I thank the hon. Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and for Gower (Byron Davies) for securing the debate, which is just about spot on, because, of course, it follows on from yesterday’s St David’s day celebrations and last week’s welcome announcement that we will be allowed, under certain circumstances, to address Parliament in Welsh. Mae fy nghyd-Aelodau Seneddol Plaid Cymru a finnau yn edrych ymlaen yn awchus at gael siarad Cymraeg am y tro cyntaf yn yr Uwch-bwyllgor Cymraeg. It is all right, there is nothing particularly terrifying in that: I am celebrating the fact that we will be allowed to speak Welsh in the Welsh Grand Committee—that is pretty much a spontaneous translation.
There is merit in embracing small victories here in Parliament, but while there is cause for celebration—after all,“Gwnewch y pethau bychai”, or do the little things, is what St David advised us to do—I cannot help but think that, in the age of big and bold political decisions, Wales needs more than just the little things. By voting to leave Europe’s political union, people in Wales quite rightly voted to uproot the very foundations on which the Westminster establishment has rested so comfortably for so long. Contrary to the long-held small-c conservative belief, people want change—change with a capital C.
On the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, powers will be repatriated to the UK. A determination will need to be made about those powers that are to be in devolved areas. At the moment, there is little experience of shared competence as practised in the EU.
A St David’s day poll revealed that more and more people in Wales are demanding that power lies closer to them, with 44% wanting a National Assembly with greater powers. Brexit offers a unique opportunity for the Welsh National Assembly to satisfy that demand.
Let us take this opportunity to re-think drastically the UK constitution in a changing Europe. It is essential that the great repeal Bill, and measures taken under it at central UK level, give appropriate attention to the devolution settlement. It should recognise the continuation of EU measures already adopted in Welsh law for Wales, as well as the competence of Welsh Ministers to pass secondary legislation, reviewing the post-Brexit acquis in devolved areas. The Bill may significantly impact, intentionally or not, on the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales. The UK’s exit from the EU must not result in devolved powers being clawed back to the UK Government. Any attempt to do that will be firmly resisted by my colleagues and me.
Managing these newly repatriated policy areas will require much more serious and intensive intergovernmental mechanisms and governance structures than those currently in place—a complete overhaul of the way the nations of these isles co-operate. Let us be frank: the current constitutional structures are already at fault. Dithering on UK infrastructure spend on energy projects, for instance, is serving neither rural communities nor the Welsh economy well. We need to realise the opportunities that await in potentia in such enterprises as tidal lagoons and new nuclear energy, and ensure that the people of Wales are equipped with the skills to make the best of such opportunities.
The Plaid Cymru spokesperson for external affairs in the Assembly, Steffan Lewis, has long been an advocate of transforming the existing Joint Ministerial Committee into a UK Council of Ministers covering the various aspects of policy for which agreement between all four UK Administrations is required. We are pleased that the Welsh Labour Government have adopted our position in the paper we worked on together, “Securing Wales’s Future”.
To finish, I will, like many Members today, return to St David. I urge the UK Government to do not only the little things he so famously preached. I urge them to rise above populist politics, just as St David did on the ground he caused to rise when people struggled to hear him preach. I urge them to rise to the challenge of Brexit in a way that will truly empower the Welsh people.