20 Years of Devolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:44 pm on 11th July 2019.

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Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North 1:44 pm, 11th July 2019

This debate today feels deeply personal to me. I have campaigned all my life for devolution and was part of the cross-party campaign back in 1997 to secure that yes vote in the referendum. I remember that night in Cardiff. I had made my way up from Carmarthenshire that day, exhausted after a long, hard-fought campaign there and across Wales. It was looking bad for us, but when the last result came in from Carmarthenshire not only had it voted yes, but it had voted yes with a big enough majority to ensure that we secured devolution and the beginning of that exciting journey for the people of Wales, and that journey continues. For 20 years, the Welsh Assembly has grown, and it has grown also in the hearts and minds of the people of Wales.

Today’s Senedd is a very different Parliament from the one that was established in 1999, and as its powers grow, so too does the case for increasing its capacity to create an institution that is worthy of representing the people of Wales. It is worth reminding ourselves of the journey so far; how that institution, that legislature, has affirmed itself—asserted itself—in the hearts and minds of the people of Wales, far beyond its geographic boundaries. I am immensely proud to have played a part in that journey, too.

In 2008, I was lucky enough to be brought in to work with Welsh Ministers and with the father of Welsh devolution, Rhodri Morgan. His approach to devolution was far-reaching and forward-thinking. After a close-run referendum, he saw it as his responsibility to reach out to those who did not vote in favour of devolution and to persuade them that this institution in Cardiff belonged to them. Beyond anything else, he wanted to give confidence that that institution would matter to them. And he did that. It was the winning of the second referendum a decade after the Assembly was formed, when full law-making powers were transferred, that showed his ability to build that trust and confidence in an institution that brought those powers closer to the people.

Wales has trodden its own course and continues to tread its own course, challenging anti-trade union laws, tackling zero-hours contracts, increasing and improving the rights of tenants, introducing sprinklers to new build and public buildings, protecting people from the worst of austerity and genuinely leading the world in legislation on the environment, with the second best recycling rates in the world.

I am proud to have helped to bring forward the internationally progressive Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which has enshrined a framework for public decision making, linking wellbeing factors, including equality, community, climate change and culture to the laws and decisions that are being made for the people of Wales by the people of Wales. This legislation shows what the best of Wales has become: a confident, modern democracy that innovates and is good for its citizens, confident and proud.

The future promises more powers to Wales, with powers taken closer to the communities on which they have an impact. I am really proud that, yesterday, Members in the Assembly voted to change the name to Senedd—to Parliament—and that they will lower the voting age for the next election to 16 and 17.

Ahead of us lie some very, very dangerous times. With the risk of Brexit on the horizon and the challenge that that poses to us as a devolved nation within the Union, we must tread very carefully. For me, what is paramount is to have a Government in Wales who are fit for purpose and to have a Senedd—a Welsh Parliament —that delivers effectively for the people of Wales, ensuring that the framework of our democracy is fit for purpose and that it is rooted not just in its legislature but in the hearts and minds of the people of Wales.

We need the political courage to take that argument out to the people. We must increase the size of the legislature, to ensure that it is fit for purpose, and to ensure that it works effectively—and to ensure that, it needs more Members. Three major independent inquiries have all reached the same conclusion, and as it stands, without counting Ministers or other office holders, there are only 44 Members in the Welsh Parliament who are able to hold the Government to account. That compares with 113 in the Scottish Parliament and 522 here, in the English Parliament. [Hon. Members: “It is not an English Parliament.”] To finish, let me say this—[Interruption.] Let me say this. Labour delivered on the process of devolution, and it continues to be a fiercely devolutionist party. I am proud to have played my part, and I hope that it will continue on that path.