days when a strong law-making Assembly for Wales seemed a long way off – is something of an anachronism. An overhang from another era.

Madam Presiding Officer, I know this is something you and I have spoken about on numerous occasions and so you will be pleased to hear that I intend to abolish this procedure as part of the forthcoming Wales Bill which was announced in the Gracious Speech last month.

I am sure you will find a far better use for this seat.

But I will return to the Wales Bill shortly.

Queen’s speech

Madam Presiding Officer, the mission statement of this new UK Government is to help working people, to champion social justice and to unite all the peoples of our nation.

Through the Queen’s speech last month we announced our legislative programme to build on the important work we started five years ago to improve the lives of everyone in our country and I would like to summarise what I believe this means for Wales.

Queen’s speech: Helping working people and social justice

Firstly, I am proud to be part of a Government that has overseen remarkable falls in unemployment across the UK and particularly here in Wales since 2010. It is absolutely central to our programme in this Parliament to see that continue, and so we will bring forward our Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill to help more people seize the work and life opportunities that new employment brings.

Nothing is more important to me than seeing Wales share fully in the fruits of the UK economic recovery.

Since 2010, there are 34,000 fewer children in Wales growing up in homes where no parent works. That is absolutely transformative for those lives – for those individuals and families growing up seeing a role model go out to work and bringing home a wage, smashing down the barriers to social mobility.

And so in this Parliament we will continue to reform welfare, encouraging employment by capping benefits, requiring young people to earn or learn and rewarding ambition by helping unemployed people become the next generation of entrepreneurs.

We will continue to reward hard work by helping people keep more of the money that they earn. Through the Finance Bill we will raise the tax free personal allowance to £10,600 next year and to £12,500 by the end of this Parliament. And let’s be clear about what that means…. people on the lowest incomes paying less tax: more money going back to the people who need it most.

We will also legislate to make sure that those people working 30 hours a week on the Minimum Wage do not pay any income tax at all and we will pass law to ensure there are no rises in income tax rates, VAT or National Insurance for the duration of this Parliament.

Key to our plan to help working people are the measures we will bring forward to back businesses in Wales, – who are the real job creators and the true heroes of this economic recovery.

There are around 230,000 SMEs in Wales today, up 26,000 since 2010, and I want to see that number rise well past a quarter of a million by 2020, with each new start up delivering new jobs, opportunities and new wealth for our nation.

And so through the Enterprise Bill we will cut £10 billion from the cost to business of regulation, helping firms to grow and create jobs and making sure that Britain remains one of the most competitive economies in which to do business.

Queen’s speech: One Nation

Aside from measures that will strengthen our support for working people and deliver social justice by breaking down cycles of dependency, our legislative programme will also strengthen the ties that bind the different parts of our United Kingdom together.

There is no question that one of the key strategic political challenges of our times, alongside the need to rebuild our national finances and reduce the deficit, is the constitution and how we hang together as a family of nations.

And so an absolutely core objective of the Government in Westminster is to seek to strengthen the United Kingdom as One Nation.

That means meeting the challenge of nationalism head-on, because we believe passionately in the Union – for all the benefits and the pooling of risk and opportunity it offers us all – and we know that this United Kingdom hasn’t had its day.

Decentralisation and devolution

But it also means delivering on devolution, not because we think we should meet nationalists half-way, but because a core part of our philosophy is recognising, especially in the 21st century, that as the forces of globalisation shape and reshape our world, the key to economic success for developed nations will be to push power downwards and to decentralise.

It means recognising that the old-style model of a highly centralised, Victorian nation state does not provide the dispersal of power and decision-making needed in an age when information, knowledge and capital move at lightning speeds.

Coupled with that is increased recognition, which there has been for decades now, that we simply cannot carry on with the UK economy becoming evermore lopsided, with London and the South East being the primary generator of wealth and growth for the UK – and increasingly looking like a city-state in its own right.

As a Government we will continue to respond to the urgent practical need to rebalance our economy, so that wealth is created and distributed much more evenly and fairly across the United Kingdom

Wales Bill

And so we will honour the commitments we made to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the last Parliament. In Scotland, we will follow through on our promises to devolve substantial further powers to the Scottish Parliament in line with the recommendations of the Smith Commission. In Northern Ireland, we will take forward the Stormont House Agreement to help create a more prosperous, stable and secure future for people there.

And crucially for this chamber, we will implement the St David’s Day Agreement to set about fundamentally re-writing the devolution settlement for Wales to make it clearer, stronger and fairer. This was an explicit commitment in our manifesto and one which we will deliver on – in full.

Back in October, when I was asked by the Prime Minister in the hours after the Scottish referendum to look again at the Welsh devolution settlement, I know there were some in this chamber who doubted where the St David’s Day process would lead.

But from the moment the ink was dry on the Powers for a Purpose document we published for St Davids Day, I assembled a team of officials at the Wales Office to begin drafting the new legislation. And so I intend to publish the Wales Bill in draft this autumn for pre-legislative scrutiny, before introducing it to Parliament early next year. It will be what we call a ‘carry-over Bill’ which will need to complete its passage during the second year of this Parliament and receive Royal Assent by early 2017.

And to those voices who express concern that the Wales Bill isn’t moving as fast as the Scottish legislation – let’s be absolutely clear about the scale of what we are doing here. This is no mere appendix to the existing arrangements for Wales or some kind of bolt-on extra – what we are embarking upon is a fundamental re-writing of the devolution settlement, the most far reaching and significant package of powers ever devolved to Wales. And I have been clear from day one that I will take the time necessary to get this legislation right.

Because when we talk about a clearer, stronger and fairer model of devolution – which is at the heart of our St David’s Day package – we mean clearer, by clarifying responsibilities through a new reserved powers model; stronger, by providing this place and Ministers with new powers and competencies; and, crucially, fairer, by taking forward our commitment to implement a funding floor in the expectation that the Welsh Government will call an income tax referendum.

Madam Presiding Officer, I am proud to be the first Secretary of State for Wales to go to the Treasury, argue the case for Wales and secure that historic commitment to a funding floor.

But I believe now it is time that the Welsh Government demonstrates its own commitment to the whole package by making progress on the income tax raising powers that are already available to it.

There is no other Parliament in the world that does not have responsibility for raising money as well as spending it.

In 1773 the Sons of Liberty smashed up the tea ships in Boston Harbour with the rallying cry “No taxation without representation”. Well, here in Wales we have something of a reverse situation: representation and full law-making powers but without responsibility for significant taxation. At the root of the emergence of democracy was that conjoined relationship between legislating and the raising of money in support of that legislation – which forms the core of democratic accountability.

Madam Presiding Officer, this is a package of devolution for Wales. And if anybody here thinks that somehow this package can be broken up, or that you can play political cat and mouse with any part of it, then they risk gravely misunderstanding what it is we are trying to achieve here, and what the opportunity is for us in Wales.

The opportunity to establish a devolution settlement, which might not go as far as Plaid Cymru or some others may like, but that is, I believe, reflects the centre of gravity of where Welsh public opinion is at to fulfil the outcome of our own Referendum in 2011 when – by a majority of two to one – the people of Wales said yes to a full law-making Assembly. By recognising too that support for independence and break-up of the Union is at a near record low in Wales.

Because I firmly believe the Welsh public are hungry for us to move forwards a nation and for this place – this National Assembly, this Parliament – to become a true forum of debate, resolution and a sense of purpose and action, the articulator of our national ambition for economic growth, wealth creation, educational achievement, first-class health outcomes for it to provide solutions on all the issues that really matter to the people it serves, not a vehicle for a never-ending conversation about more powers, or the generator of some dull consensus that settles on mediocrity where funding is always deployed as the great national excuse for not achieving our potential.

It may come as something of a surprise to you Madam Presiding Officer that during the recent election campaign, not once on any doorstep across Wales was I asked about more powers or devolution.

Actually we all know what the voters wanted to talk about.

And the disconnect and gulf between their concerns and what the Welsh commentariat focuses on every single day is enormous.

Localism

And because all the while we in Wales spend talking about devolving more powers to the Assembly, we risk missing out on the exciting opportunities that are transforming the economic and social prospects of other parts of the United Kingdom.

We in Wales are in danger of being hung up on an old 20th century model of devolution. While all across the rest of the United Kingdom we are seeing localism and decentralisation, sub-national devolution, flourishing in ways very few people predicted could be delivered from Whitehall. And our new Decentralisation and Localism Bill announced in the Gracious Speech will take that radical approach to a new level.

And, Madam Presiding Officer, when I see strong Labour-run Councils striking deals with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury in places like Manchester and Newcastle, or in Glasgow – all these metro areas with populations that are not dissimilar to Wales, unlocking their potential to drive forward new innovation, growth and productivity for their regions, I don’t want to see Wales get left behind.

Because that same spirit of decentralisation, empowerment and pushing powers downwards to communities should be a characteristic of this place too.

And so the Cardiff City Deal will be a litmus test of two things for us politicians from Wales:

It will reveal whether we in Wales understand the decentralisation agenda and the exciting opportunities it presents for economic and civic renewal here in Wales. And crucially, it will also be a test of our political pragmatism.

We are a small nation and I believe we pack a much bigger punch when we work together. I don’t believe the old-school tribal warfare of Welsh politics has served Wales well over the years and I don’t believe it is actually what most Welsh people want from their politicians – that is certainly a message I get loud and clear from the business community who want to see pragmatism and collaboration become a hallmark of Welsh politics. And that approach is certainly one I am trying to deliver during my tenure as Welsh Secretary.

And so after the Wales Bill has been passed, the burden will fall to this place to press ahead with the dynamic localism agenda that is transforming the economic prospects of cities, regions and counties in England.

But I can announce today, that as a first step, we will devolve decision making on applications for all onshore wind farms down to the local level though the Energy Bill and related legislation… including here in Wales.

This change will give local people a greater say on whether wind farms should be built in their areas. And in line with the spirit of the St David’s Day Agreement it will then be for this Assembly and the Welsh Government to determine how these applications should be treated in future and whether they should stay at the local level.

Conclusion

I believe that every single one of us in this Chamber shares a common vision for Wales: a Wales that is confident, outward-looking and punching well above its weight in the global economy.

The UK Government is embarking upon an exciting legislative programme to help make that aspiration a reality, but for Wales to truly succeed this must be a shared enterprise at both ends of the M4.

I don’t want to see Wales fall behind. And so I come here today to say that it is time we put an end to the incessant discussion about further powers that has characterised Welsh politics for the last 16 years.

I reject the notion that devolution is some never-ending journey. The people of Wales have rejected independence and they are tired of the political disconnect that they see between the issues that matter to them and the seemingly never-ending debate about devolution they see us in engaged in.

And what will consolidate the role of this Assembly in Welsh national life will be more than just changing its name to a Parliament (which you will have the power to do in the future); more than any package of new competencies devolved from London to Cardiff; more than enabling 16 and 17 year olds to vote in Wales (which again you will have the power to do in future), and more even than putting an end to the Secretary of State turning up here each year to debate the Queen’s speech it will be when people in all parts of Wales – especially those that feel most distant from Cardiff, in North Wales and in the West, recognise that this Assembly is absolutely crucial to tackling the central issues that matter to their lives – not just a forum for grievance but a cockpit of resolution and action.

Madam Presiding Officer, I believe the new Wales Bill, announced in Her Majesty’s speech last month, supported by fair funding and new tax powers, will provide the opportunity for Wales to move on from the debate about powers and to look outwards and upwards.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak today.

Stephen Crabb – 2015 Speech to Cardiff Business School

Stephen Crabb
Stephen Crabb

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Crabb, the Secretary of State for Wales, at the Cardiff University Business School on 29 October 2015.

It’s a huge pleasure to be back at Cardiff University and for my first visit to the University’s flagship Business School.

I would like to begin by thanking the Vice-Chancellor for his kind welcome and for hosting this event – and also by saluting the Business School’s recent success.

The school was ranked 6th out of 101 by the 2014 Research Excellence Framework– testament to the hard work and dedication of the staff, students and researchers associated with the School. Not only has the School cemented its international reputation in recent years, it is estimated the School contributes £85m annually to the Welsh economy.

And I applaud too the Vice Chancellor’s strategic goal of seeing a Welsh university in the world’s top 100. That’s exactly the kind of ambition I love – Cardiff University aiming to be not just a success story within the UK – which it is – but a success globally.

The international dimension of Cardiff Business School is an important one. A diverse, international student body makes for a dynamic business school environment and actually reflects the global nature of the economic realities that business in the UK and in Wales contends with each day.

There is no corner of the economy in Wales which isn’t being shaped profoundly by global forces right now – whether that is through shifts in commodity prices, through the incredible international marketplace which the internet has created, or through the investment decisions being made by international firms which can impact on communities thousands of miles from the board rooms where those decisions are taken.

There is nowhere to hide any more – and that is really the theme of my talk this morning: the challenges and opportunities that globalization presents to the Welsh economy; why the UK Government’s radical approach to devolution and decentralisation is both a consequence of globalization and a deliberate policy response (at a national and city level too); and where I think this direction can take us in Wales.

It was while I was at business school myself twelve years ago that I came across a book by Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, which set out some thinking about globalisation which made a deep impression on me.

I had been in New York for a week to observe the leadership and management style of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s City Hall as part of a study I was doing on Organisational Behaviour. And what a lesson on city leadership and the accountability demanded of the city’s agencies in terms of delivery on transport, housing and policing that was – and I will return to that theme later.

But it was when I was travelling back home I picked up a copy of Friedman’s book at the airport.

Friedman used two metaphors, the manufacturing and popularity of Lexus cars and the olive tree which has enormous roots in deserts where ancient peoples still engage in conflict over the ground where it grows, to illustrate two key characteristics of globalisation as he saw it – namely the quest for growth and wealth creation in all corners of the world and, at the same time, the struggle to preserve or rediscover identity and roots that give meaning to our lives at a community, tribe or nation level – even as the world changes at a breath-taking pace around us…

…and with capital and investment, trade, information, and people now moving around the globe at speeds, and in volumes, the likes of which were never thought possible.

There are lots that Friedman has to say about all this, and in his later book The World is Flat, but one of the key things for me was the questions it raised about how well equipped was our own nation state – with high levels of government spending and rigid and highly centralised structures of government – to ride these trends and to prosper in the kind of global system he was talking about.

And then came the crash in 2008… and we were found out.

Our lop-sided economy, built on an over-reliance on a booming banking sector geographically weighted more than ever before to London and the South East, and with the empty edifice of debt-driven government and consumer spending, was found out.

The deficit stood at more than ten per cent of our national income – one of the highest of any major advanced economy and the largest in our peacetime history. The British economy had suffered a collapse greater than almost any country in the Western world – a dramatic slump in GDP of around 8%, translating into an enormous destruction of wealth – with all of the decline in real wage levels and standard of living that went with it.

This is the backdrop against which we as a Government have been executing a plan since 2010 to restore stability to our national finances and return the country to a balanced budget – and ultimately to a position where in normal times we generate a surplus and pay down debt.

All of the big policy challenges that we have been grappling with as a government link back to this.

But while reducing the deficit remains a core and critical element of this plan, there is a much wider vision being driven forward to reshape and rebalance the UK economy – so that growth in the future will be more evenly generated across all economic sectors – and where innovation plays a much bigger role – where investment in world class skills and world class infrastructure is absolutely vital for future success – and where we make more and sell more of what we make in new and dynamic markets overseas.

Fundamentally, it’s about putting in place a framework for future economic growth and success in the challenging and unforgiving global economy of the 21st century.

And the vision is also about a more balanced economy geographically – where the nations and regions of the United Kingdom close the gap with London and the South East and all parts of our country share in the fruits of economic renewal.

And I believe this vision represents a compelling and exciting opportunity for us here in Wales where the gap with the rest of the UK – in terms of productivity, GVA, wages – still remains far too wide.

And where the competition is getting ever more intense.

Nobody else is slowing down to allow us to catch up.

So we must seize this opportunity because the world won’t wait for Wales.

And so this is where our radical approach to devolution and decentralisation is so important.

Devolution isn’t simply some bolt-on extra to our economic vision. Decentralisation is a key part of rebalancing the economy.

Pushing power downwards can lead to better, more nimble decision-making, more tailored to local circumstances and local markets, and a better chance of capitalising on fast-moving dispersed knowledge.

The logic of globalisation – and the correct response to the challenges that globalisation presents – is not ever more centralisation; it is the exact opposite.

It is to push power downwards and outwards.

There’s a deep connection between where decisions are made and what works……. political and economic solutions more tailored to local circumstances.

As a government we have committed ourselves to delivering a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to the people and communities of this country; promoting unprecedented decentralisation and ending the era of top-down government, by empowering local councils, communities and businesses.

And this has shaped our own approach to devolution for Wales too. We absolutely do recognise the importance of devolution in the context of Welsh nationhood and identity within the United Kingdom – what Thomas Friedman would perhaps describe as the Olive Tree dimension: our ancient roots and identity.

But we also want to see the Lexus dimension too – an economic dividend for Wales from devolution, with powers being used for much greater effect than what we have seen in the last 16 years – and especially in terms of wealth creation and growth.

I believe Wales is already punching above its weight on the global stage in some respects – and in recent weeks Cardiff has reminded the world once again why it is such a vibrant and exciting capital city for visitors from all over the world.

But let’s be clear, being positive about the Welsh recovery does not blind us to the serious challenges and weaknesses that remain.

Successful Economies need long-term investment in effective transport links.

Excellent connectivity will bring cities and markets closer together to help create the critical mass to compete globally.

Better connections between economic centres allow clusters to develop even where companies are located apart, supporting more trade, more interactions between businesses and the generation of more products and ideas.

As a Government we are putting right the chronic underfunding in infrastructure by previous governments, investing a greater share of our nation’s wealth in infrastructure than in the whole period of the last Government.

That’s why this Government’s programme of investment in rail infrastructure in Wales and across the UK is the largest and most ambitious since the development of the rail network in the 19th Century.

Electrification of the Great Western Mainline to Swansea will put South Wales on a much more even footing to compete with the South East as the Government works to rebalance the economy.

Crossrail will enhance the shorter journey times offered by electrification of the main line – bringing the burgeoning financial services sector in Cardiff to within two hours journey time to Canary Wharf, now one of Europe’s most important financial centres.

North Wales transport infrastructure also needs to improve to capture the benefits that HS2 will bring and all of the exciting opportunities being created by our Northern Powerhouse vision which aims to rebuild the economic and civic strength of England’s great northern cities.

But let’s take an honesty check here when it comes to infrastructure.

In recent weeks we have seen some fabulous World Cup matches hosted so brilliantly at the Millennium Stadium, producing a pay-off for the Welsh economy of tens of millions of pounds – only for fans to get caught up in traffic gridlock on the M4 resulting in journey times from Cardiff to London in excess of five hours.

That is not acceptable.

Twenty years ago my predecessors in the Wales Office were looking at the need for an upgrade of the M4 motorway between Cardiff and Newport. Devolution was supposed to help make this happen. But the truth is that sixteen years of Welsh devolution has not delivered that strategic project which would overcome a key barrier to growth.

Two years ago the UK Government struck a deal with Welsh Government to jump-start that project by providing Welsh Government with new financial borrowing powers – linked to the devolution of minor taxes.

But still business is waiting for any substantial progress on delivery from Welsh Government.

Meanwhile, many of the cities that Cardiff aims to compete with are seeing upgrades in their own transport infrastructure.

The world won’t wait for Wales.

On Valleys Line Electrification too – that crucial project to better connect deprived Valleys communities with centres of job creation in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport –one year on from the co-financing deal the Treasury struck with Welsh Government we have yet to see any concrete proposals for Welsh Ministers for the project. Human capital If devolution is to deliver, we also need the right support to build human capital and generate innovation.

The gap in labour productivity between Wales and the UK is larger than for almost any other region or nation of the UK. Reform of the skills system is necessary to provide cities with the skilled labour businesses need and innovation policy needs to support the development and diffusion of ideas.

Apprenticeships are at the heart of our mission to rebuild and rebalance the economy, with a step-change in the quality and status of vocational education. The UK Government has set a target of 3 million new apprenticeships over the next five years. This is a huge ambition and will take significant effort to achieve. We are offering support for businesses in England to help meet this and I want to ensure Wales is not left behind. We need a shared ambition right across the UK to deliver this.

I also want to see greater investment in innovation. We have some world class innovators here in Wales – take for example Airbus in Newport and their innovation into Cyber Security, GE Aviation at Nantgarw who are fuelling innovation and its application across the aerospace industry, and General Dynamics with their EDGE innovation network, which brings together industry leaders, academia and innovators with end users and customers in an open, collaborative environment.

And this week, Cardiff University’s expertise in researching and developing innovative technologies was recognised by Innovate UK, the UK Government’s innovation agency, as the location, along with five other regional centres, for the UK’s centres of excellence for Precision Medicines – a global market estimated to be worth £14bn and expected to grow to £50bn in 2020. The Precision Medicine Catapult has the potential to develop into a global industry generating both economic and healthcare benefits.

These are the challenges that should grip us and be our priority.

But there’s a real danger in Wales that our full economic potential is being hamstrung by a never-ending constitutional debate focused on a theoretical discussion about ‘powers’ which is entirely divorced from the practical importance of what these powers can actually achieve…

…where we spend years, decades even, locked in a prolonged constitutional argument about the finer points of devolution which does nothing to address the productivity challenge or our skills gap.

I long for the day when a Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer can visit Wales and the first question they’re asked is not about devolution and ‘powers’ but is actually about how we create a world-beating dynamic economy here in Wales.

And there’s a decision for all political leaders in Wales to make here – are we willing to reach agreement and settlement on these questions and move on to the issues that will determine whether we succeed or fail in the 21st century?

…Because the world won’t wait for Wales.

I have made no secret that my number one passion, my number one ambition, is not constitutional reform – but to see economic transformation for my nation of Wales.

The draft Wales Bill which I published last week recognises there is a strong appetite in Wales for a greater say over Welsh affairs within a stronger United Kingdom.

It provides an opportunity to draw a line under the constant debates about devolution which have characterised Welsh politics for too long. I am totally open to ideas on how we improve the draft Bill but the rhetoric coming from Cardiff Bay in recent days that the Bill should become their new cause celebre to prolong and deepen the debate about powers is, I believe, deeply misplaced.

We have a mature, respected legislature in the National Assembly, which will soon assume through the Wales Bill even more powers. And the Welsh Government itself will also get important new powers. I believe that these should be supplemented by new tax raising powers so that there is, for the first time, a true bond of financial accountability between Welsh Government and Welsh taxpayers – and with it new levers that can make a practical difference economically.

We have already spent far too long on this discussion in Wales. And we need to make progress. Because the risk is that we fall behind while the world moves on.

Last week the Chinese president visited Manchester to see how one of the UK’s major cities is re-inventing itself as the hub of the Northern Powerhouse. The leader of one of the world’s largest economies saw a city where its civic leaders, from across the political divide, have seized the opportunity of more powers to shape their destiny.

Greater Manchester is blazing a trail, with a devolution package which delivers decision making over important local priorities, including economic development, local transport, housing, skills and vital public services like health and social care- with a combined authority led by a directly elected mayor. It will also be the first English region to gain greater control of its Health budget – a £6 billion budget.

Wales suddenly has one more competitor.

One of the most radical aspects of the UK Government since 2010 is our determination to decentralise and push powers downwards and outwards –and backing it up with real economic and financial powers to harness innovation.

We are determined to unlock the civic and economic potential of our great cities. For as long as we can remember, cities have played an integral role in the political, economic and civic life of great nations.

Yet during the twentieth century, we witnessed a decisive shift of power and influence in favour of London and the south-east of England, often at the expense of our major cities.

For too long, governments have acted as though taking powers away from our great cities is the best way to create growth, rather than trusting the people living there to find their own specific solutions to meet their own local needs.

That is why as a government, we want powerful, innovative cities that are able to shape both their political and economic destinies, and get our local and national economies growing.

Like Manchester, Cardiff came into its own during the nineteenth century and has seen some remarkable transformations in the last twenty five years. But the world is not standing still.

As Manchester, Glasgow, Sheffield and others now power ahead – spurred on by bespoke city and regional deals – there is a risk that Cardiff is now left in the slow lane.

That cannot be allowed to happen.

To unlock the full potential of our cities, we are shifting even more powers and levers so that local leaders and businesses can continue to drive political and economic renewal.

A quiet revolution is taking place in the way Britain is governed. Rather than Whitehall setting the template, we are inviting cities and the business community to ‘do things their way.’ Giving local areas powers and freedoms to help support economic growth, create jobs and drive investment. Entrusting local areas with responsibility for decisions that affect their area.

The government has already concluded deals with Greater Birmingham and Solihull, Bristol and the West of England, Greater Manchester, Leeds City Region, Liverpool City Region, Nottingham, Newcastle, and the Sheffield City Region.

The core cities have estimated that the first wave of deals will create 175,000 jobs over the next 20 years and 37,000 new apprenticeships.

Crucially, this is a vision which is not confined to England.

In Scotland we have delivered the Glasgow and Clyde Valley City Deal, one of the largest ever agreed. This exciting project is estimated to create 29,000 jobs, and supporting over 5,500 unemployed people back into sustained employment. Early indications suggest that an estimated £3.3billion of private sector investment will be leveraged into the proposed infrastructure investment programme.

This deal provides an example of what can be achieved when all levels of government, businesses, universities and the voluntary and community sector work together to promote economic growth. A shared endeavour – and in a devolved national context too.

And we want to extend this offer to other major cities and local authorities right across the United Kingdom – including Wales.

Here in Wales we have one of Europe’s youngest capital cities – a city that is quickly achieving a reputation for being upbeat, vibrant, innovative and entrepreneurial.

It sits at the heart of a city-region that is home to almost half the entire population of Wales and is projected to grow by 26 per cent over the next 20 years.

I genuinely believe Cardiff is on the cusp of something great. Our capital city can use its position as an insurgent challenger to some of Britain and Europe’s great cities to shape its economic future and become one of the best places in the world to live, to visit, to study and to do business.

The UK Government has set this agenda in motion and I want Welsh Government, Cardiff City and the other neighbouring local authorities, alongside the business community and Higher Education, to seize this opportunity…

… to work with the UK Government, to make Cardiff an engine of innovation and wealth creation for the benefit of the whole of Wales.

But also, crucially, a City Deal in Cardiff presents the opportunity the make some fundamental changes to governance in Wales.

For if we are to rebalance the economy, cities need effective leadership and governance.

One of the main reasons for the decline of many cities over the last fifty years is a lack of strong leadership. OECD research has indicated that cities around the world with fragmented governance structures have up to 6% lower levels of productivity than those that do not – a result of incoherent decision making and blurred accountability.

This is of course a matter for the local partners, and for Welsh Government, but no-one should underestimate the importance of addressing questions of governance and leadership when talking about Cardiff’s future.

We have a brilliant opportunity with the emerging Cardiff City Deal but the message to the local partners and Welsh Government is to keep it moving forward. Other cities in the UK are trying to skip past us in the queue and are looking to strike growth deals with the Treasury. The world won’t wait for Wales.

And why should decentralisation stop at Cardiff?

There is enormous potential in Swansea too. Or the North Wales region where there isn’t a central city but nevertheless a distinct identity and economic structure which can be a platform for growth and renewal given the right tools and leadership.

But here lies a challenge for Welsh Government – to be a vehicle of decentralisation and devolution within Wales.

A reputation for centralisation and top-down control is at odds with the move to push powers downwards and outwards which we believe is key to capturing the economic opportunities that the 21st century offers.

This is an important part of the devolution debate which has barely featured in Wales over the past 15 years.

Why shouldn’t we see our very own devolution package for all corners of Wales?

We live in an age of radical change – an age of turbulent, global challenges. But the priority of most Welsh people remains the same. It is about their jobs, their quality of life, the standard of public services, and the financial security of their families and loved ones.

With the economic indicators all moving in the right direction, I believe Wales now has a golden opportunity to move forwards and achieve its potential as an outward-looking nation that punches well above its weight in the global economy.

It is high time we focused political debate in Wales on how powers can be used for the people of Wales.

This is what underpins my devolution vision.

Not devolution for devolutions sake, but devolution with a purpose…

…Devolution which unlocks investment, innovation and human capital so that Wales can succeed in the global race.

Because the world won’t wait for Wales.

My dream is that within twenty years Wales will be a beacon of economic success – where world class transport connections bring people from all over the world to visit and do business, and to learn the lessons from our world beating innovation, where our hubs in sectors like life sciences, compound semiconductors, advanced materials, aerospace, financial services underpin our productivity growth and standards of living that are least as good as the UK average, where the primary school children of today who are once again learning software coding have become a new generation of Welsh innovators and entrepreneurs, and where the apprentices on the factory floors today have become managers and business leaders creating jobs and new opportunities that are the envy of the rest of the UK.

Our destiny is not to be a nation of plucky losers but to have the ambition to take on the very best – and to win.

But I do sometimes have a nightmare that twenty years from now actually our national life will still be characterised by an ongoing inward-looking debate about Welsh powers and the constitution, where we still prop up the bottom of the economic league tables within the United Kingdom… and where we are still discussing the need for that damn M4 upgrade.

It doesn’t need to be like this. But we need to crack on.

Because the world is not waiting for Wales.

Stephen Crabb – 2014 Speech on Welfare Reform

Stephen Crabb
Stephen Crabb

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Crabb, the Welsh Office Minister, in Cardiff on 13th February 2014.

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to speak here today.

This morning, more people in Wales have gone out to work than at any other time in our nation’s history.

Economic inactivity in Wales today is at its lowest since records began, and both the overall rate of employment and the actual numbers of people in jobs are at a record high.

But, ladies and gentlemen, the tragedy is this:

..that at the same time as a record number of people are out working today, there remain around 200,000 people here in Wales who have never worked a day in their lives.

That’s a tragedy for each one of those individuals and it’s a tragedy for our nation.

A small country like Wales needs to maximise every bit of skill and talent and potential that we have.

And that’s why I am so passionate about welfare reform.

Welfare reform is about saying that this waste of opportunity and potential is just not acceptable any longer;

..it’s about recognising and bridging the gulf that has been allowed to open up between those whose lives are dependent on benefits and those who are economically active;

..and it’s fundamentally about returning the welfare system to its true values and purpose: as both a tool of social protection and an enabler for those in poverty, where they can, to regain their economic independence.

Our welfare reforms are about expanding opportunity and making a positive difference to real lives.

And so there is nothing compassionate or progressive about ducking the challenge of welfare reform.

The assault on welfare reform in Wales

Yet, over the last three years, that is exactly what our critics in Wales have urged that we should do.

There has been a ferocious assault against welfare reform within Wales, led by the Welsh Labour Party which has turned its face against welfare reform – a cause which Labour itself championed twenty years ago when so many of the problems of dependency and the decline of work incentives were first being highlighted.

Instead Welsh Labour has led the calls for welfare reform to be resisted, abolished, watered down or delayed.

And in the Welsh media there has been a voracious appetite for any story which casts welfare reform in a negative light. Since 2010 there have been more column inches devoted to criticising different aspects, any aspect, of welfare reform than almost any other political subject;

..and an escalating rhetoric of criticism which reached its peak a year ago when a Welsh Government Minister attacked the reforms as a “social atrocity” and accused UK Government of “stepping away from their responsibility to the most vulnerable in society”.

Language like creates headlines in Wales and turns poverty into a political football, but it does nothing – nothing at all – to further the interests of the forgotten 200,000 people in our nation who have yet to work a day in their lives,

..and for the 92,000 children who are growing up in households where no-one works,

..and for those communities here in Wales where more than one third of the residents are claiming out-of-work benefits.

The responsible position is not to urge less welfare reform in Wales,

..but to recognise that Wales needs welfare reform as much as anywhere else in the UK and to work to ensure that it bears the right fruit for Wales.

Wales should be using this once-in-a-generation opportunity to break the cycle of dependency and revitalise those communities blighted by worklessness.

Wales needs welfare reform.

Welfare reform here to stay

Regardless of the precise contours of the current devolution settlement, the truth is that Welsh Government has a shared interest in seeing the economic health of our nation improve, and that means a shared interest in seeing the cycles of poverty and dependency broken in Wales, and therefore they do have a shared responsibility to be a positive partner in welfare reform.

Welfare reform must not be a blind-spot for Welsh Government.

Because, make no mistake, welfare reform is here to stay.

And just as the UK and Welsh Governments now work together far more effectively than ever before on strategic infrastructure investment, so I believe that the two governments will need to find ways of working together to see welfare reform achieve its ambitious aims here in Wales.

I therefore very much welcome the new established working group that will meet for the first time today that brings together the Wales Office, Welsh Government and the Department for Work & Pensions to seek to resolve the difficulties around access to ESF-funded skills training in Wales which currently prevents unemployed people on the Work Programme in Wales getting the full range of support and training they need to improve their employability.

As the Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee said recently:

The last thing we need.. is bureaucracy getting in the way of people simply being able to do what is most effective. The fact that different programmes are funded differently or run by different organisations should not.. create barriers at the point of delivery. The point is to get people in to work, for all the benefits that brings both to them and to the public purse.

Local Government a key partner in welfare reform

And local government, too, in so many ways the unsung hero of social policy in Britain, has a central role to play as welfare reform is rolled out.

I have recently met with authorities from across Wales to discuss, in particular, the localised impacts of the changes to housing benefit, but also to hear the approaches being taken to wider welfare reform matters in Wales.

Later today I will be visiting Caerphilly where the Borough Council has participated in one of the Universal Credit local pilot schemes, working alongside the Department of Work & Pensions, to explore how local expertise can support residents to claim Universal Credit, making sure they are aware of benefit changes and within full reach of assistance when they require it – practical assistance such as advice on debt and household finance.

And no-one is blind to the challenges that lie ahead, but I have been impressed with the dedication and focus with which local authorities are approaching welfare reform.

They understand the importance and significance of this agenda to Wales.

I believe whichever Party – or parties – are in power in Westminster after 2015, there will be no turning back the clock or any return to the kind of welfare system which does not encourage hard work and which does not foster social mobility.

Already as the first fruits of our changes are starting to appear – seen in the falling numbers of long-term unemployed and increasing numbers coming back into the labour market – I believe there is the opportunity to move away from the screeching rhetoric and to achieve consensus here in Wales on the broad direction of welfare reform.

In the last three years we have only just begun to tackle the monumental challenge in front of us.

Welfare reform will need to shape the strategies and business plans of every tier of Government – Local Government, Welsh Government and UK Government – for years to come.

And if we get this right, with each layer of government working together effectively and with a shared ambition for welfare reform in Wales, then the impacts it will have on the economic and social landscape of our nation will be transformational.

The principles which guide welfare reform

And so I would like to set out this morning some of the key principles which are guiding our welfare reforms and which I think can provide the basis for that consensus in Wales:

Moral duty to provide both a safety net and a pathway out of poverty

Firstly, the starting point is a fundamental recognition that the state has a moral duty to provide a safety net for those facing poverty and hardship.

We must not and will not walk away from the most vulnerable in society.

Both compassion and self-interest point us towards providing real help to those in poverty. And there will always be a role for a strong safety net to protect those who face hardship from slipping further into poverty.

And so Universal Credit will refocus that safety net to provide more support to those on the lowest incomes – 75% of those who gain from Universal Credit will be in the bottom 40% of income distribution.

The introduction of Universal Credit will also significantly improve the take-up of unclaimed entitlements.

And so around 200,000 households in Wales will actually have higher entitlements under Universal Credit – of £163 per month on average.

Our responsibility to the poor also means providing support to those affected as we reshape the welfare system.

We know that many households in Wales are affected by the current reforms, and this can be unsettling and disruptive for some, but we are committed to providing the necessary support to help those affected through the transition.

This is why we have increased the amount of money available to local authorities in Wales to use for Discretionary Housing Payments for those tenants in social housing affected by the changes to housing benefit: £7.9 million in 2014/15.

No-one is walking away from a duty towards the poor.

But if this duty translates into rights on behalf of some to receive welfare payments then with those rights must surely come responsibilities.

The great failing of the modern welfare state was the stripping away of these responsibilities which helped to foster inactivity and long-term dependency.

Benefit payments alone do not provide a pathway out of poverty. That is why our welfare system should provide the full range of support, guidance and incentives that gives people the opportunity to improve their circumstances and return to the freedom of an independent life.

Restoring the value of work, and increasing the incentive to work

Secondly, the key to encouraging people to leave benefit dependency and return to the job market is to restore the value of work in society and that means changing the equation so that there is always a financial incentive to work compared to the alternative of benefits.

That is why, as a Government, we have introduced a cap on benefits so that no household can receive more in welfare payments than the average working family earns through employment.

In Britain, we are already seeing thousands of those whose benefits have been capped returning to the labour market and taking up jobs.

Furthermore, the introduction of Universal Credit will improve work incentives as financial support will be reduced at a steady rate, taking actual earnings into account at the time they are received. If a claimant is working part time, they may continue to receive some payment. If their hours then increase, their Universal Credit payment will reduce, but they will keep more of their earnings and will always be financially better off in work.

The intention is that any work pays, in particular, low-hours work.

Reducing the complexity of the current system and removing the distinction between in-work and out-of-work support, will make clear the potential gains to work and reduce the risks associated with moves into employment.

At the same time we are helping to put money back into the pockets of working people by raising the Income Tax Personal Allowance to £10,000.

This will benefit 1.2 million workers in Wales and take 130,000 out of income tax altogether – many of whom are on the lowest wages.

Taken together with a strong minimum wage, which we want to see increased significantly, these measures represent a very powerful set of tools to draw people back into the workforce by changing the financial incentives to work.

I happen to believe that there are very, very few people who do not to work.

As people we are hard-wired to be productive and make an economic and social contribution.

But the previous welfare system far too often allowed those instincts to become blunted, and the drive to provide for oneself became weakened in a society where work didn’t always pay.

Work shapes us as people, it provides security for our families and it inspires our children to follow in our footsteps – and it is right that work should be at the heart of our efforts to tackle poverty.

– A benefits system which reflects the realities of modern labour market

Thirdly, it is imperative that our benefits system is reshaped to reflect the realities of the modern labour market.

We need a system that can respond to the modern and flexible labour market where an increasing number of people are, by choice or necessity, working part-time or in multiple low-hours jobs.

The previous welfare system shut out those who wanted to return to work by presenting a seemingly binary choice between full-time work and unemployment.

For many of the longest term unemployed, facing difficult barriers to work, returning straight back to full-time employment will present a huge and in some cases impossible challenge.

We need a welfare system that encourages and supports them in taking their first steps back into work and building up their hours as they acquire confidence and skills.

That is why Universal Credit is a dynamic system which is designed to be flexible to cope with the transition back into full-time work. It gives job-seekers the flexibility to take on part-time, short-term or alternative work patterns, depending on what is appropriate for their individual needs.

Moving the welfare system to reflect more the realities of the modern labour market also means changing the nature of the interaction between the claimant and the advisers who will support that person as they receive benefits. Claimants now receive a more targeted and individualised service than ever before.

I have seen firsthand some of the remarkable changes that have taken place in the design and approach within JobCentre Plus in Wales to reflect this. Walking into JobCentre Plus in Newport city centre, for example, you will see a busy open-plan dynamic working environment where not only the staff are busy at work but claimants too, working on job searches, skills workshops, CV writing; and that’s exactly as it should be. Claimants working hard to find work.

And thanks to these changes and the digital revolution that we are bringing to the benefits system, claimants will no longer be the passive recipients of handouts, but will be firmly in the driving seat, taking control of their own prospects.

– welfare reform is about bridging the gulf that has allowed to emerge between those dependent on benefits and those in work

The previous system fostered and allowed a gulf to open up between those who are dependent on benefits and those who are in work – where people who have become dependent on benefits no longer have to live with the same range of practical life choices that people in work do. For those who have been dependent on benefits the longest, that gulf is a very wide one indeed.

And so the fourth principle I would highlight is the need to ensure there is no gap between the choices that those in work have to make and those that made by people receiving benefits – and in so doing we are restoring fairness back to the benefits system.

Practical choices, for example, over what type and size of property they will find affordable:

The changes to housing benefit for social tenants, bringing it into line with Labour’s changes to housing benefit for tenants of private landlords, means that all tenants on benefits will now have to make the same types of decisions as people in work have to about what size property is right for them at this point in their lives.

Other basic practical life issues involve managing money on a daily, weekly and monthly basis – including the timely payment of rent.

People in work have to do this. How on earth did we arrive at a system of housing benefit that removes much of that basis financial housekeeping from people on benefits and so deskill them further?

And so, in the face of all the criticism we have seen from housing associations in Wales and others, I absolutely defend the principle of Universal Credit being paid to the recipient and not direct to landlords.

Yes, we need to build in safeguards – and we are – and yes we need to ensure that those with specific and challenging circumstances and conditions still have the option of having their housing related benefit paid straight to their landlord.

But the starting point must be an expectation that the majority of people on benefits can, and should be expected to, manage their own household finances.

Wales a beacon of social mobility

I am incredibly fortunate as a Wales Office Minister that I am able to get and about meeting many of the people at the cutting edge of welfare reform in Wales –

– the superb teams of advisers in JobCentre Plus in places like Newport and Aberdare;

– the innovative teams delivering the Work Programme in places like the old Burberry factory in Treorchy,

– and inspirational an historic organisations like the Merthyr Tydfil Institute for the Blind which is delivering the Workstep programme to people with a whole range of disabilities.

And people here will tell you there are no magic wands or silver bullets when it comes to tackling worklessness in some of our most deprived communities.

And no-one is pretending there are.

But you will also hear very few people running to the barricades to defend a welfare system which too often locked in that worklessness and created dependency.

My own approach to welfare reform is also shaped by the experience of seeing a single mother raise three boys in council housing in West Wales thirty years ago:

– absolutely dependent on the welfare system, and the kindness and generosity of others, to keep her family’s heads above water; having to make all those horrible decisions about what food and clothing was affordable;

– thankful for good quality free school meals and a good local bus service for days out on the Pembrokeshire coast.

But those circumstances were not fixed; and, initially, taking advantage of the rule that allowed her to work a few hours each week without the benefits being withdrawn, she got a small job filing at a local office. Gradually she increased her hours even to the point eventually when her benefit was being withdrawn pound per pound, but her skills and self-confidence were improving all the time.

Eventually, when her sons were in their teens, she was able to get a full-time job, and move off benefits completely. Shortly after, she was able to afford driving lessons and buy her first car which expanded her work options even more.

Things were still very tight, but how far she had come on that journey from personal crisis and breakdown to economic independence!

And it should be a central feature of our welfare state that this type of journey – that my own mother made – should be encouraged and incentivised as far as possible.

And that is exactly what our welfare reforms seek to achieve.

One of the great strengths of Welsh society in the past was the belief – written deep in the hearts of so many men and women – that hard work and education was the route out of poverty.

And so Wales became a beacon of social mobility.

The welfare system we are reforming has too often acted as a brake on that social mobility, not providing a pathway out of poverty.

Our shared vision, whether as politicians or practitioners, must surely be for Wales to become once again that beacon of social mobility:

– a place where it does not matter what street you grew up in, whether in social housing or private;

– where it does not matter what school you went to;

– or who your father or mother were, or what jobs they may or may not have done;

– a place where hard work, education and a strong community provide pathways of opportunity so that everyone can achieve their potential to the best of their ability.

And this is why welfare reform is much, much bigger than just a financial or economic issue.

It’s actually about what kind of society we want to live in; and our children after us.

And it’s why I am determined that our nation of Wales should see the full benefits of welfare reform in the months and years ahead.

Wales needs welfare reform.