Susan Elan Jones – 2019 Speech on 20 Years of Devolution

Below is the text of the speech made by Susan Elan Jones, the Labour MP for Clwyd South, in the House of Commons on 11 July 2019.

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and other right hon. and hon. Members.

This is the 20th anniversary of devolution, but it is a bit more than that really, because I refuse to believe that devolution started 20 years ago. There is a real history to it, and one thing I praise Plaid Cymru colleagues for is how they have often acknowledged the work of their predecessors Gwynfor Evans, Lord Dafydd Wigley and Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who kindly supported my 2017 election campaign in Clwyd South. Lord Elis-Thomas is now serving in the Welsh Government, and he is a good man.

The Labour party does not always do that quite enough. I read the book by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) about his predecessor, “Morgan Jones: Man of Conscience,” and I was struck that, in his 1922 general election address, Morgan Jones supported self-government—not separatism, but self-government—to address Welsh needs in an appropriate and distinctive way. In June 1938, he was part of a cross-party delegation that met Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to put the case for a Secretary of State for Wales. Neville Chamberlain did not accept the proposal, but perhaps his judgment was not too good anyway.

Of course, it was not until the reforming Harold Wilson Government of the 1960s that there was a Secretary of State for Wales and a Wales Office. Jim Griffiths was the first Secretary of State. It came from that Keir Hardie tradition of Home Rule all round.

I want to be partisan, not as a Labour Member of Parliament but as a north Walian, in paying tribute today to those great devolutionists: Cledwyn Hughes of Ynys Môn; Goronwy Roberts of Caernarvon; Eirene White of Flintshire; Robert Richards, James Idwal Jones and Tom Ellis, representatives of Wrexham, although the latter two came from Rhosllanerchrugog; Thomas ​William Jones and William Edwards, representatives of Merioneth, with T.W. also coming from Rhosllanerchrugog. All Labour and all north Walians.

I also pay tribute to Wales’s first female MP—Liberal, and later Labour—Megan Lloyd George, who once recorded a party political broadcast for the Liberal party that ended

“hunan lywodraeth i Gymru. Nos da.”

Or, “self-government to Wales. Good night.” I shared that story when I did occasional Welsh-language voiceovers for Welsh Labour, and people were very interested in my observations.

There are three things we need to consider. Six minutes is not very long, and two minutes and fifty seconds is even shorter. First, devolution offers a real chance for distinctive policies—not distinctive for their own sake but distinctive because they can be innovative and they can work. We have seen it with the minimum pricing of plastic bags, which was an innovative policy introduced in 2011, and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. We have to look to the future, considering all the factors.

The Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 introduced the principle of presumed consent, and it saved lives in doing so. There was the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016 and now, with our excellent First Minister, there are proposals for social partnerships. Those policies are distinctive, and they are good.

Secondly, let us not fall into the trap of seeing devolution through the prism of the home nations. It is fine for the rugby, but we miss out when we just look at England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our late, great colleague Paul Flynn was a passionate devolutionist, and he once told me he felt there was no problem in Wales that could not be solved by an east coast. I think he was joking but, whether he was or not, we do not have one.

Some 50% of Wales’s population live within 30 miles of the border, so devolution has to interconnect between the nations and regions of our country. We see connections between north-east Wales and north-west England in the economy, health and so much more. We also have to see the debate in terms of London, and we have seen greater moves towards devolution. It may not help us, but we have to look to London and the home counties, which want to keep more of their tax take.

Guto Bebb

The hon. Lady is making some important points. Does she agree that, on social care, Wales has much to learn from the Greater Manchester devolution debate? We can learn from them, rather than just thinking that we are ahead of the game.

Susan Elan Jones

It is an intelligent contribution to the debate that we consider good policies, wherever they come from, on both sides of the border, in Scotland and, indeed, elsewhere in the world. We must not become insular.

Thirdly, and this is especially true for those of us who fall in the social democratic or democratic socialist traditions, structural and constitutional devices are never an end in themselves. It is about empowerment, wellbeing, connectedness, education and culture. I pay great tribute to all those who are fighting the campaign to reach ​1 million Welsh speakers—it is not a maximum, and we can go above it—in Wales, which is very important. It is also about the ability to reach out globally, across continental Europe, the UK, NATO, the Commonwealth and so much more. What was important about the initial devolution settlement was the sense that we had to work consensually. Sometimes the electoral system was devised for that and sometimes, to be honest, that consensual working could be a pain in the neck, but I do believe that without it we would not have had that breadth of support for devolution.

If I am quick, I will be able to end—stereotypically, being Welsh—with a quote from a poem: a not-very-good translation of a Welsh poem. It reads:

“Old Welsh customs need must change

As years progress from age to age.

The generations each arrange

Their own brief patterns on the page.”

That is not how Ceiriog said it, but that is the English translation. Most of us will not be here in this place in 20 years’ time, but what is important is that we work together, we get the best for our country and we do it through that devolved settlement.