HC Deb 08 November 1954 vol 532 cc1005-10

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [(Sir C. Drewe.]

10.58 p.m.

Mr. David Llewellyn (Cardiff, North)

I know that I am voicing the feelings of Members in all parts of the House and of Welsh Members especially when I congratulate my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary and Minister for Welsh Affairs upon his appointment. In expressing to him the good wishes of his fellow-countrymen, I should like to add my own appreciation of the fact that he has chosen to reply in person to the debate tonight.

I raise the question of the future of the Welsh Under-Secretary to clarify the position which has arisen as a result of my right hon. Friend's appointment, that of the new Under-Secretary of State and certain Press notices which have appeared. Having held the office of Welsh Under-Secretary for a year, and so learned of its potential worth to Wales, I felt obliged to raise the matter at an early date, though for personal reasons I would rather not do so.

On 13th November, 1951, the Prime Minister announced that the Minister for Welsh Affairs would be assisted by a Welsh Under-Secretary. That statement did not mean, and was not taken to mean, that both would necessarily be of Welsh nationality, for the then Minister for Welsh Affairs was blessed with all the virtues except Welshness and I, having Welshness but none of the Minister's virtues, was honoured with a chance to assist him.

During the Second Reading of the Ministers of the Crown (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) Bill, the duties of a Welsh Under-Secretary were detailed in this way: It will be part of his duty to pay frequent visits to Wales, and he will be provided with accommodation in Cardiff from which he can be in touch with the actual physical offices which are situated there; and he will become chairman of the conference of heads of Government Offices in Wales, which meets quarterly:. In addition to that he will give me his information and advice on the major issues of special interest to Wales, so that I may be kept fully briefed in such matters as are to be discussed in the Cabinet; and he will assist me in relations with the Council for Wales and will receive deputations either in Wales or London from the Council or other representative Welsh bodies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1951; Vol. 494, c. 1744.] In another place the then Lord Chancellor said: The Home Secretary has taken upon himself the additional burden of having a peculiar responsibility for the affairs of Wales. It is quite clear that if he undertakes that duty he must receive the assistance of an additional Under-Secretary"—.[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 6th December, 1951; Vol. 174, c. 861.] In the event the duties of the Under-Secretary as then outlined contracted only in one particular, and that was that the local authorities and other delegations from Wales showed a marked preference for coming to London rather than to Cardiff. On the other hand, the duties expanded substantially—modestly in my case, and substantially later—by including, for example, the chairmanship of divers inquiries, the responsibility for the preparation of a Welsh digest of statistics and in other ways.

It was, therefore, with some alarm that I read in the "Daily Telegraph," which, as the House knows is an international organ of Welsh opinion, that neither of the Under-Secretaries will take over the special duties in relation to Wales which Lord Lloyd discharged at the Home Office. I was alarmed not least for the Minister's sake, for though he has an unrivalled knowledge of Welsh affairs, it seemed to be wrong that he should be saddled with the burden of the Under-Secretary's duties at a time when the work of the Home Office is expanding.

I have studied with some care the Press reactions to the new appointments to the Home Office and the Ministry for Welsh Affairs, and also the statements which accompanied them. The "Liverpool Daily Post" under a heading, "No Under-Secretary for Welsh Affairs," ascribed this development to the fact that my right hon. and gallant Friend knows the Principality better than any other Minister in the Government, which is true. But that paper went on to argue that he will…therefore be able to dispense with the services of an Under-Secretary with special responsibility for Welsh affairs which does not follow.

The "Western Mail," in its leading article, said: Of one thing we are sure: the new Minister for Welsh Affairs will sorely feel the need for an Under-Secretary at the Home Office specially assigned to the service of the Principality. It did not plead that the Under-Secretary should be Welsh or sit for a Welsh seat or be exclusively assigned to Welsh duties, and it ended: To expect the Minister in addition to the manifold duties of the Home Secretary to carry the full weight of Welsh affairs is asking a very great deal of any man. Judging from the editions in the Library, not all journals at home or abroad seized upon the points made by the "Liverpool Daily Post" and the "Western Mail." They include the "Daily Herald" and "Pravda," "The Times" and Paris "Soir," the "Record" and "Tribune," no doubt for good reasons of their own. Of the Welsh vernacular Press I am not qualified to judge, but I did notice that "Y Cymro" gave a brief editorial welcome to my right hon. and gallant Friend and a long description of the fight between Dai Dower and Tuli.

The duties of the Welsh Under-Secretary, which I do not feel that any Minister can combine without risk of detriment to one side of his duties or the other, include the following, which are of special importance. First he has the duty of presiding over the quarterly meetings of the heads of Government offices in Wales. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Herbert Morrison) started, I think, more than he knew when he inaugurated these meetings. I think it odd, because of that, that he made no mention of this innovation in his work, "Government and Parliament" The Welsh Under-Secretaryship in this connection is of value because it provides a link between Wales and Whitehall, which is the main stream of administration.

Also, it establishes a personal link with Ministers from time to time. In these quarterly meetings one has the élite of the Civil Service in Wales. There is free exchange of views and facts, and the fear that no good might result because the Under-Secretary had no departmental responsibility over any of the matters under discussion proved to be unfounded. Obviously, it is not possible for the Minister for Welsh Affairs to preside over the meetings. It was fitting that the Under-Secretary should do so for him.

The Under-Secretary's duties include watching the relationship with the Advisory Council for Wales and Monmouthshire. If the Council is to survive, links with the Minister will have to be strengthened. We had one symptom of unrest not long ago when it issued, by courtesy of another Government office in Wales, notes for Opposition speakers on the morning of a Welsh day in this House. Here again, the Welsh Under-Secretary can provide the necessary link from day to day: and it is important for Wales, which likes its social democracy to be personal, to have as frequent links with Ministers as possible. Continuity can only be maintained in Welsh affairs under the present regime by an Under-Secretary of State who is enabled to pay frequent visits, both formal and informal.

I know that my right hon. Friend said last week that he had no intention of playing the rôle of Cinderella; but since the Home Secretary is so often cast in the rôle of Prince Charming in this House, it is evident that he cannot play Buttons in Bethesda at the same time, even though the rôle of Buttons is regarded by many Welshmen as the more important of the two.

Finally, I want to say one word about the Under-Secretaryship and future administration. Happily it is common ground between Conservatives and Socialists in Wales that advocacy of a Parliament for Wales, with all its vicious by-products, should be resisted. As an Aberdarian I was delighted to see the overwhelming numbers who rejected nationalism in my native Aberdare.

Even so, both the large parties are eager to improve administration, and to further devolution, where that is necessary. There are some who look forward to a St. David's House. Others want a less formidable hurdle for men of action to jump. Whatever scheme is decided upon, the heads of Government offices will have a vital part to play, and the stronger the link between them and the Minister for Welsh Affairs, the better.

For those four reasons I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will be able to assure the House and our country that the Welsh Under-Secretary's position has not lapsed or been superseded, but goes on—for it has vital work to do.

11.10 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Major Gwilym Lloyd-George)

May I first of all thank my hon. Friend for his kindly references to myself and for the way in which he has brought this matter forward? I am glad he has done so because it gives me the opportunity of clarifying the position. With regard to the question of the Under-Secretary, he is knocking at an open door because I have decided that my noble Friend, Lord Mancroft, shall concern himself particularly with Welsh affairs.

I do not think I can do better than refer to what my predecessor said in the debate on 29th November, 1951, in Which he described what the duties would be of the Under-Secretary with regard to Welsh affairs—to undertake visits to Wales, to attend conferences and quarterly meetings of heads of Departments and, in addition, to advise the Secretary of State on the major issues on which he would need to be fully briefed when such matters were discussed in the Cabinet. My predecessor went on to say in the debate I want to say at once…that I do not want to create the impression that this appointment means, or is to be taken an excuse for, any inactivity in Welsh matters on my own part."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1951; Vol. 494, c. 1744.] I think my Welsh colleagues in the House would like me to say that there was certainly no sign of inactivity, so far as Welsh affairs were concerned, by my predecessor. One of the things which has struck us all is that the departure of one who was not a Welshman has been received with 'universal regret throughout the whole of Wales. Everyone, regardless of party, remembers the work which he did during his period of office.

I do not want to detain the House at this late hour, but I should like to say one other word. The Under-Secretary will naturally keep in constant touch with me on all matters dealing with Wales. I hope the House will not accuse me of undue immodesty when I lay claim to some knowledge of Wales and the Welsh people, and I shall certainly keep in the very closest touch with my noble Friend.

I hope that what I have said will reassure my hon. Friend on this point, and I should like to assure my colleagues, in particular my Welsh colleagues, that I regard it as a very great privilege to be the Minister responsible in this House for the affairs of my native land.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen Minutes past Eleven o'Clock.