Liz Saville Roberts – 2022 Speech on Achieving Economic Growth

The speech made by Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meironnydd, in the House of Commons on 18 May 2022.

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) and his broad critique of the Queen’s Speech.

Today’s inflation figures add to mounting evidence of UK stagflation. The Conservatives’ record is of 12 years of failure to create an economy that delivers wellbeing for people across the United Kingdom—let us remember that they have been responsible for the economy for 12 years. From the banking crisis to the present day, the Conservative party has sought out every opportunity to impose austerity and to bring about a hard Brexit of its own making. Those have combined to aggravate the UK’s cost of living crisis. Yes, there have been other causes, which have been beyond our control, and possibly beyond any Government’s control, but these are ideological choices that will go down in history as Tory creations. Out of ideas other than to centralise powers that they do not possess and blame what they do not know, the Conservatives sit on their hands as the economy for which they are responsible fails to work for households and businesses across the UK.

The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill does nothing to correct past mistakes or deliver for the future. The Welsh Government have stated that this Government’s post-Brexit funding arrangement for Wales falls short by £772 million of structural funds alone for the period 2021 to 2025. That is not only

“an assault on Welsh devolution”—

not my words, but the words of Labour’s Minister for Economy—but a broken election promise. More broadly, sources including Bloomberg illustrate a failure to maintain current standards, let alone deliver any improvement, across most of the UK and especially across Wales.

That is not what was promised on page 15 of the 2019 Welsh Conservatives manifesto, which said that

“no part of the UK loses out from the withdrawal of EU funding”.

It is certainly not what was promised on page 29, which said that

“Wales will not lose any powers or funding as a result of our exit from the EU.”

Three years into this Parliament and six years on from Brexit, this Government cannot articulate or deliver any clear benefits to Wales. We need an honest funding settlement, devolved engagement and a focus on delivery rather than glossy announcements.

Other elements of the Queen’s Speech also give pause for thought. Rather than correcting Wales’s underfunding of more than £5 billion from HS2, it gives us—wait for it—Great British Railways. Rather than working with Transport for Wales, our publicly owned transport body, it seems that Westminster’s solution to historical underfunding is to override our solution while not correcting the underlying problems that need fixing. Put bluntly, this Government’s approach to a difficult problem is to stick a Union Jack on it and sing a song of praise to past glories. Nostalgia does not an economy make.

Plaid Cymru drove the creation of the Development Bank of Wales, yet its future, and how the new UK infrastructure bank will work with rather than over the devolved institutions, is unclear. We do not know how what we are operating for ourselves to improve the economy of Wales will align with what is being done in Westminster. That is not good government.

Alison Thewliss

The right hon. Lady makes an excellent point. The Scottish National Investment Bank is already up and running, but there is nothing from the Government on how that will interact with their plans either.

Liz Saville Roberts

Exactly. The lack of clarity and working together does not help anybody’s economy.

This Queen’s Speech does nothing for the basics of the Welsh economy or to address the ongoing cost of living crisis. I reiterate Plaid Cymru’s call for an emergency Budget and measures including a windfall tax, increased energy bill support and the expansion of the rural fuel duty relief scheme for Wales.

Net zero is obviously in the Queen’s Speech but, alas, missed opportunities include the devolution of the Crown Estate and the establishment of a Welsh national energy company to support local renewable generation and fix grid capacity—measures, by the way, that Plaid Cymru has agreed with Labour in Wales through our co-operation agreement. It is good to see politicians working together in the common interest of all the people in all our communities, rather than in conflict. I ask the Government to address the shortage of grid capacity somehow, because without further grid capacity in many areas of Wales we cannot grow our own renewable supplies and make the best of that opportunity.

Westminster’s refusal to countenance legitimate devolved proposals to boost our economy scorns our democratic voice. It emphasises how, until we have full powers over our future, we will always be treated as second best, simultaneously mocked for seeking handouts and told to be contented with handouts.

I hope the Chancellor will address the immediate crisis with an emergency Budget, or whatever he chooses to call it, including measures such as a reformed SME tax relief in Wales to boost productivity as a first step. I also hope the UK Government’s vaunted Great British Nuclear will work with and learn from Wales’s existing Cwmni Egino, which is already at work to develop the nuclear licensed site of Trawsfynydd.

Where there is a problem, it seems the UK Government’s answer is to cobble together a UK-branded institution to wallpaper over the self-perpetuating vortex effect of research funding, public investment and targeted tax relief that keeps the south-east of England within the pale of economic privilege and the rest of England’s regions, Northern Ireland and the nations of Scotland and Wales, as always, beyond it.