HC Deb 16 July 1931 vol 255 cc917-27

In sections one and two of this Act in their application to Wales references to the committee shall be construed as references to a committee appointed for Wales by the Minister with the approval of the Treasury for the purposes of this Act.—[Captain Gunston.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I apologise for moving a Clause with the idea of helping the people of Wales, as I happen to be an Englishman. The only time I have ever been in Wales was when I went to see England beat Wales very successfully in a Rugby match. But the spirit of the League of Nations is upon us all and I am sure we are all anxious to help that nation, though we may not have the honour to belong to it. During the last four years we have heard many impassioned speeches from hon. Members opposite and below the Gangway claiming that Wales should have more self-determination. On the Second Reading of the Bill a very remarkable and eloquent speech was made by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), in which he appealed to the Minister to insert in this Bill a special committee to deal with the problem in regard to Wales. We feel that by suggesting this new Clause at any rate we are attempting, though we are Englishmen, to carry out the wishes of the Members opposite who belong to Wales and Members below the Gangway who sit for Welsh Divisions. The hon. Member for Wrexham used these very significant words: Celtic people have never been accustomed to live in villages. The rural house that has attracted the rural worker is to be found distributed widely over the area. From that point of view it is not sufficient to have a committee dealing with England and Wales together, and I would appeal to the Minister to consider whether he could not set up a committee to deal exclusively with the problem of rural housing in Wales."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1931; col. 2471, Vol. 254.] That was the suggestion put by one of the hon. Members opposite who belongs to that great nation. It was also supported by the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George). I know that she would have been here to-night but for the fact that she had another important engagement, and that she would have liked to have given her views to the House. She used these words on the Second Reading of the Bill: I should like to take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Wrexham when he urged upon the Minister that there should be a separate committee for Wales to deal with the housing needs there. Such a committee is necessary, not only because we have separate circumstances and conditions in Wales, but also because I believe, fundamentally and on principle, that Wales in this matter as in many others should govern herself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1931; col. 2472, Vol. 254.] When we came to a discussion on the Committee stage the hon. Lady used this remarkable phrase: My chief complaint against the Government in regard to this committee is that while they have representatives from the county councils, the rural district councils, the building employers, the building trade workers, and the farm workers, they leave a nation unrepresented."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1931; cols. 313 and 314, Vol. 255.] That is a fine phrase which, I think, shows that at any rate there is something in hereditary instinct. I think that we dull Anglo-Saxons realise that Wales and the Celtic nations have fundamentally a different point of view from those of us who sit for English Divisions. They are a nation with a different language from our own. Recently we have seen them evolving a new system of mathematics not heard of before. Wales is a country very sparsely populated in certain districts where you have all the difficulties with regard to housing and the building of houses cheaply, like those which exist in Scotland. You ought not to overload this committee. The committee may have to travel to Yorkshire and Cumberland, and they may even have to go to Cornwall, and they will have tremendous powers. Is it really fair to say that the committee must go to Wales and deal with problems there, not knowing the Welsh people and being unable to speak the language properly, and probably having to take interpreters with them. I feel diffident and disappointed that that nation of orators should not have felt it incumbent upon them, at any rate, to put up one speaker to move this proposed new Clause. I sit for a Division which looks across the Severn, and I can look across to Wales, so I think it is only neighbourly that I should move this new Clause in order at any rate we may do what we can to assist the Government, so that when the Bill becomes law the Principality of Wales shall not be neglected.


I beg to second the Motion.


I should like to make a few remarks upon this proposed new Clause. It is important, but there is really one thing which seems to me odd, and that is the unexpected nature of its sponsors. We have here hon. Members from Gloucester, Wiltshire, Kent and Devizes putting forward a Clause which touches very intimately a subject which we usually consider as one which is the special preserve of those who represent Wales and which deals with a matter on which they have always shown a very natural sentiment. My perplexity is deepened when I consider what happened on the Committee stage. The hon. and gallant Member for Thornbury (Captain Gunston) put forward a very elaborate proposal showing the kind of committee he wanted, and he went out of his way to pour scorn on the desire of Wales for separate representation. He said: I have no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) will want some representative from her part of the world included, but, if we begin to include special people to represent the interests of that part of the country, we shall be setting a dangerous precedent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1931; col. 308, Vol. 255.] He went on to say he had no doubt that the hon. Lady was quite sufficient to represent Wales without any special representative on the committee. It seems to have been a very rapid and curious conversion. I can only sum it up in a Scriptural text. I said to myself: The hands are the hands of Esau, but the voice is the voice of Jacob. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), speaking on the Committee stage, used a very striking phrase when she said that the conditions in Wales were very different from those of England. She said we were not only dealing with different conditions, but with a different civilisation. By that she meant the whole complex of the traditions history and customs, which make up the life of a nation, and which make all of us voice our feelings in regard to our own country. Those are things which no person with any degree of sense or imagination can fail to understand.

With regard to the Amendment itself let me say this. In the first place this Bill is a sort of appendix to the Housing Act of 1924. Wales has not got a Secretary of State charged with the administration of that Act. This Bill, which is a development of the 1924 Act, will be administered by the Minister of Health. That is my first point. My next point is this. There is this fund of £2,000,000. If you have two committees to administer it, it is perfectly clear that you could not leave each committee to operate independently, financially. You would have to make some apportionment as between Wales and England; and that is a peculiarly difficult matter. It is a very long time since any financial apportionment has been made between the two countries, and it would be peculiarly difficult in this case because nobody can tell whether the needs of Wales are great or small as compared with England until the claims are in, and any apportionment would run the risk of being unjust. Finally I desire to say that this is not a permanent but a temporary committee. There still remains, in spite of these administrative points, the fact that the, ideas of Wales are different on this matter from those of England, and on that point my right hon. Friend has charged me to say that he proposes to give Wales full and efficient representation on the committee, of a character which he has no doubt will satisfy the Welsh demand. Hon. Members will understand that at the present moment it is impossible to give the names, but I give that assurance, which is an assurance the hon. Member for Anglesey desires to have, and I hope therefore that the proposal will be withdrawn.

Major OWEN

I desire to express my gratitude to the hon. and gallant Member for Thornbury (Captain Gunston) for having moved this new Clause, although I have doubts as to the seriousness of those Conservative Members who have put their names to it. My experience has been that whenever I or any Welsh Member have suggested some measure of autonomy for Wales, it has been greeted with derision by hon. Members above the Gangway, and this sudden conversion is to me a very great surprise. The Conservative Government, instead of gratifying the wishes of Wales for further autonomy, did all in their power to reduce the little autonomy we have now, and the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) will no doubt remember the part he took in that matter, I am glad to hear the promise made by the Parliamentary Secretary, and I accept it as a very satisfactory way out of the difficulty.

The position is this. We fully realise that we are all keen for greater automony for Wales. But in a Measure which is purely of a temporary character, which sets up a temporary committee, I do not feel that this in any sense of the word satisfies the desire of Wales for a measure of autonomy. I have had the opportunity of discussing the matter with various hon. Members, and I am sure, that from a practical point of view Wales would be served infinitely better by having representatives on the advisory committee that is to be set up. If a separate committee were set up the probability is that there would be a great deal of delay. The committee would probably not have the same measure of expert advice as would be available to the larger committee, and probably our share in the sum of £2,000,000 will be comparatively small. I am the last one to put any obstacles in the way of satisfying the desires of Wales for autonomy, but at the same time I like to look at things from a practical point of view. I can speak from the point of view of the Nationalist feeling in Wales perhaps better than any other Member, because I am the only one who has had the experience of a Nationalist candidate standing against him. Therefore I sincerely welcome the pronouncement of the Parliamentary Secretary, and I hope that when the names are announced we in Wales will be satisfied with the representation that is given us on the Committee to be appointed.


The Parliamentary Secretary seems to be astonished that certain Members representing English county divisions have attached their names to this Amendment. There is really no cause for astonishment. We had very good reason for putting the Amendment on the Paper. I am much concerned about the working of this Bill in England. I consider that in all probability the committee created for England will have all its work cut out adequately to administer the Bill in England. We have already dealt with the case of Scotland, and if we can put some more of the work off on Wales the benefit will be for England, and we shall get better administration, more push and more efficient carrying out of the Bill in England. After having listened to the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken I am more than ever confirmed in my opinion. The trouble is that when all these Bills are brought in to deal with the sister countries we in England always fare the worst.


I have listened with interest to this Debate. I agree with the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Carnarvonshire (Major Owen). I hope that this enthusiasm for autonomy for Wales will be exhibited on another occasion by hon. Members. The reason that the Parliamentary Secretary has given for resisting the proposed new Clause was not convincing. She stated that Wales has no Secretary of State and that therefore this concession ought not to be made in the Bill. It is true that there is no Secretary of State for Wales, but concessions have been made in other directions. We have our own Board of Health, and our own Secretary to the Board of Education. It is not necessary that there should be a Secretary of State in order to do this.


My point was that the major Act was under one Secretary of State and that it was a little difficult to have a national administration in a matter of this kind.


But educational administration is under the President of the Board of Trade and notwithstanding that fact, we have our own permanent secretary. The Minister of Health is responsible for the whole of the health administration of England and Wales but we have our own separate Board of Health. If there is one Member of this House who knows the rural problem it is the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), who is himself a supporter of the hon. Lady, and on the Second Reading, speaking with an intimate knowledge of rural housing, he made a plea for a separate body for Wales to deal with the special conditions in Wales. Hon. Members above the Gangway have brought in the national argument. I welcome that argument and I will remember it at a future time when the party above the Gangway may be forming a Government. There may be other Welsh Nationalist Members here by that time who will call on hon. Members to carry out their pledges. The whole 36 Members from Wales may be Nationalist Members then. If hon. Members above the Gangway are sincere, and I hope they are, we look forward to seeing what action they will take when they have the chance of controlling the destinies of the country.


I speak as one with an open mind on this matter. I shall carefully consider the arguments, and, at the end of the Debate, come if possible to a decision upon them. The most interesting thing in this short discussion has been the remarkable exhibition of the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvonshire (Major Owen). If anybody has let down Wales badly to-night, it has been the hon. and gallant Member. I remember very well the demand he made that some unfortunate inspector in some place in Wales should know the Welsh language. He has posed in this House as the leading exponent of Welsh nationalism.

Major OWEN

Who refused to grant that concession to Wales? The hon. Lady has granted what we have asked on this occasion.


The hon. and gallant Member is endeavouring to excuse himself. He has always posed as a leader of Welsh Nationalism in this House. I have no doubt he had his eye on the fact that at the last Election there was a Nationalist candidate against him and if I recollect aright, he dealt with that candidate in this fashion. He said, "There is no need for this candidate because I represent fully the ideals of Wales and I will stand up in the House of Commons and demand for Wales every consideration." Yet at the first practical suggestion of anything being done, he lets down Wales—I suppose for fear of precipitating some crisis with his hon. Friends opposite. As an excuse for that attitude, he says that somebody else treated Wales badly under the last administration in regard to national health insurance. That is no reason why he should not go boldly forward to-night. He could get up on that former occasion safely, and demand something for Wales; without fear of anything happening, and he did it then. But, to-night when he has the opportunity of doing something effective for Wales he has sadly neglected his duty. Whatever may be said of the last Conservative administration and its treatment of Wales with reference to national insurance, at least this can be said—we put up a much better answer on that occasion than has been put up by the Parliamentary Secretary to-night.

What are the arguments which the Parliamentary Secretary has put forward to satisfy the hon. Gentleman so far as this advisory committee is concerned? The Parliamentary Secretary said that if you set up this advisory committee for Wales, it must mean delay. What an extraordinary thing! Does it mean that the advisory committees for England and Scotland are going to involve delay? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters) will hardly support that. It is true that Wales, perhaps, may not have such an efficient chairman as England has, but surely there is one Welshman who could take the chair at this board and put what he calls "push and go" into it? Why should not the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) be the chairman of the advisory committee for Wales? I know that he would be very much better employed in that way than in certain other matters. Then the Parliamentary Secretary has said, "Oh, but this Welsh committee could not possibly have expert advice." What an excuse! Where is Wales? Is it a thousand miles away? Is it impossible for anyone to give advice, if it is needed, to the Welsh committee? Is it necessary to speak in the Welsh language in order that they may understand how to administer this Rural Housing Act? Does the hon. Gentleman for a moment accept the excuse that the Welsh committee cannot be set up because it is going to have no expert advice? What an excuse! And then we have the crowning excuse given by the Parliamentary Secretary when she said, "But this is such a small sum to administer for Wales that it is not

necessary to have a Parliamentary committee at all." I think, in the first place, that was an unfortunate statement to make to the Welsh Members who were supporting her to-night, that the sum of money to be given under this Act is so small. Apparently the sum is so small that it should be left to English hands to administer. But surely Welshmen can be trusted even with a small sum. [Interruption.] No; while I shall consider this matter and come to a final decision, I hope, a little later, I must confess that I do not myself understand why hon. Members who have fought for this matter so long and have some little opportunity of getting, at any rate, something, should turn the matter down, and I am sure tomorrow, when all the Welsh people who have looked forward to the day when they would have their right place in the Empire and all those things for which they have fought and bled, read the account of what the hon. Gentleman has said, they will be very disappointed, and there may be some desire on their part to change their Parliamentary representation.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 35; Noes, 148.

Division No. 435.] AYES. [11.15 p.m.
Albery, Irvine James Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E.
Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W. Hurd, Percy A. Salmon, Major I.
Broadbent, Colonel J. Latham, H. P. (Scarboro' & Whitby) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Margesson, Captain H. D. Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L. Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford) Morris, Rhys Hopkins Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Muirhead, A. J. Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Fielden, E. B. Oman, Sir Charles William C. Thomson, Sir F.
Ford, Sir P. J. Penny, Sir George Train, J.
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Perkins, W. R. D.
Greene, W. P. Crawford Ramsbotham, H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Remer, John R. Mr. Womersley and Captain
Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Ross, Ronald D. Gunston.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield) Duncan, Charles
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y) Ede, James Chuter
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Buchanan, G. Edmunds, J. E.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Burgess, F. G. Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Cralgle M. Burgin, Dr. E. L. Edwards, E. (Morpeth)
Alpass, J. H. Caine, Hall-, Derwent Egan, W. H.
Ammon, Charles George Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.) Evans, Major Herbert (Gateshead)
Arnott, John Chater, Daniel Foot, Isaac
Aske, Sir Robert Clarke, J. S. Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)
Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Cluse, W. S. Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)
Barnes, Alfred John Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock) Gill, T. H.
Batey, Joseph Daggar, George Gillett, George M.
Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Central) Dalton, Hugh Glassey, A. E.
Bennett, William (Battersea, South) Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd) Gossling, A. G.
Broad, Francis Alfred Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)
Brooke, W. Dukes, C. Groves, Thomas E.
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Mansfield, W. Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)
Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Marcus, M. Sanders, W. S.
Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.) Markham, S. F. Sawyer, G. F.
Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn) Marley, J. Shillaker, J. F.
Hardie, David (Rutherglen) Marshall, Fred Sinkinson, George
Hardie, G. D. (Springburn) Mathers, George Sitch, Charles H.
Harris, Percy A. Matters, L. W. Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Hastings, Dr. Somerville Messer, Fred Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Hayday, Arthur Middleton, G. Smith, Tom (Pontefract)
Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Mills, J. E. Smith, W. R. (Norwich)
Hoffman, P. C. Milner, Major J. Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)
Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Morley, Ralph Sorensen, R.
John, William (Rhondda, West) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.) Sullivan, J.
Johnston, Rt. Hon. Thomas Muggeridge, H. T. Thurtle, Ernest
Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Murnin, Hugh Tillett, Ben
Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. Naylor, T. E. Viant, S. P.
Kelly, W. T. Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston) Walker, J.
Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley) Wallace, H. W.
Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon) Walters, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Tudor
Lawrence, Susan Palin, John Henry Watkins, F. C.
Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge) Paling, Wilfrid Welsh, James (Paisley)
Leach, W. Palmer, E. T. Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)
Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Westwood, Joseph
Lees, J. Phillips, Dr. Marlon Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Lewis, T. (Southampton) Picton-Turbervill, Edith Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Lloyd, C. Ellis Potts, John S. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Longbottom, A. W. Quibell, D. J. K. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Ramsay, T. B. Wilson Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Lunn, William Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) Riley, Ben (Dewsbury) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
McElwee, A. Ritson, J.
McEntee, V. L. Romeril, H. G. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
MacNeill-Weir, L. Rosbotham, D. S. T. Mr. William Whiteley and Mr.
Mander, Geoffrey le M. Rowson, Guy Charleton.
Manning, E. L. Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)