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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:26 pm on 9th January 2020.

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Photo of Craig Williams Craig Williams Conservative, Montgomeryshire 2:26 pm, 9th January 2020

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is good to see you return to your place, as have I. I know that you will correct me if I say that I am making my maiden speech, but it feels a little like that. With your Welsh heritage, I hope that you will allow me a little leeway to talk about my new constituency and pay tribute to a person whom we will all miss: my predecessor, Glyn Davies.

I wanted to make my non-maiden speech on the Third Reading of this Bill, because I was reminded by a colleague that they had looked me up on TheyWorkForYou and saw that I done little speaking for two and a half years, so I hope that I can correct the record, because I have very little opportunity to do so. I have worked with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Front-Bench team for several months in different guises, and I pay tribute to him and his team for their diligent professionalism. He has overseen a very difficult situation over the past six months.

This feels a little like Groundhog Day—not giving another maiden speech but talking about this particular subject. I recall being encouraged to leave Parliament by a different constituency when we were on this subject, and I have now returned with a healthier majority while we are still on this subject, and I appreciate that we can now get it done.

If I may say a bit about my home, the seat I now represent is not just my constituency but my home—born and bred. Montgomeryshire is incredibly important to me and was important to my predecessor. It is an old county of Wales and forms the gateway to mid-Wales, covering an area from Welshpool over to Machynlleth, which was the seat of the Welsh Parliament in days gone by, to Llanidloes and Llandinam. It is good to see my neighbours by my side, including my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson and my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones). It is truly wonderful—other Members across the House will feel the same—to represent somewhere that I call home.

There are issues—they will, of course, be pertinent to this Bill, Mr Deputy Speaker—that I will look to champion, and it has been terrific over the past month to see so many opportunities and ideas come to the fore as we settle the Brexit issue.

I have been given many ideas by organisations, such as opening the Montgomeryshire canal to the network. The Welshpool and Llanfair railway campaign captured the spirit of both Montgomeryshire and this country, and it received the Queen’s award for voluntary service. This week—just to reinforce the fact that Powys and Montgomeryshire are not complacent on any issue, despite our being the safest place in England and Wales—we received the knife angel, which is touring the country to demonstrate and reinforce the message that we need to engage with the community on knife crime and other serious crime to minimise it as much as we can.

I hope the House will forgive me for spending some time paying tribute Glyn Davies, my immediate predecessor, who is a great man. He has 50 years of public service to date, and it is not capped. I know Glyn and, in fact, I was with him on the weekend as he continued his public service. I am sure he will continue in some guise. I know the House will miss him, but I can assure the House that I will not miss him because he will continue to guide, advise, inform and, I am sure, take part in Montgomeryshire life.

Glyn’s passion for representing his home, his passion for Welsh politics and his passion for his nation, Wales—and for the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, before my celtic cousins start—inspired me early in life, and he is one of the reasons I got involved in politics. He is one of the reasons I stand before the House again, representing my home seat. That other true son of Montgomeryshire, who I am sure will either read or listen to this debate, can be very proud of what he has achieved, having been an Assembly Member, a councillor and a Member of Parliament. At his tender age, which I will not mention, he is fit and able. I will send the House’s good wishes to him.

This Third Reading debate is a significant moment for the House and the country, and it presents me with an opportunity to talk about some of the issues I will seek to champion during my time as the Member of Parliament for Montgomeryshire. I represent one of the most rural seats in England and Wales—I would be immediately corrected by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire if I claimed it was the biggest in England and Wales—and it has both agriculture and tourism, with the former being primarily affected by this Bill.

I was taken by the exchange at DExEU questions this morning, when my right hon. Friend Mel Stride spoke precisely about the challenges and opportunities facing hilltop farmers as we leave the EU. He spoke about how the Brexit vote and bringing sovereign power back to this place, which we are doing right now, will mean that we can do things differently. I am heartened to see us moving straightaway on our manifesto commitments on agricultural funding to 2024, and I will be working with the Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire, Russell George—he is a Conservative Assembly Member, so I had better mention him—and the Welsh Government to ensure that that funding and support continues and gives certainty to farmers.

Agriculture is important, but so is tourism. This Bill will now provide certainty. For those who have not visited Montgomeryshire, I give a special shout out to Lake Vyrnwy. The private investment in the hotel and the wider developments at Lake Vyrnwy will push on at pace now that we have certainty on where this country will be going next. That certainty on opening up infrastructure is important to a rural area.

I will mention my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire one last time because I want to work with him on opening up the important Pant-Llanymynech bypass. I will continue apace so that Mr Deputy Speaker does not notice my getting that into this debate.

Finally, the Union is incredibly important to me. I realise that this is not a maiden speech and Members can intervene—I will tiptoe around it so that my SNP colleagues will be kind—but the Union is important to Montgomeryshire and the Welsh Conservative party. It is important to think about the Union in relation to the withdrawal agreement.

When we joined the European Union, the United Kingdom’s powers on agricultural support were given to Brussels en bloc as we joined a bigger single market. We are now leaving, and we will be forming a single market between the four nations of the United Kingdom. It is incredibly important to the farmers, businesses and residents I represent in Montgomeryshire that there is a united and regulated framework that allows us to keep our porous border between England and Wales and to continue as one of the most successful Unions in the world.

I will continue to champion the role of Wales, as my nation, in the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I will build on the work of my predecessors, such as Glyn Davies and Lord Carlile. So many things have changed over the two and a half years that I have not been here, but there are many similarities. It is good to see Lord Davies of Gower in the Gallery, as it was a privilege to watch his maiden speech in the other place yesterday. I am heartened to see him return favour.

So many things have changed, but there are some similarities. I am delighted to represent my home, and I am delighted to take part in this important Third Reading debate. I pay tribute to all the parliamentarians on both sides of the House, the civil servants and the other bodies that have got through what looked from the outside, at times, like quite a challenging two and a half years. I hope we can now move on, and I am glad to have given my semi-maiden speech on Third Reading.