Fairness and Equality Speech 11/2/14

Hywel Dda, a native of the west of my country, is one of the most esteemed early kings of Wales. His main historical contribution was that he codified early Welsh law. It is no coincidence that the building that houses National Assembly Members, the Welsh national Parliament, Ty Hywel, is named after him. His name is translated into English as “Hywel the Good”. He is so known because his laws were visionary, based on compassion rather than punishment, and were seen as just. In particular, early Welsh law clearly recognised the contribution of women to society, offering clear legal protections and status in society.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I once prepared a thesis on Hywel Dda. Did my hon. Friend know that back in 998 there were laws in Wales allowing women to own property? Unfortunately, our friends in England only caught up in 1882.

Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He makes my point for me, and his knowledge on these matters is unsurpassed.

In 928, Hywel made a pilgrimage to Rome. On his return, he held a legal conference in my home country of Carmarthenshire, at Ty Gwyn ar Daf, his residence near Whitland on the Pembrokeshire borders, which led to the legal system practised in Wales before our country was regrettably conquered. His laws meant that those higher up the social spectrum paid more for their crimes—a reverse of the post-2008 financial crash situation in the UK, where the financial elite have got off scot free while the most disadvantaged in society are paying the price through the obliteration of the public services and support they depend on. The basic founding principle of the Hywel Dda laws was equality. Following the death of the head of a family, the estate was distributed equally between all male siblings, rather than passing under the sole control of the eldest, as under the English system.

My reason for taking the House on this historical journey through mediaeval Wales is to make the case that the Welsh political tradition, even going back more than 1,000 years, has been based on the principles of equality and fairness. Those principles were essential elements to the sort of society that Welsh political rulers wanted to build and enshrine in law. Owain Glyndwr was the last ruler of an independent Wales and the seventh most important person of the last millennium, according to a Times poll in 1999. He heralded the return to the laws of Hywel Dda as the founding principle of his independent Wales at the beginning of the 15th century.

Robert Owen, another great Welshman from the county of Powys, is recognised throughout the world as one of the founding pioneers of socialism. In the early

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19th century, he contributed to the work of a Committee of this House that was investigating the Poor Law. He called for a society of complete equality, and set about trying to create one with the communities that he had established.

Wales was, of course, the incubator of the industrial revolution, and the working-class uprisings of Merthyr in 1831 and the Chartists later in the same decade were driven by that Welsh aspiration for a more equal society, in which the working classes had a fair share of the proceeds of wealth generated by their toil. As the central element of his proclamation “The Red Dragon and the Red Flag”, Keir Hardie, a proud Scotsman who became the first-ever Independent Labour party Member of Parliament, declared clearly—probably after having given up faith in this place—that the way in which to create a more fair and equal society in Wales was to advance the cause of Welsh home rule.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): There are many inequalities in present-day society, but one of the biggest burdens at present is borne by women. The Government have made tax adjustments of £14 billion, and £11 billion of that has been taken from women. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that women are the hardest hit, whether we are talking about crèche charges or about nursery charges?

Jonathan Edwards: I do not disagree with that at all. Some of my colleagues may wish later to expand on what the hon. Gentleman has said

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): My hon. Friend has made an excellent start to his speech. I do not know whether he has had an opportunity to read the first report from the Living Wage Commission, which was published yesterday. It contains a number of key points which I think are important in the context of the debate. It states that 6.7 million of the 13 million people in poverty in the UK are in a family where someone works, that 5.24 million workers in Britain—equal to 21% of the work force—are paid less than the living wage, that housing costs have tripled in the last 15 years, that 2.9 million people classed as over-indebted have a household income of less than £15,000 a year, and that low-paid workers are increasingly turning to support in order to get by. That is the context of governance in the United Kingdom at the present time. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Westminster is failing not just the people of Scotland and Wales, but those in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that valuable contribution. I intend to develop some of those themes later in my speech.

What a pity that the Labour party is so completely removed from the vision of Keir Hardie today. Last Wednesday, during a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee, the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), made one of the most depressing speeches that I have heard since being elected to serve the people of Carmarthenshire. He returned the Labour party to the dark days of the 1970s, when it was clearly the most anti-devolution party in Wales. His speech was Kinnock-esque, and I certainly do not mean that as a compliment.

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Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. Was that not made all the worse by the fact that until then there had been a consensus among all four political parties in Wales about the inevitability of the movement towards devolution, which was torpedoed by those on the Labour party’s Front Bench last week?

Jonathan Edwards: The speech made by the hon. Member for Pontypridd was a truly staggering intervention in the Silk commission debate, not least because only a year or so earlier, the very same Member and his colleagues voted in favour of the very same proposals for Scotland, which were in the Bill that became the Scotland Act 2012. I find it staggering that they now believe that those measures, if applied to Wales, would completely deconstruct the United Kingdom.

I could travel much further on my historical journey, but I shall end it now by giving a mention to my political hero, D.J. Davies.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): The House would very much like the hon. Gentleman to continue his history lesson. It was being much enjoyed.

Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful for that observation from such a distinguished Member. I do not want to bore the House too much, but I want to give a mention to D.J. Davies, who is my political hero, and who was born in the same industrial valley as me, the Amman valley. In particular, I want to mention his masterpiece, “The Economics of Welsh Self-Government”, published in 1931. In that book, he made the case that the crusade for social justice for working people and the political empowerment for Wales—my country—were intrinsically intertwined. That position continues to be central to the position of my party, and to my own personal political beliefs.

The national movements in these isles and the crusade to tackle inequalities in our communities are one and the same. In ignoring the founding principles of the Welsh, Scottish and Irish political traditions—and in its inability to tackle the gaping inequalities that exist in both individual and geographical terms—the Westminster élite is directly undermining the case for a United Kingdom, and furthering the aims of national freedom in Wales and Scotland. I should add that the Irish proclamation of independence contains an explicit commitment to equality.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s speech, and I am sure that he is absolutely sincere, but I am baffled by his statement that the Scottish nationalists believe in reducing inequality at a time when they want to slash corporation tax for big business. Will he explain how the two fit together?

Jonathan Edwards: I do not want to become too involved in the Scottish independence debate. I have colleagues who are better qualified to do that. I will say, however, that the case for the creation of a more equal society is based on the generation of prosperity, and that the job-creating levers resulting from fiscal devolution would clearly allow the Welsh and Scottish Governments to achieve that aim.

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In my eyes, the case for the creation of that more equal society is crystal clear, and should be the overriding priority of our politics. Equality improves the well-being of citizens, reduces social tensions, and creates a fairer and more democratic society. Democracy, in its wider sense, is about far more than voting; it is about creating a fully participatory society in which everyone has an opportunity to contribute.

Is it any wonder that voting levels are so disgracefully low? Why would those at the bottom of the pile have any interest in participating in electoral events when the main protagonists have a common vision of preserving the status of the élites that currently rule? The Huffington Post reports today that a generation of Londoners have given up all hope of owning their own homes. I certainly felt like that in my twenties, when I had a relatively well-paid job but house prices were rocketing out of control. I can assure Members that that situation is completely demoralising. It is no wonder that young people in particular feel completely disfranchised: their overriding feeling is that the world is passing them by.

Respected academics and commentators have declared that the UK is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world, and that, given current trends, it could even end up being the most unequal. It is certainly the most unequal in terms of individual and geographical disparity anywhere in the European Union, according to last year’s EUROSTAT figures.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): The hon. Gentleman mentioned prosperity a few moments ago. Having have looked carefully at the motion, I am disappointed to see nothing about skills, nothing about productivity, and nothing about the creation of high-value-added businesses. Is the hon. Gentleman not encouraged by the creation of university technical colleges, and by the millions of apprenticeship starts that will give our young people the skills that will enable them to obtain high-paid jobs?

Jonathan Edwards: Plaid Cymru has certainly prioritised apprenticeships in Wales. We struck a budget deal with the Welsh Government to secure more of them.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The aim of the motion is to ensure that a commission is established to investigate inequality and poverty. The commission would deal with the details to which the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) has referred, and I hope that he will support the motion on that basis.

Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful to my colleague for making a very valid point on my behalf.

I was talking about the inequality that exists in the United Kingdom. Why is this so, how is it so, and why has it been allowed to happen under successive Labour and Tory Governments? I am sure that many Members will be able to cite numerous facts and figures that amply demonstrate the inequality and lack of fairness that exist in the UK; indeed, we have already heard several interventions to that effect.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I may not agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says today, but I can tell him that in September 2013 the

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average Northern Ireland household was surviving on discretionary income of £60 a week, while average discretionary income in the United Kingdom was £157 a week. There is clearly a big discrepancy throughout the UK. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the reasons why devolution is so important is that it can lead to local solutions, and can enable local help to benefit the citizens of the devolved countries?

Jonathan Edwards: In that regard, the Democratic Unionist party and Plaid Cymru share a common vision, in that we need to empower our respective Governments to deal with the economic and social challenges that our people face.

I want to set out how and why this inequality has been allowed to take a grip and, indeed, been actively pursued by the powers that be. I will also set out how that can be reversed, and how places such as Wales can become more prosperous and egalitarian societies. We have seen the over-concentration of power, status and influence in a narrow and unrepresentative financial elite over the past three decades. That has allowed greed, avarice and hubris to take hold among the elite’s own ranks, while poverty, destitution and exclusion have risen among much of the rest of society.

The uneven economic development of the UK and the concentration of so much wealth and power around London and the south-east distort much of the UK’s public life. They influence and shape many of the political, media and business perceptions about what is good for the entire UK, and lead to geographical polarisation and a super-concentration by Westminster politicians on certain sectors of the population whose opinion is seen as worth courting and listening to.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): I am listening with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he think that that concentration of power and authority in London and certain other parts of the country was a natural change that occurred as a result of global changes and that the Government did nothing to mitigate it, or does he think that it was a result of active Government policies over the past three decades?

Jonathan Edwards: I shall endeavour to answer that very valid question in my speech.

The electoral system plays a large part in creating the distortion. Using a small number of so-called swing seats, predominantly in more affluent areas, political strategists base their politics on the philosophy of triangulation, ignoring those on the periphery. Anyone interested in changing the course of Westminster politics should embrace the cause of a more proportional electoral system, which would immediately lead to a wider realignment. It is no wonder that the Tories would die in a ditch rather than reform the first-past-the-post system. More disappointing is the position of some on the Opposition Benches, who would torpedo any such reform. The only explanation I can offer is that the self-interest of super-safe majorities and a job for life trump the desire to achieve worthy political objectives such as a fairer society.

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Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman’s assertion that a change in the voting system would do away with jobs for life is not borne out by the way in which things have worked out in practice. In Scotland, for example, there is concern that someone can go from being a list MSP to a constituency MSP then back to being a list MSP without ever feeling that their job is unsafe. Also, people can be in a similar position in local government for a long time. So doing away with jobs for life is not inherent in getting rid of first past the post.

Jonathan Edwards: The answer to that is to have openness rather than party-controlled lists. I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not share my ambition for wider political realignment in the United Kingdom, and that she prefers a system in which priority is always given to the affluent areas in the south-east of England.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that Northern Ireland has had a system of proportional representation for about 40 years. Does he agree that a PR electoral system provides opportunities that would not otherwise exist for minorities to be represented?

Jonathan Edwards: I believe that the House of Commons would be far better if we had such a system, rather than a system that bases its politics on preserving the power of two political parties.

Economic development has become radically distorted as inequality has risen. My constituency predecessor pointed out last year in an economic study entitled “Offa’s Gap” that the Welsh economy had been growing more slowly in relation to its historical trend growth and to that of the UK economy for the past two decades. He and Plaid Cymru’s other noted economics adviser, Eurfyl ap Gwilym, concluded that Wales needed the kind of defined economic and export development strategy that is sadly lacking under the current Labour Welsh Government. Similarly, the economic policies of the current Westminster Government are woefully inadequate and ignore the requirements of my country.

Mr MacNeil: Given the lag in growth in the Welsh economy, is it not all the more perplexing that the Government in Cardiff—who must know far more about the situation there than I do—are choosing not to take the powers to do anything about it? It is like a man on a ship that is heading for the rocks refusing to put his hand on the tiller and instead letting it carry on merrily towards the rocks. It is a scandal that Labour has chosen that route.

Jonathan Edwards: The people of Wales might want to ask themselves what is behind that decision. Are the Welsh Government afraid of their own ability to use those powers effectively, or do they have a vested interest in our communities remaining poor and disadvantaged?

The legacy of de-industrialisation in places such as Wales is well known. Levels of poverty, disability, and ill health are high. There is a lack of economic opportunities, and the flight of the many young ambitious people understandably wanting to make something of themselves is invariably known as the brain drain. That creates a vicious circle of its own. A Centre for Cities report at

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the end of last month noted that 80% of private sector job growth since 2010 was in London, that one in three young people now move here for work, and that power should ultimately be devolved in order to allow greater freedom for areas outside London to develop.

Historically, vast areas of the British state have been economically depressed, with most political efforts concentrated on the south-east. Today, GDP per person in inner London is almost 10 times that of many parts of Wales, including the communities I represent. Many areas of northern England are in the same boat as Wales. Great inequalities exist within London itself, and we must not forget that challenge, but there is an overwhelming concentration of wealth in that region—70% higher than the UK average. It is the current political structures and policy priorities of the Labour-Tory tag team that have allowed this to happen.

One would hope that when one part of the state is the richest in the European Union and others are the poorest, there would be a clarion call for action. Alas, the Westminster elite seem oblivious to the matter, pursuing the same old failed policies of the past. Indeed, who could forget Lord Mandelson, the man who so epitomised Labour in office, saying that he was

“intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”?

It is no wonder that wealth inequalities gathered pace under the last Labour Government. Incredibly, west Wales and the valleys now find themselves below parts of Bulgaria and Romania in the EU wealth league.

There are many indicators of rising inequality, besides individual and geographical disparity. Over the past decade, the number of households in fuel poverty in Wales has risen from around 140,000 to 386,000 at the last count in 2012. That is 30% of the Welsh total. I strongly suspect that the total will have risen since then, given the combination of oil price inflation and a real-terms reduction in wages.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): The hon. Gentleman is making a compelling case. I wonder whether he is aware of the new research by the High Pay Centre, which finds that workplaces with big pay gaps between the highest and lowest paid suffer from far more industrial disputes, more sickness and higher staff turnover than those with more equitable pay differentials. Does he recognise that, as well as addressing levels of pay, we need to reduce pay ratios and advocate concrete steps towards ensuring that the maximum wage in any organisation is no more than, say, 10 times the minimum wage in that same organisation?

Jonathan Edwards: I fully concur with my hon. Friend. One thing that is often not mentioned is the cost of inequality, particularly the health costs. If the Government pursued a policy of creating a more equal society, the Treasury would benefit from the reduction in expenditure on health care.

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): The hon. Gentleman mentioned fuel poverty. Does he agree that it is much worse in areas that are off the gas grid? That particularly affects Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as rural parts of England. Does he also agree that we need a comprehensive strategy to extend the gas grid so that more people can benefit from heating their homes with gas?

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Jonathan Edwards: My constituency is largely off the gas grid, despite being in a mining valley and containing some large urban areas. The coal miners campaigned against having the gas grid there, because they wanted to use coal. The impacts that the hon. Gentleman mentioned are clear. I can speak from personal experience, having moved from an area where gas was my main form of heating and gone back to live in my home community, which is off the gas grid. The difference is staggering, and quite eye-watering. The policies that have been put forward by the other parties completely neglect this huge problem affecting rural areas.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Given the interest of the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) in areas that are off the gas grid, does the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) think he should support our initiatives on giving pensioners their winter fuel allowance at an earlier date and ensuring that the energy company obligation extends to off-grid gas boilers, which is not the case currently?

Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful for that intervention, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work he has done on this issue. He has twice presented Bills to pursue that common-sense proposal, and when it comes before the House again I intend to be here to support him—I hope that the hon. Member for Wealden will be, too.

Mr Dodds: May I endorse the point made by the hon. Member for Wealden, because Northern Ireland is dependent to a high degree on home heating oil—off-grid energy supply—with some 70% of our households using it. Our household bills are, on average, way beyond the highest bills in the rest of the UK. It is important that the issue is highlighted and something is done to address the situation of those who are off grid.

Jonathan Edwards: The right hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point. He will be aware of the lack of competition in the market, where there are perhaps five or six suppliers with more or less mirrored pricing policies. The Government should examine that, and let us hope they remedy the situation affecting those individuals who are off the gas grid.

Wales is a country rich in natural resources, and it is a net exporter of electricity. No one in an energy-rich country such as mine should have to live in fuel poverty, yet 30% of the people in my country do. The energy sector was privatised by the Tories and the current market was set up by Labour in 2002, allowing the previous regional monopolies to merge into the big six. It is symbolic of the profiteering, privatisation and corporate greed that has undermined poorer areas and poorer people under Labour and Tory misrule.

Wales is a colonial economy, where our natural capital is extracted for no or little economic and social benefit to our people. No wonder the Westminster elite oppose empowering the Welsh Government by giving them control over our natural assets. Last week, the shadow Environment Secretary made an incredible intervention in the Scottish independence debate when she said that if Scotland votes yes, the remnants of the UK might stop importing Scottish electricity if Labour were in power and look to other markets for supply. That one

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intervention summarises the Westminster elite and how they view Wales and Scotland. No wonder that on social media these sort of “Project Fear” scare stories have earned the hashtag “know your place”. I would wager that my friends in the yes campaign in Scotland are delighted at such ill-judged interventions.

Mr Llwyd: I am interested in what my hon. Friend says about that intervention last week. Does he think that if Wales were to follow our friends in Scotland, England might stop taking its water?

Jonathan Edwards: That is a very useful intervention, and I think the answer depends on the progress on the desalination plants. I am following the debate in Scotland with great interest, because we will be having the same debate in Wales within the next couple of decades and we will have the “Project Fear” manifesto off the bookshelf ready to read.

Mr MacNeil: I just want to tell the hon. Gentleman that the “Project Fear” manual has a short lifespan. It is almost as Robert Burns said, in that it is a snowflake in a river:

“A moment white—then melts for ever”.

The fears fall apart on a daily basis; they last only for about 48 hours, but that does not stop them being reheated.

Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful for those insightful remarks. In Scotland, we are seeing the same stories as were used in other parts of the British empire when they endeavoured to seek their political independence. That approach will fail in Scotland and it will fail in Wales when our turn comes.

By the end of Labour’s time in office, child poverty had increased, with 32% of children in Wales living in poverty, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The number fell in 2012, but only because wages had fallen across the board. That technicality in the way child poverty is calculated ignores the fact that falling wages mean even less resources with which to feed hungry young mouths. The recent rapid rise of food banks is yet another symptom of growing inequality. The Labour Welsh Government had set the target of eradicating child poverty by 2020, but they cannot and will never achieve that if they do not stand up for Wales. It cannot be achieved while their masters in London refuse to confront the widening gulf in equality that has been emerging over the past 30 years and even accelerated under their watch.

Sheila Gilmore: Constantly saying that there is no difference between the Labour Governments and the Conservative Government is not helpful. Does the hon. Gentleman have no memory of the reduction in pensioner poverty and the reductions in child poverty achieved under the Labour Government? Do those things not matter in the story that he wants to tell?

Jonathan Edwards: As the former head of policy for Citizens Advice in Wales, I have some expertise in this matter; the Labour party achieved its reduction in the child poverty figures by changing the way in which the statistics were calculated, thus removing 1 million children from child poverty overnight.

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Last summer, the TUC produced a report that concluded that workers’ pay had fallen by 8% in real terms between 2007 and 2012 in Wales—the sharpest fall in any of the nations and regions of the UK. That is the level of the drop in living standards that Labour and the Tories have presided over. The UK is badly damaged and corroded, if not completely broken. The old pillars of the British establishment—banking, media and politics—have crumbled one by one, leaving an unrestrained crony capitalism which is not about good business or genuine wealth creation, but about monopoly, oligopoly and corporate self-interest.

Angus Robertson: My hon. Friend is right to point out that litany of failure, but is it not right that in a debate such as this we should be able to compare and contrast the reality here with that elsewhere? Has he had an opportunity to look at the world happiness report, an annual publication taking into account GDP, life expectancy and social support internationally? It showed that eight of the top 10 countries are small European independent states. What makes them so successful while the UK fails so dramatically for people across its nations and regions?

Jonathan Edwards: It comes down to the fact that Governments of small countries are far closer to the aspirations and requirements of their people, whereas larger states find that far more difficult to achieve, especially where the state is very centralised, as ours is in the United Kingdom, with power heavily concentrated in Westminster.

Symptoms of what I am describing include the privatisation of the health service in England—the current Tory policy of building on the layers laid down by Labour, with its introduction of foundation hospitals and use of the private finance initiative. The privatisation of services and assets has carried on unabated. For example, Labour’s plan to privatise Royal Mail has been carried out by the Tories and Lib Dems during this Parliament. Is it any wonder that Scotland is now beginning to believe that it can do things better and differently, or that the people of Wales increasingly demand that we have more powers to control our lives and better reflect our political values?

The most detailed research since devolution began was undertaken by the Silk commission, which has been tasked with pathfinding the next steps in the Welsh devolution journey. The findings of that detailed research are extremely encouraging: 62% want more powers for Wales, with only a paltry 20% against—that reflects all the geographical areas of my country; 80% believe that the National Assembly defends Welsh interests better than Westminster; 80% want responsibility for energy policy to be in Wales; 63% want powers over policing; 58% want powers over broadcasting; and there was also a clear majority for devolving social protection—or at least its administration, as is the case in Northern Ireland, which has enabled its Government to stop the implementation of the bedroom tax. However, only 20% support devolution of defence and foreign affairs, so clearly there is a bit of work to do to progress those two areas in my country.

In many areas of the UK, it is taken for granted that the Tory party long ago discarded any pretensions to a one-nation paternalist conservatism that sought to mould

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itself around social democratic values. Instead it embraced Thatcherism and its resultant rise in economic inequality. Of greater concern, however, is the complete dereliction of duty by Labour in its failure and unwillingness to deal with rising inequality. Westminster is now synonymous with inequality from its representation to its policies.

Following the 2010 Westminster election and the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crash, a new UK coalition Government pledged to rebalance the economy of the British state by sector and on a geographical basis. Who can forget the Chancellor’s triumphant claim, “We’re all in this together”? He told us that he was creating an economy

“carried aloft by the march of the makers.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]

What is more worrying is the Government’s admission that this is failing. The Business Secretary now fully admits that London

“is a giant suction machine draining the life out of the rest of the country.”

Yet the Government do precious little to rectify that. Only last month the Financial Times reported that the wealth gap between London and the nations and regions is set to widen. A professor at the London School of Economics has noted that London is the

“dark star of the economy, inexorably sucking in resources, people and energy.”

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): If the hon. Gentleman looks at the most recent economic data for gross value added growth in Wales and across the UK, he will see that growth in Wales is rebounding stronger than the UK average. It is closing the gap rather than, as he purports, increasing it.

Jonathan Edwards: We welcome the fact that Wales has moved up. None the less, we are still at the bottom of the wealth league. West Wales, the area that both the Minister and I represent, fell by 4%. That is a record of failure. It says something about the Welsh Government’s policies as well—I am not just slinging my sticks at my friend on the Government Benches.

Today, Aditya Chakrabortty’s article in the Guardian highlights how public money and private wealth are being hoovered up by London. He notes that last year, the Institute for Public Policy Research published research that showed that the transport spending system is broken. Transport spending is £2,731 per head in London, compared with £5 per head in the north-east of England. In Wales, we receive only 0.7% of the transport infrastructure spend, yet we represent 5% of the population. There is still not a single mile of electrified track in Wales, which puts us on a par with the likes of Albania—so much for Labour standing up for Wales during 13 years in power. We welcome the announcement by this Government that they will electrify the line to Swansea. However, the pressing issue for us is whether we will get our fair share from the vast expenditure on High Speed 2, which the Government are intent on pursuing. As everyone has noted, that expenditure on HS2 will hoover up all transport infrastructure spending for generations to come. Given that it is an England-only railway—the last time I looked on a map, Manchester, York and Birmingham were all in England—Wales deserves at least 5% of that expenditure.

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After decades of increasing wealth inequality under successive Westminster Administrations, it was hoped that finally there would be a change of direction. Instead, what we have seen is ideological austerity and ultra-loose monetary policy, which has seen redistribution in reverse. Amazingly, Labour has signed up to the same fiscal strategy if it forms the next UK Government. It is an incredible strategic decision that overrides all others, but it has barely been mentioned in dispatches by a London-centric media that views it as par for the course.

Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, believes that Wales is best served when we are free to decide our future and set our own course. That is why it is so important that the job-creation and economy-boosting financial powers recommended by the UK Commission on Devolution in Wales are implemented as soon as possible; they are a bare minimum. However, on their own they are unlikely to reverse the decades of inverted wealth distribution. For as long as Wales continues to be a part of the UK and Plaid Cymru MPs are in this place, we will seek to reform it. An economic fairness Act would force the UK Government—whoever they were—to implement a range of measures to ensure that more economic and job opportunities are created outside the south-east of England with statutory obligations to tackle individual inequality.

Such an Act would concentrate minds on a genuine rebalancing of the economy, turning us away from financial services and banking towards areas such as manufacturing and engineering. It would allow for measures such as prioritising poorer areas for infrastructure spending and investment, bringing jobs and growth. Legislation based on the Communities Reinvestment Act in the US would be included to ensure that the private banking sector operates fairly in terms of which geographical areas it prioritises for lending. I need not remind the House of the enormous problems that Welsh businesses have faced as a result of banks’ activities since the crash. It is a complete disgrace that in 2008 £1.4 trillion of taxpayers’ money—100% of the country’s wealth—was put into loans, grants and guarantees and used to pull up the banking sector.

In Wales, a national public development bank should be set up to ensure businesses in our country are able to access finance to grow and develop. The devolved Government would be empowered with the job creation levers to incentivise economic development.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman explain how, with a tax take from people living in Wales being some £9 billion short of tax expenditure, an independent Wales would put right that hole in the economy?

Jonathan Edwards: I have been totally clear in my comments about the constitutional journey of my country: we are not in a position to fight for independence at this very moment, which is why Wales needs the economic powers to build up its economy to be in a position to do so. We are in a different situation to Scotland. We will not get anywhere if we continue with the policies of the Labour party, which aims to keep economic control in London and to keep our communities impoverished. It is in its vested interest to do so, which is why it is opposed to all the measures being put forward by the Silk commission.


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Mr MacNeil: People who say that Wales’ tax take is not equivalent to its expenditure are quite short-sighted. They fail to realise that they are living in the United Kingdom, the tax take of which has not matched expenditure since 2001, and is not likely to do so until 2018. This is a UK that records a deficit year after year, and has a debt that grows year after year.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Obviously, Mr MacNeil will want to catch my eye to make his speech. I would not like him to use it all up now, so shorter interventions.

Jonathan Edwards: The point that is often forgotten is that despite the fact that London is one of the richest parts of the European Union and that communities such as mine in Carmarthenshire are at the bottom of the European wealth league, public expenditure per head is higher in London than it is in Wales—that is until very recent figures, which showed that Welsh spending had caught up. It is an incredible situation. I could not make this up.

The way in which monetary policy is formulated is also in severe need of reform. The week before last, I tabled an early-day motion calling for the Bank of England, or the Sterling Central Bank as it should be renamed, to be reformed better to take into account the economies of the UK when formulating monetary policy. The Governor should appear for scrutiny before the relevant Committees of the devolved legislatures, and meet with the devolved Governments, just as he has to with the Chancellor and the relevant Select Committees in Westminster.

In addition, the four external members of the Monetary Policy Committee should be nominated by the four nations, rather than hand-picked by the Chancellor of the day from the self-serving banking elite. [Interruption.] I am grateful to my friends from Northern Ireland who supported that early-day motion. There is an interesting story in the Western Mail about the need for the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly to collaborate in the event of Scottish independence, be it a yes or a no vote, to ensure that we are not bombarded by Westminster. I hope that it might be a small step on the road to greater collaboration. Instead, what we have is a drive towards regional pay in the public sector, introduced by the previous UK Government and now developed by the coalition, which ghettoises low-wage economies outside London.

Labour has gone a step further, with a pledge to cap benefits on a geographical basis if it forms the next Government. That means that the unemployed and disabled in Wales will receive fewer payments than those who happen to live in London. Wales will have lost more than £1 billion during 2013-14 due to cuts in benefits. Those include payments that people in work receive to top-up low wages. That money would have been spent directly in the Welsh economy, but is now lost.

Rather than hitting the sick and unemployed with a stick and labelling them “scroungers”, why do we not embrace the active labour market programme employed so successfully in Sweden? It is an interventionist policy, in which the Swedish Government spend twice the amount per capita that is spent in the UK, creating tailored action plans. The programme has productivity

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and mental health benefits, so it ends up costing the taxpayer far less, as individuals are moved from social security into employment, and it eases considerable pressure on heath services.

It is increasingly clear that the Treasury has been re-infected with the British disease of basing growth on inflating house prices backed up with taxpayers’ cash—the Help to Buy policy. Far from rebalancing the economy, the Treasury is reintroducing boom and bust. Instead of delivering an equitable share of infrastructure investment across the UK, the Exchequer lavishes London with its grand design projects, be it the Olympics, Crossrail 1 and 2 or High Speed 2. UK Trade & Investment does not deliberately channel foreign direct investment into the poorest parts of the state, unlike its German counterpart, Germany Trade & Invest, which has a statutory duty to do so. Is it not sobering that despite the cold war and a physical wall between the east and west of its country, Germany today is far more balanced in geographical wealth than the UK?

Other places have shown the way. Germany is a federal republic, and the constitution requires fiscal equalisation among the Länder. That is a timeless requirement on all parts of government, and policies are required no matter the era. After reunification, when poorer East Germany joined developed West Germany, a massive effort meant a variety of measures were implemented, including financial transfers to poorer regions and industrial development policies.

The same could be done from Westminster, but it has not been. The alternative is the approach favoured by the London parties, whereby investment is concentrated in London and the south-east, and wealth inequalities continue to rise. It is clear that it is time for a change. Where are the voices in support of such a change? Who will turn back the tide of growing inequality? We know that we cannot rely on the Tories in London, so unashamed are they in their love of banking and the financial elite. Where is Labour? Why is it not standing up against inequality? Its amendment seeks to wreck our motion, absolving it of its role in creating rising inequality over the past decade, but it is bereft of policies.

Last week, some of Labour’s Wales-based Members defended the UK as a redistributive Union. They are deluding themselves, both about their record in government, as inequality rose during that period, and about the current situation. A closer examination of their voting record would suggest that their rhetoric is unsupported by action. I cite their abstention on the Welfare Reform Bill, which introduced the cruel and dreaded bedroom tax; their abstention on a cut in the top rate of income tax; and their refusal to support any measure to help to promote measures to provide the Welsh Government with the economic powers that they need to move the Welsh economy forward.

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentioned the bedroom tax, and I invite him to congratulate Scottish Labour which, in the Scottish Parliament, pushed the Scottish Government to end the bedroom tax in Scotland. Will he further assist me in calling on the Scottish Government to reimburse those good citizens who have already paid the bedroom tax?

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Gentleman seems to forget that his party is not in power in Scotland any more—it is the Scottish National party Government

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who introduced that policy. Rather than grandstanding, he would be better advised to congratulate the SNP on its progressive track record in government.

Who could forget the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, promising to be “tougher than the Tories” on benefits? Only today, the Leader of the Opposition has praised none other than Baroness Thatcher, that well known proponent of fairness and equality, in a bid to reform public services. By that, he can only mean more privatisation. Perhaps the greatest let down, and without a doubt Labour’s greatest folly, reflecting its abandonment of the fight against inequality, is its commitment to Tory austerity cuts post-2015. It is now blocking fiscal devolution to Wales, which would enable us to develop our own economy. It has also failed to commit to fair funding for Wales, even though it admits underfunding by more than £300 million a year as a result of the Barnett formula.

The national parties of Wales and Scotland fight for a partnership of equals between the nations of these isles. However, it is about far more than that. It is about what we do once we achieve that aim. The main reason is to honour the political traditions of our countries, which I have set out today and which have been undermined by centuries of Westminster rule.

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