The Wales Bill can set in stone a strong package of powers for Assembly Members with stability and accountability at their heart.
By Alun Cairns, Secretary of State for Wales
Welsh Assembly members take their seats today for what I firmly believe is about to become a historic period of governance in Wales.
That’s because the Wales Bill – introduced at the House of Commons today – can set in stone a strong package of powers for Assembly Members with stability and accountability at their heart.
The Bill makes the Welsh Assembly permanent and more accountable to people in Wales. It builds on last year’s historic funding floor announcement by enabling the Assembly, for the first time, to vary an element of income tax – a power that already exists in other devolved administrations.
This is democracy truly coming of age in Wales. The Bill leaves no issue in doubt as to whether Westminster or Cardiff is responsible for particular pieces of legislation, and puts the Assembly firmly in the driving seat.
Important transport issues such as speed limits on roads, environmental responsibility for fracking and ports powers are amongst a number of powers that will become the responsibility of AMs in a Welsh Parliament.
There are few pieces of Government legislation which have undergone more scrutiny than the Wales Bill. It has been the subject of often fiery debate and provoked passions across the political divide.
It gives the Assembly the ability to change its name to a Parliament and whittles down the long list of responsibilities previously overseen by Westminster.
The UK Government has listened, overhauled the draft Bill in key areas and has produced a piece of clear legislation that takes account of the distinct and growing body of Welsh law.
The Welsh devolution journey has been a steady one. The people of Wales have voted for more powers for the Assembly, but made clear they do not want separation from the rest of the UK. The Wales Bill captures that appetite for devolution while ensuring we enjoy the benefits of being part of a larger union.
We, as a nation, are proud of our identity, language and distinct history. But equally I believe people in Wales see themselves as citizens on a wider stage, confident in their dual identities as Welsh and British.
The Wales Bill is in the finest traditions of Welsh radical reformers like Lloyd George. It is designed to set the course for decades ahead and put a definitive end to outdated arguments over who possesses what powers. The debate for the 21st century Welsh Parliament is how to use the powers it now has, and deliver devolution on the doorstep for local communities.
Welsh men and women want sensible legislation that reflects their priorities and allows them to live under laws of their own choosing. I have heard that instruction loud and clear, and I will deliver on it.
(This article first appeared in the Western Mail 7.6.16)