Ben Lake MP at Aberystwyth Students' Union, as it happened

Photograph Taken by Aberystwyth Students' Union

Ben Lake, Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion, appeared at Aberystwyth Students’ Union on Thursday 30th November to speak to constituents.

Lake opened the session by stressing his belief in the importance of speaking to constituents, particularly students, and the value of young people to Ceredigion. 

Asked about his views regarding the possibility of a Welsh independence referendum in the near future, he celebrated recent increases in interest and proclaimed support towards Welsh independence. However, Lake expressed doubt that the Westminster government would grant a referendum unless a pro-independence party such as Plaid were to gain a Senedd majority. 

Lake went on to take questions from students on a variety of topics. He championed his party’s record on LGBT rights, simultaneously decrying ‘backwards, reactionary views by certain parties’. On the issue of encouraging young people to stay in Ceredigion, Lake lamented a lack of ‘good broadband’ and ‘career opportunities’ in the area. He nonetheless expressed hope for the future, suggesting that investment in such infrastructure was ‘not a pipe dream’.

Questioned on his party’s plans to represent the interests of renters, Lake spoke of a need for ‘proper reform of the housing market’ and to ‘build affordable homes from the public sector.’ Lake said: ’It is high time for us to start developing our own housing stock again.’ He called for ‘rent freezes’ in the short-term and to ‘empower RentSmart Wales to take effective enforcement’ in the medium-term. For a recent ‘moratorium in development’ of new housing, Lake blamed ‘the state of [local] rivers due to a lack of investment by Welsh Water’. He also spoke of a 30% increase in holiday homes in Ceredigion over the last decade, citing an ‘increase [in] council tax premiums’, ‘a cap on the amount of second homes in an area’ and ‘planning permission’ as methods by which to combat the issue. 

Following this, Lake was asked his views on UBI (universal basic income), which he called an ‘interesting concept’ and ‘something we should be taking seriously’ for the sake of ‘avoiding economic depression’.

Lake spoke at some length on issues relating to immigration. On Tier 4 visa laws affecting many international students, he referred to a recent tightening of restrictions as a ‘draconian mistake’. He went on to declare: ‘We should make it very easy for [the world’s] bright and best to come here.’ He cited the examples of Canada and Australia in making the case to ‘get skilled young people… into areas suffering from depopulation or lack of skills’ such as Ceredigion. He also blamed the long wait which many asylum seekers face for their claims to be processed by the Home Office, accusing it of having ‘a political directive not to grant too many [claims]’ and to ‘satisfy certain political leanings’ by ‘slowing things down’. Lake referred to the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as ‘contrary to international law’ and subsequent denouncements of human rights conventions as ‘ill-thought’ and ‘quite scary’. Regarding restrictions upon families seeking to study in the United Kingdom, Lake stated that it was ‘a completely unnecessary decision to withdraw from Erasmus.’ He called the lack of provision for immigrants to learn Welsh ‘a real anomaly’.

Many questions posed to Lake concerned Welsh nationalist issues. On Welsh trains, he declared his support for price caps, renationalisation and the reopening of old lines. He declared: ‘It is absolutely perverse that you can fly to Europe cheaper than you can get from Cardiff to London.’ He also discussed devolution of policing powers, complaining of an ‘inconsistency in policy between Cardiff and London.’ Some criticism was aimed at Lake’s Labour colleagues, with the response of some MPs to the Thomas commission’s policing report being reprehended as ‘dismissive’. Government handling of NHS neurodiversity services in Wales also came under fire, with Lake stating that the ‘government and political classes have really messed up’ on the issue. He went on to say: ‘Short-term measures to keep wages down and cut costs have backfired terribly on us as a society.’ He highlighted ‘particular problems on waiting lists’ and acknowledged that it may be necessary to temporarily ‘make more use of private services’. Lake said: ‘If we want a health service that functions, we also have to make sure that other forms are put into it.’

The final question of the evening regarded Lake’s idea as to how the Welsh government can make more use of renewable energy. The Welsh government’s jurisdiction of energy projects is limited to those of a capacity beneath 350 gigawatts, but Lake claimed that this allows for control over most wind and solar farms and some hydroelectric plants. He championed ‘community-owned energy’ and ‘selling energy to local people’. He claimed that the cost of renewable energy is “below [that of] gas-powered plants.’

Ben Lake has served as Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion since 2017. At 30 years old, he is the youngest MP in Wales, and was the youngest ever Plaid MP at the time of his election.