20 Years of Devolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:50 pm on 11th July 2019.

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Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 12:50 pm, 11th July 2019

I thank Pete Wishart for bringing forward this important debate, although I cannot see the past 20 years in quite the same positive light that he has set out. Slightly more than 20 years ago, I was part of the anti-Welsh Assembly no campaign. That was one of my first entrées into politics. We lost, but I felt as a democrat that it was important to respect the will of the people of Wales, so there was no suggestion afterwards that we should try to challenge the result in the courts or say that people had been tricked by Welsh Labour—although I think to some extent that they were; I will come back to that in a minute—or say that people had changed their minds the next day.

We simply respected the fact that the people of Wales had spoken, and I want to put on record right now as a Conservative and as somebody who opposed the Welsh Assembly 20 years ago that it would be absolutely wrong to try to undermine the Welsh Assembly, take away its powers or get rid of it in any way at all. I say that as somebody who was very strongly opposed to it 20 years ago. It would be wrong to do that because the people of Wales voted not once but twice to have a Welsh Assembly and it behoves us all as democrats to respect the voice of the people of Wales, to work with the National Assembly for Wales and to make sure the whole thing is a success. Similarly, had Scotland voted for independence in its referendum, we would have been expected, quite rightly, to respect the voice of the people of Scotland.

It is a bit of a disappointment to me that, having made this clear over the past 20 years, the Welsh Assembly Members who owe their jobs to a referendum that took place 20 years ago are now doing their utmost to try to ignore the will of the people of Wales in the subsequent referendum on Brexit, where a much larger number of people turned out and voted by a much clearer majority in favour of Brexit. I hope that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, who believes that we should to listen to the will of the people, will agree that Wales spoke clearly for Brexit, that Britain spoke clearly for Brexit and that Members of Parliament have an obligation to honour the result and bring it in in some way.

One could build an argument—one would be wrong to do so—against the Welsh Assembly on the basis that it has failed to deliver on the promises that were made 20 years ago. We were told that we would have a better health service, better education, a better economy, better transport and so on. The reality in Wales at least has been that we now have longer hospital waiting lists, longer responses and waits for ambulances, longer waits in accident and emergency units and less access to cancer drugs.