More powers for Wales aren’t just ‘nice-to-have’ – they’re a necessity

Westminster has a plan for Wales; it just doesn't involve us, say Rhys ab Owen MS and Liz Saville Roberts MP.

Welsh flag

Last month, the people of Wales voted by a margin of more than 2:1 for parties that stood on a platform of greater powers for the Senedd. Westminster’s reaction to this mandate so far has been not just to ignore it but to seek to reverse it.

They have a plan for Wales; it just doesn’t involve us.

Today we have one message to send to Westminster: Hands off our Senedd, and hands off our powers.

The threat posed to Wales’ current powers by the Westminster elite attitude towards us is becoming increasingly evident.

The Senedd bypassed on the replacement to EU funds; Transport for Wales rebranded as ‘Great British Railways’; Wales to get a freeport, whether we like it or not, and maybe even a tunnel in the Celtic sea, floated without consultation and built, presumably, like the M4 relief road, without our consent.

If you add to this list the internal market Bill, the Australia trade deal, and a UK Government hub seemingly conceived as some imperial outpost, doesn’t Westminster’s strategy increasingly look like abolition by stealth?

And sure enough, just this week, under plans being drawn up to strengthen the union, the Westminster Government has said staff should stop referring to Wales as a country, with civil servants told to change the way they refer to the UK – referring to it as one country rather than talking about “the four nations of the UK”.

There is no doubt that Boris Johnson’s government is using the post Brexit settlement as a tool to reimpose London control over the devolved nations of the UK by grabbing powers and chipping away at our devolution settlement.

Do we settle for this?

Plaid Cymru won’t settle for this.

We have always said that Wales should have full control over itself – and that means full powers over our economy, infrastructure, our future. Not just as a “nice to have” but to enable us to control our destiny and to make the lives of the people of Wales better, richer, fuller.

And ensuring the Welsh Government has all the levers it needs at its disposal is more important than ever before as we enter the first stages of Covid-19 recovery and look to rebuild a greener, fairer, and more prosperous Wales.

And hasn’t the Coronavirus pandemic shown that when Wales takes its own decisions on public health it usually is far more effective than following Westminster’s lead?

There is a road map for the newly elected Welsh Government to start to enhance our powers.

Ministers in Cardiff Bay could initiate the process outlined in the Government of Wales Act 2006 to seek powers for Wales over matters currently reserved to Westminster, including policing and justice, rail, welfare, broadcasting, energy projects, the Crown Estate, and the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

If we had powers over Welsh police forces here in Wales, we would receive an additional £25 million a year, the equivalent of 900 extra police officers, to protect our communities. Without powers over policing, Wales is at the mercy of Westminster’s police funding formula which gives more money to big cities in England.

Putting aside the unworkable anomaly of Wales having a legislature but not a jurisdiction, and thus being without the means of effectively putting the laws we pass into action, imagine how much better we could do if we could manage criminal justice for the greater good of victims, offenders and the communities in which they live?

Proper rehabilitation, an effective and compassionate victims’ charter and preventative work to sweep aside the root cause of crime – that’s what our communities need.

Sadly all these principled aspirations will remain beyond our control until we have the means to make Welsh justice in Wales.

Devolution of powers over justice is essential to deliver a fairer, more humane and more accountable justice system. It would allow us to implement initiatives such as ‘problem solving courts’ which require the close cooperation of probation and health professionals.

And with enhanced powers we would could stop the Police Crime and Sentencing Bill in its tracks. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently taking its legislative journey through Westminster is another example of why we need to devolve justice to Wales. The Bill’s raft of significant changes, including new powers to restrict protest and expand stop and search, are certain to exacerbate the existing inequalities in our criminal justice system.

And what of transport? Wales has 11% of the UK’s railways but receives only 1% of investment.

If this was devolved, like it is in Scotland, Wales would receive a £5 billion consequential as part of the Barnett formula. Enough to pay for the South Wales metro, the North East Wales metro and the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen railway line with billions in spare change left over.

Giving Wales the same powers over benefits as Scotland, could boost the Welsh budget by £200m a year, according to research from Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre. In 2016, the UK Government gave Scotland control over 11 welfare benefits and the ability to create new social security benefits in devolved policy areas.

Meanwhile, powers of consent for large renewable energy schemes, up to 350MW, are being handed to Cardiff Bay as part of the Wales Bill.

But control over the grid infrastructure that delivers electricity to our homes as well as the subsidies paid out to help get new schemes off the ground remains with Westminster.

More powers for Wales isn’t just a “nice-to-have” – it is a necessity to make the lives of the people of Wales better and to ensure we can fully recover from the pandemic.

It’s time for all who care about Wales and the people who live here to refuse to allow Westminster to take our powers – and demand instead the powers that we are due.

This article was written by Rhys ab Owen MS and Liz Saville Roberts MP. Rhys ab Owen is Member of Senedd (MS) for South Wales Central, and Plaid Cymru spokesperson on the Constitution and Justice. He was newly elected to the Senedd in 2021. Liz Saville Roberts is Member of Parliament (MP) for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Leader of Plaid Cymru in Westminster. She is also spokesperson for Plaid Cymru on Home Affairs and Justice in Westminster.

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