24. Closing Statements

– in the Senedd at 7:24 pm on 24 March 2021.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 7:24, 24 March 2021

Anyway, we now reach the final item of today's agenda and the final item of our work as a Senedd during this five-year term, and we're about to hear reflections from Members who will not be returning to the Senedd. They are the Members who know now that they will not be returning, but, as Jocelyn Davies once told us, others of us do not yet know whether we will be returning or not. Others, of course, were elected in 2016 and are not here today, and we remember them fondly and miss them greatly.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 7:25, 24 March 2021


We remember very fondly Carl Sargeant, Steffan Lewis, and Mohammad Asghar.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

I sit in an empty Chamber, almost empty. I wish that we could have had all of you here in this Chamber this afternoon, this evening, to bid farewell to each other and to wish each other good luck, but it's not to be; it's just me and the Deputy Presiding Officer this evening. I'll now hand the floor to those of you who are saying your final words in the Senedd, and I'm going to start by asking you to share some of your views with us, Suzy Davies.

Photo of Suzy Davies Suzy Davies Conservative 7:26, 24 March 2021

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Yes, I wish we were there in the Chamber as well. I can't believe that it's over 40 years since I went out leafleting for a 'yes' vote in 1979, and I don't think that I was expecting—or even expected now, really—to thank you all all this time later from a virtual Conservative frontbench in our Welsh Parliament. Where we are now reminds me a bit of 1979—that sort of feeling of disruption and threat and fear and powerlessness, and the mass responses to long-standing injustices. But I don't buy the argument that devolution will lead inexorably to independence or that it should be scrapped. As a Welsh Conservative, I celebrate subsidiarity—an awful word—and I celebrate pragmatism, the key to change and the key to the survival for all our parliaments and our union, and I hope it will restore the tone of discourse in this Chamber, too, which has sadly soured now that we've been exposed to different world views.

Yes, the people of Wales have taken longer than I'd hoped to take their chances with devolved votes. But even so, Kirsty Williams referred to creative tension between Government and Parliament yesterday, and that is when this Senedd has been at its best and our constituents are well served. And that's when it's felt good to be here. But we've not always had that. We, the Senedd, represent the people; we're not just the awkward squad. We need to make good law, rights needs remedies, and the long-standing executive has forgotten our role from time to time.

If I've made my mark in opposition, I'm glad, but nothing changes without the help of others, so I thank my constituents for the privilege of representing them, and my staff, who've made it so possible to serve them, especially Jayne Isaac, who's been with me from the start. Thank you to my fellow committee Members and staff over the years, with shout-outs to Lynne Neagle and Bethan Sayed, who were born to chair their respective committees—Bethan, we'll always have Pinewood. And my very best wishes to the Llywydd, Deputy Llywydd, chief executive and every single member of the Commission staff who keep this place going, especially to Nia Morgan, the director of finance, for her patience with me as a Commissioner, and to my friends in my group and its leaders for giving me the portfolios and committees that suited me best, particularly to Paul for my diversity role and opening up a whole new Wales to me. And I tell you all without hesitation that this Senedd responds better to the needs of Wales when it reflects its population. All parties, especially mine, need to get their act together on equal representation, and I've no hesitation either in saying that even though it really has been often a joy and always a privilege working with you all, it has been working with a greater number of women than in any parliament I can call to mind that makes the non-stop demands and personal sacrifices worth it, because it is a Parliament where an ordinary woman like me can believe she belongs and where every citizen can see she belongs, so—

Photo of Suzy Davies Suzy Davies Conservative 7:29, 24 March 2021


my heartfelt thanks for the privilege.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru


Thank you very much, Suzy Davies. Bethan Sayed.

Photo of Bethan Sayed Bethan Sayed Plaid Cymru

Diolch. I stand here at my final speech having spent the majority of my career in this Chamber. From being the youngest female Member of the Senedd, life has changed, because I leave you having campaigned passionately against injustices across my region and beyond. I leave you as a more mature person, who has made mistakes but has learned from them, as a woman still true to my principles, despite how hard that is to do in this game called politics, and as a proud new mam to Idris.

The Welsh Government are a self-proclaimed feminist Government, but we are far from achieving a feminist society, or even an equal one. Here I am, at night, having dropped my child off at childcare this morning, unable to say goodnight. This extends to all families. If we want politics to be truly representative, we have to go further to change our culture. The next Senedd must make it an early priority. Many people have said to me that my departure will be a loss for Wales. Others, probably not. But my choice, like so many new mothers, is one I feel I have been forced to make. As decision makers, we had the opportunity to take on the recommendations of the expert panel on Assembly electoral reform, but we are now seeing the fallout of taking the easy wins. Almost 20 years ago, Wales elected the first 50:50 gender equal Parliament, but, since 2003, it has been a continual rollback. A truly feminist Government is measured in deeds, not words. I had to campaign for my own maternity cover. We had no process in place for locum MSs. We could have been entering the next Senedd leading from the top on gender equality, job shares, diversity quotas. In an unprecedented time, when women fear our rights are rolling back to the 1970s because of the impact of the pandemic, this Parliament will end knowing it should have done more.

But I want to finish here on what I do best, in supporting those who need me to be their voice. So, I end with one final demand on behalf of the future generation of Wales. Despite the powerful debate that I tabled alongside Lynne Neagle and Leanne Wood, maternity restrictions in Wales are still in place. The Welsh Government created a risk assessment back in November, yet here we are in March and nothing has changed. But for a tiny minority, pregnant women are going through childbirth alone, without the support of a birth partner until the final, established stages of labour. So, on behalf of the fathers sleeping in cars and bus shelters so that they don't miss the birth of their child, the women suffering through miscarriage with no-one to hold their hand, the new mothers, like me, who after major surgery are checking out of hospital because we need our partner's support, and the babies, the ones without any voice who are suffering the most, end these restrictions. COVID-19 is very serious, but when the No. 1 cause of death of new mothers in the first year postnatally is suicide, protecting their mental health is also a matter of national importance. Take action, end these restrictions, and remind women and families in Wales that they have not been forgotten, that they do matter.

Diolch. Viva the Welsh republic.

Photo of Angela Burns Angela Burns Conservative 7:32, 24 March 2021

Well, it wasn't supposed to end like this, was it? We were all supposed to be standing in some local hostelry where I could have been standing you all drinks and saying thank you—thank you so much for your companionship, for friendship, for cross-party relationships that we've forged over the years. I'm going to miss a great many of you, and I wish you all well, whatever it is you're going to do—standing for elections, trying to come back. Perhaps not too much good fortune to some of the other parties, but as individuals. Because one of the things that I really take away from this Senedd is the fact that there is the ability within politics to make those cross-party friendships, and that is something that I really wish the next Senedd to remember, and to remember well.

It is one of the great sadnesses that the remuneration board actually cut down so much on people being able to stay longer after work and get to know each other that we don't have that ability to chat, to talk in corridors, that real familiarity that I remember from those first few Senedds that I was a Member of. And it's really important, if you're a new Member for Labour, Plaid or the Conservatives, or any other party, and you join—look at what's happened in this fifth Senedd, how very difficult it has been for some people to feel integrated into the body politic. And why is that important? In my view, it's important because there's more than just politics at play. It's democracy, and we need to cherish that democracy and to make it grow. I think that that is the way to do it, to really have strong back benches, strong committees, strong cross-party groups, to hold whichever Government of the day to account, and not just the Government of the day, but all of our parties to account. Because the awkward squad, the backbenchers, the individuals with strong views, are the grist to the mill, and it makes us all better.

I can't just end this without saying one more thing, which is that it's been a huge privilege to represent Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. Where else could a girl from England turn up and have Welsh children, a Scottish husband, travelled all over the world, and I have felt so welcomed and so much part of that constituency? And I really pray that whoever takes it next will love it as much as I do. People have a view of it; they just see the rolling green hills of Carmarthenshire or the sandy beaches of Pembrokeshire, but like so much of Wales, it is a microcosm of many different peoples, many different cultures, many different faiths, from the very, very wealthy to those with absolutely nothing. Whether they voted for me or they voted for anybody else, they are all the constituents that I cherished and I have been really proud to represent them and to represent them here, because in the constituency there are many people who may be able to help them with social care issues or healthcare issues, but I am the only one—. [Interruption.] Sorry, that was to remind me, Llywydd, that I have only three minutes; I can't stop it. But I just wanted to say that all of us here in the Senedd, we are the only people who can represent our constituencies. This is our primary job. This is where we have to make it work for Wales. Thank you, and look after yourselves. I shall miss you all.

And by the way, I am not retiring—I want to make that very, very clear—so I hope to see you all again in a different life. Take care. 

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 7:36, 24 March 2021

Thank you so much, Angela Burns, and thank you for doing my job for me and timing yourself. [Laughter.] That's an innovation for the sixth Senedd. Kirsty Williams

Photo of Kirsty Williams Kirsty Williams Liberal Democrat

Well, Presiding Officer, I rise for the final time as one of the originals, the class of 1999 still here, uninterrupted by acts of God, the electorate, or the lottery of the regional list system. But, in all seriousness, it has been a pleasure. But, Llywydd, it has become a little too fashionable to decry politics, to do down democracy, to undermine our own Parliament and Government. And I agree it might not be perfect, and I don't think that we want a perfect system empty of the debate and discussion, which leads to real change, but what we have built, what we are building, is a democracy fit for all the people of our nation. It is never a thing that is done; it is something that we must all keep doing, keep perfecting, keep extending, and I am so proud to have worked alongside so many others to make my contribution to that project.

I still passionately believe that politics, as Robert Kennedy described it, is an honourable profession, and there is honour in finding common ground for the common good across parties and policies. Each serious party in the Senedd has made its own contribution to change and delivering for Wales over my two decades here, and despite our relative youth as a democracy, that is a sign of our maturity as a political institution and culture—having the courage to compromise and work together in a trustworthy and open manner when the occasion demands it. Differences are healthy, but lacking basic values, decency and respect certainly isn't, and in maintaining that respect for each other, we must always remember that this project is bigger than any one of us. 

Finally, Llywydd, I want to place on record my debt of gratitude to the staff who've supported me and the Welsh Liberal Democrats over years, both in constituency offices across the country and in Parliament. I want to thank the support latterly of the civil service here in Wales. I want to thank the Members of the Senedd for the friendship, the fellowship and, yes, fun that I have found here. And above all else, of course, I would like to thank the people of Brecon and Radnorshire for their support over the last two decades. I may be biased, but I am in no doubt that our constituency is truly the greatest that anyone could have had the privilege of representing. Diolch o galon. 

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 7:39, 24 March 2021


Thank you very much, Kirsty Williams. David Melding is next. David Melding.

Photo of David Melding David Melding Conservative

Llywydd, my career has been a tale of two institutions and something important connects them. The institutions are the Temple of Peace and the Assembly, now Senedd. And what connects them for me is the issue of children's rights.

The Temple of Peace is Cardiff's finest art deco building, but perhaps an under-appreciated national institution. It is a haven for the voluntary sector, and a place where some of its finest conferences and seminars have been held. I started my work there in 1989: the year of the cold war ending and the UK adopting the Children Act 1989 and the UN promoting and adopting the convention on the rights of the child. As Unicef's officer in Wales, I organised what was one of the first conferences in the whole world on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. And the UN convention had a great impact on the early work of this institution, and indeed it influences our work still.

Llywydd, it will always be my proudest moment in professional life to have sat in the inaugural meeting of the National Assembly for Wales. Wales had become a political nation, and I was there to participate and observe, despite the fact that I had opposed that development. What grace, what honour, to be received into an institution you opposed and to be asked to make a contribution, and for that contribution to be valued. 

The first Assembly quickly had to absorb and act on the findings of the Waterhouse report, 'Lost in Care'. One of the results of that grim episode was us establishing the first children's commissioner in the UK, and what a success that office has been. Ever since, the cause of looked-after children, now termed 'care experienced', has been closest to my heart. For more years than I care to remember, I have chaired the all-party group, and I thank our secretariat, that truly wonderful NGO, Voices from Care, for their leadership. It was a great honour, also, to be asked by the Welsh Government to chair the ministerial advisory group on outcomes for children, and there is much work that we've done and much, much more to do to ensure that care-experienced young people get the best chance possible in life.

There are too many people and organisations to thank, but some have to be mentioned, so apologies to those I leave out. I want to thank the Commission staff, throughout my career but particularly during my time as Deputy Presiding Officer. And Elin, I want to thank you for the way you've led this institution in the fifth Senedd. I want to thank all the colleagues I've served with, from all parties, but especially those from my own party, who I think I've irritated on occasion, in being perhaps a little too mischievous. I want to thank my family and friends, who have been there during the tougher days to maintain my morale. Above all, I want to thank my staff, foremost my PA of 22 years—my political partner, really—Sarah Sharpe. And finally, to the people of South Wales Central, I do thank you for allowing me to serve you. I think it's now safe for me to say that I've been a lifelong Swansea City supporter, but Cardiff have always had my second allegiance. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 7:43, 24 March 2021


Thank you very much, David. Our next speaker is Dafydd Elis-Thomas.

Photo of Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas Independent


Thank you very much, Llywydd, and my first thanks are expressed to you, for developing the constitution of our Senedd and for extending its message to the public, and particularly to the young people of Wales.

I would also like to thank all of the officials who have made our work as elected Members possible in the Senedd, in its groups, its committees, the Commission, and within Welsh Government, but particularly in our constituencies, where the support staff make that democratic activity possible. And I'd like to thank the constituents, in my case having changed borders many times: Meirionnydd, and then Nant Conwy, and most recently Dwyfor too.

And then, one word of warning. In the early years, we had to campaign regularly to develop our constitutionally confused Assembly into a real Parliament. May I say that I am seeing signs that there are people, not here, but further east, who are eager to weaken devolution within the UK once again? And the challenge for us is to work with our brothers and sisters in Scotland and particularly in Northern Ireland, as well as in England, in order to safeguard the diversity of this strange United Kingdom.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 7:45, 24 March 2021


Thank you very much, Dafydd Elis-Thomas. The last word this evening goes to Ann Jones.

Photo of Ann Jones Ann Jones Labour

Well, thank you. And they've just kicked off, so I'll be quick. [Laughter.]

Llywydd, I joined this fledgling institution 22 years ago as the first-ever representative for the Vale of Clwyd in Wales's National Assembly. Back then, we were limited to debating stimulating secondary legislation, such as the Beef Bones (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations, the Plant Health (Amendment) (Wales) Order, and everyone's favourite at that time—

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

The potatoes from Egypt?

Photo of Ann Jones Ann Jones Labour

—the Potatoes Originating in Egypt (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations. Now, as important as those were, they are the stuff of very few election manifestos. So, in 1999, the Assembly was the new kid on the block; it was the new institution still proving its worth, and even its right to exist, and something we must continue to prove ourselves worthy of each and every day.

So, anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a shrinking violet. I've never been afraid to stand up for my beliefs, I've never been afraid to stand up for my party's beliefs—and, sometimes, they've been slightly different—or the people I have had the pleasure to represent for 22 years and more, even if this has sometimes ruffled your feathers. So, if your feathers have been ruffled by me over the 22 years, then you were on the wrong side of my debate.

So, politics can often be seen as a negative, and there are those who feel that we're too cosy, inside a bubble here in Cardiff Bay, and there are others who feel that we argue for argument's sake. Now, whilst there are a small number for whom this may be true, the vast majority of Members and organisations I have worked with over the two decades deeply care about our country and want to make it better, even though we may disagree on how we achieve that.

So, as the first backbench Member to pass legislation—and I know you're all fed up of hearing about it, including the torturous legislative competence Order process—I'm proud of the legacy I leave across the whole of Wales. And for those of you who don't know what it is, it is to have sprinklers fitted—mandatory sprinklers fitted—in all new home builds. And that was because of devolution. Because of devolution and a commitment from the Welsh Labour Government at the time, Wales became the first UK nation to ensure mandatory fitting, and it was something that I was very proud of. Shockingly, though, this is still not the case in England, and many lives could be saved if this cost-effective measure were introduced. How many times have you heard me say that?

But, in my last five years, as Deputy Presiding Officer, I've been immensely proud of spreading our story and our new innovative ways of working, and sharing my passion for equality, social justice and fairness most widely. Those passions that brought me into politics still spur me on to recognise that there's still so much more to do. I think Bethan Sayed said that there's still more to do; I think we've all said that there's more to do. And so, whilst I'm not seeking re-election to the Senedd in May, like Angela and others, I have no intention of retiring. I plan on putting my experience and expertise gained in our Senedd to good use by continuing to be a campaigner for the causes I believe in and an advocate for my beloved north Wales.

So, as this is the three hundred and thirty third Plenary of this term—and if the figures are wrong, I shall blame the Commission staff, because I just took it off the front of the agenda this morning—I leave you with three things: keep your speeches short, less is always more; go out and tell the great story that is our Welsh Parliament; and let's all go out and cheer our national football team. I'm going to cheer you all on—well, I'm going to try cheering 60 of you—wearing red. Some of you may not be wearing red and I might still cheer for you. But I'm going to be an avid supporter of our Parliament—and I knew I was going to do this—I'm going to be an avid supporter of our Parliament, its greatness, and I'll cheer you all on from the sidelines. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 7:50, 24 March 2021

I've considered us as Team Jones, Ann, and there have been several football references so far tonight, so let me add another one. We're going to keep seeing each other, and we're going to keep seeing each other firstly when the crowds return for that first game when Rhyl play Aberystwyth Town once again, and we'll be there cheering them on. And thank you for all your support to me, and everything you've done for this Parliament over the years. You feel for this Parliament, and you want it to succeed for the future and for the Members who'll be elected here in the next election as well. 

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru


So, thank you all for your priceless contributions this evening, in speaking your final words, but also over the past two decades for many of you. Thank you all very much, and to Ann particularly for the great collaboration over the past five years. 

I also, like everyone else, want to thank our staff—the Commission staff first of all, and also the staff of the political groups—for your commitment to our parliamentary life and our democracy here in Wales, and for assisting us so effectively as Members, in this Senedd, on Zoom, and in our constituencies too.

The people of Wales hold the reins now. They will decide who will be returned here for the next five years. It's the people of Wales who own this Senedd. And, for this evening, I wish you all well. I give you all a virtual cwtch, and good evening. 


The meeting ended at 19:51.