Wales Bill – video of my speech in the Senedd

Nothing would give me more pleasure than being able to vote today for the implementation of a Wales Bill that would empower the people of Wales, that would enable this Assembly to mature further as a Parliament for our nation, and that would give the Welsh Government the necessary tools to stabilise and strengthen our economy, to create a healthier Wales, and to strengthen our education system in the way in which we here in Wales would want to prioritise. But that, for me, is not what this Bill that we are asked to give consent to today entails. This is not a Bill that gives me confidence that it will give the people of Anglesey and the rest of Wales the kind of assurances that they should have that their National Assembly has the rights to plough its own furrow, where necessary, without any of the arbitrary barriers put in place by the UK Parliament.

I believe passionately that devolution itself should be devolved—that we in Wales should decide on those areas over which we should have responsibility. I believe passionately that any Bill on the future of Welsh competence should come from Wales. And the deeply flawed Bill that we’re being asked to approve today, I believe, is the perfect embodiment of why that is such an important principle. I won’t repeat detailed points made by some of my colleagues about the irrational list of reservations. I could talk about the steadfast refusal to devolve policing, the inexcusable and inexplicable refusal to move towards a distinct Welsh legal jurisdiction—the list goes on. But in terms of our powers to legislate on behalf of the people of Wales, I believe that this Bill, despite concessions that have been made, remains little more than Westminster crumbs dished out by an indifferent UK Conservative Government to a Wales that is meant to consider itself grateful to receive them.

There are, of course, positive elements here, and that is why it is, as Leanne Wood said, with a heavy heart that we vote against the strengthening of powers for this Assembly, as an institution, over its own affairs—over election arrangements, and so on. I, of course, want to see the beginnings of the devolution of income tax in our taxation armoury. I commend work done on the fiscal framework. I, of course, want to see a new funding formula. I understand why others may come to the conclusion that it is worth supporting this because of those positives. The First Minister himself said that the Labour group came to a reluctant decision.

On that point, to those suggesting that we in Plaid Cymru are voting against, somehow in the knowledge, because of the luxury of Labour supporting it, as Simon said we also had detailed, forensic discussions. The case was made to support this. Because I acknowledged the positives, I considered perhaps that even a principled abstention was the right course of action this afternoon. But, in the end, I had to ask myself to what extent the positives are little more than sweeteners to be taken alongside what is otherwise a very bitter Wales Bill pill. The positive of the introduction of a reserved-powers model, in principle, for example, which we have long called for, is undone, rather, is it not, by the mockery of that Whitehall-composed list itself?

Plaid Cymru is often wrongly accused of seeking devolution for its own sake. Well, today, we say a clear ‘no’. We want the devolution that is right for Wales. So, let’s begin work now, working together as a nation, across parties and across communities, to build a future Bill—a future for Wales made in Wales.