Tomorrow (17 October) marks 50 years since the post of Secretary of State for Wales was created. It was on 17th October 1964 when Harold Wilson appointed the MP for Llanelli, Jim Griffiths to the newly created role. I had the great privilege of joining the Cabinet as the 17th Secretary of State for Wales in July this year.
When the Prime Minister asked me to take on this job he made it clear that he wanted me to provide a strong voice for Wales at the Cabinet table.
To me, the role also means providing a strong voice for the UK government in Wales. It is my responsibility to drive forward our long-term economic plan so that we can continue to boost economic growth in Wales, meaning more people across our nation in jobs and enjoying a better standard of living.
It means driving inward investment to Wales, increasing manufacturing and exports and seeing that reflected in job creation and a stronger economy.
It also means making sure that the thousands of SMEs across Wales, who are the engine room of the Welsh economy, have the infrastructure and tools they need so they can continue to create jobs and drive growth.
It’s about promoting Wales internationally by shining a spotlight on the quality of our products and services and showcasing our highly skilled workforce to potential investors.
And it means championing the needs of all parts of Wales, making sure that Welsh voices are heard loud and clear and our interests represented at Westminster when the UK Government formulates its policies.
Today (16 October) I am marking this 50 year anniversary with a gathering of former Secretaries of State for Wales. They have left a significant legacy of achievement on infrastructure, investment and breaking new ground on devolution. They took forward important legislation on the use of the Welsh language in Wales, established the National Assembly for Wales and given it the powers to make its own laws.
I am proud to be representing Wales in a Government that has a strong track record on devolution and decentralisation. It is fitting that a former Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, is now heading up the Cabinet committee on how we rebalance the constitutional settlement of the UK.
The Secretary of State for Wales and the Wales Office are responsible for delivering significant legislation for Wales. In 2011, they delivered a referendum in Wales which oversaw the move to full law-making powers for the Assembly. And just yesterday (15 October) the Wales Bill completed its committee stage in the House of Lords. The Bill provides for the devolution of tax and borrowing powers to the Assembly and Welsh Ministers and I hope it will become law early in the new year.
This is what I mean when I talk about devolution with a purpose, and that can work better for people in Wales. It’s why we brought forward amendments to the Bill to remove the lockstep from the income tax powers Wales would get following a referendum. The new income tax powers are a tool to help the Welsh economy become more dynamic and make Welsh Government more accountable.
I am ambitious for our nation and I believe it deserves the best. But I know that to see this ambition realised and to deliver the investment this nation needs we need to have effective working partnerships between the UK and Welsh Governments. We need to work well with our business partners too, and others who care about Wales and have a stake in its future.
I have been very clear that electrification of the rail network in south Wales will deliver a much needed 21st Century boost to the Welsh economy and I have been working hard to broker agreement between the UK and Welsh Governments so that together we can secure this vital investment for Wales.
In September we demonstrated to the world what we can achieve when we work together by delivering a first-class NATO Summit. We’re doing it again in November by bringing the UK International Investment Summit to Wales. And we did it just this week when I met with the leaders of the Westminster parties in Wales to put aside our political differences and begin to work pragmatically on a devolution settlement that works for the people of Wales. It is my job to feed these views into Cabinet discussions and speak to party leaders in the National Assembly to ensure that Wales remains front and centre of the UK constitutional debate.
It is important, however, that we now roll up our sleeves and crack on with settling some of the constitutional issues so we can focus on the real issues affecting peoples’ lives day-in-day-out: the economy; continuing with our welfare reforms and performance of our education system. These are the issues that matter on the doorstep.
I am determined to secure as much success for Wales as possible during my time as Secretary of State. Because helping to move our nation further along the path to economic prosperity is what the privilege of representing Wales in Westminster, and Westminster in Wales, is all about.