§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Whiteley.]
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
As the House will have learned from one source and another, the Government thought it right that, at the beginning of today's Debate on Welsh affairs, a statement should be made with regard to the proposed establishment of a council for Wales and Monmouthshire. I am now making that statement on behalf of the Government, and I shall comment upon some other proposals which have been made from Welsh and other quarters. My right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance will make further comments in the light of the Debate, as it proceeds.
In my judgment this Government have an excellent record in regard to their administration of Welsh affairs and in relation to the work which they have done for the social and economic wellbeing of the Welsh people. As our record has shown, we are exceedingly anxious to do everything practicable and wise to meet Welsh aspirations. On the other hand, we think it desirable to ensure that in any new developments in Welsh affairs, the steps we take should further the interests of the Welsh people as a whole, and that we should not engage in mere window-dressing or illusory policies. The ultimate test must be the welfare of the people of Wales.
A suggestion has been made from time to time that it should be possible, without legislation, to establish a Minister who would be specially concerned with Welsh affairs. This is not the earlier proposal, on which the Government have indicated their view, to create a Secretary of State for Wales. This is another proposal, according to which there would be a Minister designated to concern himself especially with Welsh affairs. The proposal has taken various forms and has been made on and off by some elements, I think, in all political quarters. We have carefully considered this proposal, which would not involve legislation. Superficially, it has its attractions, but we had better look at it and try to estimate how it would work in actual practice.
First, we must ask ourselves what the Minister really would be, and how his 1263 functions could fairly be described. It is not proposed that he should be an executive Minister. He might be an existing Minister of the Crown—either a non-Departmental or even a Departmental Minister. It has been suggested that he should be a Welsh Member of Parliament. His function would be to receive suggestions, criticisms and complaints from Welsh quarters. He would then take up the matter with the Departmental Minister concerned and presumably, if necessary, he would take the matter to higher authority. That is the idea.
I think that it would be fair to say that the Minister would in practice be a Ministerial buffer between specific Welsh claims and dissatisfactions on the one hand, and the Departmental Minister concerned, on the other. He would receive complaints and forward them to the appropriate quarter. If he thought that a complaint was justified, he would use such persuasive powers as he could to get the matter complained of put right. It is pretty certain that nine times out of ten the suggestion, criticism or complaint would already have been made to the Departmental Minister concerned, and, in default of satisfaction, the buffer Minister would be used as a sort of ministerial court of appeal against the decision of the Departmental Minister.
What could the buffer Minister do? I do not conceive him as a super Minister. Indeed, it would be constitutionally wrong to put one Minister in a position to give specific directions to another, whose responsibility must be to the House of Commons. Although hon. Members sometimes get a bit of fun, if they can, by playing off one Minister against another—and I have to be a little careful now and again—that is perfectly legitimate fun in the course of Parliamentary business. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the House is always insistent that there must be a Minister specifically responsible for given matters to the House of Commons. The House is never happy if that responsibility is spread all over the place, with the result that confusion ensues.
Therefore, it is quite clear that the intermediary Minister, specially charged with the duty of watching Welsh affairs, could not give orders to the Departmental Minister. Otherwise, we should get 1264 a breakdown in Parliamentary responsibility and it would become a matter for speculation who should answer Parliamentary Questions or Debates. The intermediary Minister will also be in the difficulty that he will not be fully expert upon the matters which are the subject of complaint. It is the Departmental Minister who will be the expert, with his officers behind him. Therefore, in many instances, the intervening Minister will not really be in a position either to judge of the case from his own inherent knowledge, nor will he have behind him an official hierarchy of experts who can advise him. All he can do is to go to the Departmental Minister, who in turn, of course, is advised by his officers. That seems to put the intervening or buffer Minister into an unfortunate position. But that is how this plan would work. Would it really satisfy anybody at the end of six or 12 months or whatever period one may take?
It is all very well for party political conferences, even when they are held at Llandudno, to pass resolutions on a subject about which nobody there has really given much thought. Some of us on this side have thought about it before. I think that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have also thought about it before, when they had more responsibility. They will know whether they did or not, and no doubt they will know the result. It is all very well to pass these abstract resolutions, when a conference is held in North Wales, without working out a plan. I personally have the highest respect and admiration for the people of Wales, as have my colleagues. But one thing this Government are not going to do is to lead the Welsh people up the garden and to present them with a proposal, which is really illusory window-dressing and political make-believe, and which will not work.
§ Mr. Price - White (Caernarvon Boroughs)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many resolutions were passed in Kent?
§ Mr. Morrison
What happened there? I have not been there lately. I admit that the greater the number of resolutions passed, the less quality they may have. That applies to all our conferences. But I am talking about the quality of resolutions, and how constructive they might 1265 be, and I do not think there is much constructiveness behind this one. I think that somebody thought it was a bright idea, likely to pick up Welsh votes. I do not myself think it is. The Welsh people are an intelligent people, and I am about to address observations to the House which no doubt the good people of Wales will think over with great care.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this proposal was put forward in this House long before the Llandudno conference and that it was received with great interest in Wales? Is he also aware that, strange to relate, some of us are just as interested as he is in doing things for Wales?
§ Mr. Morrison
I did not know that it was put to this House, but, if it was in the days of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman and myself were Members, it was not accepted.
§ Mr. Morrison
Oh, so the Opposition waited until they were out, and then they came in with this suggestion. That is an easy thing for an Opposition which is having bad luck; but, with my understanding of the set-up and the motives behind it, I ask what it would really amount to. In my judgment, which I think is right, this is what would happen.
After six months, or 12 months, if the House so wished, the intermediary or buffer Minister would be demonstrating that he was ineffective in getting satisfaction for Welsh complaints. After all, no Minister upsets people, or does things which they do not want him to do, for fun. When a Minister comes to that conclusion, he does so for a good reason, and, therefore, it is tolerably certain that, in a large proportion of cases, the decisions could not in practice be reversed after reexamination. Therefore, the buffer Minister would not be terribly successful, and, moreover, the Departmental Minister would have heard all the arguments before, and, I am sure, will have done his best to meet the criticisms, if that was at all practicable. So, in a great many cases, it is exceedingly unlikely that the decision would be reversed.
The Departmental Minister, on the other hand, might be tempted to neglect 1266 his interest in Welsh affairs. He might feel that he need not worry about it, on the grounds that his colleague, the Minister of so-and-so, was bound to do something about it, if there was anything in it. But, at the end of the day, he has to act according to the facts of the case. Consequently, after a period, I think three things would happen. One is that the people of Wales would begin to feel that they had been sold a political make-believe—and they would be right—and would think that it was a fraud, a sham and a delusion.
Secondly, the Departmental Ministers would begin to get troubled by being pushed around by a colleague in the Government on their own Departmental business. Finally, I should think the buffer Minister himself would become so apprehensive that his own reputation was being destroyed, because the plan would not work, that it would not be surprising if he approached the Prime Minister and asked to be transferred to some more congenial activity. We may be right or wrong about this; but our judgment is that this proposal is illusory, that it will not work and that we ought not to foist on the people of Wales a proposal which is a delusion and a sham and is nothing more than make-believe.
These are the reasons which led us to think that that proposal, which we have examined with the utmost care, and, I assure the House, with great sympathy, is not one which either the House or the representatives of Welsh constituencies ought to accept. But, as I shall show later, we have better and more effective means of ensuring Ministerial association and contact with Welsh affairs and with the representatives of Wales.
I have said that the Government are most anxious to improve in any practicable way the handling of all Welsh public business. We have shown this in the actions which we have already taken. The annual Debates on Welsh affairs, it is true, started under the Coalition Government, and I myself took an active part in getting those Debates started. They have been revived and continued under the present Government, which supplemented the arrangements for these Debates by providing something which has hitherto never existed—a specific White Paper on Welsh Affairs, giving all the 1267 facts of Welsh administration, all the statistics relevant to Wales and the progress made in various fields. No previous Government had ever thought of doing this. We have done that, and I think it has been a great advantage to hon. Members from Wales, and to the people of Wales themselves to have this material available, because of the greater knowledge that was thereby placed before the House and Wales.
Further, in order that the Departments concerned with the administration of affairs in Wales, of which there are many with regional offices in the Principality, should not be isolated in their administration, we provided machinery for coordination between these activities in Wales, and we set up a quarterly conference of heads of Government offices in Wales, with an important civil servant in the chair. This has greatly improved the co-ordinating machinery of actual government within the Principality. It has worked well, and it has been a useful piece of machinery and has assisted us in the preparation of the Welsh White Papers.
§ Mr. Morrison
I said the White Paper. That is not whitewash, but facts. The whitewash was at Llandudno, not in the White Paper.
The economic situation in Wales, to which we have paid close and energetic attention, has greatly improved. I shall give only two facts, because I do not wish to anticipate the wider discussion that will arise. Under this Government the economic position of Wales has been better than it has ever been under any other Government in my recollection, whether Tory or Liberal. Let us take the figures of unemployment. In August, 1932, which was the peak of the pre-war figures, unemployment in Wales was registered at a figure of 244,579. In October, 1948, it was 39,647. That is to say, it has fallen from just under a quarter of a million to under 40,000. That is a great achievement. It is true that I have taken the peak figure, but, if we take 1938, the figure of Welsh unemployment was 158,700.
As regards industrial enterprises, 126 new factories and extensions have been completed by 30th September, 1948, as compared with 108 at 30th June, 1948. In 1268 addition, 145 factories are at present in course of construction; and, in all, about 4½ million square feet of new factory space in Wales has been completed since the end of the war, with a further 9¾ million square feet in course of construction. For all these reasons—the handling of these Debates, the White Papers, the quarterly conferences of Government officers, the revolutionary economic improvements in the conditions of Wales—I say that this Government deserves well of Wales, and that we have done everything we could have done to help.
We have been told that the measures so far taken with regard to the administration of Welsh affairs have not gone far enough. It is suggested that, in addition to the conference of Government officers, there should be a council, which, it is argued, would serve to focus Welsh opinion on matters affecting Government policy in Wales. Representations have been made to us in this regard by the Welsh Regional Council of the Labour Party, as well as by hon. Members from Wales who support the Government. The latter were associated with the Welsh Regional Council in this particular matter, and they came to see us about it. But others have made proposals as well.
Interest in such a proposal was naturally stimulated by the establishment of the Scottish Economic Conference, and I would remind my hon. Friends from Wales that when the Scottish Economic Conference was established—by the way, it is working very well; I saw it at work last Friday morning—there was immediately a repercussion in Wales. They said, "Why not do the same for Wales?" That was a broad general demand from Wales, which we heard voiced, and, indeed, which I expected, when the decision was taken in regard to the Scottish Economic Conference.
There are substantial differences between the circumstances of Scotland and those of Wales. But in their consideration of the problem the Government also considered how far the principles of the Scottish Economic Conference could be applied to the somewhat different circumstances of Wales. We approached the proposal for a Council for Wales and Monmouthshire sympathetically, and we thought there was a case for saying that 1269 there was scope for such a body as would be able to look at Welsh problems as a whole, to get information from Government Departments, Ministers and other organisations about the action that was being taken to meet the needs of Wales, and to make sure that Welsh points of view were effectively considered.
We have reached the conclusions which I shall now indicate to the House. I am glad to be able to tell the House that, as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made, we propose to set up a Council for Wales and Monmouthshire with the following terms of reference:(1) to meet from time to time, and at least quarterly, for the interchange of views and information on developments and trends in the economic and cultural fields in Wales and Monmouthshire; and (2) to secure that the Government are adequately informed of the impact of Government activities on the general life of the people of Wales and Monmouthshire.Those terms of reference have been drafted to avoid setting the Council tasks which are already adequately dealt with by the various bodies that already exist in Wales to advise individual Ministers on specific subjects. There are, moreover, important subjects which are not within the province of the existing bodies. The job of the new Council will not be so much to advise direct on matters of detail, but the broader one of seeing that the Government are adequately informed of the trends of Welsh opinion, and how Governmental activities are affecting the lives of the Welsh people.
What I have said does not indicate that, for example, the Council could not discuss in a broad way matters which are also dealt with by the Welsh Regional Industrial Board which is under my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Board for Industry——
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not dealing with that; that is a distinct body. It is the Government body representing industry and work people that I am dealing with. One must beware of doing the work of that body over again, because it deals with a lot of detailed matter which would not interest the Welsh Council. On the other hand, we do not preclude the 1270 Council for Wales and Monmouthshire from dealing with problems which concern either the cultural or the industrial wellbeing of Wales. Indeed, that is one of the purposes for which it is set up. No doubt, with good sense, we can get over any possible overlapping in such matters, but, obviously, we must safeguard the proper work of existing Welsh organisations. It is proposed that the Council should be appointed by the Prime Minister, but it will be chosen on a basis which will ensure that major Welsh interests are covered. It is proposed that it should be composed of 27 members made up upon the following basis.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
Before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds further, I am sure he would wish to give the House as much information as he can on the terms of reference. I take it from the remarks he has made already that it is purely an advisory Council. Can he say whether there will be any report to Parliament as to what advice this Council has given to the Minister on any matter, or any report to Parliament from the Minister? Otherwise, so far as the right hon. Gentleman is concerned, it is neither more nor less than another committee.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes, Sir, this body will be purely advisory in character. As regards publicity of its proceedings, I am coming to that at a later point in my speech.
§ Mr. Morrison
I know, because I am coining to it in the course of my speech, if the hon. Gentleman will let me do so.
It is proposed that 12 of the members should be selected by the Prime Minister from a panel of persons nominated by Welsh local authorities. We did consider other ways whereby the persons should be selected by local authority associations, but there are complications about that, and I think it is important that we should take into account the distribution of the members of the Council as between, for example, North and South Wales. It is important that North Wales shall be properly represented and also, taking all factors into account, South Wales. 1271 Population and industries must be taken account of. We want to be fair, taking all the factors into account, as between the various areas and classes of local authorities. Therefore, it was thought best to let every local authority freely nominate, and we shall then have to sort out and get such distribution of the 12 members as is considered to be the most equitable and fair in the public interest. We shall have a complex task, because no doubt the nominations will be numerous.
As regards industry and agriculture, it is proposed that there should be eight members, four of them representing the management or employing side of industry and agriculture, and four representing the workpeople in industry and agriculture. As to education, it is proposed that there should be two members, one nominated by the University of Wales and one by the Joint Education Committee for Wales and Monmouthshire. As to tourism and the Eisteddfod, it is proposed that there should be one member nominated by the Welsh Tourist Board, and one by the National Eisteddfod Council. It is also proposed that the Prime Minister should be empowered to select three other members, so that gaps can be filled up and suitable persons brought in who would otherwise possibly be missed. It will be seen that both in its terms of reference and in its composition, the Council will be enabled, and, I hope, competent, to deal with both economic and cultural affairs. Wales is much interested in her cultural affairs, which we thought ought to be included.
In the course of our consideration the question arose as to the position of Members of Parliament. We have come to the conclusion that it would be inadvisable for Members of Parliament to serve upon the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, not because we have any lack of faith in Members of Parliament—not in the least—but because it is clear that it would be impossible for the great bulk of them to serve upon the Council. Indeed, it is even quite likely that the great majority of them would not be elected—[Laughter.]—The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) is not as safe as all that. I do not wonder that he did a sort of nervous laugh, but he should not try to be too cheerful about it. I 1272 meant, of course, elected for service upon the Council. They could only be few, and we think that that might result in undesirable discrimination between some hon. Members and others.
Moreover, in our judgment—and I think hon. Members from Wales will see the point—it is profoundly important that the operations of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire shall in no way prejudice the rights of hon. Members in this House to discharge their Parliamentary functions, and to shoot all the questions they want to at the Government of the day, as well as to raise all the matters they wish in the course of Debate. We think that they might conceivably be embarrassed, if they had already become committed to points of view on the Council for Wales and Monmouth. Therefore, it is suggested that Members of Parliament should not serve upon this body.
The first chairman will be appointed by the Prime Minister from among the members for a period of one year. Subsequent appointments to the chairmanship will be made annually by the Council itself from among its own members, subject to the proviso that the chairman shall come from South Wales and North Wales in alternate years, which we think is fair as between North and South Wales.
Let me try to give an indication of how the Council will work—the structure of which I believe will prove to be right—in order that the whole thing shall be a valuable experiment. We must, of course, gather experience as the months and the years go on, and there is nothing finally sacred about the composition of the Council, which can be examined from time to time. Its value will depend not so much on the machinery which we must beware of worshipping too much—it is possible to have too much machinery without getting results—as upon the spirit with which the machinery is used and the personalities of those who have to work it. That is what counts.
For myself—I express a personal opinion here—I hope that all the members of the Council will be concerned with the well-being of Wales as a whole, and that party politics will not enter into the matter too much in its deliberations. The Council should, however, be a strong body fully repre- 1273 sentative of the main strands of Welsh life, and on this day of the Welsh Debate I need not stress the importance of its task and of its opportunities. The Government, of course, will give to the Council all the assistance they can. Papers can be prepared, and information will be circulated, as required, or as is thought to be expedient, so that the Council will really know what it is talking about on the matters which appear on its agenda.
We also propose—and here we begin to meet the demand for a Minister in a way which I think is far more effective than having a Minister for Welsh Affairs, or having a Minister as the chairman of this body—that Ministers should be available to attend the meetings of the Council according to the subjects that the Council may wish to discuss with them. This will provide a two-way interchange of ideas. Ministers will learn of Welsh needs, and at the same time they will have an opportunity of explaining the policy which they are pursuing. So there will be advantage on both sides of the table.
Since it is proposed that the Council's proceedings should be private, these discussions should be all the more frank and profitable. It is proposed that the proceedings of the Council shall be private. In our opinion, the Council will be the more valuable if that is so. It will be less of a debating chamber and more of a practicable assembly for the examination of affairs. Of course, we do not wish it in any way to rival the activities of Members of Parliament in their public work. The Scottish Council has all along met in private—that is a generally acceptable view—and we think that it is right in the Welsh case also.
The suggestion may be made, as I have indicated, that instead of the chairman coming from the Council itself, he should be a Minister of Cabinet rank and a Welsh Member of Parliament as well. Quite apart from the practical difficulty that a Government representing hon. Gentlemen of the official Opposition would have to face at the moment, namely that they have only three Conservative Members from the Principality and the Prime Minister's choice would be of some difficulty—I am not putting 1274 that in any derisory spirit; it is a practical point to take into account—it seems to us that this would not be a wise proposal. The Government have carefully examined it, but we have decided that, so far from furthering the usefulness of the Council, it would have the opposite effect.
I have already given reasons against the institution of a Minister for Welsh affairs, but there are other considerations, in addition to those which I have already advanced, which lead me to say that a ministerial chairman could not very well associate himself with the Council's recommendations, at any rate in matters beyond his own departmental responsibilities. He must of course consider how far he has a duty to safeguard the rights of his departmental colleagues and, of course, there is the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility. In addition, I think the Council would be able to do its job better under its own chairman who after the first chairman would be freely elected from its own ranks. That seems to me to give the chairmanship a better Welsh status than would otherwise be the case.
We think the Council will also be more effective, if the personal contacts with the Ministers concerned take place directly—at the meetings of the Council itself—where the matters in dispute can be argued out thoroughly with those Ministers and in their presence. We think that these discussions with Ministers at the periodical meetings will be more effective than if the matters are dealt with by means of a ministerial chairman. That is the reason for the step which we propose to take, and which we believe will be of advantage to Wales. In any case, we think it is well worth trying over a period. Let us see how it works. I think it can work and can be of great advantage to the Principality.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
The right hon. Gentleman promised very kindly that he would answer the question which I asked him earlier in the Debate. I take it that he has now passed that point and he has not given me an answer. I wanted to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether Parliament will have any information of any kind in regard to the proceedings of this council. Will there be any report to Parliament?
§ Mr. Morrison
I have said that the proceedings of the Council will be private. I should not think that there would be a report to Parliament, but I will look into that point. We have not gone into it yet. I am eager to safeguard the rights of Parliament and of hon. Members for Wales; I do not want to compromise them, but I make no bones about the fact that the proceedings will be private. This other point which has been raised by the hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) is new to me, and I am afraid I cannot give an answer on the spur of the moment. I am not quite sure what was arranged in the case of Scotland on that point.
That is the scheme. We believe in it. We think it is of great advantage to Wales and should be acceptable to the broad mass of Welsh opinion. It is a great advance. It would be a pity to miss carrying this experiment through, but if the general body of hon. Members from the Principality were to tell us that it was not acceptable, then of course we should not propose to press on with it. I may add this, not in any bad temper or spiteful spirit. I think this scheme will prove to be acceptable to the general body of Welsh Members, but the fact is that we cannot think of anything better. We think this is the best expedient open to us and we should be most regretful if hon. Members took such an opposite view that we did not go on with this.
We are unable, as have been Governments before us, to think of anything better than this; we think this is good. We think it is sensible and we hope, therefore, that the House will give to the proposed Council a general blessing. We should propose to set it up fairly early, in the New Year, and I hope that the people of Wales and hon. Members from Wales will receive the proposal well, because the success of this new development will depend on that to a great extent. This is the first time a body of this character has been set up to consider the problems of Wales, as a whole, and we believe it can do good work for Wales, but that its work will be enormously improved and greatly encouraged if it has the good will and support of hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Before the Lord President finishes his statement I 1276 should like to put a question on procedure if you, Sir, will permit me. It is this: in view of the fact that this scheme has now been sprung on Wales for the first time, would not the Lord President agree to consider adjourning the discussion on it this afternoon in order that Welsh Members of Parliament can consult their constituents on it before it becomes a fait accompli and in order that, meanwhile, the Government may become acquainted with the reactions of the Welsh people to the scheme?
§ Mr. Morrison
As I have said, we would not propose actually to set up the Council until the New Year, by which time we feel we should be able to pick up the reactions from Wales to the proposal. If I may say so, I do not think it would be wise to have another set Debate and a sort of oratorical referendum of Welsh Members in the House. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) that these are matters on which Members of Parliament have a duty to express themselves when the proposal is made. I do not think it would be wise for them to go back and consult their constituents so as to get some kind of unofficial or informal referendum on the matter, and I therefore urge that Members should take the responsibility, which belongs to Members of Parliament, of expressing their own views today.
Thereafter, we shall all be able to pick up the feelings of Wales on the point and if hon. Members, after the Debate, between now and Christmas, or at the beginning of the New Year, wish to communicate to me the opinions as they have experienced them in the Principality,. we shall certainly see they are taken into account. Moreover, there is this point—although it is unofficial and I may be criticised for it: the issue has been canvassed in public for some time. Various people have canvassed the idea.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
On a point of Order. Is the Lord President entitled to say that this scheme, which has been presented to the country within the last few minutes, has been canvassed in public amongst the people of Wales?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I am afraid that is not a point of Order. It appears to be a question of fact.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am sorry to delay the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who is to follow. This idea has been discussed in Wales for some time, not by one party alone but by others. There were some leaks into one of the local newspapers, about which I am not complaining, so that the idea was known. I took the trouble also to meet hon. Members from Wales in order that they should have—which I thought was right—advance knowledge of the idea. I may say that the general proposal—and this I think I am entitled to say—and this scheme are broadly approved by the Regional Council of Labour in Wales.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
We have been told by the Lord President that hon. Members sitting for Welsh constituencies were informed of this scheme. Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us how long ago he informed them?
§ Mr. Morrison
I informed the Welsh Parliamentary Party yesterday of the details. They already knew a good deal of the broad outline.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
Last week we were told that this day would be set aside for what has become the annual day of discussion on Welsh affairs, and the Lord President then announced, at that Box, that the day would be divided into two parts—one devoted to agriculture and one devoted to economic matters. But he has decided today, to use the words of the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies), to spring upon us, upon this House, upon the country and upon Wales in particular, what is certainly a novel and startling proposal. We have also been told that it is proposed to bring this scheme into effect at a very early date, possibly early in the New Year. If that is so, it will be a matter which will be vitally important to Wales, its government and the methods of administration.
I quite agree with the Lord President that it is the duty of hon. Members of Parliament to express their opinions freely and not to regard themselves merely as delegates. Undoubtedly that is our position, but it is also true that in all matters which affect the welfare of Wales and the administration of Welsh affairs we should be well informed as 1278 to what effect the proposals will have on the Welsh people as a whole. The Welsh people are hearing the nature of these proposals for the first time—or will be hearing them tomorrow morning or tonight. I would say now to the Lord President that I am quite sure none of us will be satisfied with what takes place in today's Debate and we shall be asking that this matter—if the Government proceed with it, as the right hon. Gentleman said they propose to do—shall be discussed again. We shall want a separate, special day devoted to it.
Let us consider what is the position. The Lord President has said that this has been discussed by various parties. I can answer for the Liberal Party: this proposal came to them last night for the first time.
§ Mr. Davies
I understand from an interruption above the Gangway that the official Opposition also heard for the first time last night, when the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to meet the Welsh Party. What has happened in regard to his own supporters I do not know. So far as we are concerned, yesterday was the first we heard about it.
Let me review the position with regard to Welsh affairs and what is our position today. Clearly, it is now recognised by all parties that Wales is a separate nation, with its own language, its own traditions, its own customs and its own history. In fact, without entering into any competition with those North of the Tweed and those in Ireland, I would say that we are the representatives of the oldest race in the British Isles, and that we cherish our traditions, our literature and our language. For a very long time there has been a strong agitation throughout Wales that more attention should be paid by this House to Welsh sentiment and Welsh ideas.
For a very long time there has been a claim in Wales for devolution. I have been looking at some of the older election addresses, and any number of them asked for devolution on exactly the same lines as some of us have been asking for it in this House, not only in the last Parliament but in this; stating, quite rightly, that if democracy is to main- 1279 tain its position democratic institutions must grow and spread, and that this House is so over-worked that it is incapable of attending to all matters that demand attention and at the same time deal with the greater issues that always confront us. That being so, we have been arguing, as Scotland has been arguing, for devolution and for a properly elected Parliament or council, or grand council—or whatever its name may be—that could deal with purely Welsh affairs that concern Wales and Wales alone. That is one side of the matter.
Another is—and I am only stating this, not arguing it, so that one may have a proper perspective—that for quite a long time there has been a very strong request that there should be in the Cabinet of today a Secretary of State for Wales. So much so that I doubt whether there was a single council—county council, urban district council, borough council, rural district or even parish council—that did not pass resolution after resolution asking that there should be a Secretary of State for Wales. I would go further and say that I doubt whether there was one Member of Parliament in the last Parliament who did not make similar demands. One of the strongest advocates for it was the present Minister of National Insurance. I think every colleague of his was in favour of that.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a statement which is entirely untrue. I for one certainly never advocated, or associated myself with a demand for a Secretary of State for Wales. [HON. MEMBERS: "How long have you been here?"] Three years.
§ Mr. Davies
Then the hon. Member was a very new Member in the last Parliament. Moreover, there has been a very strong nationalistic movement in Wales of which many of us did not approve.
That is the position, and we now see what the Government are proposing. The right hon. Gentleman says that they have given the greatest thought to this. 1280 He has told us further that he can conceive of nothing better. How long has the right hon. Gentleman been thinking over this? A whole mountain seems to have been shaken, and to have produced the smallest mouse ever presented as a substitute for a proper constitutional development. I wonder where the idea has come from. The right hon. Gentleman made play with the suggestion made public earlier than that. It seems to me that the wet nurse who has been attending the right hon. Gentleman in the production of this little white mouse is the hon. Member for Caernarvonshire (Mr. G. Roberts). I seem to recognise some of the statements that the right hon. Gentleman reiterated today as having been made by the hon. Member for Caernarvonshire in North Wales, as reported in the papers.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvonshire)
I claim no more share in promoting these proposals than any other member of the Welsh Labour group or of any other group in the Principality.
§ Mr. Davies
I am very glad to hear that the hon. Member dissociates himself from the parentage of such a poor, stillborn infant as this. I congratulate him upon that. Let us see what this is. If there is one people of this country that treasures democratic ideas and democratic institutions it is the Welsh people. What is proposed here? To brush democratic ideas to one side and have a nominated council to consider suggestions about Wales.
§ Mr. Davies
The nominations must be those of the Prime Minister of the day. These are to be people sitting in secret council who are to tell the Government what is the view of Wales, democratic Wales, upon questions of the day—sitting in secret there, and sending for Ministers. It reminds me of the retort made to a very great Welshman. You may "call spirits from the vasty deep"—but will they come? This precious council, nominated in this way: this 27; this sort of Star Chamber—[Laughter.] What else is it? I can tell hon. Members who laugh that it looks as though the Government have been dipping into foreign history. It reminds me more of the Council of Ten of Venice 1281 than anything else. This secret council will exercise the duty of advising—for it is said that it is to give only advice, but that is a tremendous power—and will send for Ministers and tell them what is the view of Wales, and, moreover, tell them also of the impact that the Government's actions have had upon Welsh opinion. I should have thought that the best information as to the impact of the actions of the Government would be given during a General Election and through the ballot box. If the Government want to know what Welsh opinion is, let them ask for it and they will get it. Let them do that, instead of having this secret lot sitting there.
What else is to happen? What is to be the position of Members of Parliament and of the Welsh Party in this House? We have the right of going to Ministers and of putting before them matters concerning not only our constituents but concerning Wales as a whole. We have exercised that right over a great number of years. We have always been received courteously by the Ministers of the day. Ministers, as the Lord President did last night, have paid us the compliment of coming to meetings of the Welsh Party to be asked questions on all matters concerning Wales. What is to happen in the future? We ask the Ministers to see us or to come to see us. We shall put our case before a Minister. He will listen courteously and, perhaps, if he indulges in what the right hon. Gentleman calls "leaks," he will shake his head, and say, "It is all very well for you elected Members to say so and so, but I know better, for I have consulted the secret council of 27, and they know the opinion of Wales far better than you Members of Parliament." So Ministers will speak, and contradict the whole 36 of us, including Ministers. What kind of position will Members of Parliament have in such a system as that?
If it were not so serious for Wales, if it were not that Wales has been asking for separate consideration during all these years and even for generations, if it were not for the position of Wales in regard to its language, its traditions, and its literature, the whole proposal would be laughable. But it really is an insult to the Welsh people, and to all their tradi- 1282 tions. What is more, it is an insult to their idea of democracy and of how it should work. I am amazed that the right hon. Gentleman should have ventured to bring forward such a flimsy scheme as this. However, it is rather in accordance with the trend of affairs in Wales today, and the trend that there has been for some considerable time. We are ruled today by a bureaucracy in Wales—a complete bureaucracy.
We are all proud of the fact that there are more Members from Wales in His Majesty's Government than there ever have been before. We are also proud of the fact that there are more people from Wales in the House of Commons than ever before; but in truth and in fact, the administration of Wales is being run by a bureaucracy, and we have less influence and less power than we have had before, for this reason: For some considerable time now there has been a tendency to create in Wales what they call regional offices of the Departments here. Welsh opinion is supposed to be satisfied and met by the creation of these offices, beginning with the Ministry of Health and going on to almost every other Department——
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposed to these regional offices? Did he not ask for them?
§ Mr. Davies
I am telling the right hon. Gentleman what is my objection to the present position. This began with the Ministry of Health, but now nearly every other Ministry is represented. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that policy is laid down by the central Department in London. Information with regard to that policy is then sent to the local offices. The local offices give the strictest interpretation to the documents that they receive. What then happens? In the matter of administration, some injustice, as we think, arises. Thereupon, the local people or the local council or a Member of Parliament makes a protest. The protest is made to the regional office. The regional office come to a conclusion and make a decision. It may be that we, as representatives, take the matter up with the central office in London. We may even see a Minister, a Permanent Secretary or an Under-Secretary. What is the invariable 1283 answer? It is, "We really cannot interfere with this; we have left the matter in the hands of the local people, and they know far and away better than we do; we cannot do anything better." Our position is nothing like so satisfactory——
§ The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. James Griffiths)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman give a single instance in which a Minister whom he has approached about a problem has told him, "I am sorry, you must go and see the regional council"?
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, certainly I can give one instance—agriculture. What happens there? The Minister of Agriculture has appointed his agricultural committee and the agricultural committee deal with local matters. They come to a decision. That decision, in the opinion of the people, is a wrong one. We then come to London and see the Minister. What is the reply which the Minister invariably makes? He says, "Who am I to interfere? I have done my best. I have appointed the best people I can think of, and I certainly cannot interfere." What is that but a bureaucratic form of Government? It was far and away better in the old days when we could go direct to the Minister, and he could make his own inquiries. Then he could reply to us, and we could discuss the matter again.
I want to give two or three instances of the way in which Wales has suffered in recent times. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the improved economic position. I agree that it is far better than it was a few years ago. He gave figures of unemployment. There was not one of us who was not deeply distressed about the unemployment that existed in Wales between the two wars. We know how much Wales added to the wealth of this country and, through this country, to the world, and how much Wales was forgotten during that grim period, when roughly 400,000 out of a population of 2,500,000 had to leave Wales because they could get nothing to do. I agree that there is a great improvement with regard to that. Would the right hon. Gentleman look back a little earlier than that and see the economic position when South Wales was flourishing and adding so much to our wealth?
The tragedy of rural Wales continues. There is still this terrible exodus 1284 from our rural communities. How often have I given the figures with regard to my own county which has a smaller population today than it had in 1800. A year or two ago, the death rate was exceeding the birth rate. I agree that in the bad times people went to work in South Wales. Many of the right hon. Gentleman's forebears came there from rural Wales to earn better money. What we have been anxious about is to try to stop that exodus. Little has been done by this or any other Government to stop it. What has been done by this Government is to make that exodus more certain. Consider the amount of land which they were about to take away for military purposes in Wales—a far higher proportion than from England or Scotland. I will not dilate on that. How much land are they going to take in afforestation—uprooting people from their mode of life and promising them an entirely different form of life; causing them to pursue a course of life which is utterly alien to the Welsh idea? One could give a tremendous amount of detail with regard to that but time will not permit.
May I mention one other thing? Recently, there has been a Boundary Commission which inquired into what might happen with regard to England, and they also laid down what should happen with regard to Wales. There is not a single council in Wales which has not objected to what the Boundary Commission has done.
§ Mr. Davies
I dare say, but they were in a minority. Nevertheless, the Boundary Commission say, "We propose to go on." Because of these matters, we have been asking for better consideration, for a Secretary of State and for a Welsh Parliament, which we demand today, to deal with our own Welsh affairs. We have been asking for devolution, and all that the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, can give us is this paltry secret chamber that no one in Wales wants.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Major Lloyd George (Pembroke)
In common with most of my colleagues from Wales, I recognise that we are under some disadvantage today in having had 1285 very little time to examine in detail the right hon. Gentleman's proposal. From my own experience of him as a colleague, when he says that he looks at this question with sympathy, I know that he is saying what is perfectly true, because no one has shown greater sympathy in regard to Welsh affairs than the right lion. Gentleman. I speak with some knowledge because he and I often had to consult about these questions.
I propose to occupy only a short time because there are many others who want to take part in the Debate. We have had, as I say, very little time to look into this proposal and my first reaction to it is much in accord with that of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). The right hon. Gentleman today and all his colleagues at various times have agreed that there is a special Welsh problem with regard to government. That is not in dispute. There are certain things in Wales which require special approach and treatment. There we are on common ground.
How will the proposal brought forward today by the right hon. Gentleman help us to deal with those special Welsh problems? My own view is that the proper place to deal with Welsh problems is in this House of Commons, and that the people best suited to deal with those problems are the elected representatives of the Welsh people, using the right of any Member of Parliament to deal with a Member of the Executive in this House. I am sure that is the only way to deal with a problem in a democratic State.
§ Mr. G. Roberts
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is, therefore, declaring, that he is opposed to the proposal made by his Liberal colleague the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) who asked for a Welsh Parliament?
§ Major Lloyd George
I should have said that a Parliament was the proper place as opposed to a Council outside it. Whether that Parliament be in Wales or in Westminster makes no difference to me at all.
§ Major Lloyd George
It is not the whole of the point I was making, if the hon. Member will allow me to finish. I was saying that in a democracy the proper place in which to deal with problems affecting the electorate is in the Assembly where the elected people meet. Where that particular place may be does not alter the argument in the slightest degree. I am arguing against the proposal submitted by the right hon. Gentleman today.
Surely we are the people who should handle the affairs of those who sent us here to look after them? What will happen now? What advance has there been today? We are to have a Council of 27 members; that Council is to meet quarterly to examine the economic and cultural affairs of the Principality, and is to keep the Government informed of the trend of Welsh opinion. What are we here for? It is to keep the Government informed on the effect of Government policy on Wales. Again, what are we here for? There is no need to have a Council of 27 when there are already 36 Members of this House who are far more easily accessible to their constituents than any member of this Council can ever be.
What does this Council consist of? Eight members elected by local authorities——
§ Major Lloyd George
There are to be four from each side of industry, labour and employers, one from the National Eisteddfod, one from the Tourist Board—and after hearing that I was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not suggest having one from the Welsh Rugby Union in order to get a truly representative Council for the Principality; at least we might then have been able to get a few tickets for the international matches. Do the Government really suggest that this proposal will advance the case of Wales? The Council is to meet quarterly, and in private.
The right hon. Gentleman was not sure whether there was to be any report to Parliament; he said he had not thought of that, but that he would give it thought. Surely that is vital if this Council, which is representative of all thought in Wales, is to examine the industrial and cultural aspects of Welsh life, and all these other 1287 things. Nobody else can attend the meetings because they are secret, and the right hon. Gentleman is not sure whether there will be any report to us. How are we to act here if we do not get a report of what this great Council has discovered—assuming they discover anything?
The right hon. Gentleman said that the analogy was the Scottish Economic Conference, but added—I thought rather naïvely—that there was some difference in Scotland. I can assure him there is, as his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will confirm. What happens in regard to Wales? Today, by the time the first two speeches are finished, we shall have speeches of about nine minutes each, supposing the same number—20—want to speak as spoke last time. Had it not been for this proposal we should be discussing the whole industrial and economic life of Wales in speeches of an average length of nine minutes. Hon. Members may want to discuss agriculture, industry and culture, all of which has to be crammed into nine minutes. That is not possible in any Debate in this House, even compared with the length of speeches on other subjects of 15 to 20 minutes. We have but one day in the year. Contrast that with what happens in Scotland. They have three Ministers; they have Debates on housing, on health, on practically every aspect of Scottish life. Reference to the index of HANSARD shows that eight columns of that index deal with Scottish affairs: there are only eight items for the whole of Wales. That is the difference.
The only way this problem can be dealt with effectively—whatever this Council reports—is to have a Minister in this House. At the moment we cannot get at a Minister who is responsible. Last time, the Lord President's place was taken by the President of the Board of Trade. This year the Lord President comes along and happens to be particularly sympathetic. But there is no Minister we can get hold of on any particular Welsh problem. The fact of the matter is we cannot get at this Council; the only person we can get at is a Minister. Frankly, I think this particular scheme is entirely useless. It may be a very good thing in helping us to get some more 1288 information; but if we want to do anything, then only in this House or in a Welsh Parliament can we do it. I repeat the complaint which we have all put forward to the right hon. Gentleman at different times: until we get somebody in this House who is responsible for Welsh affairs, and who can be questioned, and until we can have, as we are entitled to have, adequate Debates and not just one speech each, neither I nor any of my colleagues will be satisfied.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Cove (Aberavon)
As I listened to the two speeches from the Opposition Benches this afternoon, my mind went back over a long series of years. I have been in this House since 1923, and have joined in deputations on the question of a Secretary of State for Wales—although I have never been the spokesman—to every Prime Minister during that period. I do not want to be controversial, but I believe the matter was even considered by the father of the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George), who turned it down. Every Prime Minister since the 1914–18 war has turned down the request for a Secretary of State for Wales. I thought that the Prime Minister who gave the most careful and sympathetic consideration to our request was the late Neville Chamberlain.
§ Mr. Cove
I have agreement from both sides of the House. I remember very well Mr. Neville Chamberlain saying: "I have Welsh blood in me, and that Welsh blood in me is sufficiently strong to urge me to do all I can to secure a Secretary of State for Wales." We met him twice, but after he had given the proposal the most meticulous examination, he turned it down. That is the history of the last 20 years of propaganda for a Secretary of State for Wales. No Prime Minister of any party has regarded it as practical or useful for Wales.
This afternoon we have not had merely a request for a Secretary of State for Wales. I do not know where the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has jumped to. He appears to have jumped right into the camp of the Welsh Nationalists.
§ Mr. Cove
That is the proposal. The right hon. and learned Member knows that is a quite impracticable proposal which would be rejected by the mass of the working-class throughout Wales.
The problems of poverty and unemployment in Wales have not been imposed by the hatred and malignity of the English, although one would have thought that that was so. These problems are indigenous in the economic set-up of Wales, as in the case of Jarrow, Lancashire and other areas in England. No one knows better the problems of Wales than my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery. He issued a report which was staggering in its revelations of the poverty of Wales, and of the housing conditions and the terribly bad, rotten, unhealthy temporary school buildings in Wales. But what was the reason for that report? It was not hatred or persecution by an alien Parliament, but the inherent poverty of Wales herself. He pointed out—it was burned into me, and I have used it many times—that the rateable value of Westminster was more than the whole rateable value of Wales.
Would the establishment of either a Welsh Parliament or a Secretary of State for Wales cure that indigenous poverty in Wales? The proposal for a Secretary of State for Wales has been turned down, and a Parliament for Wales is an impossible proposition. I say quite frankly that, having regard to the poverty of Wales and also in view of the fact that this proposal preserves the integrity of Members of Parliament and does not intrude upon the powers, responsibilities or privileges of Members of Parliament, I should have thought that those who have this live, dynamic interest in Wales would have said that here is a Council of Welsh people, not British aliens but a Council composed wholly of Welshmen, that will have the interests of Wales at heart.
Where, then, is the clash, assuming that we are to have good Welshmen on 1290 this Council? Why not trust them to help in stirring a Government into action where they think it is being diffident? I cannot understand why there should be this objection. The fact of the matter is that this is the first definite, concrete contribution towards making the voice of Wales effective. No other feasible proposal has been put before the House. I say to the Government: do not expect to get unanimity in Wales. I think that my Liberal friends, my Nationalist friends and my Conservative friends—I nearly said my dear Conservative friends—are a little bit jealous that here for the first time in history——
§ Mr. Cove
Then let us all rejoice and sing praises unto Herbert Morrison in a unanimous voice. I say quite definitely to the Government that now that they know there are large sections of public opinion in Wales who will support them, let them go on with the job, because if they wait for unanimity they will never get anything done for Wales.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint)
We have had a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove). I think it is the first time that he has not attacked the Government with even greater power than he now supports it, I hope it is not a sign that he has now become a sycophant.
§ Mr. Birch
I will withdraw that word and say "supporter." I think that my hon. Friends—and we have not had time to consult about this—would certainly approach the idea of a Council for Wales with sympathy. The House will remember that the Lord President of the Council said that he was approaching the question of a Minister for Wales with sympathy, but if this is his sympathetic approach I shudder to think what would be the result of his unsympathetic approach.
1291 There is certainly something to be said for a Council for Wales, although one composed and nominated like this is extremely difficult to defend. I do not believe that a Council for Wales makes any sense at all, unless there is a Minister for Wales who remits problems to the Council and to whom that Council has to report. I do not think that a Council sitting in Cardiff, or somewhere in the blue, with no one to report to and no one directing their labours really makes sense. I think the suggestion we have made many times, not for a Secretary of State for Wales, but for a Minister for Wales, that is to say, a senior Member of the Cabinet whose job it would be to look at Welsh problems as a whole and not merely from the departmental point of view, is an admirable way of cooperation with such a Council.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas (Llandaff and Barry)
Does the hon. Member contemplate that this Minister would have a Civil Service set-up?
§ Mr. Birch
Certainly not. That is the set-up for a Secretary of State for Scotland. A Minister for Wales would be a watch-dog in the Cabinet who would look at Welsh problems as a whole and see that justice was done. If we were to have this Council, I think he would have a vital task.
What is the relationship of this Council to be with members of the Welsh Party? Suppose the Council gives secret advice and suppose that the secret advice leaks out and that we do not like the look of it. What Minister is to be asked questions about it? If there were to be some Minister for Wales, control over the Council, over the problems to be remitted to the Council, and over the reports that it made, would still remain in the hands of Members of Parliament for Wales. As my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) has just said, Welsh politics make a certain impact upon Welsh Members of Parliament. Welsh constituents are by no means dumb and they can read and write. We know a bit about what is going on in our constituencies.
I cannot believe that the proposed Council, divorced from any kind of political contact or control, will give in- 1292 creased confidence in Wales about how the country is governed. How can confidence be stimulated by a body which is appointed by the Government of the day and which deliberates in secret? Secret deliberations and Government appointment do not lead to increased confidence. I fear that the whole proposal would degenerate very much into something like a Socialist caucus on a county council. That is what it would look like in the end. The people of Wales may come to look upon this body as a floating kidney in the Welsh body politic rather than as something with a healthy function. The Lord President of the Council said that our proposal for a Minister for Wales was whitewash. All I can say is that his proposal seems to me to be whitewash, and a very weak mixture at that.
Let me turn for a few minutes to the problem which was touched upon by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), that of regionalising local government in North Wales. As the House may be aware, the Boundary Commission have put up a proposal which involves the merging of the county councils of Flint, Denbigh, Anglesey, Caernarvon, Merioneth and Montgomery into one colossal local authority. This comes from the Socialist passion for symmetry and for concentration of power. It is what one usually gets under a Government which calls itself revolutionary. The Lord President will remember that after the French Revolution the Constituent Assembly destroyed all the historic units of French local government that had the will and the authority to govern themselves. All power thenceforward seeped away from local authorities in France and went to the centre.
This proposal of the Boundary Commission has been most bitterly resented in North Wales because it ignores the wishes of the people as represented by the elected councils, it ignores the history and the geography of the country and it ignores the communications of North Wales and the fact that there is no convenient administrative centre in North Wales. In fact, it ignores every local interest. Welsh county councils are efficient. They have said, very sensibly, that they are willing to have joint committees on specific subjects like police, 1293 fire, water, and technical education. In fact, they have a number of Joint Committees already and they are ready to extend them where it can be clearly shown that greater efficiency and economy will result.
The advocates of the scheme say that their situation will be better because we shall get more efficiency and better men. That is pure assumption. No calculations to prove it have in any way been put forward. This is exactly what happened over the National Coal Board. We were told that the Coal Board would reduce the costs of coal because we should get super-men on it and administrative costs would go down. The House knows that exactly the opposite effect has resulted. I believe that the same thing could happen in this case. We should simply be putting another tier of local Government upon the existing county councils and a lot of interested people would descend upon it like so many flies on a bit of meat. Far greater expense and inefficiency would result.
The Commissioners of the Boundary Commission met the county councils at Shrewsbury on 28th September last and treated them rather roughly. They showed not only the proud and overbearing manner which jumped-up officials are very apt to show, but they said that the Commissioners were very gravely disappointed by the continued absence of any constructive proposals from the Welsh counties. They added that the time was short. They did not actually add that their patience was exhausted, but they implied it.
Their attitude was typical of what is going on in this country now. Here we have institutions, historical entities, which have come about over many hundreds of years and which have been evolving and are still evolving, are efficient and have great futures in front of them. The Government then attempt to destroy these historical entities and when people object and say: "Look here, this is part of our life. We believe in it. This is how we want to work our lives," the Government say: "What is your constructive alternative?" I wonder whether hon. Gentlemen opposite have ever realised how obscenely stupid that question is. I very much hope that this plan will not go through. It is completely opposed by the vast 1294 majority of the people in North Wales. It is supported only by one or two ambitious officials and one or two ambitious trade unionists. So far as I know, nobody else supports it at all.
I should like to add a word about the White Paper which the Lord President praised. It is a rather weak document. If it were presented by a Minister for Wales I do not believe we should get quite so much nonsense in it. For instance, in paragraph 183 the authors are trying to convey the simple information that people are drinking less orange juice. These are the words they use:The latest available figures showing the average uptake expressed as percentages of the potential uptake of vitamin issues"—and so on. We really cannot seriously put up with this sort of language. It is intolerable.
Authority is seeping away from Wales owing to the progress of nationalisation. Electricity is now run from London through Liverpool. Coal is run from London through Manchester, gas from London presumably through Cardiff, and now steel from London through we do not yet know where. The dull malice of hon. Gentlemen opposite is taking away all the power and interest in North Wales. Speaking last week in the steel Debate the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) said that it was a scandal that the big steel works should be in North Wales at all and he very much hoped that the Steel Board would review such matters, have a proper plan and remove those steel works. That is the sort of sympathy that the people in North Wales are likely to get when they have their industries nationalised.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvonshire)
I am sure that it will be interesting to the House to know that the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) is not at all certain that he is opposed to the idea of a National Advisory Council for Wales. I admire his frankness because it is going to be very easy indeed to criticise these proposals. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) complained that he had not been given enough time to study the Lord President's proposals. He then proceeded——
§ Mr. Davies
It does not take five minutes to understand what I said. What I complained about was that Wales had not heard about them.
§ Mr. Roberts
I took the right hon. and learned Member to mean that the proposal had come rather quickly and that it would be well to postpone discussion on it in this House. He then proceeded to condemn the proposal root and branch with all the authority of a man who had exhaustively examined it. The real truth is that no matter what proposal the present Government made in regard to Welsh affairs, and no matter how long hon. Members opposite had to study that proposal, they would still oppose it. I make bold to say that Welsh public opinion will agree with me and not with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on that point.
The Lord President of the Council has made an extremely important announcement which will be widely discussed in the Principality. If the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery wishes to intervene in an orderly fashion I will give way, but he must not go on mumbling, after spending three-quarters of an hour in making a speech. As I say, the announcement will be widely discussed in the Principality and to a considerable extent what we as representatives of Wales say today about this proposal will colour the reactions of the people of Wales.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
On a point of Order. It is quite impossible for me to follow the argument of my hon. Friend because of the noise which the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) is making. Is it possible for his running commentary to stop?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I hope that the whole House will so act as to enable hon. Members to make their speeches heard.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I was addressing a remark to my right hon. Friend. It ill becomes anyone on the other side of the House to complain of interruptions.
§ Earl Winterton
I do not know whether that was intended to be a point of Order. If it was not a point of Order, it was an extremely insolent interruption.
§ Mr. Roberts
I was trying to say that what we say today about this proposal will certainly colour the reaction of the Welsh people to it. Therefore, we have a grave responsibility. We ought to examine the proposal as impartially as possible, and with a desire to give the wisest possible lead to our people.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that Wales is exercised in mind about the future of its administration and of its national status, but I hope that there will go out from this Debate today a lead to the people of the Principality to consider calmly what these proposals may mean to them and to their national future. I do not intend to dilate on the merits of the proposals. I will merely say that they have the merit that they recognise Wales as a national entity. That is quite clear, and we must not under-emphasise the importance of that. The second merit of the proposals is that they endeavour to create a consultative body composed of representatives of the chief aspects of Welsh life, which may regularly examine Welsh problems and recommend solutions to the Central Government, and possibly to the elected representatives at Westminster. That is an important step forward.
It is possible to criticise these proposals and any other proposals endlessly. In fact, that is what has happened in Wales for the past 60 or 70 years. The distinguished father of the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) made every effort to get united political action in Wales, to get one positive step forward. I think he failed, but I do not blame him for having failed. The one thing we seem to have failed to do in Wales is not to miss quite the right policy for Wales; what we have failed to do is to unite on some definite concrete step forward. These proposals, far from emanating from me, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has rather childishly suggested, do not fully meet with my desires in the matter. My views are perfectly well known to Members in all parts of the House. I am a devolutionist, a federalist, but I recognise that if we are to move ahead at all, we must get the highest common factor of agreement now in the Principality.
1297 I could make a speech along the lines of that made by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. Perhaps I could not do so as eloquently or as expertly, but I could say those things. That would not help the cause of unity in Wales, however, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman is himself bound to gather from the reception given to some of his statements. I am not asking hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who represent Welsh constituencies, all of whom I can-I hope, in a personal way, refer to on Welsh days as my hon. and right hon. Friends, to commit themselves in detail to the proposal described today by the Lord President. I am most earnestly asking them not to stifle this thing before it can breathe, but to let it run; to use the words of the Lord President, to let this experiment proceed, and then, in the course of time, to watch its progress, to offer suggestions for modification and revision, to watch it carefully during the next 12 months. Then, on the next occasion on which we debate Welsh affairs, I ask that we should offer, with as much unity as we can, the most radical changes as to the composition, the terms of reference and the procedure of this Council.
§ Mr. Roberts
We might do it in the course of this Debate. I am merely suggesting that this Debate should not be taken as conclusive on the merits of this proposal, and that during the next weeks and months we should go among our own people, think again about this proposal and fashion suggestions which might possibly improve the already practicable and reasonable proposal which the Lord President has placed before the House. Therefore, I commend to my hon. and right hon. Friends from Wales the view that we should not finally condemn this proposal today, but that we should let it proceed as an enterprise, as an experiment, and do our best to assist in its working and to improve it at the proper time.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Price-White (Caernarvon Boroughs)
We are talking tonight about Wales. The other evening, on what is always the apparently interminable journey from Wales, I was reading the autobiography of a legal luminary who 1298 once adorned—presumably—the Front Bench opposite. With a slight flavour of sour grapes he said, in a chapter on politics, that the average exposition of a back bencher was tiresome to his neighbour and not very exhilarating to himself. I say, with every respect to right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, that there are times when Debates on Welsh affairs may be tiresome to Wales and not very exhilarating to themselves.
I should like to pay a compliment to the Lord President of the Council. Wales has at least caused him to show himself in a more amiable and less mischievous mood than ever before. Let us be frank about this. We have had a proposal, which I am sure is made with a certain sense of political honesty by the Lord President, that we should have a Council for Wales. I was glad to hear him refer to Llandudno. Having experienced something of the Naples of the south, I was pleased to hear of the Naples of the north. He referred, not always in a praiseworthy way, to what happened at Llandudno recently. I would tell him that what the Tories did last month, obviously the Socialists will trapes after in two years' time. Whatever we may have done in Wales, we have at least caused the right hon. Gentleman to give hurried attention to the problem of Welsh affairs. I think that we Welsh representatives—I am speaking of those who are Welsh and not those who are representative of Wales because of the peculiar texture of the bag they carry from a political headquarters—[Laughter.] I at least have an advantage over some of the laughter-mongers in that I was born, bred and still continue to live in Wales.
Let us get down to fundamental matters. What indeed do we want? I am endeavouring to do a service to my fellow countrymen in asking them what they want. We have heard various suggestions. Anything said in this Debate—indeed, anything said at any time by a Welsh Member of Parliament—naturally will not receive full approbation in Wales, of all places. We appreciate the need for a greater understanding of the Welsh people and a more efficient administration of Welsh desires and potentialities than exist under the present Administration. It would be politically dishonest if I condemned the present proposal for a Council for Wales 1299 even if, as I suspect, it emanated from the fertile brain of my colleague the Member for Caernarvonshire (Mr. G. Roberts). I suspect that his suggestion has received about as much unanimity among Welsh supporters of the Government as it will receive in Wales tomorrow.
What is it that we desire in Wales? It is patent that we desire something which will be an improvement upon our present administration with its complete absence of appreciation of the Welsh background and spirit and the Welsh potentiality for furthering the good of the four peoples of these islands and the world at large. We are all apt to seize upon anything which might provide a solution to our troubles. It would be wrong to condemn the present proposals, much as I dislike them, at the short notice which we have had. We cannot in equity condemn them merely because they have come from a Government whose political views we do not necessarily support. The proposals are worthy of examination. If the right hon. Gentleman has made a mistake, it is in rushing his suggestions before us at such short notice. If it is a conscientious attempt to solve this problem, then as such, it deserves examination.
Amiable scorn has been poured upon the suggested solution which came from this side of the House. It was said that we should appoint—when inevitably we return to office—a Minister who shall have the duty of appreciating the impact of Governmental policy upon Wales. I think that the phrase "appreciating the impact of Government policy" is a beautiful expression though, at present, it would appear that that policy is non-existent. I think that a better solution can be found than this anonymous Council for Wales. If a Welshman loves one thing, he loves a committee. There are more members of committees in Wales than there are inhabitants of the country, and we are now giving them another committee. That is not the answer to our problem.
For the first time in this Debate I direct the attention of the House to a subject which will inevitably be raised. I refer to Welsh culture. We are proud of our culture. Culture is indigenous to the country of its origin. No political chamber, no politcal act, can either make or kill culture. Whatever this House may approve in the way of Councils of 1300 Ministers cannot have the slightest effect for good or ill upon our culture, any more than it could effect the particular culture peculiar to any people. Should any present or future Government, be it through a Council or a Minister, think that they have the answer to this problem, I enjoin the House to remember that it is the small things which annoy and these small things, having annoyed, cause the blisters that become a nuisance. That is what we are suffering from in Wales.
I cite a few examples of the sort of nonsensical things which annoy us. There is the question of our communications. It has been acknowledged that in 1950-something we may be able to have an aeroplane flying up and down Wales and we may be allowed to get around Wales a little more quickly over the roads. There is the problem of our hill farmers who are finding that the subsidy granted under the Hill Farming Act, in its net result, amounts to nothing. The farmers are just where they were before. As the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) said, there has been an imposition on the part of the Boundary Commission which has raised the ire of the Welsh people, particularly in North Wales. I feel that the Boundary Commission's recommendations have once again illustrated a complete lack of appreciation of the background, which gives rise to a certain amount of justifiable Welsh feeling.
I wish to refer to a subject which was very exhaustively debated last Friday. We must speak particularly of the parts of the country we represent and endeavour to know, and- in North Wales we are very dependent on the tourist industry. I wish to take this opportunity of paying a compliment to a revered Member of this House, the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), for the work he has done and is doing in quietening certain disruptive factors in Wales and endeavouring to put the Welsh Tourist Board on a firm basis. He has done more than most people realise towards putting the industry into a state in which it can collect dollars in the future. In North Wales, particularly, we cannot hope to continue to attract visitors and dollars so long as the present incidence of the Catering Wages Act applies. There have been difficulties about the hotel and catering industry which may mean the swift end of the tourist and catering industry in 1301 North Wales, upon which we depend very greatly.
I have tried to illustrate two or three of the small points which irritate us in Wales and the fact that no Council, or committee, or Minister for Wales may be the answer. We have to go carefully in finding the answer. It has been easy to shout, "A Secretary of State for Wales," but ask any Scotsman present and he will say that a Secretary of State for Scotland is more of a hindrance than a help. We must be careful before we adopt it as a political cry, without realising what it means.
I welcome the opportunity of discussing Welsh affairs. The Government's pro-proposal of a Council may be the answer and it may not be. I do not think it will be. The Conservative Party's suggestions, and the Liberal Party's suggestions are not very concrete upon any project whatever. But, whatever may be the eventual answer, we can only find it by an amalgamation of the appreciation of the Welsh idea, be it through a Council, which I think is the wrong idea, or through a Minister. Whatever it may be, I trust the House will find a solution and an appreciation of the Welsh background which will settle all these irritations and at long last bring into fullest life the real potentiality of a people who, after all, have been here longer than most.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. David Thomas (Aberdare)
I realise that there are very many more Welsh Members who wish to take part in the Debate and I will endeavour to make my few remarks in the space of about ten minutes. Concerning the Council for Wales offered by the Lord President of the Council this afternoon, I am rather amazed at the reception it has had from the benches opposite. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has stated clearly that he is for a Welsh Parliament. I think that if the people of Wales were asked to decide today whether or not they wanted a government for themselves, they would bowl it over unhesitatingly.
On the question of the composition of the Council for Wales, the Lord President has made it very clear that the Government are against appointing a Minister, and I entirely agree with them. I do not think that if a Secretary for Wales or a Cabinet Minister were appointed he 1302 would be effective in any way. The Lord President said that he was afraid that if a Minister were appointed he would be pushing the other Ministers around, but I think it would be the reverse and the Minister for Wales would be pushed around by the other Ministers. It would not be of any use at all for Wales.
This Council cannot do any harm, but it can do some good. We have been told clearly that it has no executive powers, and I do not think any Member of the Welsh Parliamentary group desires that any power should be given it, apart from the power that we have in this House at present. I agree with all that was said by the Lord President, but the people of Wales are not concerned about this separate Council for Wales. They are more concerned with their conditions and the opportunities to live a full life. I will, therefore, leave the question of a Council for Wales to hon. Friends who may follow me and will deal briefly with one or two subjects, which I consider are extremely important to the people of Wales.
Reports on housing are being published quarterly and are of much interest. While I appreciate that the Minister responsible for the housing programme is doing all he can, having regard to the difficulties with which he is confronted, much has yet to be done. The individual married man and woman is more concerned about getting decent conditions in which to live. I come from the South Wales mining area and I believe the same problem confronts all my hon. Friends in divisions in South Wales and North Wales. The conditions under which some of our people continue to live are deplorable. I would like to see the Government tackle this problem as they would tackle a war problem. If war should occur again, though I hope it never will, there is no doubt the Government would be able to set up camps with adequate accommodation for each soldier, sailor or airman. I cannot see why it is not possible for the Government to handle the housing problem in the same way as a first priority.
Last weekend I was approached in my division by one who stated, "We are nine living in a small bungalow." Two of the nine were miners. There was no bath in the house, no back kitchen. I know the Minister is doing all he can, but it is possible to solve this problem, 1303 and the Government should bring in another temporary housing scheme as, unfortunately, they have brought the previous one to an end. I say that in raining valleys and in other industrial towns and villages they should restore the temporary housing scheme so that a larger number of people could be housed.
There is another serious problem confronting us throughout Wales—the leases on existing properties which are about to terminate. Those who own these houses, in the main poor working-class people, are anxious about what will happen to them in the near future. As one of the Welsh Members, I thank the Government for having set up a committee which I am told is doing all it can to issue its report.
§ Mr. D. Thomas
I say that the sooner the report is published the better. If necessary, let the Government introduce legislation so that justice can be meted out to these people who now own the houses, perhaps by giving them a chance to purchase the freeholds at a fair and reasonable price, or by extending the leases. This question is giving grave concern to the people involved, not only in Wales but throughout England as well.
While I appreciate what the Lord President said concerning employment and unemployment in Wales, we are not satisfied that the Government have tackled this question, especially unemployment amongst disabled ex-miners, ex-Service men and other disabled industrial workers. The figure of unemployment in Wales is 40,000, and if it were analysed, we should find that there is a hard core and that the majority are the disabled men I have just described. We are grateful to the employers who have come to Wales and have given employment to thousands of our workpeople, but they say, "It is hardly fair for you to expect us to employ these disabled persons when we have to compete in the open market with other employers. We ought to have some assistance from the Government." If that were forthcoming, they would be able to employ many of these disabled workmen who cannot possibly find employment in the ordinary occupation field.
1304 I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour is taking a few notes, and I ask him to look at the figures in the reports which are published from time to time to the Minister. These disabled persons are recorded as being fit for ordinary employment. I have a list before me relating to Aberdare and Mountain Ash. There are 684 in Aberdare and 398 in Mountain Ash. With regard to the figure for Aberdare, diseases of the lungs except tuberculosis—that is silicosis and pneumoconiosis—account for 375, diseases of the heart 45, eye defects 41, and other disabilities make up the balance. Some 622 of these are considered to be fit for ordinary employment; of the Mountain Ash total of 398, 354 are considered to be fit for ordinary employment. Nothing of the kind. If these men are suffering from these serious disabilities, how on earth can the officials of the Ministry say that they are fit for ordinary work? They should certainly look at those lists and put the men in the proper categories, so that we in Wales will know exactly what is the unemployed problem.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Professor Gruffydd (University of Wales)
I am afraid I cannot emulate the moderation of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. D. Thomas) nor of my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon Boroughs (Mr. Price-White). I, for one, shall be a displaced person after this Parliament. I shall have lost my seat, and I can now say to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, moriturus te saluto. The annual Saturnalia of the Welsh Parliamentary Party and of the political life of Wales has come round once again. If I am to speak plainly as I threatened to do, I cannot see much point in it. I never have seen much point in this Welsh day, and after hearing what has been said today I am much more convinced of its uselessness than I was before.
Of course, I thoroughly understand the reason why this concession to Welsh sentiment was made by the Cabinet of three of four years ago when this institution was first established. I can imagine them saying to each other, "Let us give those loquacious Welshmen a chance to blow off steam once a year, and then perhaps they will be more amenable to reason for the rest of the year." And how 1305 right they were. All the agitation about a separate Secretary of State for Wales, all the agitation about Home Rule and other weighty matters, have now gone to join the sorry frustrations of the past—and from what I have heard today they look like remaining in the past.
On this day we are annually invited to discuss—what? To discuss as much news of Wales as can be reduced to arithmetic in a Parliamentary White Paper. The very nature of a discussion on the Adjournment prevents us, by the Rules of Order, from suggesting anything that would be helpful to Wales, namely, what would require new legislation. Now, in addition, we have had sprung upon us—to use a word which has been used already by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies)—a new proposal for a Council for Wales, which apparently is to be such a small, such an insignificant bagatelle, that it will not require any legislation or even an Order in Council. I, for one, must express surprise, if not consternation, that on an innovation like this Wales, as represented by her Members, was neither consulted beforehand nor given an adequate opportunity to discuss it after it had been made known. Heaven knows that the scheme as I heard it from the Lord President absolutely pullulates in matters for criticism. As I see it, we are getting in addition to this annual day, this bagatelle of a Council which we shall be unable to discuss in this House because we shall not know what it is doing. Every year we shall go on interminably talking about our grievances like a nagging wife who cannot get her husband to do the ordinary household repairs.
To all the complaints we have made so far in this House we always get the same answer from the Government. I am not indicting this particular Government or the Labour Government as such—I am indicting the Government of Westminster as it generally behaves whatever its complexion, whether Conservative, Liberal or Labour. The answer we have had from this Government to our complaints is, "Very well, then; you complain that your culture is dying because nobody is there to preserve it; you complain that your sons and daughters are going away to England and to other parts of the world. Very well, we will 1306 build new factories and new training estates in those parts of Wales which were once called Distressed Areas"—and where, incidentally, there are most voters. "To meet the complaint about de-population"—to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has referred—"we will import to Wales vast hordes of Czechs, Poles and displaced Jews who will make quite a nice problem-for your national future. We will, by-encouraging the excellent system of Welsh education, fit all your boys and girls for employment in England and in the Colonies, but we will do nothing"—so they say in effect—"to help to revive the life of the countryside"—which is the very home, the Mecca, the Jerusalem, the metropolis of our Welsh culture and way of life. This is something that we Welshmen of all parties hold infinitely precious, much more precious than any opportunities that may be given us of growing rich in England.
That seems to me to be the attitude of most Governments that I remember in this country. Is it to be wondered, therefore, that all our most intelligent young men and women are joining the Nationalist Party, that this has produced a lamentable cleavage in Welsh life and has added a new bitterness to a problem that is already too bitter?
I should like to make one general remark on the government of Wales as outlined in the proposals which have been put before us. I think there is a fundamental error in political thought as represented at Westminster which accounts for all this. And by "all this" I mean the wooden-headed and contemptuous way in which far too often Government Departments treat Welsh affairs. I should like to make one exception to this rule, and that is the Ministry of Education. I am glad of the opportunity of saying here that the Minister of Education has shown the way to all the other Ministries how Wales can to a very large extent govern its own affairs. I refer not only to the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister. Credit is also largely due to the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler). I have singled out the Minister of Education for praise, and would like to single out for dispraise the War Office as a perfectly ghastly example of the insen- 1307 sitivity of the military mind, especially when dealing with Wales. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for War is not here today to hear what I am saying. I hope that if anyone tells him what I have said, he will convey my expressions to his advisers.
If hon. Members will bear with me a little longer, I will try to point out the error I have mentioned in the Westminster conception of the government of Wales. When two countries with different cultures, history, language and ways of life such as those of England and Wales live together, when a weaker country is annexed to the stronger country, the weaker country can be treated in one of three different ways and, I think, only three. Either the weaker country can be treated as conquered territory, just as for many years we treated India and just as we are forced, I believe, to treat Germany at present. Secondly, the weaker country can be treated as an integral part of the larger one, making no political distinction whatever between the citizens of one country and those of the other. In fact, the two countries together can be made into one and the smaller made into a province of the larger and all these differences of culture, language and so on can be steam-rollered out into a hideous flatness. Lastly, the weaker country can be taken into partnership with the stronger and governed not as a province, not as a collection of counties, but as a unit in a kind of federal union, even with a single Parliament.
Already the Nationalists maintain, both in writing and in speeches, that England is governing Wales as a conquered country. I do not believe it. I do not subscribe to that doctrine. But, perhaps, it is not to be wondered at that these young men and women, in their enthusiasm and their youth, think so when they look at our railways, all of which were built to serve England and not Wales; when they look at our waterworks and waterways, all made to serve large English cities and never to serve Wales itself, and especially not to serve the most important industry in Wales from the standpoint of keeping up national culture—namely, agriculture; and when they look in particular upon what the present Government have done in the distribution of electricity supplies to England, is it really to be wondered at that they can find plenty of argument 1308 for saying that Wales is being governed as a conquered country and is, in fact, even being exploited? The Act of Union of 1535 is being decried and deprecated by growing opinion in Wales. I was very sorry to hear it suggested that Wales is not at present ripe for autonomy. I am perfectly certain that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said nothing of the kind.
§ Professor Gruffydd
He spoke about a Welsh Parliament for Welsh affairs. I will explain to those who do not know that the Nationalist Party claims a Welsh Parliament for all affairs—foreign affairs, the Army, the Navy and everything else. The second method of government which I mentioned is the manner in which the Principality is now governed by England. It is true to say that as a far as this House of Parliament is concerned, Wales is merely a collection of counties, just as Yorkshire is a collection of Ridings. It is not recognised as a nation. Its language is actually ignored. I have heard the Welsh language sneered at on more than one occasion, from the Benches on this side, I am sorry to say. All my life I have been reading about the Welsh language being sneered at from the Front Bench. For a concrete example, I need only mention the discussion a year ago when the Minister of Transport absolutely refused to have the Highway Code translated into Welsh. He thought he had very cogent reasons for not doing it. The preservation of Welsh culture and the Welsh language must depend on voluntary efforts which would not be tolerated for a moment in England in its attempts to retain its culture and language.
Time after time in this House we hear evidence of solicitude for those things which England holds precious in her national life, but never is there a whisper or the faintest voice raised to safeguard what Wales holds precious. Yet the House of Commons is surely the House of Commons of England and of Wales. I should like it to be quite clearly understood that it ought to be the House of Commons of England and the House of Commons of Wales and not merely the 1309 House of Commons of that impossible entity, England plus Wales. Surely Wales can claim a little understanding, help and encouragement beyond the provision of new factories in the distressed areas, because the whole of Wales will culturally be a distressed area very soon unless something else is done.
Only Welshmen and Welsh women can diagnose our troubles. It is quite impossible for an Englishman to do it. The Englishmen who try to diagnose our troubles fall into two classes, those who are allergic and hostile to Wales and those who are well disposed. A hostile Englishman does not do very much harm—he has often been a very great help—but the Lord deliver us from the well-disposed Englishman who tries to meddle in Welsh affairs. I am afraid that the scheme for a Welsh Council seems to be the work of the well-disposed Englishman at his worst.
We shall not be satisfied, and there will be this kind of criticism year after year, until we have the kind of Government which I have described in my third division, the partnership government—Wales governed as a full partner in this alliance of England and Wales, with the same consciousness of nationhood and national individuality which is now found in the government of England. After all, for over 2,000 years Wales has kept alight the lamp of civilisation, religion and all those things which go to make the decencies of life, and we want to see that that lamp is not extinguished now when it is most needed, when the lights are going out all over Europe.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)
All hon. Members who represent Welsh seats listened to the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd) with great interest. We remember his long devotion to the Welsh Nationalist cause in the Principality of Wales. It is strange how, with the passing of the years, one goes back to one's first love. Tonight the hon. Gentleman has spoken as if there is only one thing worse than ignoring Wales and that is, to do something for Wales. He has spoken as though any well-intentioned Englishman is an enemy of Wales. I say to the hon. Gentleman that he and his sort are the real enemies of Wales by creating the antagonisms which his sort of speech is 1310 likely to create throughout the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Thomas
With very great pleasure. I shall be doing it at the weekend. Tonight we have heard the Liberal Party commit itself, if it is united on this occasion in following the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), to a Welsh Parliament. I put it to the Committee that the people of Wales would laugh the right hon. and learned Gentleman out of court if he tried to put that forward as a policy for our people to pursue. We are far too much aware that the virtues of the Welsh people are the same as the virtues of the English, the Scots and the Irish.
§ Mr. Thomas
I fear that what I regard as a virtue is regarded as a vice by the hon. Gentleman. I want to put forward the point of view that separation—and it has been advocated——
§ Mr. C. Davies
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I must rise to this. Is it in Order for an hon. Member to misrepresent what I have said?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
I did not hear the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman so I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has misrepresented it.
§ Mr. Thomas
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to run away from what he said earlier on, far be it from me to stand in his way. The words having been spoken, the record will be there, and tomorrow Wales will know that the Leader of the Liberal Party has asked for a Welsh Parliament. If any additional blow to Liberal interests in Wales were required it has been faithfully delivered today by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
The culture of the Welsh people is unique; so is that of the Scots, Irish and English. We all contribute towards the synthesis of the culture which the United 1311 Kingdom possesses today. Our basic needs in life are exactly the same as those required by the rest of the United Kingdom. Nobody is attacking Welsh culture, unless it be the Welsh themselves. Who is preventing the furtherance of Welsh culture today? Who is menacing the Welsh language? Is it England, is it Scotland, or is it the people of Wales themselves? There is no impediment by this House to the fullest development of Welsh culture. But when we come to the question of our economic needs it is different. The agitation which has been continued by Members on this side of the House, as well as those Members opposite who sit for Welsh seats, for some form of Welsh council, sprang from economic considerations, and not from any synthetic nationalist sentiment. The Council which has been proposed by the Lord President of the Council is a vast advance on anything that any Government have hitherto offered to Wales. No Government, to my knowledge, ever offered Wales anything before——
§ Mr. Thomas
Yes, I am coming to that. We shall be hearing the voice of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) later in the Debate——
§ Mr. Thomas
I am glad of that, because my words will be all the fresher in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. Before the right hon. Gentleman condemns what is offered by this Government to the people of Wales, I hope he will remember what the Conservative Party offered us in those terrible years when they were in power. I happen to live in the Rhondda Valley, although it is my privilege to represent the City of Cardiff in this House. I remember that the Conservative Party almost smashed the family life of the people in that valley. The Conservative Party reduced Wales to a shadow of what it ought to have been. Our economic life was at a standstill, and if the Conservative Party, now they are in the political wilderness, intend to pose as the friends of Wales, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Welsh people have long memories. They know the indifference with which the Conserva- 1312 tive Party heard the heart cries of our people in the years between the wars.
Now, for the first time in the history of Wales, it will be possible for a National Council, by means of which North can join with South, to express its views to the Government. Anything that will bring North Wales nearer to South Wales is, in my view, desirable and, I trust, is also desirable to Members opposite. We have suffered too long from the divisions between North and South. The spurious Welsh unity which was shown so long as we were attacking the Government on other Welsh matters, has broken down today. Now the Government have brought forward a constructive proposal for Wales, Members opposite are in full cry. Anything that this Government do for Wales is disliked by them. My time is almost at an end, so I will conclude by congratulating the Lord President of the Council not only on his opportune entrance at this moment, but on being a well-intentioned Englishman and also a Socialist who is an internationalist. I congratulate him on the understanding he has revealed of the sentiments of the Welsh people, of their legitimate aspirations, and on the efforts he has made to give us a national organisation which will present to the Government its views about the cultural and economic life of Wales.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
I have not the good fortune to sit for a Welsh constituency, but I thought it would be more deferential to Welsh Members if I delayed taking part in this Debate until several of them had spoken. I warn the House that I cannot be so brief as some speakers have been up to now, because I must speak from this Box on behalf of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The Lord President of the Council, through no fault of his own, spoke for about three-quarters of an hour, and I hope the House will bear with me if I speak for not quite so long.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), whom I have often heard in the past, and whose eloquence almost masters this House, said that no aliens had imposed their will or forced poverty on the Principality of Wales. That proposition found acceptance in the Chamber, but when the alien is called the Conservative Party the hon. Member has a completely 1313 different philosophy. It has been said that it was entirely due to that alien, the Conservative Party, that poverty was forced on Wales in the past. The House must choose between one philosophy and the other, and for myself I am prepared to accept the philosophy of the hon. Member for Aberavon and follow his oratory on this occasion. I am not ready, however, to follow the Lord President in his purely political approach to this problem. Towards the end of my remarks I shall touch upon his proposal for a Consultative Council and for a Minister for Wales, but I propose for a few minutes to ask one or two questions about the contents of the White Paper.
I came to this House to discuss Welsh questions, and put forward the view of the Opposition. It has been disappointing that so little time has been able to have been given to Welsh education, industry and agriculture, because this is the only day of the year on which we can discuss purely Welsh affairs. I would like to thank the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd) for his kind remarks about what I have tried to do for Welsh education in the past. I have done my best, and I am glad to see, in the White Paper, that the proposals for improving the teaching of the Welsh language are going ahead in a very satisfactory way. I realise that there are other sections of Wales which do want to take on all these facilities. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that on the next occasion they should issue a publication of this document in Welsh. That will show up some of the journalese and Civil Service slang which it contains and if that were done, I feel sure that the next version would be in very much better English.
I am very glad to see in the Report the merging of the old intermediate system in the general grid of the 1944 Education Act. I regard that as a most important development in the education of Wales. I was staggered, as usual, to see the enormously high proportion of Welsh children going to secondary schools. It can be said today, as I have said in the past, that Wales gives a lead to the whole of these islands in the manner in which she conducts her secondary education and in the standard attained. It is indeed a tragedy that as a result of this very excellence, so much 1314 of this Welsh talent is exported to England and other places as a result of the magnificent passing of examinations in these secondary schools. When I come to consider the Council, I hope that one of the matters to which they will have regard at an early date is the effect of this export of talent upon the prosperity of the Principality as a whole.
I have only one further remark to make about the education aspect. I am very glad to see that Wales has also given a lead to England in the merging of the university and the technical college provisions. This is the case not only in South Wales but in North Wales. Until, both in England and Wales, we manage to merge the facilities offered in senior technical colleges and universities, until we get rid of the wrong snob value of supposed superiority of one over the other, we shall not meet the needs of Wales in technical college improvement. I think that Wales has given a lead in this matter in making degrees interchangeable. One of the first technical colleges to be built is likely to be started in Flintshire. I should like myself to congratulate the Flintshire authority on that technical college, which I think will form one of those great new colleges of which we are so much in need in North Wales.
It is rather a pity that the Minister has clamped down on the proposed number of teachers for individual Welsh authorities, because the result of that is that if there is a predominance of women teachers in Wales this rule about authorities having a certain proportion means that many of the Welsh women teachers may be sent to England to supply deficiencies here. That is quite fair in itself but for goodness sake let us see that the primary schools in Wales are adequately staffed first. If that is the case then we can apply for these girls to come to England and help us with the teaching problem here.
I leave the question of education and come to the point of the Lord President about industrial expansion. The right hon. Gentleman gave us his figures of factory expansion. He told us of the number of square feet which had been completed, amounting to over 3 million square feet, but not all of it occupied. He went on to give us the number of square feet under construction, or projected, which in my figure, coming from the White Paper, 1315 amounts to 18 million under construction. The unemployment figure amounted, in June, to 39,000–27,000 men, 10,000 women and about 800 juveniles. When this immense factory space is contrasted with the pool of labour available and the Government assure us that the factory space can be increased in this manner to five times the pool of existing labour in Wales, we must ask are we moving from the threat of unemployment to the provision of too much factory space for the existing labour available in Wales? I ask that as a sincere question, to which I hope the Minister will give an answer.
1 wish to draw attention to the large proportion of disabled in the employment figures: 12,605 men out of the total which I gave are classed as disabled, and 1,865 are disabled and in need of shelter and employment. This question of the disabled is a very serious one. To all of us who have been in South Wales—and I have been there both as Minister of Labour and Minister of Education—the most terrible sight, to those of us who are not so closely connected with it as hon. Members from Wales, is that of the disabled. Another thing which strikes me about the factory programme is that it appears that we are getting too far ahead with all this floor space and not going fast enough with the Grenfell factories. My information is that only one has been completed, and I should like an assurance from the Minister that the Grenfell factories for the disabled are being pressed ahead much faster than has been the case hitherto.
I would like to ask a question about cold production plants, and their location at Trostre, and the location of the remaining plants which I believe are at Margam. If they are not, I should like to know where they are to go. I have some notes on the production of coal but as we are to have a coal Debate at some time—alas! not tomorrow so I understand, but at some time—I leave my remarks on that subject to another occasion. I would only remind the Lord President, who quoted figures comparing conditions now with what they were between the wars, that the figures of exported coal amount now to only a little more than in 1946–47, 2,559,100 tons. In 1938 the figure was 17,000,000 tons, in the days of the Tory misrule which we have 1316 quoted at us so often. I, therefore, trust that the export of coal may with due progress reach the previous figure.
Before I leave coal, and linking up with the question of the disabled, I would refer to the accident figures. In paragraph 22 of the White Paper an attempt is made to claim that the accident figures are better. If the figures for 1947–48 are examined we find they are, 109 killed and 358 injured, compared with 1945–46, when there were 105 killed and 447 injured. One does see a slight improvement, although the figures of killed are actually more, but I maintain that is not sufficient to meet the claim made in the White Paper that the accident rate has improved. If the right hon. Gentleman could tell us something about that, we should be much relieved.
I wish to ask a question about the slate industry at Blaenau. I visited Blaenau myself in the course of my tour in Wales, which so much entertained the Lord President, and from which I personally profited so greatly. I had some opportunity of meeting men in the slate industry and I found that there was great discontent that the Rees Report had not been properly implemented. I should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman of the implementation of the Rees Report particularly in regard to slate cutters, and the equipment and machinery for the slate mines, and in particular the treatment of dust diseases and silicosis which is still prevalent. I was told when I was there that that does not seem to be the absolute responsibility of any single Ministry, but rather seems to fall between the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I promised the men there that I would ask this question and I am taking this opportunity of so doing.
Before I come to the major issues I have three further questions. The first relates to the new towns. The right hon. Gentleman, with exquisite timing, made a statement about new towns which greeted us in the morning papers on our arrival in Llandudno. We have not yet heard where the new towns are to be and if the right hon. Gentleman could tell us where the new towns are to be we should be satisfied. I should like to ask if the method of the tenure of houses in the new towns is to be leasehold tenure, because if that is so, all 1317 the evils referred to by one Member on the subject of leaseholds will remain in the minds of the Welsh people. I should like to have the assurance that the evils of the leasehold tenure as we know them today are not to be perpetuated in any new town schemes, and that present difficulties are not likely to continue.
§ Mr. Butler
The question of communications is my next point. The right hon. Gentleman has told us about the charges on the Welsh ports. They have suffered through a difficult charge structure which was originally designed to take no traffic other than coal. I am informed that in the Welsh coal ports the consignor pays for the handling of goods between the truck and the ship's side. We wish to hear more about the facilities for the Welsh ports and particularly any improvements on them.
My final question is on the subject of agriculture. Last year when we had a Welsh Debate, I raised the question of the operation of the Hill Farming Act in Wales. It appears now from paragraph 87 of this White Paper that only 355 schemes have' been approved in principle, not in practice, out of 1,009. It appears that three seasons have been lost in putting into force the provisions of the Hill Farming Act, and we should like to hear from the Minister who is to reply whether he has any news of the operation of the Hill Farming Act and the provision of schemes for the smaller farms as well as the provision of rural roads to reach the smaller farms in difficult weather.
I come now to the main issues which were raised by the Lord President of the Council in his opening speech If I were asked what is our general attitude to Wales I should say, first and foremost, the necessity for considering the whole complex pattern of Welsh activities, social and economic, as a whole. The danger of this White Paper as we see it, is that it is entirely compartmental in its outlook. It is produced by different Departments and is not directed to showing what are the aims and aspirations of the 1318 Principality as a whole. It is put together as a string of facts by a string of Departments. We also feel that Wales needs some expression of individuality as a nation and that the economic life of Wales and England is indissolubly bound up and that fact must be faced.
At the start I must say on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that we cannot accept any suggestion of a Welsh Parliament to run Welsh affairs, because I do not believe that that is wanted by the Welsh people. My first criticism of the Council proposal made by the Lord President is that it would appear to be so sealed off from this Parliament, in order to satisfy the wishes of the M.P.s for Wales that it is doubtful if it is brought into the Parliamentary scene at all. The right hon. Gentleman had so little thought out that aspect of his scheme, that he wisely on this occasion gave us no answers as to what the relations of this Council with Parliament are going to be. I am not prepared to condemn this Council out of hand at this Box this afternoon. This Council idea was given to us without any warning, which is why I postponed speaking until later in the afternoon. I thought that more mature consideration was necessary than could be given to the suggestion if one jumps up immediately after the main speaker.
I wish the Government had taken the House and Wales more into their confidence and issued a White Paper on this suggestion, so that we could have had a Debate at a later date after mature consideration. I should like to say on behalf of the party for which I speak that, frankly, we are only interested in a scheme of reform for Wales if it is acceptable to Welsh opinion. I have no information whether this is acceptable to Welsh opinion. I wish to come now to another of its defects, which is that if the Council sits in secret, then its activities are going to be very much misunderstood. Therefore, I would like the right hon. Gentleman when he replies to give us a further indication of this body's relationship with Parliament and the secrecy of its activities.
On the question of appointments, it is going to lead to a certain amount of anxiety whether the Council eventually does represent the whole gamut of Welsh opinion, if the appointments are in the 1319 hands of a political Prime Minister. I accept at once the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that efforts will be made to make the Council representative of all opinion, but the fact is that it will be an appointed body. I am beginning to think that the right hon. Gentleman is repenting of all his evil devices with the House of Lords and is trying to create an Upper House or House of Lords for Wales. It is true he is not giving this House any delaying powers, but he probably considers that the congregation of civil servants meeting in Cardiff will provide the necessary delaying machinery. If we look at these two schemes together, it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman, like Abbé Sieyès, is going through a real period of constitution-making. We have always envisaged the need for one personality in the Government to sum up the whole problem of Wales in the Cabinet, to be there as I described it before, as the watchdog for Wales and to help to coordinate the Departmental or compartmental views which we get in this document on Welsh affairs.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman says, "We had always contemplated a single Minister to pull Welsh things together." Will he tell us how long was that? I am in a difficulty in saying things I should like to say about right hon. Gentlemen and others in a previous existence, and I cannot do it, but how long has this been going on?
§ Mr. Butler
I stated my views on behalf of my friends. There is no mystery about this matter. During the last Welsh Debate, after mature consideration, we put forward these views, and that was a year ago. It was a great deal of time before the right hon. Gentleman brought forward any of his ideas on his own, but I am very glad that he has been so spurred by the activity at Llandudno that he has had to rush to this Chamber with a proposal about which he has not even had time to consult Welsh opinion, and which we have to take absolutely blindly in the course of a Welsh Debate, thus depriving 1320 us of the chance of considering this matter of Welsh culture, agriculture and industry. The right hon. Gentleman had better not be mysterious but sit quietly and take his medicine.
It is a year since we came out with our proposals. We considered that there must be some personality in London in the Cabinet and in Parliament who could represent Welsh interests and help to coordinate the departmental view. We also envisaged that such a personality would preside over this meeting of civil servants which takes place at Cardiff and help them with their deliberations, bringing a little more inspiration into their activities by combining all the different points of view together. They have done excellent work but they can be helped by a man of Cabinet rank occasionally taking the chair at their deliberations.
We have not stood—I remember the time factor—for a Secretary of State for Wales. We do not propose that this Minister should have Executive power, because we believe that that must remain with the Departments, but we believe that the whole trouble of Wales—and the trouble with this document this year—is that it looks at things with too departmental and narrow a view. Unless there is this Minister, it must be the task of the whole Cabinet or of the Prime Minister to devote much more time to Wales than is done now.
What I am proposing, therefore, is that if we had a Cabinet Minister who is called the Minister for Wales—he may have other activities too—who is available in Whitehall and available to come to Parliament, he would form a very much better head to whom a Council such as is proposed by the Government could come. There is no Department in Wales today that does not overlap with another Department, and I do not believe that the Prime Minister or the Government as a whole, in the present rush of Parliamentary life, have a chance of bringing the whole Welsh picture into one mind and making it work.
The other reason is because I have found, in meetings in Wales, that such an appointment would give satisfaction to Welsh aspirations. I have found that to be the case, and, therefore, our two objectives were to try to look at Welsh problems as a whole, while, at the same 1321 time, proposing somebody who could bring departmental views together. We need somebody who will provide opportunities for Welsh aspirations and give satisfaction to the Welsh people. I believe that, in the end, the right hon. Gentleman will find that this proposal can be made to work, and that it would help us out of our difficulties.
I will say no more today, because we wish to examine this proposal of the Government and try it out as far as we can, but I do not think it will work, unless it is brought into relation with a central personality who will be associated, in the minds of the Welsh people, with the aspirations and ideals of the Principality.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
I regret to note that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) is not in the House at the moment, because I must express my regret at the grossly unfair attack which he made on the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd), who is also not in his place at present. It would be churlish on the part of any hon. Member, wherever he may sit in this House—and, at the same time, being a Welshman, it would be particularly churlish and contemptible on his part—if he did not express his disgust and resentment at the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff against a person who has made such a solid and splendid contribution to the cause of Wales and the Welsh people. It was one of the most unhappy episodes that I have experienced on this side of the House. This attack was utterly uncalled for. I speak not only as a supporter of the Government, but, if I may say so most respectfully and humbly, as one who has benefited considerably from the great scholarship of the hon. Member who represents my University.
We have heard extraordinary statements made here today. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) is not at the moment in the House, but I cannot allow to pass without comment one statement which he emphasised this afternoon. The hon. Member explained the past economic troubles of Wales, and referred—and I am quoting his words—to the "indigenous poverty of Wales." Of all the absurd 1322 statements that have ever been made in this House, I think that is about the limit. Wales has exported its wealth for several generations. I remember, in my younger days, being told by statisticians and economists of repute that for every £1 worth of wealth brought into Wales to keep its inhabitants alive, Wales was exporting between £17 and £19 worth. This is the first time that I have heard of the "indigenous poverty" of this little country of ours, and I am sorry that it came from an hon. Member who represents one of the Welsh constituencies.
Further—and I take very strong exception to this—he exhorted the whole House not to expect any unanimity in Wales, and I was sorry to see that my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench rather enjoyed the gibe. I should expect the members of the present Government to be the last to appreciate a gibe of that kind. Wales has shown far greater political unanimity than any other section of these Islands. Wales sends to this House now, and promises to increase the numbers it sends here, at least 70 per cent. of Members who support this Government. I am certain that the Lord President and the Minister of National Insurance will now appreciate that that gibe was not worthy and was certainly not true, from the point of view of a Socialist Government.
There is greater political unanimity in Wales than there is in any other part of the country, and I think that that fact should be borne in mind. By the way, I am satisfied that signs of this growing political unanimity in Wales have been responsible for the refusal of previous Governments to grant any measure of devolution for Wales. They could read the signs, and I hope that the present Government will understand Wales, and will not embarrass its supporters who hold Welsh constituencies, in view of the support which they accord the Government in this House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvonshire (Mr. G. Roberts) is a devolutionist and a federalist. So am I, and it would be from that angle that I would examine, and try to reach my own conclusions on, the scheme submitted by the Lord President today. May I say that I certainly do not regard the Government's scheme as in any way satisfactory? I am positive that the Welsh people overwhelmingly will object to it and will resent 1323 it very strongly. I take exception to it, not because I am unduly nationalistic; I am not, but I can never forget that I am a Welshman. All that I owe to this world I owe to that little country. I am forced to be a devolutionist and a federalist because I am so anxious to save our Parliamentary democracy. I do not want to repeat what I have said in this House on other occasions, because I have made my position perfectly clear, though one particular point I have made has never been answered, nor has anyone ever tried to answer it from the Front Bench.
I do not wish to refer over-much to the White Paper. I appreciate its collection of data and all the facts contained in it, and I certainly regard it as being a most useful document. I think it has been presented very well indeed, but I must repeat that the only hope of saving our Parliamentary democracy is by devolving on Wales, in the first instance, the right to manage its own domestic affairs. That is my answer. With our Parliamentary machine, this old instrument which has grown up over the centuries and which is now becoming more and more congested with its work, with Members being more and more stultified by that congestion, and with back bench Members expected to be a little more than ciphers in this House, how are we to save our Parliamentary democracy unless the pressure on that machine be eased—and eased very considerably indeed? How can it be done otherwise than along the lines of devolution, and, ultimately, federalism?
There is nothing fanatical about this. Where the fanaticism comes in is in the blind belief which has been expressed here today—as it was expressed 12 months ago—that this machine can stand all this without devolving that about which we people in Wales know better than those in any other part of this island—how to deal with, and how to look after and manage, our own affairs. That is why I cannot be persuaded. I have certainly been impressed by the opinions put forward by my very close and life-long colleagues today who have expressed some faith, or at least some hope, in the scheme of the Lord President. They know as well as I do that, unfortunately, this 1324 scheme will be worse than useless in Wales. I am amazed at the pathetic ignorance revealed by Government after Government concerning Wales. It is really pathetic. At times I am almost forced to the conclusion that the country in the British Commonwealth about which the Government know least is Wales. That applies not only to the present Government, but to a succession of Governments. I am certain that if the Government knew Wales as they should, we would never have seen this emasculated, spineless kind of scheme submitted to the House today. I am forced to suggest that the Government should appoint a commission of inquiry into the affairs of Wales, into its culture, its preoccupations, its intense love of country, its characteristics, its courage, its pride, its sense of independence, and its passionate desire to live its own life as it thinks it ought to live it.
Had I the power, I would insist upon the Prime Minister being the chairman of a commission, and that that commission should be made up entirely of Members of this Government. I am certain that nothing could be more revealing and more instructive to the Government than to work on a commission of that kind. I will not attempt to anticipate the findings of such a commission; I will only refer to one of the many amazing phenomena in our Welsh life that would be discovered by the commission. I am sorry the Lord President is absent at this moment, because he is under the impression that Wales can be easily satisfied. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Yes, he is. Why this pettifogging, ridiculous scheme?
If I could get this commission made up of Members of this Government and presided over by the Prime Minister, it would be most interesting to see whether, among other things, they would pay some little attention to the youth of Wales As the Lord President has now come back, I ask him whether for instance he has ever heard of the organisation called Urdd Gobaith Cymru? It is only one of the many youth organisations in Wales. This organisation is composed of people who will be expressing—indeed they are already strongly expressing—their views about Wales. I know that the name of that organisation has been translated—and very badly translated—by some Anglicised individual as the "Welsh 1325 League of Youth." I regard that as a pretty rotten translation.
This organisation is based upon love of our country—Wales—and faith in international brotherhood. It is a Welsh national youth movement, and works on a national and international plane. Up to the moment—and I want to underline this—it is non-political. It can only be forced into politics by the Government of the day. One of its other ideals, and one of its passions, is to fuse together all that is best in Welsh life. Let there be no misunderstanding when I say that it is non-political. This movement is proud of its country, and is quick to take offence at every act hostile to its interest and to the wellbeing of Wales. Being a Welsh organisation, it is naturally keenly alive to the manner in which Wales is being governed, or rather misgoverned.
We had evidence of this quite recently when the youth of Wales showed such widespread resentment at the claims of the different Services to 10 per cent. of the land of Wales. This is one of the things about which, unfortunately, most hon. Members in this House are not aware. This organisation has nearly 1,000 units scattered throughout all the towns, villages and hamlets of Wales. Its members number over 80,000, all of whom are under 25 years of age. One could go on and say a good deal about this one aspect of Welsh life and activity. This organisation, with other youth organisations, is ready to take offence when the claims of Wales are treated in the manner in which they have been treated, notwithstanding all the apologising which we have heard during this Debate.
Every hon. Member who has spoken in support of this scheme knows very well that Wales will be overwhelmingly against it. Wales will resent it very strongly. This scheme will hurt its pride and injure the confidence which so many Welsh people have in this Government. The best thing that I can ask of the Lord President of the Council and the Government is to withdraw this spineless, pointless and useless, but terribly offensive, scheme. That is the best advice I can give, in the interests of this Government and of the party which supports it.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett (Ludlow)
It is with considerable diffidence that I intervene in this Debate on Welsh affairs and 1326 take up time from Welsh Members of Parliament, but I represent a border constituency. I am within walking distance of Wales, and many of the problems confronting agriculture in my part of the world are closely akin to those of the great mass of the central area of Wales. Therefore, I thought it might not be out of place if I said a few words about agriculture as it concerns Wales.
A great number of Welsh farmers and, indeed, Welsh workers, have come over the Border to the richer lands of Shropshire and Herefordshire where I live, to find work. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) was right when he said that the exodus had not yet stopped. I think there is considerable poverty in farming in central Wales. The Government's policy, and indeed the policy of all parties is to expand production from home agriculture. There is, of course, a limit to the amount by which it can be expanded in the more intensively farmed and developed areas of England. More feedingstuffs will make a great difference, but I believe that various schemes could be put into operation to assist farming in central Wales.
I have had an opportunity of studying figures produced by the University of Aberystwith, and we can see that many small hill farmers and what we regard as marginal farmers find it extremely difficult to make a living from the type of agriculture which has been followed for many years. It stands to reason that while one set of prices may suit the more fortunate areas, they may well make it difficult for people in the hills and dales to make a living.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) has already asked about the progress of the Hill Farming Act. He mentioned a number of schemes which had been applied for and considered. I should be interested to know the acreage for which schemes have been approved, and what is the expected increase in production from these areas. The amount of land covered by the Hill Farming Act is very limited, and I ask the Minister to give special consideration to all the other small farms in Wales and, indeed, in the border countries, in the hills and dales, which are generally known as marginal farms. We want some sort of scheme for the 1327 development of marginal land to make the lot of those farmers easier.
I have seen suggestions made by the N.F.U. and, indeed, by our own Shropshire hill farming committee, for various schemes which could have been put into effect to expand agriculture in these marginal farms. There was a scheme during the war—it was produced in January, 1943, I believe—called the Marginal Land Production Scheme, but I think that, except for the county of Montgomery, very little use was made of it. It was difficult of interpretation. It contained the condition that if the circumstances were such that the occupier could not carry out the operations from his own unaided resources without making the farming enterprise as a whole on the farm uneconomical, the committee should considerwhether the expected benefit to food production would warrant assistance being given in the form of remission of part of the costs of such goods or services as the committee might consider it necessary to supply to the farmer to assist him to perform the operation in question.That means that any farmer who wanted assistance under this scheme had to prove that he could not afford to do the job himself, and if the job was done with the assistance of Government aid, that it would increase food production to such an extent that it would make the scheme as a whole worth while. Because of that difficult condition, I think the scheme has been of very little use.
I hope new schemes will be considered. I had a letter recently from a farmer who farms almost on the top of Plynlimon. In fact, his is the last farm before one goes over the mountains and over the western side of the range towards Aberystwyth. He was very keen that the Government should sponsor schemes to increase the agistment of cattle. At present, as the House is aware, quite a number of farmers make their own arrangements with lowland farmers to summer on the hills cattle and sheep which are wintered in the valleys and in lowland or marginal farms; but a great many farmers are so preoccupied with getting a living in these small areas, that they do not go in search of hill or lowland farmers, as the case might be, with whom they might cooperate to increase the amount of cattle or sheep which are grazed on the hills. 1328 That is just an instance of one point to which attention should be given by the Government.
I should like also to mention that a great deal of this good hill land is not now available for summer grazing, because it has either been taken over by the Services or is contained in water catchment schemes. It is generally believed by a number of people in Wales that these catchment areas are restricted to a much greater extent than is really necessary, and that any pollution from grazing sheep could not possibly affect the purity of the water provided that the sheep were kept a reasonable distance from the actual reservoir from which the water was drawn. The Forestry Commission are also frequently to blame for preventing grazing on land which they have not actually planted but which they reserve for planting or from which they are not prepared to fence off animals.
There must be many other ways in which these marginal land farms could be assisted or guided by the Government. I do not want to waste time by going into them now, because I know that the Ministry of Agriculture, who have not got a representative here, have been informed of the schemes, if not by the N.F.U. as a whole, at least through the Shropshire Hill farming branch, and I do not wish to take up more time than is necessary. I feel that in this area and in central Wales as a whole, there is a great opportunity for a comprehensive scheme. No doubt some legislation would be needed. We may not address ourselves to that on the Adjournment but, for instance, they certainly need better roads. To mention one other small example, at the moment all farms which keep cows have to send all the milk they produce to milk factories, wherever they may be, whereas in former years they used to feed more young stock from the skimmed milk and they produced cream and butter for sale. They might now be allowed to return to that type of farming.
I ask the Government to apply themselves to this matter and to try to do their best to produce some scheme to assist these marginal farmers, who really find it extremely difficult to make a living and who, as is the case with their workers, are still drifting away from the high lands 1329 to seek a more remunerative form of living on the easier and richer soils of England.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Freeman (Newport)
Unlike other hon. Members, I welcome the proposal of the Lord President for the formation of a Council for Wales. Whatever criticism has been made, this is the first Government which has provided us (1) with a day to discuss our Welsh affairs; (2) with a statement of proposals and statistics in which Wales is interested and the facts connected with them; and (3) with the proposal of a Council now before us where we can hear the opinions of Wales itself on the problems facing the country.
All this I welcome, although I must join in the criticism that this scheme has been brought before us at rather short notice. I think it is a pity that this statement was not issued in the form of a White Paper so as to give us an opportunity of discussing and considering the scheme before it was brought to the House for final consideration. Nevertheless, so far as I am concerned, this is not a new matter, and therefore, having already given careful consideration to it, I am able to make up my mind quickly and immediately, and to express my appreciation of it and my agreement with its general contents. In fact, I go further: I find that in the broadcast that I made on 24th January of last year, speaking from Cardiff, I made a definite proposal about the formation of a Council for Wales. Although I do not charge the Government with plagiarism, I think the statement I then made will indicate how closely I anticipated the Government's intention. On that occasion I said the Council should be:for debate and expression of public opinion, and not an executive legislative authority for the wider powers of Government. It would meet in Wales. … It would receive reports and petitions, and take such action as is considered advisable and practical. Individuals or delegations could appear before it and give evidence or submit proposals. It would receive all Government White Papers and other documents affecting Wales.… Any matter affecting the welfare of Wales could be brought before its notice. It would, however, be mainly advisory and consultative. It would be treated as such by Westminster. Its advice could be sought and obtained before any laws were put into operation affecting Wales, though the Government would not be bound, of course, by any decision it makes.1330 I think that gives sufficient indication of my appreciation and approval of this proposal. Nevertheless, I would make one or two suggestions and ask one or two questions in regard to the proposal, which, so far as I am able to judge, is the most practical suggestion for dealing with the difficulties and interests of Wales yet brought before this House. I hope it will not only receive approval, but that as it develops and grows, it will be found to be of ever-increasing value to Wales as a whole.
First of all, I think every effort should be made to allow for easy changes and amendments to these proposals. It is a great danger to get a scheme like this once set so that minor Amendments and alterations cannot easily be effected. I hope that will be borne in mind, especially in the preliminary stages.
Secondly, I agree with the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, about the desirability of occasionally making the Council public. I do not say that every one of its sessions need be public, but certainly they should occasionally be public. Surely it could be left to the Council itself to decide whether a discussion should be public or private? If the whole purpose of this Council is to give effective expression to opinions in Wales, the best means would be to hear these opinions, have debates and discussions, and find out whether the opinions are reflected in Wales or whether they are not. I think it should be left to the body itself to decide on each occasion, if necessary, whether the deliberations should be in private or in public, but I do not think that discussions of the Council in public should be prohibited.
Thirdly, I am not at all satisfied—and I think others will be dissatisfied—with the representation. I do not think it is sufficiently wide. There are too few independent members associated with it. I think power of co-option might be left with the Council itself so that it could co-opt a number of other members from Wales whose opinions would be of value to such a body as this. At least, it should have an opportunity of recommending to the Prime Minister additional names to those he will already have nominated.
1331 I hope the Council will meet at different places and not at one centre. Wales is used to that peripatetic method of activity. I think it will cause great difficulties if its activities are centred on one place, one town, and the Council does not move about the country for different meetings. Although it may be necessary to have fixed headquarters, I hope provision will be made so that its meetings may be in different parts of Wales as the necessity arises.
Personally, I do not envisage this Council merely as one for receiving grievances and complaints or merely for advice and information. I think it should go further than that. Wales has always been a pioneer nation, bringing forward many great ideals and upholding many principles which have been of great help to the world. There should, therefore, be a great opportunity in such a Council as this to bring forward proposals and suggestions not only for the benefit of Wales itself but for the advantage of the Commonwealth and of value in world affairs. It should give an opportunity for expressions of opinion on national and international questions as they arise.
Generally, although I think this proposal is only a beginning, I hope it will have developments and improvements as time goes on, and that it will be a focus for Welsh expression of opinion which will be of great benefit to Wales. I take this opportunity of thanking the Government, and I hope these proposals will be given practical effect and immediate expression.
§ 7.38 p.m.
Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
Had you passed through the Library of the House of Commons this morning, Sir, you would have seen Welsh Members very busy studying. I did not ask what they were studying, but I decided that I should go in for a degree in agriculture. As I do not think anyone else has done so, I desire to compliment and thank the Government for the third White Paper on Wales. Personally, I think insufficient space has been given to agriculture and to quite a number of small detailed things about which Welsh people ought to know. I hope that will be borne in mind next year. The last section of the Report deals with the Army in 1332 Wales, and I am very glad of that section. Further, I am certain the House will agree with me in thanking the Government for the concession made last week about Tregaron—made just before the Welsh Debate. It has reduced the training area in Wales to 57,500 acres from half a million acres, and I am very glad of that. Everyone, irrespective of his political views, will wish to thank the Secretary of State for War and say how amenable he has been to the Welsh Members about this matter.
I want to say something about agricultural production. First, I think encouragement should be given to those areas which have been released from the Services in recent times. If one reads the White Paper, one finds there have been very good production results in Wales. I am particularly pleased that there has been a great transformation in the two counties which I represent by comparison with pre-war times. I hope that will continue. There are certain factors which ought to be considered, however, and I will give them for the benefit of the House and the Minister who is to reply to this Debate. Greater production must be obtained so that we can have more food for this nation. We must have more regular workers in agriculture, and the prospects of a career on the land must be more substantial than they are in the rural parts of Wales at the present time. The labour problems are difficult. There has been a decrease in the number of regular workers in six of the Welsh counties since 1939. There has been an overall increase of only about 1,237 since 1939. The casual workers have increased by 5,194. Yet in this White Paper we learn that there are only 185 trainees going in for agriculture. The Ministry of Labour returns show that there are vacancies at the present time for 267 agricultual workers. That is the labour problem, an important item for consideration by the new Council for Wales.
A word about farm buildings. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) and his hon. Friends on the opposite side are not here in greater strength to hear this. During the time of the Coalition Government a Conservative Minister made a survey, the National Farm Survey, 1941 to 1943, of England and Wales. I have 1333 read that survey at least half a dozen times. I would call it the modern Domesday Book. The doom of the rural areas is described in that report. This has a bearing upon the problem of inducing people to go back to the rural districts. Consider farm buildings. According to that survey, 68 per cent. of the farm buildings in Wales are unsatisfactory, as compared with 61 per cent. in England. Yet only 186 licences were given for new farm buildings in Wales in the first quarter of 1948, compared with 4,680 in England. Is not that worth taking note of? Farm houses in Wales are supposed to be good to the extent of 52 per cent., whereas in England farmhouses are good to the extent of 59 per cent.; and only 40 per cent. of the employees' cottages are in good condition in Wales as compared with 50 per cent. of them in England.
The hill farming scheme is not working as well as I should like. In my opinion there is much too much fussy interference by Government Departments involved in it. They ask for too many details and do not get down to the core of the matter. The hill farmers suffered a great deal of loss during 1946 and have not the capital to invest and, therefore, greater consideration ought to be given to piecemeal schemes for hill farming. Seed potato growing ought to be encouraged. Here we have a type of farmer without the advantages of guaranteed prices. These farmers ought to be encouraged a great deal.
I suggest—and I am sure that the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) will support me in this—that wool ought to be considered for guaranteed prices and put into the Schedule to the Act of 1947. That would be a great blessing. I find that only 59 detailed schemes of hill farming have been passed up to the end of July, 1948—that is, out of 1,080. Only 59—It is not good enough. I join with the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett) in asking for some statement to be made about the marginal land. I am not going to argue the case, for it has been argued. There has been an inter-Departmental committee inquiring into this for a long time. When are we to have its report? It is essential to have it. The results of depression are 1334 showing themselves on the marginal farms more than in anything else.
I suggest to the Advisory Council that they should consider what are the necessities for the rural villages—not amenities, but necessities. What inducement is there for the women and young people to go back there? We may get the men back, but what about the women? The figures of civil population in 1946 and 1947 tell a story. Four of the Welsh counties had less population in 1947 than they had 12 months before—four Welsh counties, and those are rural counties. What is the reason for that? I will suggest one or two reasons. The first is the lack of water supplies. It is stated in the report to which I have already alluded that piped water goes only to 32 per cent. of the holdings in Wales compared with 50 per cent. in England, and to only 23 per cent. of the farm buildings in Wales as compared with 39 per cent. of them in England.
I suggest there ought to be a greater drive to give water to farm houses. Much excellent work has been done by the county agriculture executive committees, but the problem is to link up the villages as well as the farm houses with the water supplies. It is not of much use to have a farmer in a farm house if he has no farm workers to help him, because the farm workers cannot get piped water supplies in their cottages, which would be an inducement to them to stay in the countryside. There has been a big improvement, I grant that; but more ought to be done, even if, at first, the schemes are small, for in the future they can be associated with larger water schemes.
Sewerage is also an important matter. Only two schemes have been completed since the Act of 1944 came into operation—only two outside the Development Area of Wales. I could give some examples, to be found in my own constituency, of rural district councils in Radnor which are without a sewerage scheme, a refuse collection scheme, and a number of other advantages. They have an answer to that. It is that their rate product is too low to provide a refuse collection scheme. Those are some of the things that need consideration.
I would remind my Welsh colleagues about the seasonal shortage of water.
1335 Twenty-nine English counties are better off with regard to seasonal water shortages than my own two counties of Brecon and Radnor, despite the fact that my two counties export more water than any other county in Wales. There are 29 English counties with better reserves of water for the dry seasons.
Electricity has been mentioned. Of the farm holdings in Wales, 11 per cent. have an electricity supply as compared with 30 per cent. in England. There is no mention in the Report, in the paragraph on electricity, as to what is to be done about supplying rural villages. I suggest that the public ought to be told of the details in the circular sent out by the Ministry of Agriculture, and about giving priority of supply to farms. That circular suggests that priority of electricity supply ought to be given to farms in districts where it is found that the farmers or the workers are leaving for lack of it. The electricity people ought to be told about these things. The plea for more electricity in the countryside ought to be made to the electricity people. I hope something will be done about this.
Farm roads constitute another very important and thorny problem. The Government made a big mistake last year in cutting down capital investment in and expenditure on the roads. Their action has had this result, that there is less production in agriculture. Unless the farmers can get transport for their goods, services and manures, production will fall. There must be better transport facilities, for example, for taking milk from the farms. Therefore, I suggest that the Government have a look at the mileage of unclassified roads in the rural districts, and the increase of grant towards unclassified roads. If they cannot put up a case for England, I am certain that the new Advisory Council can put up a case for Wales. Criticism has been made by some hon. Members that the Government are doing nothing. May I remind them that they were the first Government to give a grant in 1946 of 50 per cent. to 5,832 miles of unclassified roads in Wales.
Then there is the question of bus services and the conveyance of children to school, which is very important. As to telephones, I am surprised to find that there is no reference in the White Paper to the number of kiosks which have been 1336 erected in rural Wales during the last 12 months. They are being erected in my constituency; one cannot miss them because they are painted red, and thank goodess for that. We in the rural districts of Wales would like to know the policy of the Government with regard to the concession that was to be made concerning the guarantee asked for from rural parishes. No one knows where we stand on that matter, and we would like to have some definite information concerning it.
I would prefer something more definite than an Advisory Council, but I am willing to support anything so long as we get something. The more problems which we put before the Government, the more determined they will be to give us something that we want. I have already given them a good list for the first agenda of the Council. In the 1947 White Paper greater space was given to the task of Wales and of rehabilitation of the agricultural industry in rural Wales. I remember the distressed areas in South Wales, and unless something is done in the rural parts of Wales, it will be a distressed area from that point of view. If we get a distressed area in the rural areas, it will affect culture as well. We cannot have good culture and good singing at the Eisteddfod on an empty stomach. I hope that the Advisory Council will give consideration to whether we can have a rural development area in Wales, as well as a development area in the industrial districts. Then, what is to be done about the very low rate product in the counties? I hope that the Advisory Committee will consider a new formula for local government. Will the Advisory Council be asked for its opinion on the Boundary Commission for Wales?
May I endorse the question from the Opposition Front Bench as to when an announcement is to be made about new towns? That may be a way of bringing the people back to the countryside. There is supposed to be an announcement about the new towns in mid-Wales. When are we to hear something about that? I am certain that if we can look at all these matters from the Welsh Parliamentary Party standpoint, we shall come to the same conclusion as they did in 1880 during the first county council elections, when my father supported a Liberal 1337 council for Wales. The object was to get a National Council for Wales but that failed. Two great leaders emanated from that great agitation—Tom Ellis and Lloyd George. We want another Tom Ellis and another Lloyd George to put to this Government something better. We shall try the Advisory Council, and I am sure that the Minister of National Insurance will, as he has done so far, emulate that great Welsh leader, Lloyd George, and give those of us who are dubious about the Advisory Council an undertaking that he will have a look at it, and if our views about it are right, see that something better is offered.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett) on his temerity in being the third Anglo-Saxon to intervene in a Welsh Debate. I can only think that he did so because he wanted to have his own back on behalf of his constituency for the highly-successful raids made on the marginal counties by our Welsh forefathers. Although I heartily agree with the final remarks made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) as to what Wales really needs, I am not going to follow him in what was a very effective "back to the land" campaign, although I sympathise with him, and think that not only Wales, but the whole of Great Britain needs such a campaign.
I would like to return to the proposals which were made by the Lord President of the Council earlier this afternoon. The first thing, and the thing we have to remember all the time in considering these proposals, is that they are alternatives to the proposals which were put forward, supported by the Welsh Parliamentary Party, and by the local authorities in Wales for a Secretary of State for Wales. The Lord President of the Council has this afternoon, as on previous occasions, advanced arguments as to the impracticability of such a proposal. All the arguments which he used this afternoon and on other occasions could equally well be advanced against a Secretary of State for Scotland—an institution which has been in force for some time, and which, though it has imperfections, I have no doubt, has certainly not resulted in the confusion of administration which the 1338 Lord President of the Council so graphically described to us earlier in the Debate.
Let us look at the alternative which the Lord President put before us. I believe that the test of this proposal, and of any other proposal is not whether it is a concession to Nationalist feeling in Wales—not whether it is a sop—but whether, in fact, it will make for better administration in Wales; whether it will make it easier for Wales to solve some of the formidable problems with which it is faced today. Do these proposals supply the pass that test or are they merely, to use the words of the Lord President "window dressing"? I should like to look this dark gift horse in the mouth. What do the proposals amount to?
First, let us look at the composition and the terms of reference of this Council. The Lord President said that it was to meet from time to time—at least quarterly; that it was to interchange views and information on developments and trends in the economic and cultural life of Wales; and to ensure that the Government were kept informed of the impact of Government activities on Wales. He told us that it was proposed that various Ministers should, from time to time, come before the Council, no doubt to discuss the policy of their Departments, the shortcomings of administration, and the possible improvements which could be effected in Wales. A good deal of concern has been expressed this afternoon as to whether, in fact, such a Council carrying out these terms of reference would not usurp the functions which can only, in a democratic country, properly belong either to the representatives of the people or to representative bodies, such as the Welsh Parliamentary Party has shown itself to be. I maintain that that party, drawn as it is from all political parties in this House, has for a considerable time been discharging those very functions which the Lord President seeks to confer on this Council—and has been discharging them, if I may say so with the modesty characteristic of our race, with very considerable success.
I further maintain that these functions are not functions which should be carried out behind closed doors in secret. The deliberations of this Council will not be reported; less than half of its mem- 1339 bers can be said to be in any way representative; 12 out of the 27 are, I understand, to be members of local authorities. How can this Council therefore be said to represent public opinion in Wales? What claim have they to do so? What are their contacts with public opinion in the Principality? The Members are not even civil servants; they are not responsible to a Minister. They are responsible to no one. This Council will be an irresponsible body which can be called to book by no one. If this Council does the job which the Lord President has outlined for it today it will undoubtedly cut across the proper functions of representative bodies and Members of this House. If it does not, then it is patently quite useless.
It has been argued: "You need have no fear. This body will not interfere with the duties of Members of Parliament. They can still interview Ministers. The Welsh Parliamentary Party can still ask Ministers to come and see them and discuss matters of policy and administration in Wales. Members can still ask Questions." Of course they can do all these things. These are the inalienable rights of Members of Parliament. But there is this to be feared—and to be feared greatly—that the Council can be used by Ministers as an alibi. In answer to questions, either by the Welsh Parliamentary Party or by individual Members, we may be told "Well, these matters are or will shortly be the subject of discussion by the Council of Wales."
Let us take the real measure of these proposals, and apply one or two other tests. We are told that this Council, which is to do such a great deal for Wales, is to meet quarterly.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
At least quarterly. It is to discuss the affairs of the Principality at least four times a year. We must remember that this proposal is not part of a whole series of proposals the Government are making for Wales. This is the alternative to a proposal for the setting up of a Secretary of State whose job it would be to devote all his time, day in and day out, to the discussion and consideration of the problems of Wales. We are offered a Council, which is to meet at least four times in a year.
1340 If we really want to get the measure of this proposal—and I think it important that we should if we are being asked to accept or reject it—let us apply another test of its effectiveness. This Council is to have, I presume, some sort of secretariat; but I understand that it is not to have a secretariat of its own. Now, I am sure that is not because of expense. The real reason, of course, is because the work the Council will be called upon to do does not justify its having a secretariat of its own. I imagine the Council will make use of the services of the Regional Officers Conference, which is really the staff of the Welsh Board of Health, who are already doing a full-time job of work for their own Ministry.
Is this Council really the body to do a job of work for Wales? However eminent the personnel, however anxious they are to fulfil their functions, they cannot under these conditions make a solid and serious contribution to tackling the problems of Wales today. The Lord President has a reputation in this House, and had a reputation over the Bridge at County Hall, of being a good administrator—a reputation which I am sure he has fully earned. I ask him to defend this proposal today on purely administrative grounds. He has criticised the proposal for a Secretary of State for Wales on those grounds. What does he make of this proposal?
What have we at the moment in Wales? Let me say at the outset that I am not criticising these bodies but simply trying to see where we have got to. We have a Welsh Board of Health, a Welsh Department of Education in London, a newly set up Joint Education Committee, regional offices for the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Supply, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of National Insurance and the Ministry of Health. On top of all that there is the Conference of Regional Officers—another quarterly meeting. What is the relationship of all these bodies to each other and to this new Council? Can the Lord President tell us? Is there anyone who will co-ordinate their activities? There is certainly to be no Minister to do so. Who will be the co-ordinator? I cannot believe that the right hon. Gentleman has made this proposal, either because he believes it is administratively good or efficient. I think he has made this proposal as a concession—and, if I may say so, a very half-hearted concession—to Welsh public opinion. He has done 1341 it in the hope of keeping us quiet. That is the real truth of the matter, and the Lord President knows it as well as anybody else in the House.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
But he thinks he may. The Lord President has offered us this scraggy bone, without meat or marrow in it. I am quite sure that one sniff at it should be enough for any self-respecting or discerning Corgi—and pride and a very lively sense of discernment are characteristic of the breed.
The Lord President has said: "This Council ought to be acceptable to you. It is on the lines of the Scottish Economic Conference." He knows perfectly well that there is all the difference in the world between the Scottish Economic Conference and this proposal. In Scotland the Secretary of State for Scotland is in the chair; he is the executive head of the Conference; he is a Cabinet Minister; he can put the case for Scotland to the policy-making body in this country, namely the Cabinet. There is all the difference in the world between that and the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman makes to us. If we were to accept this impotent Council—and I am not nearly so offensive about it as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil—we shall be told afterwards that our just demands have been conceded. Can any one of us really relieve that to be true? I am sure that in spite of what tile hon. Member said, each one of us in this House wants to make his decision not on political grounds but on what he thinks is best for Wales. I am convinced of that, and I hope that he may also be convinced by the end of this Debate.
If this Council is to be set up, we in Wales may well have to reconsider whether a greater measure of devolution than even a Secretary of State for Wales with a Welsh office might provide, may be the only satisfactory solution. I believe, as other hon. Members do, and I think it is fast becoming apparent, that in the interests of this House, which is becoming cluttered up with business—[Interruption.] That is one of the arguments which the Lord President of the Council uses when he wants to take Bills upstairs. He says we must do that because we cannot carry on the business of the Government. I believe that not 1342 only in the interests of this House, but also in the interests of Wales and ultimately of Scotland, we shall have to have charge of our own affairs. I know that there are many Members opposite who have a secret hankering, and some not even a secret hankering, after such a proposal. I believe some would accept this council because they believe this is the first step towards devolution. I believe that we may have to have something analogous to Northern Ireland. What I am convinced about is that this miserable little compromise is neither administratively sound nor can it in any way make a real contribution to solving the problems of our native country.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Evans (Ogmore)
We have listened to a number of speeches, some of which have condemned this proposal, but I want to congratulate the Government on having brought forward this scheme. I really think that this will be a good thing for Wales. We know that over the years, there has been a clamant demand for Home Rule for Wales and for a Secretary of State for Wales, but it is perfectly clear that without complete autonomy, a Secretary of State for Wales is an unworkable proposition—that, at any rate, is my view. The Government's proposal is that this Council shall be given a trial. I rather like the set-up, although I know that some of my colleagues differ from me. I think it is a fair cross-section of the whole of Welsh life. We have local government bodies with representation upon the Council, as well as industry and agriculture, both employers and workers, cultural institutions, such as the Council for Education, the university, the Eisteddfod Council, which is purely a Welsh institution and finds much favour with the Welsh nation generally and the Tourist Board. The Tourist Board is a new sort of institution, for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) has been mainly responsible, which is an organisation to attract tourists to Wales.
As I have said, the new Council represents a pretty fair cross-section of Welsh life. This is the first time that any Government have made any sort of devolutionary gesture to us. Previous Governments have not offered anything approaching this suggestion. I think it is a very fine gesture, and one which should be grasped 1343 by both hands. Reference has been made to culture. I am an ardent Welshman, and I believe that Welsh culture is worth preserving. Our language is certainly worth preserving. This Council will be able to stimulate interest in Welsh culture, which will be fairly safe in their keeping. Certainly this Council ought to be given a trial. It may be necessary to make amendments and modifications later on, but while the machinery is there we have the opportunity to improve on it. We certainly shall not lose anything by it, and we may stand to gain a lot.
I want to refer now to the White Paper and to the industrial development that has taken place. I congratulate the Government on what they have achieved during the 3½ years they have been in power. There has been tremendous progress and real achievement. In South Wales, however, we still have a pocket of unemployment. We have some 5½ per cent. to 6 per cent. of the working population unemployed, whereas the average for the whole country is only 2 per cent., or even less. When we bear in mind that our figure of 5 per cent. helps to make up the figure of 2 per cent., it makes us all the more uneasy, because it means that there must be some areas with less than 1 per cent., or even ½ per cent. We are very concerned about absorbing this pool of unemployment in South Wales which seems to be more or less stagnant. I am not blaming the Regional Controller of the Board of Trade, because he and his staff have been doing their best and have been endeavouring to stimulate the establishment in South Wales of industries which will absorb the partially disabled men. Our factories are going up, but I am not sure whether there are tenants for them. I hope that there will be some sort of drive in South Wales and that we shall be able to set up the proposed Council to organise and keep together all the loose ends of the various Departments and bring them to a head and not merely leave them in the air. The movement certainly has my blessing and I wish the Lord President of the Council every success in this project.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
I do not share the misgivings which have been expressed about the proposed 1344 Council, nor do I fear that its activities will impinge upon the duties or the authority of Members of Parliament. It will not be surprising if the Lord President dreams about this Welsh Council tonight, and I hope that his dreams will be very happy and pleasant ones.
The Report of Government action in Wales for the year ended June, 1948, makes good reading, but not good enough. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. J. Evans) has pointed out, we have no fewer than 39,000 people unemployed in Wales. That is not my greatest fear. If the expectations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are realised, that number will be increased by approximately 10,000 to 12,000 in a very short time, when the new strip mill at Margam is functioning. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us when we were discussing the location of that mill that it would mean the redundancy of approximately that number of tinplate workers. That problem must be anticipated. We should not wait until it actually materialises. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) made a reference to the site at Margam and he inquired whether additional cold production plant was to be installed in South Wales. I hope that the Minister for National Insurance will be able to reply to that question. If he can tell us that an additional mill is to be built at Llangyfelach on the site where the Government have already spent more than £50,000, the news will be very gratifying indeed.
My next point is about the charges in the ports of South Wales. It is generally agreed that the port charges throughout Great Britain are chaotic and need revision. That is particularly true of the ports of South Wales. A representative body, The Joint Ports Committee, issued a report on the matter about 18 months ago which many members have studied carefully. The overall figure is not the hindering factor. The feature that troubles people is the apportionment of those figures at the various docks. It is not for me to eulogise the services of the dockers of South Wales or the amenities of the docks themselves, because they are perfectly well known. The Government found them invaluable during the war. I urge that some attention be given to the reorganisation and 1345 to a close examination of the facilities and the charges in the ports of South Wales.
We are not asking that any other port should be deprived of its legitimate trade but that, instead of ships waiting to go into docks that are already congested, they shall be diverted to the ports of Wales and given a much quicker turn-round. That reminds me that the Minister of Transport appointed a Committee to examine the problem of the turn-round of shipping. That Committee has made recommendations and I gather that the Minister is now examining them. I hope he will expedite his study and let us know his conclusions as early as possible. A quicker turn-round in shipping will be valuable for the economy not only of Wales but of Great Britain.
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. D. Thomas) referred to housing. I would add the question of schools. That is a subject not peculiar to Wales, but I would think it markedly so in respect of the blitzed areas of Wales. We have to overtake not only the normal arrears of wartime but all the problems created by the bad blitzing. If anything can be done to overcome the problem of the supply of materials in Wales for the rebuilding of the blitzed areas and the building and rebuilding of schools, we shall be more than grateful.
Reference has already been made to the cultural development of Wales. I would refer to the activities of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The B.B.C. staff in Wales are very much in love with their work and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their team work and the efficiency they show, under tremendous handicaps working in something akin to rabbit holes. There is no decent accommodation for these people in Cardiff, Swansea, Bangor, or any other part of Wales. If there is one section catering for the culture of Wales as a whole, it is the Welsh section of the B.B.C., and I urge that some attention be given to the provision of accommodation and additional plant, so that the staff may be given a free and full opportunity.
We have endeavoured in the very few minutes at our disposal to cover the whole range of problems in Wales. We are grateful to the Lord President of the Council for the time that he has given 1346 us today throughout the whole Debate. We hope not only that he will give us time, but that the Debate will bear fruit. We hope that the proposed Council will consist of people with an immense knowledge of Wales and a wide experience of our problems, and that the expectations of the Lord President of the Council will be fully realised. If the Lord President and his colleagues will give attention to the problems that we have mentioned this Welsh day will not have been in vain.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards (Wrexham)
It is a pity that we have had so little opportunity in this Debate of discussing the very interesting White Paper dealing with Wales. It covers very wide ground indeed and touches all kinds of industries and interests. Consequently we should like to spend a great deal of time discussing the various aspects of the life of Wales as it is mirrored in the White Paper. This afternoon, as we all know, discussion has centred round the proposals that have been made by the Lord President of the Council that a Council should be set up in Wales to examine these questions and bring to the notice of the Government problems that possibly do not receive the attention which they ought to have.
I do not know whether the House realises that we are witnessing today a very simple step in the direction of devolution. It is very difficult, I know, but if we examine the history of the small country in which we are interested, it will be found to be a particularly romantic story. It is a small country; it has been overrun again and again. It has seemed as though its life, language and culture were in jeopardy, but for some reason or other it has survived, as we heard the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd) say this afternoon, for over 2,000 years. As I say, it is a romantic story. First, the Romans came and almost overran the country. In medieval times Wales was subject entirely to Norman or Norman-English rule, but through all this, it has preserved its own language, and has built up an extraordinary literature which has drunk deep at the fount of the literature of Western and Eastern Europe.
It is that kind of feeling which moves Welshmen, and I think I am not exaggerating when I say they are more concerned with the preservation of their 1347 own kind of life, the life which has been lived for hundreds of years among the dales of Wales, than about any purely economic questions. The claim has been made for many years, however, for a certain measure of devolution. We feel that there are certain aspects of our life, for instance, education, that we could well manage ourselves, possibly in a better way than they are being managed today.
At the beginning of this century, and near the end of the last, Wales had no system either of secondary or higher education—we all rejoiced to hear the tribute paid to Wales by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who knows our country so well and who has paid great attention to its cultural aspirations—and the peasant people decided that they would build secondary schools in every county and set up a University of their own, the four colleges being divided between North and South Wales. In addition, Wales has made unrivalled progress in setting up its own National Library and National Museum. As a result, Wales is now one of the best equipped countries in Western Europe in the matter of cultural activities and opportunities for extending those activities.
It is very natural, therefore, when we are discussing various economic questions, that we should be primarily concerned with the preservation of a tradition which is held so strongly in Wales. Not only that, but we have, in recent years, developed it to a remarkable extent. I do not know how far the House appreciates the fact that the hon. Member for the University of Wales is one of the leading poets of Western Europe. It is an unfortunate fact but he has produced all his work in the Welsh language. Scholars who study the Welsh language will say that some of the lyrics of the hon. Member are amongst the finest that have been produced in recent years anywhere in Western Europe.
It is no wonder that we are making, as we have often made, the claim for a measure of devolution, and I, in common with my colleagues here, very warmly welcome the effort made by the Lord President of the Council this afternoon. I recognise it is a small beginning and 1348 that there will be much criticism of the constitution of this Council; but it is one of the things that we have been wanting for a long time. I appreciate the difficulty with which the Lord President was faced when he approached this question.
We all know that a Secretary of State for Wales is the ideal of the Liberal Party, and we heard that view expressed this afternoon, but I was surprised to find that the Leader of the Liberal Party went much further and claimed that what he wanted for Wales was an entirely separate Parliament. Those of us who know Wales—and I do not deny that he knows it very well—know that one party in Wales stands for that ideal, and is logical in its claim—the Nationalist Party. I do not know how soon the leader of the Liberal Party intends to join the Nationalist Party, for that would be the logical result of what he told us this afternoon. Only the Nationalists in Wales claim that they ought to have complete independence to cut themselves off entirely from this country and do the kind of thing that Eire is doing. The Nationalists want complete severance as between Wales and England.
The majority of people in this House and in Wales feel that, for economic and other reasons, that is impossible, but what we must do today is try to evolve a system under which we shall still be very closely associated, as we have been now for hundreds of years, with the great neighbour alongside whom we live, while at the same time enjoying a measure of devolution in matters that concern us alone. The Lord President made a very good case this afternoon against the scheme for a Cabinet Minister, who would be in constant conflict with his colleagues, but he suggested that we might have a Council representative of Wales meeting at regular intervals. I do not like the nomination part of it myself, but we cannot get over that difficulty very well, because if an elected body were set up, it would find itself at once in conflict with the Members of Parliament who already represent Wales. So we must, if we are to have a Council, have one that is selected by the Prime Minister and as far as possible represents the various aspects of Welsh life.
The proposal is a compromise, and every compromise is always open to 1349 criticism. I have no doubt at all that when the thing comes to be further discussed, as I hope it will be, there will be plenty of criticism. I think that the scheme can be improved upon so that eventually we shall have a Council of which the whole country of Wales can feel proud. I look forward to the day when, working through this Council, we may enjoy the measure of devolution which is enjoyed purely through historical accident by our friends, the Scots people. It is an ideal to work for, and I am very glad that the Cabinet have given us this small beginning which is capable of very considerable growth.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas (Llandaff and Barry)
I am very glad to have heard such a very sane speech as that which we have just had from my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards). Those of us who know Welsh ways and Welsh representatives in this House, know well that nobody is better qualified to give a thoroughly Welsh and representative point of view than the hon. Member.
I have two long speeches which I wish to make. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame."] I note that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, look rather alarmed at that. The first is on the proposals brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, and the second is on the Welsh ports. I will do my best with them in the time allotted to me. First of all, with regard to the Lord President's proposals, all sides of the House start off on the footing that we all consider that Wales requires special treatment in government. This can be done in two ways. It can be done by appointing a Minister to deal with Welsh affairs, whether a Secretary of State or otherwise, or it can be done by some measure of devolution. I do not want to be misunderstood on the use of the word "devolution." I do not mean anything like Home Rule for Wales but that the administration should be brought down to regional level and that it should be dealt with within Wales itself.
As to the question of a Minister for Wales, I have always understood myself to approach Welsh affairs and Welsh problems very much in the same manner as the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George), 1350 but I find myself in complete disagreement not only with her conclusion this evening, but with a good deal of the reasoning which she applied to arrive at that conclusion. If one has a Minister for Welsh affairs, the Minister is, of course, a Minister in a British Government in a British Administration and is no more answerable to Welsh Members of Parliament or to Wales than are the separate Ministers at the head of the separate Departments in the House of Commons at present. No greater degree of control is to be obtained by a Minister for Welsh affairs or a Secretary of State for Wales than is to be obtained under the present set-up.
What, then, is the advantage of a Minister for Welsh affairs? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who does not know Wales as well as the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey, seemed to consider that it had an advantage as some kind of sop to Welsh sentiment. The noble Lady the Member for Anglesey condemned any such approach to a Minister for Welsh affairs, and I am in complete agreement with her on that. We do not want sops to Welsh sentiment from one party or another.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas
It is a simple and understandable interpretation of the rather longer words which the right hon. Gentleman used, and if he will take the trouble tomorrow morning to read his own speech, and to interpret his words into simpler English, he will come to precisely the same conclusion.
The test of a Minister for Welsh Affairs is efficiency. If such an office does not give us greater efficiency, then there is no point in having a Minister for Welsh Affairs. One can argue this on the grounds of efficiency one way or the other, but one thing I am completely clear about—and I think all my colleagues in the Welsh Parliamentary party would be completely clear about it—is that it is futile to have a Minister for Welsh Affairs unless he has behind him an adequate Civil Service set-up and secretariat. I understand from the answer made by the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) that it is not the intention of the Conservative Party to do anything of that kind. I 1351 myself cannot see the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, who is so notoriously entrenched in the Whitehall attitude of mind, re-shaping the Civil Service in such a way as to give a Minister for Welsh Affairs adequate Civil Service backing.
I have been in favour of a Minister for Welsh Affairs like others of my colleagues and the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey, in order to produce efficiency. It would make some contribution towards that end, but do not let us be so churlish as not to recognise that this Government have achieved an amazing degree of efficiency in dealing with Welsh affairs. They have given priority to the distressed areas, they have given consideration to Welsh affairs which no other single Government in the past has ever done.
Now let me deal with the question of devolution. A good deal has been done towards getting a more comprehensive administration within the boundaries of Wales by this Government. When my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health introduced his Health Bill, he made Wales a region under the Ministry of Health. I ventured to say in that Debate, and it has been my view throughout, that it is far more important for Wales to have Wales as a region in the administration of the Department of State, which is responsible for this vast new health scheme, and for local government than it is to have any Minister for Welsh Affairs or any Secretary of State for Wales.
Secondly, the Lord President introduced during the last Welsh Debate the scheme for bringing together the regional controllers at the heads of the various Civil Service Departments in Wales. I had the advantage for a time of serving under my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham in connection with the administration of the Welsh region during the war, so I know what immense advantage there is to Wales in bringing together the heads of the Civil Service within Wales responsible for the administration of Wales. The contribution which that makes to efficient administration is quite unbelievable to anyone who has not had that experience.
Thirdly, we get to the step where it is desirable to have some kind of representative body within Wales to connect up with the administration there—the 1352 heads of the Civil Service in Wales, and so on. That step is being taken 12 months after the step for co-ordinating the heads of the Departments in Wales. It is impossible in these circumstances for any responsible hon. Member to oppose the introduction of such a scheme. We might quarrel with this particular Council, we might criticise it in detail, its functions and composition, and I am perfectly prepared to do all those things, but it still leaves unassailed the big contribution which this makes to the development of Welsh administration within the borders of Wales itself. The terms of reference are that it should report and keep the Government cognisant of the effects of Government Measures and so on upon life in Wales. What that conceives is that we should have representatives living in Wales and representatives of bodies in Wales who shall report upon the day-to-day administration of affairs in Wales, of which they have personal experience and knowledge through their own organisations—an entirely different function from the function of Members of Parliament, one that does not conflict with it in any way, but supplements it and adds greatly to the administration in Wales.
There are two aspects of this matter. One can see, first of all, that it reflects to some degree public opinion in Wales, and that is certainly true. It also to some extent gives—I do not like the term expert advice, because, perhaps, it involves technical knowledge—advice of an expert nature, on affairs in Wales. In the composition of this body, we have these two aspects of this Council reflected by means of public opinion representatives, chosen from the local government bodies in Wales, with expert knowledge of education, industry, agriculture and so on, and these other representatives, chosen from these other bodies, such as the university, the Eisteddfod, agriculture, industry and so on. It is capable of development. I myself would like to see these two aspects of this Council developed separately and grow into something really substantial in Wales. I would like to see a greater stride forward towards the establishment of this Council at this stage, but that is a criticism of timing and of detail, and, certainly, it would be a matter of irresponsibility to turn down this Council on that kind of ground. This Council is an opportunity 1353 of development, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Lord President would be the last to say that this is a "once for all" and final decision in this direction.
There are one or two other aspects to which I would like to refer, which have been the subject of criticism, and on which I should like to state my position. First of all, there is the question whether Members of Parliament should be Members of the Council. In my view, it would be utterly wrong to make them Members of the Council. Secondly, on the question whether the meetings should be in secret or open, if this were an elected body, merely to reflect public opinion in Wales, there would be some ground for saying that the meetings should be held in public, but it is nothing of the kind. It is a body to advise Ministers. It does not affect Ministerial responsibility or the answerability of a Minister to hon. Members in this House in any way whatever. Therefore, to make this body one which can act in public and make its pronouncements in public, perhaps contrary to the opinion of the elected representatives—[Interruption.] Certainly. Does the right hon. Gentleman opposite quarrel with that? Does he suggest that bodies appointed by the Prime Minister should be set up as bodies opposed to the elected representatives of the people in this House?
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
No, but I do suggest that the Government, in working out the scheme, should take the trouble to tell us what is its relation to Parliament and the public, and that was not done.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas
That is an entirely different point from that which I was making when the right hon. Gentleman chose to jeer. The point I was making was that it would be quite impossible to have this body nominated as it is, hold its meetings in public, and make its pronouncements in public when those meetings and those pronouncements might be entirely contrary to the view of the elected representatives of the people. Their duty is to advise the Minister. The Minister's responsibility is to this House of Commons, and if the right hon. Gentleman jeers at that kind of doctrine, then it cuts across the whole basis of democratic representation.
§ Mr. Butler
I did not jeer at that kind of doctrine. I really approve of the 1354 responsibility of Ministers, but what I would like to know is what this Council, which meets in secret and reports in secret, is doing. I am certain that the country and Parliament want to know so, too.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas
I do not want to ride off as the right hon. Gentleman does on that point. I took up the right hon. Gentleman on his interposition at the stage when he made a reply to the observations I was making.
The advantages of this Council, it appears to me, are very great. The noble Lady the Member for Anglesey rather pooh-poohed the whole of the effect of this Council, and so on. To my mind, it is an immense advantage to have in Wales a body of this kind contributing towards uniting the different heads of the Civil Service in Wales, and contributing towards uniting the administration of all aspects of Welsh life. Doing that will mean that the various Ministries existing in Wales will develop a sense of unity, and will cease, in course of time, to consider themselves as mere outposts of Whitehall down in Wales. They will have a bond between them, and I would welcome that. I think it can do a great deal towards invigorating administration in Wales.
I had hoped to go on to the second part of my speech which I have in my hand, but I am afraid that I have exceeded my time on the first half. Perhaps I may be forgiven as this is a matter of very great importance to Wales as a whole. I would say, finally, that the choice with which we are left here, each one of us Members of Parliament, and, perhaps, Wales in particular, is whether or not, at this stage, we are going to kill this proposal rather than accept it. That is the alternative; that is the choice between us, and it is no good riding off on other proposals about Secretaries of State, and all the rest of it as though the choice were between one and the other. What Member for a Welsh constituency will go to Wales and say that he advises the people of Wales to kill this particular proposal?
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas
I hope the hon. and learned Member will go down to Wales and say it. To repeat, that is the choice before this House, and I hope the House will overwhelmingly accept this proposal.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
It falls to my lot to be called at the end of a Debate which has covered a very wide field. I am afraid there is very little new that I can say on the topics that have been discussed. There seem, however, to have been two main themes: first, the new administrative set-up proposed by the Government, and, secondly—and probably far more important—the economic problems of Wales. I wish to speak briefly about each one.
I, in common with many of my colleagues, welcome the decision of the Government to set up this new Council for Wales. I am sure that the proposal will be widely acclaimed and generally approved among the people of Wales. This is the first positive proposal made by any Government in my time, and, in fact, before my time, to meet the genuine and legitimate aspirations of the Welsh people. The Tory Party have talked, still talk and no doubt will continue to talk, about doing something for Wales, but when they were in power and had the authority to do something in Wales, they gave us not a Ministry nor a Secretary of State, but mass unemployment, poverty and misery. That is the contribution of the Tory Party.
This is the first attempt to translate words into action. This is a practical and workable proposition. There is nothing spectacular or showy about it, and that indeed is its greatest virtue. The Welsh people are too mature politically to confuse statesmanship with showmanship, and I am sure that they have had enough political experience and understanding to judge this proposal on its merits. I have no doubt at all what the verdict of the overwhelming majority of the Welsh people will be on this issue.
I believe that the proposal has three very solid advantages. First, it provides a channel for the expression of Welsh opinion on matters peculiar to Wales and of vital interest to the Principality. Secondly, it provides a means of conveying this opinion directly to the responsible Ministers dealing with the matter 1356 covered by the Council. Thirdly, it will enable the Government to give first-hand information about Government policy and activity in Wales, and will provide a means for a two-way traffic of opinion and information which is bound to produce valuable long-term results for the Welsh people.
This Council will not solve all our problems. Indeed, it is not meant to do so. If I may make one comment on the speech of the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George), I thought her criticisms of the Council were most unconvincing, and it seemed to me that the gravamen of her charge against the Council was that it would not bring the millennium into Wales. It will not, and it is as well we should realise that. The real problems in Wales are not constitutional or national or structural or even administrative. We have heard a great deal about administrative co-ordination. The real problems in Wales are economic and social, and it is rendering a great disservice to the people of Wales to create the impression that their problems can be overcome by some ingenious constitutional device or by the setting up of some elaborate and complex piece of administrative machinery.
I now turn to the White Paper which provides both the occasion and the subject matter for this Debate. In common, I believe, with my colleagues, I welcome the appearance of the White Paper. It is the third we have had. In fact, it is an annual event in Wales. The people of Wales look forward to its appearance with a great deal of interest and study its contents most closely. Like its predecessors, it is a very workmanlike document; it is factual, objective and comprehensive, and it gives a detailed and clear picture of the general economic and social situation in Wales today. The outstanding impression it gives, I think, is that of a vast transformation taking place in the economy of Wales. In this respect it continues the story told by the White Papers of 1946 and 1947.
During the last three years we have seen an enormous transformation in the economic life of Wales. This is something we all welcome and something new in our experience. In the inter-war period we had very little activity. On the contrary, we had industrial paralysis, economic stagnation and social decay. 1357 During that time the people of Wales went through very grim experiences and their paramount fear today is that there will be a recurrence of those experiences. That is why they are so overwhelmingly in support of and behind this Government.
I believe Wales had great hopes in the policy of this Labour Government. All those hopes have not been fulfilled. A great deal has been done, but the problem has not been solved. More remains to be done and we are still a long way from our goal of the establishment of a balanced economy and the provision of employment for our people. I know it is not easy to build a new economy in situations such as that which existed in Wales at the end of the war. Indeed, it is more difficult in Wales than in any other part of the country. For one thing, no part of the country was so dependent as was Wales, South Wales in particular, upon one or two basic industries which were almost derelict. Secondly, no other area had such a high rate of unemployment as Wales. In 1932 unemployment reached the staggering total of 41 per cent. of the insured population. In 1937, after years of rearming, the figure still reached 21 per cent.
The problem was aggravated at the end of the war by all sorts of difficulties, which arose unavoidably and inevitably from the post-war situation—difficulties about material supplies, shortages of all kinds such as steel, timber, bricks, cement and innumerable other things, and, above all, shortage of building labour to proceed with the factory and house-building programme. At the end of the war there was no building industry in Wales and the job which the Government had to do at the beginning was not so much to build houses and factories as to create an industry to produce these things. Nothing is such a faithful barometer of the general economy of Wales as the state of the building industry. In times of economic prosperity in South Wales, in the 19th century, we had a flourishing building industry, but in the period of decline and stagnation which followed the first world war the building industry became virtually extinct. What few builders remained in Wales were not builders as such: they were builders and undertakers: they built very little and 1358 undertook a great deal; and their primary occupation was to cater for the dead rather than the living.
The real problem that faces us in Wales, as I have tried to emphasise, is economic in kind—the problem of unemployment, which is part of the problem of the rehabilitation of the Development Area of Wales. It is a problem which has deep historical roots. This unemployment problem did not start in 1945 when the Labour Government came to power. It is a problem that we inherited from years of Tory misrule during the inter-war period. There is one very serious aspect of the unemployment problem in Wales to which I particularly want to refer, and that is the problem of the very large number of disabled ex-miners who are amongst the unemployed. They have been suspended from the mining industry because they are suffering from silicosis and pneumoconiosis. They cannot return to the pits, and we have at the moment no alternative employment for them. I urge the Government to give this problem their immediate and urgent attention. It is not only an economic problem; it is a real human tragedy, and should have absolute priority in the Government's efforts to bring prosperity to Wales.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Mort (Swansea, East)
I do not know whether it is an advantage to be at the end of the queue, but I am in that position. Certainly, at the end of the queue, one can examine the goods carried out of the shop. As far as I am concerned, there is very little left on the counter or even under it. Unlike my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Ungoed-Thomas), I am not going to make two speeches, but one, and that, a short one. I should like first to make a personal observation. As I listened to his speech I came to the conclusion that he had been on the road to Damascus.
I think that rather too much stress has been laid on the Council that is to be formed, important as it is. As I sat listening to some of the speakers from the Opposition side, it appeared to me that they thought that the Government are now just beginning their treatment of the problems of Wales, and that this Council is to be the machine to carry it out. It is nothing of the kind. This 1359 machine—I am not very enthusiastic about it—is to be of assistance. It is to assist in the great work the Government are doing and have done, unsurpassed by any previous Government, for Wales.
I turn to another aspect of the problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Mr. P. Morris) referred. It is a problem that is causing me a great deal of distress, and it distresses my constituents as well. I am very pleased to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour on the Front Bench, because it is a problem within the purview of his Department. If there is one thing that causes me great distress it is the migration from Wales of the men who have learned trades and who belong to families who have followed those trades for generations. We as a country stand to lose all that great ability, that great reservoir of ability and craftsmanship. That is, unfortunately, happening now.
There is a case in point referred to in the White Paper, the case of an industry in my constituency in which 400 men have become redundant who were making copper boilers for the Indian railways. Those men will be absorbed by the firm, but not in their particular trade, and not employing their particular skill. Then we have the labour problem at the great strip mill which is now being built at Margam. The building of that mill gives me a song in my heart when I pass it twice a week. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) had been down that way, or if he went there, he would not make those speeches about our being decadent in this country. We are doing the biggest job in the world, but it brings large and very severe problems. Reference has been made to the figure of 10,000 skilled men who will become redundant. How are they to be absorbed? I want the Government to pay attention to this problem now. We are witnessing an industrial revolution in Wales—a glorious revolution. We shall be sheltered from the economic storms of the future when this policy is developed, but it must not go too far. We must not have the father of the family sitting by the fireside and the daughter running the home. That would be wrong. It would not be progress; it would be decadence absolutely.
1360 I want to make one practical suggestion which I hope the Minister will convey to the proper quarter. I, with my knowledge of the trade, confidently predict that when this strip mill is in operation, one cold producing plant will never deal with the output. The intention was to have two. The site is in Swansea—I will not give the name because the last time I referred to it a reporter asked me to spell the name and I could not. All I hope is that the Government will prevent that site from being cut up into parcels of land. Let me make this appeal. The Government may have the power to direct big factories there, but the factory that is required is something in the big engineering line. I read about an expansion of motor car manufacturing; could not the Government offer some inducement to get the work there, because that would solve our problem of redundancy in the tinplate trade?
I say to the Government that they have done a good job of work; they have diagnosed the complaint. We get the White Papers, we can read them and examine them. I hope that the Government will go forward and that when we have the next Welsh day we shall get down to these great economic problems, if they are not already solved by the efforts of the Government.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
If I return to the question of the proposed Council, I hope that the hon. Member for East Swansea (Mr. Mort) will not regard it as a discourtesy in regard to what he has said. I listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Ungoed-Thomas). I would not take steps to bring this proposal of a Council in its present form to an end, or prevent it from going forward. The Government have made an interesting proposal. I do not, however, accept the suggestion that this is the only Government that has ever done anything for Wales. I might remind the House that it was the Liberal Party, if I wanted to make party capital out of it——
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
—that set up the Welsh Department of the Board of Education and the Welsh Department of 1361 the Board of Health. The autonomy of the Civil Service began, at any rate, with the action of the Liberal Party——
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas
If the hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to my remarks, as I understand he is, I never intended to cast any reflection on the very great Liberal Government of 1906.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
As long as the House bears that in mind, it brings me to a point I want to make about the action of the Government. The first time we heard about this proposal was last night. It is new to hon. Members, who are compelled to discuss it today after giving it very little consideration. Certainly Wales has had no opportunity of discussing the proposal. There is no Welsh public opinion to consult, because Wales has had no opportunity of forming an opinion. Thus, whatever be the merits or the demerits of the scheme as it stands, there is a strong case for adjourning consideration of this proposal until there is a further opportunity to debate it in this House. Whatever else the Government do, I hope they will provide an opportunity for a full Debate in this House upon this subject before coming to a final decision, so that Wales itself has time to think over the proposal.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
If the hon. Member, after a quarter of a century in this House, does not know what Wales. I do not intend to begin teaching him now.
Last year I criticised the proposal to set up the Joint Conference of Civil Servants in Wales. Here is something on similar lines. Let me revert to the constitutional criticism of that body. It was set up, answerable to no one—an unrepresentative body with a Civil Service chairman. I certainly make no criticism of the Civil Service, nor of the civil servants who compose that body; but they are not representative—politically anyway. The constitution of this country provides for the administration of the law, being handed over completely to the Civil Service, which should not be and cannot be criticised in this House. Politicians are responsible for the political set-up; a politician is the head of the Department; he is responsible to 1362 the country and to this House, and he must bear all the criticism or take what praise there is. He is responsible to the public and to everyone in this House; the civil servant is not.
Let us for a moment examine the setup in Wales. We have had altogether three White Papers. I venture to say that no other White Paper submitted to this House is like the Welsh White Paper. It is unique. Now, in what way is it unique? Read that White Paper from cover to cover and it is a Civil Service record of what has happened in Wales during the year, whether it be good, bad or indifferent. It is not in any sense of the word a political document; it is an administrative document. The only document I can think of which is comparable with it is the report by Empire Parliamentary delegates who go abroad, visit some Colony or another, and on their return present a report of their visit. It is an account of the industrial activity, the agricultural activity and the educational activity of the Colony, and is not a document presented to Parliament at all. I know of no document of this sort which is presented to Parliament, except in the case of Wales. The document is of necessity, because of the way it is drawn up and because of the people responsible for drawing it up, a report upon Colonial development. Now, that is a complete political departure. Why should Wales be treated as a Colony?
We are now going a step further, instead of remedying that position. The only way to remedy the position is by making someone politically responsible and not allowing only the Prime Minister to present the report to Parliament as though it were a Government paper. If this proposal made a Minister responsible, I would agree with the hon. and learned Member for Llandaff and Barry that it would be a great step forward. I hope the Government will consider this. It is no use merely setting up a Council which is, in the first place, representative indirectly of the county councils and county borough councils, and responsible to no one. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) interrupted and asked what would be the relationship of this body to Parliament, but that question was not answered.
1363 There is another question which is perhaps even more important, and that is: what will be the relationship of this body to the Civil Service? The separate Ministers with responsibility for Departments in Wales—and there is a separate Board of Education and a Welsh Board of Health—must surely have confidence in their civil servants and consult with the separate divisions in regard to Wales, but how are the civil servants to be placed in regard to this nondescript body which has no responsibility at all and is a complete constitutional anomaly?
Let me put another point which is of some importance. Take the two most important Departments, the Welsh Board of Health and the Welsh Department of the Board of Education. I am not criticising the people at the head, but merely the system. In each of these two cases it has been the practice not to appoint civil servants to the chair. They are not Civil Service promotions. The reason for that is obvious. It is because the salaries are not high enough to carry a top grade civil servant. When a civil servant was appointed in the case of the Welsh Board of Health and the time came for his promotion, he was removed back to London. If the Government really want to do some service to Wales, they should alter the grades of the heads of Departments so that the appointments are such as to command the best civil servants. I am not saying that they do not command the best civil servants at the moment.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
Perhaps the hon. and learned Member will allow me to make my own speech. If the Government would put these Departments on a first-class level, it would be an important contribution to the development of local government in Wales. The confusing of administration with political responsibility is a great disservice, as well as being a confusion of thought. In the last resort it leads to a loss of liberty. The great protection that exists for liberty is free discussion in this House upon a public basis.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
It is not, but it will gradually become a fact. My plea to 1364 the Government is for them to reconsider this, and to let us have a further Debate when we have had an opportunity of full discussion, and then to give Ministerial responsibility.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. James Griffiths)
We have had a very interesting Debate and a number of very excellent speeches. I sympathised with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour when he came to reply to the last Welsh Debate, because so many points of detail had been put and so many questions asked that it would have taken more time than was available to him to have dealt with them all. That problem is even more pronounced in my case tonight, because in addition to the many points that have been put and questions asked there have been two main elements in this Debate.
First, there has been the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council at the beginning of the Debate; and mixed up with the question of the Consultative Council have been speeches about the problems of industry, agriculture and rural life and, perhaps what is most urgent of all, the provision of employment for the growing number of disabled men in North and South Wales. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) put a number of questions of great interest and importance, but to reply to his and all the other points which have been raised would require Departmental knowledge. Even if I were in the position of being the Minister for Wales, I should not be able to reply to the points which have been put forward without Departmental knowledge. However, note has been taken of what has been asked, and a reply will be given later.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
Shall we receive letters giving the replies to the points which have been put in the Debate?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Certainly. I want now to come to the major issue in this Debate— 1365 the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Government's decision—by which we stand and which we shall implement—to set up a Consultative Council for Wales. I want to make one point clear at the start: so long as England and Wales are governed together by one Parliament, by one Government, the policy for Wales, as for England, must be decided here. The Government must be responsible for policy. The Government's responsibility is to the people, through Parliament, and unless Wales accepts the view, which I do not think it will, that it ought to have a Parliament of its own, which, presumably, would mean a Government of its own as well——
§ Mr. C. Davies
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent me. I began by saying that there was need for devolution for Wales as for other countries. I used the phrase "Parliament or Grand Council to deal purely with Welsh affairs."
§ Mr. Griffiths
If there were a Parliament of Wales, there would have to be a Government of Wales. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of the Welsh people do not want a Parliament and a Government of their own. I, as a Welshman, believe it would be disastrous for Wales if we had a Government of our own, relying on our own resources and our own finances. If that were the case no part of the country would suffer more than Montgomery, which is represented by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We should be stabilising our poverty if we had to rely on our own internal resources. I am certain that the majority of the people of Wales do not take the view put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If, in the future, we go on to consider problems of devolution of Government, let no one be under any illusion. That must clearly involve the whole question of local government administration. I have only to mention that to make my hon. Friends realise what the problem is and how controversial it is. If devolution is to mean internal re-organisation both at the centre and in local government in Wales we can appreciate the kind of problem we are facing. We should not broadcast the suggestion of devolution without fully realising what it means for our people.
1366 The policy which this Government have pursued since 1945 carries with it the support of the overwhelming majority of the people of Wales. No one will deny that—neither the Liberal nor the Conservative Parties. The second thing I have to say is that the policy which the Government are pursuing in Wales is a policy in the best interests of the Welsh people, as will be apparent when we recall what we are doing in the economic field, in the reconstruction of our social services, in the development of our agricultural policy, in the rural areas and, indeed, in all fields. It may be criticised in some details, and to some hon. Members it may be inadequate in certain directions, but the action we are taking and the legislation we have carried through this House, represents a policy which is in the best interests of Wales.
I will put a very simple test. Hon. Members from Wales know that the only alternative policy to ours is that of the Conservative Party. I hope my Friends in the Liberal Party will forgive me for this, but I do not think they harbour any hope of again being a government in this country. Thus, the only alternative before England and Wales is a Conservative Government or a Labour Government. Does anyone doubt what the choice of Wales will be? Would any member for Wales of any party get up tonight and say that he would swop the Wales of 1948 for the Wales of 1938?
In 1938 Wales as a nation was disintegrating because a livelihood was being denied to its people. Its major industries were disintegrating and there was a decline in every aspect of Welsh life. We had mass unemployment and we were losing our people. Nearly half a million people were lost to Wales in 21 years, and right up to the beginning of the war we who were living in Wales knew that we were living in a nation that was dying on its feet, not because of bad machinery but because of bad policy. Let us get it quite clear—there can be the best machinery in the world, but if the policy is wrong that wrong policy will destroy a nation and its people. I begin by saying that the policy we are pursuing in every field of our activity carries with it the overwhelming support of the people of Wales and is in the best interests of Wales, for Wales is once more inhabited by people with confidence in tomorrow.
1367 The next problem is to ensure that the policy for which Government and Parliament are responsible is administered in the best way that can be devised in the interests of Wales and her people. What we are discussing really is the question of whether the administration in Wales is the best that can be devised, and if not what can be done to improve it. Since we became a Government, in the field of administration we have been responsible for a very big programme of legislation, which has had an effect upon the life of Wales, as it has on the whole community. As a Government we have been deeply concerned to ensure that in the carrying out of this new legislation as well as the old legislation the administration in Wales is the best that can be devised. So we have implemented to the full the conception that for the purpose of administration Wales should be treated as an entity. Sometimes we have had to make decisions to treat Wales as a unity against a good deal of expert opinion. Sometimes we have treated Wales as a unity when there was no unity about the matter in Wales itself.
There is an example for which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health was responsible. We had to decide how to administer the hospitals in Wales and what was to be the unit of administration. Hon. Members on both sides of the House from North Wales know that there were two views about that. There were those who said that for generations the hospital and general medical service of North Wales had been linked with that of Liverpool and that it would mean severing old connections if unity for Wales was demanded. But we decided in that case to make Wales one administrative unit. In the last three years the Government have worked out and acted upon the principle that for all purposes of administration we will treat Wales as an entity.
§ Mr. Griffiths
That is true. That was an exception. The reason for that exception was explained very fully when the discussion took place about the administration of electricity. There are economic reasons in the interests of Wales for that. In all other fields we have carried out the principle.
§ Mr. Price-White
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman unnecessarily. He has told us about the Welsh regions in the Health Service. Would he also tell us quite briefly how the service is working?
§ Mr. Griffiths
The National Health Service Scheme in all its phases, despite all the threats and all the rest of it, is working out very well indeed and proving an enormous benefit to the mass of the people of the country.
To return to my main theme, we treat Wales as an entity for administrative purposes. Since there have now grown up a very large number of administrators in Wales who are responsible as heads of Departments, our second step was to bring them together to ensure that in their administrative work they worked together as a team, that they co-ordinated their work and that where their work inevitably overlapped, they could come together and discuss their mutual problems. This arrangement has only been in operation for a very short time, but there is growing up a team spirit and a cadre of Welsh administrators working in different fields but developing a very close unity in their administrative work. That is the Conference of Heads of Departments, which meets quarterly.
The question then arose: what was to be the next step? We gave a good deal of time and thought to this, and the decision of the Government is that announced by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council this afternoon. We propose to set up the Welsh Council. The Council will meet, as we have indicated, at least once every quarter in order that it may advise the Government, as was indicated in its terms of reference, on trends and developments in Wales and the impact of Government activity on Welsh life. It provides a link through which Ministers will meet those representatives from time to time to discuss with them the problems of their Departments and the impact of the activities of their Departments on Welsh life.
A good deal of scorn has been poured on its composition. I want to look at it for a moment, remembering its function. It is not a policy-making body; no one suggested it should be. That is our job. Let us look at the constitution of the Council. It has been called a sop, and other things. Whom does the Council 1369 represent? From whence will the representatives come? First, they will come from the local authorities in Wales. Twelve of the members will be selected from a panel of representatives nominated by the local authorities in Wales. Are they people far away from Welsh life? Are they not the people in day-to-day touch with the administration in Wales? Are they not the people who see the impact on the localities of Government activities and Government administration? Are they not the people who can tell us at first hand, from their own experience in their own localities, how these policies of ours are working out administratively in their areas? Our aim, therefore, is to draw upon the experience and knowledge of local government.
Secondly, we suggest eight representatives from both sides in industry and agriculture. There will be representatives of the industrialists in Wales, including representatives of what have become very important in Wales—and we are glad of it—the socialised industries, which have become the biggest single economic factor in the life of Wales. Then there will be four representatives of the trade unions. Are they to be told they are completely unrepresentative of Welsh life? Let hon. Members tell my old union, the Miners Federation, that it does not represent Welsh life in any phase, that it is alien, that it is something outside; let them tell that to an organisation which has probably played a bigger part in the life of Wales within the last 50 years than any other.
Hon. Members have said—and this is the truth—that Wales is preoccupied now, and has been for a generation and will be until we solve the problem, with its livelihood; this is the reason for bringing industry inside.
§ Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)
Does the right hon. Member suggest that the trade union organisations of Wales do not make their views known to the Government at present?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am not suggesting that they do not. All I say is that it will be an advantage to meet them on this Council. Industry, agriculture and education will all be represented. I give the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden credit for the Education Act, 1944, but one thing this Government have done in 1370 the last three years which has been advocated and argued about ever since I have been a Member of this House, and no Government had done it until we came to power, is to give Wales a Joint Education Authority. This authority will be represented on this Council, so that its work will be linked up with it. The University will come in, the Eisteddfod will come in. Somebody poured scorn upon our decision to bring in a representative of the Welsh Tourist Board. Is that hon. Member really serious in pouring scorn upon that suggestion? Does not everyone in Wales realise that, looking to the future, there can be an enormous development of the tourist industry of Wales, that it can be made to play a vitally important part in the economic recovery of our country? Is it not right, therefore, that this industry should be represented as well?
I say that the Council in its representation will bring together people from the various phases of Welsh life, and will thereby provide a pool of knowledge and experience of Wales unequalled by any body we can consult today. I say, therefore, that in its representation, in its combined knowledge and experience, this will be an admirable body for the purpose of noting the development of trends and policies and administration in Wales, and it will make a first-class medium for Ministers to consult in order to, discover how their policies are working out in Welsh life.
Now I come to the link with the Government, and here we have had a discussion whether or not that link should be through a Minister. If a Minister presides over this Conference, and if the problem to be discussed at any particular meeting is a problem concerning another Department and another Minister, he, as chairman of the Conference would, or could, convey the ideas of the Conference to his colleague. Do hon. Members think that the members of this Council will be content with that? I put it to them quite frankly that, if the question were put to the local authorities in Wales, they would say that, if they were to have a meeting with a Minister to discuss any particular problem, they would want to see the Minister who was responsible and not a Minister who had no responsibility for that problem I am quite certain that that idea not only 1371 would not work, but that in a very short time it would break down.
What we have provided is a very much better link with the Government, and I want to emphasise this, because it is one of the most important points of the new proposal. The Council will meet regularly, at least quarterly, as was suggested by the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George). They may indicate that, at the next meeting, they propose to discuss agriculture, and the Minister of Agriculture or his Parliamentary Secretary will attend the meeting and discuss it with them. Is not that an advantage? They might indicate that they want to discuss problems of fuel and power, and the Minister of Fuel and Power would go to this new Council and discuss the matter with them. The Council can indicate that they want to discuss any problem and, when they indicate what the problem is, the appropriate and responsible Minister will meet them, and they will be able to put their views and criticisms to him. The Minister will also be able to explain policy to them. Such a close development between the Council and Ministers responsible for policy in Wales could, I believe, be of enormous advantage to the administration of Government policy in Wales itself. I believe that this Council can and will play a very important part in the improving and perfecting of Government administration in Wales. I therefore commend it to hon. Members from Wales who belong to all parties, and I also commend it to the people of Wales.
Twelve years ago, I came to this House as the Member for Llanelly—in 1936. Wales itself was in the depths of depression. Our industries were declining, the young people were leaving, there was disintegration and decay everywhere, because for 25 years, except for two very small periods during which there was a Labour Government without adequate power to carry out its policy, Wales had been misgoverned by the Conservative and Coalition Governments. [Interruption.] Let me say this to the right hon. Gentleman opposite. At Llandudno, and again in the last Welsh Debate, the right hon. Gentleman announced that the Conservative Party had decided that, at the next General 1372 Election, if they were returned to power, they proposed to appoint a Minister for Wales. I can speak not only for myself, but for the overwhelming mass of my people, when I say that any proposal of that kind from the Conservative Party would not be regarded as a promise of good things to come, but as a threat, for the truth is that, at every stage in our life, the Conservative Party have been the opponents of the aspirations of the Welsh people and of Welsh desires.
For generations they resisted the claim of our people to religious freedom; they resisted the claim to political freedom; and they are now fighting to resist our economic freedom. Do hon. Members suppose that were we having a Welsh Debate tonight with a Conservative Government in power, we should be discussing a Welsh Council? What do hon. Members suppose we should be discussing? I will tell them. The coalmines would still be in the hands of the coalowners. What kind of Wales do hon. Members think that would be? Agriculture in Wales would still be languishing under the policy pursued by Conservative Governments. Those are the things which would have our attention. In every phase of our Welsh life we should be suffering.
In the last three years we have pursued an economic policy which has begun new growth and new development, and has created new confidence in Wales. Merthyr Tydfil has once again started to think of its future without fear because of the policy of a Labour Government. Every part of Wales is doing that. We believe that pursuing this policy as we are doing, and confident as we are that in 1950 we shall be returned to continue this policy, what we have to do is to see that in the pursuance of our policy the administration is one which brings the Welsh people into partnership, as we propose it shall be brought by this Council, and that, in that way, we shall ensure that both the policy and the administration are in the best interests of Wales.
One final word. There was one Government in 1906, a Liberal Government, which had a record that no other party has yet attained—every Welsh Member returned was a Liberal. I believe that in the not-far-distant future my party will attain a similar distinction. 1373 We have had other Governments like the Liberal Government, but at all stages when we have come to discuss what we shall do for Wales, very little or nothing has been done in the end because, when the proposal was put forward, we rejected it for something else. I ask the House not to reject this proposal tonight; I ask them to accept it. Give it a fair trial, and see how it works. I give the assurance on behalf of the Government that we intend this to be a Council which will play an effective part, and one which will provide an effective link between the Government and the people of Wales. I commend it to hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies, and to the whole of the Welsh people. I say, accept this Council, and work it to the full in the best spirit. We will co-operate with it, and every Minister will see that the policy that we as a Government are carrying out is administered in the best interests of our people. I am certain that if we do that, we shall be serving the interests of the people whom it is our proud privilege to represent.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.