Hywel in Parliament - Debates

Speech on Government of Wales Act

5th December 2001

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon): I am a long-standing campaigner for democratic devolution. In 1979 I was the treasurer of the West Glamorgan campaign and in 1997 I was the national convener of the cross-party "Yes for Wales" campaign. I mention that not because I am keen to indulge in veteranism, but to remind hon. Members that the Labour party and the Labour Government come to the question from our vision as democrats and our respect for the democratic will of the people of Wales and the people of Britain. In that spirit, hon. Members should be reminded of the words of the current Secretary of State for Wales in October 1999 when he said that devolution is "a settled question." Many chose to misunderstand the meaning of that statement, which was borrowed from the late John Smith's memorable words, "the settled will of the Scottish people".

For us in Wales, the settled question means that there is no going back. One of the new responsibilities of the Secretary of State is to safeguard the new constitutional settlement, as represented by the referendum result and the Government of Wales Act 1998. We should all, whether we were for or against devolution, now work with the Secretary of State and Assembly Members to make the present democratic settlement work.

The settled question in Wales also means that it is the democratic will of the Welsh people. The people voted, albeit narrowly, for democratic devolution and we must respect our democratic decision. It is disingenuous now, and it was disingenuous immediately after the referendum result, to call for additional powers. Our task in Westminster and the Assembly is to make the democratic devolution settlement work. It is inappropriate to call for additional powers without recognising the need for a further democratic mandate.

The task before us is simple. First, we must stop talking down the Assembly. The democratic partnership between the Assembly and Westminster is working, as evidenced, for example, by the creation of the Children's Commissioner for Wales and the additional funding achieved for objective 1 areas. Secondly, we must remind ourselves that our main task as Welsh Members of Parliament and Welsh Assembly Members is to improve the quality of life of the Welsh people. My distinguished predecessor, Lord Morris of Aberavon, said that we must achieve "the repatriation of democracy to Wales".

That has now been achieved, and it is our task to make it work for the benefit of the people of Wales.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): I am grateful for the chance to speak in this debate because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), I have always supported the principle of devolution. However, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) missed the point--I may not have made myself clear--that if devolution had been in place in 1991, the Assembly would have had the powers, because it would have had to be consulted.

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