HC Deb 01 March 1967 vol 742 cc417-20

10.5 a.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide a scheme for the domestic self-government of Wales; and for connected purposes. Today is St. David's Day, Dydd Gwyl Dewi. To our English friends, on this day, the wearing of the daffodil or, perhaps, the leek, as may be more appropriate in some cases, may seem a sentimental gesture to be greeted with friendly condescension, but to me, to my Welsh friends in the House—they are all my friends today—and to millions of Welshmen in Wales and throughout the world, it is the symbol of the survival of a small nation.

I am happy to say that, in many facets of our national life, we are still conscious of that harmony of spirit which unites us as a nation. We inherit a small but distinct culture whose origins are lost in antiquity. Our language is an expressive language of lyrical and emotive beauty. But we are bound by something beyond language, beyond culture only, by that curious blend of romanticism and radicalism which in one way or another finds expression in every son of Wales. This is the peculiar fervour which for well over 1,000 years has enabled us to preserve our individuality and enabled us to make a contribution to life outside Wales as well as within Wales in a distinctive way.

In seeking today to introduce a Bill for a domestic Parliament for Wales, I do not come to the House of Commons looking to the past, although I am conscious of it. I do not come here nursing grievances or imagining injustices. I do not subscribe to the myth that the English are bent malevolently on the destruction of Wales.

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Hooson

There are exceptions, of course. If that were so, we could easily deal with them, and far more effectively. What I fear far more is their sympathetic but inactive benevolence. There is in this House a great measure of sympathy and kindly feeling towards Wales, but there is not here the time, the committed interest, the single-mindedness, the over-whelming concern, to ensure that the economic, social and cultural life of the Welsh nation is properly safeguarded.

There are those who see Wales merely as an economic appendage to the Midlands, to Merseyside, to the West of England. They miss the point. There can be no greater dynamic than the will of any nation—than the will of the Welsh people in Wales—properly harnessed and directed to fight for the very future of their country.

As all hon. Members know, I am not an economic nationalist and I never shall be, but I believe that Wales, like Scotland and Northern Ireland, has the right to organise its own domestic affairs. This is not only a right but it has now become an urgent necessity. I see domestic Government as a pyramid. At the base there is local government to deal with the smaller and more intimate decisions, a government very close to the people and as local as possible. On the next tier I see a number of national Parliaments, for Wales, for Scotland and for Northern Ireland, which has it already and even, perhaps, provincial Parliaments in England itself. The concern of these national Parliaments should be the domestic issues of the people within their boundaries.

I see the Parliament at Westminster as a federal Parliament concerned with foreign affairs, overseas trade, defence and the overall direction of the economy. In other words, it deals with some of the larger issues. But it has little time to deal with those smaller but vitally important issues which materially affect the daily life of Wales.

Why should I stop there? I want to make clear that I campaign, as many of the sponsors of my Bill do, for political as well as economic ties with Europe, with a power to take decisions binding on all members at the European level. I have never tried to hide my view on that. Furthermore, as Chairman of the All-Party Group for World Government in the House, I am concerned, as I believe most hon. Members are, eventually to achieve the peak of the pyramid in the form of a world government, concerned with keeping the peace and spreading the rule of law and the distribution of world resources for the relief of world poverty and starvation. Unless, in the reasonable future, we achieve the peak of the pyramid, the outlook for mankind is very bleak.

It is in that context that I would like the House to consider the Bill that I seek leave to introduce. I am not a universalist; I am an internationalist. I believe that people will come under the same law only when they consent to do so. Their consent will be obtained only when it is recognised that their vital interests, culture, social heritage and rights must properly be safeguarded.

We live in a time of great change, but in this time of change can the institutions which we have inherited ensure the stability and give the security we need at home if we are to lead in the solution of some of the great problems abroad? Can we pretend that we have achieved the ultimate both in democracy and executive efficiency in the House? In some of our archaic procedure, our facades of party warfare, we have lost touch with the people, and the historic rôle of Parliament as the watchdog of the Executive is now no more than a mask in many instances.

I firmly believe that the natural energies of the people of this United Kingdom and the nations of which it is comprised are strangled by our constitution. As a lawyer, I have been conditioned to regard our unwritten constitution with something approaching holy awe. The plain fact is that it does not work in many regards. The life which once gave meaning to our rituals has departed and no amount of tinkering with our timetable, with the appointment of investigating committees, will ever bring back power to this Chamber. Our country needs a more urgent, comprehensive and radical constitutional reform. That is what the Bill, like the Bill for Scotland which my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) introduced recently, is intended to do.

My Bill proposes for Wales a Senate of 88 members elected for the whole of Wales, which of course includes Monmouthshire. The Senate would have powers to make and enforce laws on all issues appertaining to the domestic life of Wales, her industry, trade, agriculture, education, health, transport and so on. Matters of defence, Commonwealth, foreign affairs, certain areas of the general law and so on would be reserved to this Parliament, to which Wales would continue to send her 36 Members. I want to see an elected body in Wales which can consider the urgent problems that oppress us, a body which has executive power to take action to solve those problems.

I ask leave to bring in the Bill, and I hope that the House will take courage to ensure that this time next year, this time in a hundred years, and so on into the 22nd century, not only will the daffodils still bloom but the Welsh nation will survive and grow and make its own distinctive contribution to a greater whole in Britain, Europe and the world.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Hooson, Mr. Thorpe, Mr. Grimond, Mr. Lubbock, Mr. S. O. Davies, Mr. Gwynfor Evans, Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie, and Mr. Russell Johnston.

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