20 Years of Devolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:27 pm on 11th July 2019.

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Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 1:27 pm, 11th July 2019

From Westminster to every Parliament of the United Kingdom, the adversarial way in which we operate is not serving any of the nations of the United Kingdom effectively. I urge us all to find new ways of working, rather than this duality of adversarialness, which frankly does nothing but score points.

The reforms that Plaid Cymru put to the Senedd yesterday are evidently—it was interesting to hear agreement from Conservative Members—in the interests of our country and of Wales, yet Labour refused to support our motion. Instead, Labour put in place obstacles to avoid achieving immediate reform. Many of us present feel that the need is urgent for Wales. Wales deserves a world-class Parliament and a Senedd that makes decisions in the best interests of the country, not in the best interests of the Labour party.

With the impending threat of a no-deal Brexit and Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, change is more vital than ever. Brexit has shone a pitiless light on the inadequacies of the UK constitution. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act will, with the aiding and abetting of the Labour Welsh Government, weaken the devolution settlements that the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have enjoyed for the past two decades. Not only did the Labour Welsh Government capitulate on the withdrawal Bill; they withdrew the only means of protection that the Senedd had against the Tory Government: they repealed the Welsh continuity Act.

First Minister Mark Drakeford’s whole argument for repealing the Act was premised on his belief that the Scottish Government would lose the Supreme Court case over their equivalent legislation. He said that if Scotland lost it would have nothing, while Wales would still have its paltry agreement with the UK Tory Government. It is sad to recount that his wager backfired in spectacular fashion. Scotland won the case, meaning its powers are legally protected. It is Wales that is left with nothing, defenceless. We have nothing left but a bad deal that gives away Welsh powers to Tory Ministers, with no guarantee that we will ever get them back.

My party’s position for Wales’s future is clear: we want the people of Wales to run our own affairs. In all honesty, whoever aspires to come into politics and into government but would not aspire to that? In truth, who would not aspire to that? Sometimes, when we spell this out, we are told that to call for independence is somehow irrational and unreasonable—something to which we should not aspire—but in all honesty, who among us would ever have come into politics unless the people we represent had the chance to represent themselves? Why would we ever tell people that they do not have the means, the means to aspire or the potential—that they do not have it in them to manage their own affairs? That is what motivates many of us here on the Opposition Benches.

I acknowledge that, in the interim, we need a collaborative procedure for the creation of UK-wide frameworks, given that the Government are so determined to press ahead and remove us from the already functioning EU frameworks in which we know where we stand. Such UK-wide frameworks would have a significant impact on the existing evolved devolution settlements and therefore must be created jointly by all the sitting Governments, not dictated from this place by Ministers of the Crown. This is only the first step to ensuring that devolution is not just respected, but upheld in the upheaval that the Government are creating and forcing on us by leaving the European Union.

In future, there must be no first among alleged equals, but equality of respect, means and potential. Welsh democracy is facing its biggest existential threat of its 20-year anniversary. We face a stark choice of two futures: will Wales be a peripheral geographic unit, crumbling under the pressure of an increasingly London-centric Unionist Government, or will we be an independent European nation, with a fit-for-purpose and dynamic Parliament? I know which future I would choose for the people of Wales and the people I represent.