§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [13th December], That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, in opening this debate on Monday, that this is an occasion of great constitutional significance. There may be disagreement about the details of the Scotland and Wales Bill, and even about the principle of devolution, but there can surely be no disagreement that our debate is an historic, indeed, a momentous occasion both for Wales and Scotland.
The roots of the modern movement for an elected national Assembly for Wales lie over 100 years back. Since then many of our great political figures—Henry Richard, Thomas Edward Ellis, Mabon, Keir Hardie, Lloyd George, Jim Griffiths—have given their support to the call for an elected Assembly. None of them favoured separatism, or federalism, and we, too, have turned our faces against these courses, which would result in economic and political disaster in the case of separation and rigid legalism and a fundamental effect on the sovereignty of Parliament in the case of federalism.
Time after time since the first election of 1974 the Government have been taunted by nationalist Members on the Opposition Benches—I see none of them here—that we were not sincere in our intentions to bring before this House our proposals for devolution and that we were using all our ingenuity to find delaying tactics to avoid this measure.
Whatever may be the views in that part of the House about the Bill, is it too much to hope, now that those Members have seen it, that they will retract their oft-repeated assertions? I wish they were here to assist us in the debate. On the first occasion we heard them they voted with the Conservatives against the Queen's Speech, and were prepared to bring the Government down. Whatever their views about the Labour 1560 Government, even the most obtuse should need little convincing that Wales cannot hope for anything from the present-day Tory Front Bench.
If this Bill were not enacted, or were emasculated, and if by some chance a Conservative Government were elected, that would put the cause of democratic accountability back 10 years in Wales.
In producing this Bill the Labour movement in Wales is not responding to the nationalist party. Why should we?
§ Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)
We have heard that stated successively on each day of the debate. Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell me, therefore, what happened between 28th February and 10th October 1974 to change the Labour Party manifesto? If we had honestly been contemplating this measure for all those years, why was it not in the February 1974 manifesto?
§ Mr. Morris
It has been clearly in the programme of the Labour Party in Wales for a long time. It was in the February manifesto of the Labour Party in Wales. A motion was put down during discussion of the Local Government Bill and that motion received, I believe, the support of the overwhelming majority of my colleagues in the House. Meetings of the Welsh Labour group were held time after time in 1973, a great many of them under the chairmanship of the Leader of the House. In the late days of 1973 it was unanimously agreed that we should have an elected Assembly for Wales.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
While the Secretary of State is re-writing history, as he is, by suggesting that all save one of the hon. Members for Wales sitting here behind him gave a commitment to a Bill of this character, will he also have the historical recollection that the Labour movement of Wales, true to its genuine democratic tradition, when it had, in Ebbw Vale, Aneurin Bevan, unequivocally decided that it would have nothing to do with a Parliament for Wales and damned it in a struggle which perhaps took place while the Secretary of State was still having his heavy flirtation with Plaid Cymru?
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend has made a number of assertions in the course of the debate, many of which I am sure on reflection he will deeply regret. I remind 1561 him that on 6th November 1963 the Welsh Labour group unanimously came to the conclusion that we should proceed on the basis on which we have decided to proceed, and have a policy on the lines we had advocated for a long time before that—an executive form of devolution. That meeting was attended by 26 members of the Welsh Labour Group.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
I think that we shall have a somewhat unproductive conflict if my right hon. and learned Friend pursues this line by representing a document to which I and my hon. Friends put our names to as being anything like this Bill or the powers contained in it. The commitment of the movement in Wales at the time, and the basis on which we acepted it in the Welsh Labour group at the time, was for an elected executive council, and nothing that compares in any way with the quasi-legislative major-powers mini-Parliament proposed in the Bill.
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend is entitled to make his point about differences of detail, but they do not go to the heart of the matter—that the policy we are putting forward is basically along the lines on which we fought the two 1974 elections. It was clearly in our manifestos on those occasions. If there is any doubt on the matter, I remind him that it has been endorsed by the Labour Party conference in Wales time after time, endorsed by the trade union movement in Wales, and endorsed by the whole Labour Party in national conference.
As I was saying, the Labour movement in producing this Bill is not responding to the nationalist party. Why should we, with the nationalist percentage vote going down in three successive elections? History shows, in addition to the instances I have given, that well before any transient nationalist success the Labour Party in Wales in 1965 advocated an elected Welsh Council and by May 1966 had established a working party to work out its proposals. These proposals eventually formed the basis of part of our evidence to the Royal Commission on the Constitution. I invite those whose memories are not all that good to re-read the evidence we gave to the Royal Commission.
1562 But the aspirations of the Labour Party go back much longer. From Keir Hardie to Jim Griffiths, the cause of a democratically elected Government in Wales received support, and neither Keir Hardie nor Jim Griffiths found difficulty in reconciling their espousal of this cause with their internationalism, their fight for workers wherever they were, and their solidarity with those who were denied their fundamental human rights. We are carrying on that tradition. Our proposals have been endorsed by the Labour Party in Wales, by the Wales TUC and the TUC as a whole, and overwhelmingly by the Labour Party in conference.
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) will find himself in difficulties, because he has made a number of such foolish accusations.
No one would accuse the Tory Party in Wales of responding to anything or anybody. The Royal Commission came and went and the Tories arrogantly declined to take it into their confidence. I wonder why. Was it because they had no views, or had views which had better not be disclosed to the people of Wales?
Those then on the Tory Benches who opposed the setting up of the Welsh Office have their direct successors in those who oppose this Bill. The Conservatives time after time rejected the setting up of the Welsh Office. Their negative attitude then is reflected in their present offering, which, if I understand their policies now that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) has taken up the Olympic torch, is merely the facade instead of the reality of power for Scotland, and nothing democratically significant for Wales.
We have said that we wish to listen to detailed suggestions from all quarters of the House, since there can be no monopoly of wisdom on a great constitutional issue like this. I wonder where my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has got to, because this is the kind of argument on which I would like to hear him. I regret that he is no longer with us. If the Bill is killed or severely emasculated, that will not end the argument in any part of Wales, certainly not in my party.
1563 So far, we have heard almost every argument under the sun against the Bill. I suspect, however, that even more will be rolled out. But everyone who objects has a duty to clarify his position. Is he for the status quo? If so, why? If not, what else has he to propose? Can we be taken into his confidence? In the last few days, I have read through page after page of speeches from Conservatives and from other opponents of the Bill. They share one common factor—a certain coyness about what they want, a certain bashfulness in their approach to the better government of Wales. I give them the benefit of the doubt that they are not against that in principle.
The argument that we are creating a new tier of government has been paraded. It is not so. No new functions are created for the Assembly by this Bill. The functions being transferred to the Welsh Assembly exist now and are dealt with now by me and my colleagues. What we propose is that these existing functions should be dealt with instead by a democratically elected body so that decisions will be taken nearer to the people by their elected representatives.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that the last Government created another tier of local government, is he arguing that the local authorities were given new functions in local government? Is that to be a test?
§ Mr. Morris
If the hon. Gentleman will read my speech, he will find that I have not suggested that the last Government created another tier of government. Perhaps he will do me the favour of reading my speech. I suggested that in all the debates and in all the speeches there is a certain coyness and bashfulness on the part of the Conservative Party about what it proposes for Wales.
I have described the situation with a degree of the moderation for which I have a certain reputation. I do not see how anyone who claims to favour more direct participation by ordinary men and women in decisions which affect them can easily object to what we are suggesting—that more decisions should be taken by elected representatives.
Of course we are also dealing with the control of nominated bodies. I yield to no one in my appreciation of the service 1564 rendered by individuals on these bodies. I have to appoint them, or to be consulted about their appointment—and there are hundreds of them. But the whole concept is undemocratic and a vital aim of our proposals is to do something about this.
There are instances where we have to propose, for sound practical reasons, that the body itself will remain in existence, but will be answerable for its Welsh activities to the Assembly which will appoint the body's Members. I hope that in these cases the Assembly, as it will be able to, will appoint Assembly Members to the bodies so that, for example, the Welsh Members who will form the majority on the Welsh National Water Development Authority will, in effect, become a committee of the Assembly.
Additionally, in the case of bodies operating wholly in devolved matters and wholly in Wales, the Assembly will be able to assume its powers directly if it so chooses. I am not suggesting that it will want to rush into such action in all cases. It will be required to consult the bodies concerned, and through them will want to take account of the views of their staffs, whose interests will need to be safeguarded, before reaching a decision and working out detailed proposals. But the important point is that the initiative and the decision will rest with the Assembly, subject only to the final consent of the Secretary of State.
I fail to understand how the democratisation of such bodies and the transfer, in many cases, of decisions on their future to the Assembly can be objected to, except by those to whom democratic control is itself repugnant. I suppose that if a party has been a minority party in Wales since 1852 and it knows its only hope of power is by appointment and through appointments, it is all for nominated bodies. They are the means in Wales, as my hon. Friend the Member for New port (Mr. Hughes) has reminded us on more than one occasion, for the Tory Party in or out of office to perpetuate its influence. I have yet to hear a Tory Member criticise the system of nominated bodies in Wales, and no wonder why.
Will there be better government under a devolved system? If one has faith in democracy, there will. The open system of government which is implicit in our proposals will let in light, and ensure by the participation of all concerned, more 1565 direct answerability in and closer scrutiny of decision-making and government.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
I do not want to be unfair to the right hon. and learned Gentleman but there appears to be some slight inconsistency in his argument. On the one hand he is saying that there will be no creation of a new tier of government and on the other hand he is talking about bringing more democratic government into Wales. Those two lines of thought do not seem to be easily reconciled.
§ Mr. Morris
I regret that the hon. Gentleman is not following the argument. It may be my fault. The bodies are there now. There is a whole host of nominated bodies and the hundreds of members whom I appoint already exist. The other part of our devolution proposals is the function that I exercise, or the function that is exercised by my colleagues. That tier is there whether by way of ministerial responsibility or by the nominated bodies. I am arguing—I should like to hear the argument to the contrary because I have not heard it yet—that the tiers are there. We are not creating a new tier but making the existing tier accountable directly to the electorate. I maintain that we are not creating a new tier.
Then it is said that the proposals are expensive. I concede immediately that democracy has to be paid for. If we had no elected local authorities, no elected MPs, and no one to challenge the Executive, money would be saved, at least in the short term. But I presume that even the strongest of our critics would not want to put this clock back. As far as staffing is concerned, the additional number of civil servants required in Wales is by no means large in relation to the process of democratisation that is proposed or in relation to the executive tasks for which the Assembly is to be responsible.
For that matter our nominated bodies are not cheap to run. If their Members were more directly answerable either to constituencies or to elected Members, would not that sharpen their reactions? A completely nominated board cannot be summoned to a ward meeting, but elected representatives can be called to answer to the electorate.
1566 Given the limited opportunities in this House to examine in detail my responsibilities, it is not unreasonable to hope that a gathering of 80 would produce a considerable number of ideas for economy, and better government. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty has returned to the Chamber. We missed him a few minutes ago. Such a gathering would produce a considerable number of ideas for economy, and better government, unless one has no confidence at all in elected representatives.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas (Hendon, South)
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of elected representatives being able to challenge the Executive I wondered in what respect elected representatives of the proposed Assembly would be able to do that. Are they not in themselves the Executive?
§ Mr. Morris
In the Assembly, as I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognises, there would be a majority party and minority parties. We have sought to devise a system—I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will welcome it—that will provide full opportunity for minority parties to play their part. They would be represented on all the committees. In that way they would participate in government. They would have the opportunity of challenging the workings of the majority party in committee and in the Assembly itself. I hope that that leads to better government.
It is highly misleading to exaggerate the expected level of Assembly Members' salaries and other likely costs. On salaries and related costs, the estimates in the Explanatory Memorandum are based on the corresponding figures for the House.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I perceived that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had completed his eloquent passage about democratic control and appointed bodies. I invite him to insist upon the whole passage being read and studied by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as it is highly applicable to democratic control of the appointed bodies in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Morris
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland diligently reads all my 1567 speeches. If there is any misapprehension on this score, I shall follow the right hon. Gentleman's invitation, which I fully understand, and draw the passage to my right hon. Friend's attention.
On salaries and related costs, the estimates are based on the corresponding figures for this House. It is therefore quite wrong to suggest that Assembly Members are likely to be paid inflated salaries. The figure of £31,000 per Member which has been mentioned is emphatically not a salary figure, it covers all the expenses, including salary, allowances and support services. And, as I say, it is based on the average costs for Members of this House. So let us have no more comparisons with American Congressmen.
Another Aunt Sally that has been put up is that the control of Wales would fall into the hands of the minority who are Welsh speaking. But others have put forward the contrary and equally misleading argument that North Wales would be at the mercy of an Assembly dominated by representatives from Glamorgan and Gwent.
I cannot understand how the first proposition could, on the basis of any of our proposals, have any foundation whatsoever, unless there is a supposition born of fantasy that no one who does not happen to speak Welsh can hold high office in the Assembly. It is no service to Wales to parade unwarranted fears and prejudices, which are quite unjustified, when one considers the make-up and distribution of the population of Wales, heavily concentrated as it is in our industrial areas both in South and North Wales.
On the other hand, I am not worried about the risk of domination by these heavily populated and industrial areas. After all, the rural areas will have a higher proportion of the seats in the Welsh Assembly than they have in this House. And I have never detected any reticence on the part of North and West Wales in making their views known. What I firmly believe is that the Assembly will show understanding, tolerance—and tolerance is a vital commodity in Wales today —and good feeling towards the interests of all parts of Wales.
Then there is the fear that this Bill weakens or threatens local government. 1568 I have emphasised again and again that the Bill does not propose to take any material responsibility from local authorities. Of course, the Conservatives have a lot to answer for in the way they reorganised local government. The system they devised has few friends in Wales. It is a system that demands an early root and branch examination. It will be within the powers of the Assembly so to do, under Clauses 22, 25 and 15 of the Bill. It will be a task to which I would wish it to apply itself speedily—not only to examine the system and its inadequacies, but also to put forward considered proposals for the future local government structure in Wales.
Another objection that has been paraded by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) is that there would be "two Governments in Wales". This is another variant of the "too many tiers argument", and, to put it mildly, it is highly misleading. The Assembly and the Secretary of State will not be competing authorities. Each will have distinct functions, and although there will be matters on which their co-operation will be very important, there need be no problem of overlapping responsibilities or undue complication of government in Wales. The functions transferred are clearly spelt out.
Of course there may from time to time be parties of a different colour in control here, and in Wales. But if the powers are clearly defined I do not anticipate more difficulty than when local authorities are of a different colour from the central Government. It is only the rare clashes that make news. Convention, custom and practice ensure that the elected cobbler usually sticks to his particular last.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) rose——
§ Mr. Morris
I have already given way more than a dozen times. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I will not be lectured about giving way. I have already given way on innumerable occasions and I will give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. No one can say that I have not been generous, and if hon. Members suggest otherwise that would be another exaggeration, like so many we have heard in this debate.
§ Mr. Anderson
Will not my right hon. Friend concede that there is a very clear distinction between a local authority of one colour and a Westminster Government of another since in Wales there is a sizeable element which is pushing for separation? There is a real danger here which he has not mentioned. Also, is he not concerned about the fact that the cheers for his advocacy so far have been coming from the Welsh National Benches alone?
§ Mr. Morris
I remind my hon. Friend that I have the support of the Labour Party in Wales as a whole and of the trade union movement in Wales. Of course there are difficulties and differences between local government and central Government, but I do not share the fears of my hon. Friend about the separatist party because its vote has gone down proportionately in three General Elections, and is now less than 11 per cent. At the last General Election it lost 26 deposits, so why should I worry on that score?
The fact that we are not breaking up the Civil Service but maintaining a unified United Kingdom Civil Service will be a valuable lubricant to ensure that the wheels go round, that discord between the devolved administration and the United Kingdom Government, and that duplication of effort are minimised. It also means that there can be continued administrative cross-fertilisation across the whole Civil Service, and that the Welsh administration can rely on the expertise of a wider organisation while still firmly remaining political master in its own house.
The case is put that because our proposals are different for Scotland and Wales, the Principality is being unfairly treated and that, contrary to the fears of some that too many powers are being given to the Assembly, it is being given too few. In particular it has been asserted by the former Leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), that this would be "a glorified Glamorgan County Council". May I say in passing that, given the problems which Glamorgan had to face from the inter-war years on, and its many achievements in the fields of education and social services, that could be regarded as a tribute.
1570 But the fact is that when I carried out in 1974 extensive consultations with every major body in Wales and every political party—they all came, one after another, to discuss the issues—only a minority wanted a legislative assembly. Our different approach was spelt out in 1974 and we fought the last election on the basis of a difference in approach as between Wales and Scotland.
Given the kind of powers that the Assembly will inherit from me, I find it difficult to understand how anybody who has studied the matter could make a comparison with a county council. The powers that we are giving the Welsh Assembly are very real policy-making and executive powers over a wide area of government, including some subjects not yet decentralised to my Department: notably further education and much of higher education. Over this wide area of government covering health, education, housing, the environment, roads, and the operations of the Welsh Development Authority and the Development Board for Rural Wales and other nominated bodies, the Assembly will have the same powers that I—and in the case of matters not yet decentralised, other Ministers—now have. It will be able to exercise much closer democratic scrutiny over these matters than Ministers and this House can now exercise.
During the calendar year so far I and my Department have made well over 200 subordinate instruments, and only a small fraction of these have been subjected to proper democratic scrutiny. A much higher proportion will be so scrutinised when the Assembly takes over this responsibility.
Last Wednesday we discussed in the Welsh Grand Committee a typical field that will be devolved—that of the Health Service in Wales. The burning issue of the moment in many localities is the capital expenditure programme—which areas are going to get the new district general hospitals and in what order. The demands are of course far greater than the resources available to meet them. I suspect that there is more passion about hospitals in Wales than on many other issues.
The decisions are difficult and may please some but disappoint many. Is there not a better means of deciding these 1571 issues than by one Minister, however well meaning? How much worse it is if the decision has to be taken by a Tory Secretary of State. Is it not more democratic to put such decisions in the collective hands of an elected Assembly? Nobody in the Labour movement has anything to fear from democracy. Those who fear the loss of power are the Tories who, though a minority party in Wales, from time to time get hold of power. It is they who have everything to fear.
The whole concept of the block fund allows the Assembly to determine its own priorities. I see nothing wrong in that. We on this side of the House attach importance to the language of priorities. It is not only hospitals that concern our people. They want their say as to how much money should go on schools, how much into housing improvement grants, how much on roads.
I have taken a deliberate decision to concentrate as much money as I could on building a motorway in South Wales. In due course the effort will be switched to the A55 in North Wales. Inevitably, this has meant less money for other roads in Wales. I am confident that this was the right decision. I wish it had been taken earlier.
In the same way I took the deliberate decision to go ahead with the Bangor District General Hospital. But, inevitably, it meant depriving other areas of new projects while it was being built. Resources are finite, and there was no alternative. But these are major decisions, and others might have taken a different view. Indeed they did, because otherwise the decision to provide adequate finance would have been taken earlier.
To me, the case is overwhelming—that it is better to rely on the collective wisdom of an elected Assembly than on one individual. How much more so when the political colour of the Assembly at Cardiff is different from that of the Secretary of State at Westminster. Within its fields of responsibility why should not the Assembly order its spending in accordance with its own priorities and philosophy, and with its own evaluation of Welsh needs? For example, it is sensible that under Clause 78 of the Bill we enable the Assembly to distribute Welsh rate support grant in a way that is fully 1572 appropriate to Welsh needs. In other fields it is surely right that the Assembly should be able to reapportion resources between the services for which it is responsible.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher (Edinburgh, North)
I am concerned about one matter of which we have had an example today. If a block grant were agreed by the Assembly in Wales, what would happen, regardless of the colour of the Government at Westminster or the colour of the party in control of the Assembly, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he has done today, cut back £200 million on houses, schools, or indeed anything else?
§ Mr. Morris
If the hon. Gentleman followed the Bill, he would know that that is the difference between a separate independent approach and that of devolution. That is why one cannot divide the economy of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman will be able to make his own point in his own way in the debate. [Interruption.] There is no need for the hon. Gentleman to laugh. I have dealt with the points one after the other as they have been raised. One cannot isolate the economy of Wales or that of Scotland from that of the rest of the United Kingdom. Whatever difficulty the economy of the United Kingdom faces, it will have its effects on Wales and Scotland in due course.
An important feature of our scheme is that, following devolution, the offices of Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland will remain in being. If there is unanimity on anything in Wales, it is on the need to retain the office of Secretary of State. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I referred to the office of Secretary of State rather than to an individual. There is a difference of view, according to whatever individual is in charge. I did not want to appear to be immodest. There is no doubt that it is important to have a direct voice at the Cabinet table. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) sought to recognise the needs for Wales to have the first charter Secretary of State. We are pledged to retain that arrangement. 1573 Nobody in Wales now wants to go back on that arrangement, not even the Conservative Party.
That office, however, has changed year by year. In its first year its functions were comparatively few and it had a budget of £48,000. This year, 12 years after its formation, it will be directly responsible, because of the transfer of functions, for £451 million of expenditure.
With the establishment of the Welsh Assembly the character of the Welsh Office will change. It will lose many of its functions, particularly on the social and environmental side. They will be transferred to the Assembly. But the office will be a major economic Department in Wales, drawing together its recently acquired industrial powers, its new sole responsibility for agriculture and its responsibility for many of the functions of the Department of Employment. The Welsh Office will also be the main point of contact and channel of communication for the Government with the devolved administration. The office will play a major rôle in negotiations with the Assembly over the block fund and in Welsh aspects of primary legislation.
With my Department, I shall continue my vital rôle of representing Wales in the Cabinet and in the United Kingdom Government. These functions do not overlap or duplicate those of the the Assembly. I shall not in any sense be supervising that elected body's work. Our respective rôles will be complementary. I and my successors will have an essential task in the future, as I have now.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)
I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend does not object to an English Member asking a question occasionally. He talked of Wales as though it were an island surrounded by the sea. I remind him that Bristol is closer to Cardiff than Bristol is to London. Therefore, will he explain to an innocent English Member why Cardiff should be governed on an entirely different principle from Bristol, despite the Severn Bridge that now unites us?
§ Mr. Morris
If my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton were sitting on the Treasury Bench, perhaps he would apply himself to answering my hon. Friend's question of why we have a Secretary of State for Wales.
§ Mr. Morris
That is an argument, and I am sure that it will be developed in due course.
The Assembly will exert great influence on the economy of Wales. It will decide planning appeals, determine the trunk roads programme, oversee the work of the WDA and the DBRW.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury) rose——
§ Mr. Morris
I have already given way 20 times. There are still many hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate.
§ Mr. Raison rose——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not wish to give way, he cannot be pressed to do so.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) knows from previous exchanges when he was on the Front Bench how generous I am; indeed, I have never been so generous as I have been today.
It is a mistake to suppose that the Assembly will not exert much influence on the economy of Wales. On the contrary, its powers of infrastructure planning and development will be very real. But the economy of the United Kingdom cannot be divided. Thus, the WDA's power of industrial investment must operate within United Kingdom guidelines and powers of selective assistance must remain with the Secretary of State. We cannot have one part of the United Kingdom outbidding another for industries: today's advantages would be tomorrow's loss. One could get the situation where Scotland or an English region trumped the 1575 Welsh ace by offering better incentives for industry.
There is nothing in this Bill which seeks to divide the United Kingdom. There is nothing here which derogates from the sovereignty of Parliament. What we propose is a measure which will ensure that within the framework of the United Kingdom Wales and Scotland will have democratically elected systems of government based in Cardiff and Edinburgh and answerable to the Welsh and Scottish peoples.
This will be a great step forward in democracy. Our proposals have been worked out with great thoroughness. The discussion has gone on for years, and in an intense form for over three years, since the publication of the Kilbrandon Report. Other countries have maintained their political unity and increased their economic strength while allowing considerable autonomy to their constituent provinces, and we can do the same.
As the White Paper "Our Changing Democracy" said just over a year ago the United Kingdom has never been a monolithic State, and the recognition by this Bill of our diversity within it will, I firmly believe, strengthen and not weaken the fundamental unity of the British people.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
At times during the Secretary of State's arguments with his colleagues, we felt that we were intruding into private grief. A point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) brought us to the heart of the argument when the Secretary of State was talking about the allocation of priorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North said that while the Assembly would have control over the allocation of resources, it would have no control over, or responsibility for, the provision of resources. He said that it would therefore be a focus of complaint when the Chancellor of the Exchequer acted, as he did today, or on other occasions when things were going less than well.
The scorn which the Secretary of State pours on the right of the Conservative Party to speak on this issue and the claim that he always makes that he and his colleagues alone speak for the Welsh people looks increasingly thin set against 1576 the decline in support for his party in Wales during the period in which he is putting forward these proposals. It is positively threadbare against the background of recent opinion polls which consistently show that considerably more people are hostile to the Bill than are in favour. They show that one-third of the Welsh people are confused and uncertain about the issues.
Whatever interpretation is placed on these tests of public opinion the latest showed that only 27 per cent. expressed positive approval for the Government's proposals. It surely cannot be that there is that settled consensus that should be the basis for major constitutional change. Advocates of the doctrine of mandate——
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
The hon. Gentleman said that 27 per cent. was broadly in favour of the Government's proposals. But does he not recall that 35 per cent. of those questioned in the same survey said that they wanted greater powers for the Assembly and that about 23 per cent. were happy with the powers? Does that not make a total of 58 per cent? Many of those who were unhappy with the proposals wanted to go considerably further than is the Government's intention.
§ Mr. Edwards
I, too, have read the letter in The Times this morning from Professor Jarman which revealed less than academic respectability in not pointing out what was the first question asked before giving the figures. The first question was "Do you want an Assembly?" and 27 per cent. said "Yes". That was before a different question was asked of those who wanted an Assembly and those who did not. I am not surprised that some of those who did not want an Assembly, when confronted with the certainty of such a body should say that it should have more power. I see the logic in saying that if one is to have an Assembly at all there should be more power.
Advocates of the doctrine of mandate and students of the life of the Hon. Algy should remember that what really matters about wealth is what is done with it.
When the Government put forward their Bill, the Western Mail-HTV poll—confirming recent trends and showing 1577 that more people support the Conservative Party in Wales than the Labour Party—showed that despite unexampled Government unpopularity, there has been no increase at all in the support for Plaid Cymru since the General Election.
The Conservative Party's position has been consistently and plainly stated in Wales for several years. There is nothing in these results that persuades us that we have not been speaking for a major section of the Welsh people. The one thing about which there is consensus in Wales—and this is now the shared opinion of 80 per cent. of the population—is that there should be a referendum on the issue. The Prime Minister's statement on that subject was inadequate. It is not enough to be told at this stage that the Government are thinking about it. While we can decide on the details later, I am certain that the majority of people in Wales and of hon. Members demand some certainty before Second Reading that a referendum will take place.
§ Mr. John Stradling Thomas (Monmouth)
It is my duty to ask the Secretary of State through my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) about his view of a telegram which I received this morning.
§ Mr. Stradling Thomas
The telegram reads:Gwent County Council's Policy Committee today reaffirmed the view that a referendum should be held on the question of a Welsh Assembly as referred to in the devolution Bill. The Council invites Gwent MPs to convey this view to the House and to seek every means to press for such a referendum.
§ Mr. Edwards
I shall be interested to hear what the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) has to say about that subject. Clearly his statement will have an important impact on the way things go on Thursday night.
I do not agree with those of my hon. Friends who think that the referendum should be held before the Bill is discussed by the House. That so much uncertainty exists and that there is growing evidence in Wales and Scotland of ignorance of the Bill are powerful 1578 reasons why a referendum should be postponed until Parliament has decided whether it is prepared to proceed and on what basis. It is important that one should be able to put simple alternatives to the electorate, but at present no clear alternative can be presented. In the present state of public opinion in Wales, it would be a profound mistake for Parliament to seek to impose a Welsh Assembly without the people being allowed to express an opinion. We must have a firm commitment on that before the end of the debate.
§ Mr. Edwards
The amendment leaves some doubts about its exact intention and I am not clear about all its implications. I have therefore hesitated to put my name to it, but many of my hon. Friends feel that it will enable the House to consider an important issue in the debate and have added their names to it. That is fine by me. We shall wait and see whether Mr. Speaker calls the amendment.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition spoke of the difficulties we shall find as a result of the Government's decision to combine Wales and Scotland in one Bill. Clearly, differing verdicts in Scotland and Wales in a referendum would cause serious problems. Wales fears that it is to be carried unwillingly along on the backs of the Scots, and it is an odd way to set out on the devolution road by making it infinitely more difficult to arrive at a separate assessment of the needs of the two countries.
Specific pledges were given by Labour spokesmen while in Opposition that a Labour Government would not tack Welsh Bills on the tail end of English measures and that a Labour Secretary of State for Wales would bring in his own legislative proposals for Wales. It is a pity that those pledges have not been honoured. If ever there were a case for a separate Welsh Bill, this is it. It is no consolation to know on this occasion that 1579 we are tagged on to the back of a Scottish rather than an English measure.
There are three sustainable positions for the devolution debate, and one stands at the opposite end of the range of options from the other two. At the one extremity is the position of the nationalists which is intellectually and in practical terms defensible, though to me unacceptable. I believe that the losses that would be sustained by Scotland and Wales, social, economic, and political, would far outweigh any benefit that could arise from the creation of separate Governments. I do not believe that the price of independence would be acceptable to the people, nor do I believe that there is the slightest desire for it. But I do not challenge the contention that a system of separate government could be devised and made to work, though it would probably involve a substantial lowering of the standard of living of the people.
The second option at that end of the spectrum is that of federalism. That, too, given the consent of all the people to the fundamental changes that would be required, is no doubt a system of government that could be made to work and that might endure. But, because I believe that Ministers are right in arguing that the English segment of the federation would be disproportionately powerful, it could be established only if there were a desire and a willingness among the English to have their country subdivided into smaller units. I do not discern any willingness, let alone desire, for sub-division and, therefore, I reject that solution in the present circumstances.
The third option stands at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is to retain a system fundamentally based on our present structure, which is a single Government responsible for the whole of the United Kingdom. There is room for change in the way in which the Government have to obtain consent for their legislation. No doubt we can improve the manner in which the Government's performance is scrutinised and advice is given. What I do not believe will work for long is a system that involves the establishment simultaneously in different parts of the United Kingdom of what will in effect be separate Governments. Fundamentally, I believe that we either have to choose a system based 1580 on a single Executive or we have to opt for separation or the federal solution.
For Wales, I do not hesitate in my choice of the present system, for I believe that Wales has benefited far more from the influence of Welsh Members of Parliament at Westminster and a Welsh Secretary of State in Cabinet than it will ever benefit from a separate Assembly.
On these Benches, therefore, we feel no sense of embarrassment that our proposals are modest and evolutionary, and that we proffer no miracles to the people. We would continue the process followed by successive Governments which have enlarged the range of responsibilities of the Welsh Office. We would seek to extend the freedom and responsibility of the local authorities, which are the units of government closest to the people. We would seek, through the Select Committee procedure, to enlarge the opportunities for Welsh Members of Parliament to probe, examine and expose the performance of Government and of public organisations. We see a rôle for an enlarged Welsh Council as a body to co-ordinate on an all-Wales scale the extended rôle of the local authorities. I claim that that modest and realistic approach is much to be preferred to the excessive expectations now held out to the Welsh people.
The Government in the Bill have chosen for Wales, from somewhere in the middle of the range of choice, the permutation which seems to offer the least possible chance of success. They are seeking to create a situation in which one Government have to carry into effect—and to produce—the secondary legislation for a system of law originated by another Government which may be of a totally different political complexion. That is a recipe for administrative and political chaos in any circumstances, but the chaos is bound to be compounded when the Government in Cardiff are to be given responsibility for the administration of most of the social services, while being denied control of the economic policies that produce the resources to fund those social services.
In those circumstances it is inevitable that every shortcoming in the social services will be blamed by the Assembly in Cardiff on the Government in London. The Assembly will focus discontent and 1581 concentrate it in a form likely to create hostility and the maximum friction. When the houses, hospitals or schools are not built or fail to function in the way they should, the Assembly will say, "It is not our fault; it is not our legislation; we are not to blame for the economic mess we are in. It is the fault of all those idiots in London who will not let us produce the miracles of which we know we are capable." That would be a natural reaction in any circumstances, but it is made inevitable by the fact that the nationalist parties will have permanent and powerful reasons for seeing that it happens. They have made abundantly clear again and again that for them the Assembly is to be just a stepping-stone to independence.
It is entirely fallacious to compare the position of the Assembly with that of local government. Local government is primarily a provider of services. It works within closely defined guidelines but, more important, because it can claim to speak only for a single locality, it cannot challenge the right of central Government to act in the interests of the whole nation. The Assembly in Cardiff will claim to speak for a nation. It is being established because that claim has been recognised. It will, therefore, assert a moral and political authority to challenge the central Government.
In another sense, too, what is proposed is quite different from the practice of local government, because local government is not involved directly in the legislative process. The Kilbrandon Commission pointed out that there was no break in the chain between legislation on the one hand and the application of administrative decisions on the other. They are part of a continuing process that flows both ways, ideas being translated into action, with the experience gained leading to fresh ideas, fresh laws and fresh action. Under the scheme proposed in the Bill, the chain is to be broken. Two different bodies will each make part of the law. One will have to translate the intentions of the other into practice, though it may be wholly out of sympathy with what is proposed. The creation of the original legislation will become divorced from administrative experience and bedevilled by political conflict.
1582 It has been suggested that in some way the scope for conflict will be mitigated by the proposed committee structure, which is supposed to bring the minority parties and the Back Benchers in on the decision-making process and, therefore, to contribute generally to collective good will and understanding. That was the picture painted by the Secretary of State. I do not believe it for a moment. It seems clear to me that the carefully cultivated distinction between the collective responsibility of the Welsh Assembly and the executive responsibility that is proposed in Scotland is a sham. It may be splendid in academic theory, but it will not be like that in practice.
The reality is that Wales is to have an Executive and a Chief Minister chosen by and from the majority party, just as in Scotland. The Welsh Assembly is to appoint committees to exercise its devolved powers and the committee may—and I dare say will—arrange for those powers to be exercised by the leader of the committee.
There is to be one super committee known, as the Executive Committee—Cabinet would do equally well—which will consist of the leaders of the other committees, and which will appoint a chairman—to be known, incredibly, as the Chief Executive. Whoever dreamed up the idea of giving the elected leader of a Welsh Assembly the same name as in local government is allocated to the senior local government officer needs his head examining. But I can understand the reluctance and fear of the Government in regard to using the title Chief Minister or even Prime Minister. Whatever we call him, he will be quite a guy.
The Executive Committee may, but it need not, include additional members apart from the chairmen of the other committees, although only up to one-third of its number.
The Government have produced what seems to me to be a significant change from what was produced by the Kilbrandon Commission in paragraph 899, because it is clear that the Executive Committee may exercise such functions as are delegated to it by the Assembly—Clause 30(2)(a) refers to that—while the 1583 Kilbrandon Commission specifically stated that the committeewould not have functions delegated to it by the assembly".There we have the executive body which will in fact decide policy and be responsible for the administration of the devolved power. The chances are high that it will consist entirely of members of the majority party. Behind all the complex wordings and careful distinctions of the Bill, therefore, we shall have a Cabinet and a Chief Minister for Wales. Indeed, the Kilbrandon Commission in that same paragraph, 899, made it quite clear that it was its view that that would happen. It is a form of government, and although it will be without economic powers or the ability to initiate primary legislation, it will be uniquely placed to focus discontent and it will be sufficiently frustrated to want more power.
Wanting more, it will take it from where it can get it. Finding central Government obdurate, it may well turn instead to the local authorities. The financial structure already seems to carry that clear implication, for how can the consultation between the Assembly and the Secretary of State, laid down in Clause 78, do other than weaken the local authorities' own involvement in negotiations both on the Welsh share of the rate support grant and on its distribution?
I can see no way in which the growing involvement of an elected Assembly in matters such as local government, education and housing can do other than weaken the responsibility of the local authorities for these matters. Indeed, that that is intended is implicit in any suggestion that one tier of local government will have to be eliminated if an Assembly comes into being.
That proposal, freely advocated by the Secretary of State—as it was again this afternoon—must involve the removal of some powers from where they lie at present, with the county council, to an Assembly in Cardiff. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I quote from the consultative paper entitled" Devolution: The English Dimension", which states the matter clearly in paragraph 54:Many functions of the counties would therefore need to be raised to the new regional authorities".If that is true in England, it must be true in Wales as well.
1584 The easy cheer gathered in at present by the suggestion that the county councils might be abolished will turn to fury when the people discover that what has happened is that the decision-making process has been taken even further from them.
That the change is advocated from the Government Benches also makes a total nonsense of the repeated assertion by the Secretary of State—he made it again and again this afternoon—that in setting up an Assembly we would not be creating an additional tier of government. Ministers may play with words as they like. If it makes them happy, let them believe that a new Assembly does not represent an extra tier. Let us hope that it is just a figment of the imagination. But to me, and to those who will have to pay for it, it looks all too solid and real. We shall have to trek off to the polls to elect it in addition to electing a European Parliament, a Westminster Parliament and the local councils.
The Members we elect may not do anything additional but we shall have to pay them. As the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) pointed out on Monday, they will cost us £31,250 apiece on the Government's own calculations—and that is before they decide what their own pay should be.
If the Assembly is only to take over a job at present being carried out by other people, if it is a mere substitute, why do we have to have 1,300 more civil servants in Wales alone than we have at present, at an additional cost of £12½ million a year? If adding to the burden of the citizens an additional organisation almost as big as the Welsh Office is not, in the Secretary of State's mind, adding an additional tier, so be it. He is entitled to his own private thoughts, after all, and why should we cause him pain by seeking to disabuse him?
But whatever the Secretary of State believes, I know that the Welsh people will feel—and, indeed, the United Kingdom taxpayers who will have to pay will feel it as well—that it is pretty strange that a non-existent extra tier of government is to cost in Wales more than it is in Scotland, when Scotland will not only have to pass laws but has a population about double that of ours in Wales.
1585 The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues do themselves no credit at all in playing with words in this way and in seeking to mislead the people. But the people will not be misled. They know perfectly well that what is proposed is more government, more complicated government and more expensive government—and it is a prospect that fills most of them with horror.
It is always at that point that the Secretary of State, and, indeed, the Lord President, confronted with the undeniable increase in cost and bureaucracy, declare that it is all justified, and that it will be a source of joy to the people because it will represent more democratic government. Labour politicians, and particularly the Lord President himself, usually use that phrase, and couple it with a good deal of abuse of the Conservative Party, at a moment when they are about to do something profoundly democratic. Therefore we are always a little sceptical about these assurances.
Hesitating to suggest that our procedures here are wholly undemocratic, Ministers prefer to concentrate the argument upon the nominated bodies. We are asked to believe that a whole regiment of such organisations is trampling across the face of Wales, and that suddenly all these organisations will disappear. But they will not. Almost all the most important of them will still be necessary. The specialist skills will still be needed.
I well remember the Under-Secretaries of State—I am sorry that they are not here today—during the Committee stage of the Welsh Development Agency Bill speaking of the need to ensure that the best talent among the people of Wales is available to the board of the Agency. I remember them talking of the need to find a balance between the requirement of a substantial measure of independence for the Agency and the need for accountability.
The same is as true today as when the words were uttered. There will still be a need for those engaged in tourism and travel to be involved in the affairs of the Tourist Board, and for specialists in the arts to be consulted in running the Arts Council. The reality is that the bulk of the nominated bodies will continue to 1586 exist. The only difference will be that they will be nominated by the Chief Minister sitting in Cardiff rather than by the Secretary of State sitting in Cardiff.
That may or may not produce better nominations, but I hardy think that it is likely to cause that revolution in practice that is now held out to the Welsh people. The same bureaucrats will take much the same decisions. Many of the same people will deliberate, or at least I hope they will, because it would be tragic if so many who contributed their specialist expertise and talent to so many activities were to be driven or frightened away.
It is not immediately self-evident why organisations such as the National Library, the National Museum, the Historic Buildings Council, the Welsh Arts Council and the Sports Council should be better run by party politicians or by the committees of an elected Assembly.
No doubt there are some nominated bodies which can be dissolved and whose functions can be taken over by the Welsh Assembly, although I have yet to hear, in this or any earlier debate, a single suggestion as to which they might be. I forecast that they will be few, that the Welsh people will not greatly notice the difference, and that if they do it will not necessarily be for the better.
The one positive point that can be made is that there may well be more frequent opportunities to debate the work of these organisations, but we all know from our experience here that there is a genuine dilemma that cannot easily be resolved, because State organisations, nationalised industries and nominated bodies must be allowed to work free from day-to-day interference by politicians. A Parliament or Assembly can lay down guidelines. It can debate what is done. It can criticise performance. But in most cases day-to-day management, operational control and even major policy-making will have to remain with specialised bodies, and if they are to attract men and women of quality they will have to be given considerable scope and freedom.
For all those reasons, I believe that this point about democracy and the nominated bodies is absurdly exaggerated. England, which is to be left with them, does not appear to think that they 1587 constitute a sufficient argument for a separate Assembly. When they know the cost of achieving this very modest extension of democracy, I doubt whether the Welsh people will, either.
There is a real risk that these changes will be positively damaging to Wales if they lead to the divorce of the Welsh organisations from their English counterparts. The Welsh Arts Council, for example, benefits immeasurably from the fact that its chairman is a fully participating member of the Arts Council of Great Britain. The financial benefits are even more substantial. I wonder how the Welsh National Opera would survive if it ever had to rely solely on money voted by the Welsh Assembly instead of, as at present, receiving substantial support from outside Wales. We shall be anxious to have an explanation of the financial arrangements for the arts, libraries and museums. The separation of the financial arrangements seems also to carry dangerous implications for the Forestry Commission, which will have to operate under a new structure of unnecessary complexity.
Finally, while referring to the question of separation and duplication, I would say that it is a very dubious advantage that the British Tourist Authority should cease to encourage people living in Great Britain to take their holidays in Wales, with the job being done solely by the Welsh Tourist Board. It is not just a disadvantage but obviously ludicrous that power should be provided to enable us to have different summer time and different bank holidays in Wales compared with the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
Might it not be appropriate for St. David's day, for example, to be a bank holiday in Wales?
§ Mr. Edwards
No doubt we may have St. David's day as a bank holiday, but even the Welsh, who are loyal to St. David, would consider it an infernal nuisance to confront a whole series of different bank holidays and different times when they crossed the Severn bridge or went into North Wales. It would be nonsense in so small an island.
There are other aspects of the Bill which cause many people in Wales great 1588 concern. In the rural areas, and particularly in the North and West, in spite of what the Secretary of State said, they fear the domination of the population mass in Glamorgan and Gwent. Isolated from those with similar interests in England and Scotland, they believe that their views will be subordinated to the population crowded into the area between Llanelli and Newport. It is incredible that the only change the Government have made to the electoral arrangements since their original proposals increases the voting disparity and gives more seats to the industrial South than to the rural North. The change was made because, in the words of the supplementary White PaperThis system of division would give low representation to several widespread rural constituencies".Three out of the five "widespread rural constituences" which were given an extra seat were Abertillery, Ebbw Vale and Merthyr. Even more worrying to those who understand politics and government is the fact that what the Government propose must weaken the Welsh Members of Parliament at Westminster and the Secretary of State in a British Cabinet.
But to me what is most alarming about what is proposed is the way in which expectations will be raised and the certainty that they will be disappointed The Bill will do nothing for jobs, nothing for economic recovery and nothing to provide the resources needed to sustain the social services. An Assembly that has no financial powers and has the unenviable task of carrying into practice the legislative proposals of another Government can only be a focus for conflict and disillusionment on a massive scale.
The expectation is held out to the people that in some way the situation they face will be improved by this change in our constitutional arrangements and that they will find the bureaucrats and the nominated bodies responding in a totally new manner to their wants. It is a colossal fraud, based not on principle but on political expediency. There will still be bureacrats, but there will be more of them. There will still be nominated bodies. Far from decision-making coming closer to the people, some of it will undoubtedly he taken away from local authorities.
The most frightening consequence of what is proposed is the anger that will 1589 be aroused in the people when they finally have brought home to them the extent of the fraud, when they still find themselves confronted by the same harsh economic facts of life and, longing principally to be left alone by Government, to be left to their own devices, find that they must support a huge, costly additional tier of politicians and bureaucrats that can do no more than to act as a place to vent their anger and as the fulcrum for the destruction of the United Kingdom.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
It is perhaps with some diffidence that any English Member intervenes in the debate. I felt that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards), whatever we think of the Bill, greatly exaggerated the horrors that will flow from it.
Speaking as one who has devoted a good few working years, from war time onwards, to trying to bring new industry to Scotland and Wales, I want to urge my Scottish and Welsh friends to be guided by experience rather than doctrine in understanding the enormous harm that could be done to Scotland and Wales if the economic link with England were severed. Since the early war years, when my close connection with these efforts began, the main drive and impetus to bring new employment to Scotland and Wales has come from England, from the central Government, supported of course by the authorities in Glasgow and Cardiff. The great majority of the successful firms that went to Scotland and Wales came from the Midlands, the South of England or—in the case of Scotland—the United States. They were guided there by the central Government authorities in London. If those efforts had not been made largely from the centre, in partnership with the Scottish and Welsh authorities, I believe that unemployment would now be much higher, perhaps twice as high as it is, in Scotland and Wales.
I shall give a few concrete examples. The main new industrial estates in Scotland, which have counted so much in providing employment, were originally suggested and supported from London, though the sites were chosen in partnership with the Scottish authorities. I remember at the beginning of those efforts 1590 having to persuade Lord Bilsland, then of Scottish Industrial Estates Ltd., that we meant business—and finance—in asking him to go ahead with these massive developments of industrial estates in Scotland. When he was persuaded, he went ahead with those projects most enthusiastically. As a result, we have the Newhouse estate, where thousands are employed in Honeywell and other firms. We also have a number of other Clydeside and Lanarkshire estates and the Dundee estate, which has meant so much to the workpeople in that area.
Similarly, Pressed Steel, which wanted to expand in Oxford, was persuaded by the Government in London to take the original factory at Linwood. If that had not happened, Rootes would not have gone to Linwood and Chrysler would not be here today, employing many thousands of workers. British Petroleum at Grangemouth employs many thousands of people, because, when the firm was AngloIranian, it decided in London, encouraged by the Government, to locate its vast new refinery and petro-chemical works at Grangemouth.
If it had not been for guidance from London and a firm IDC policy, NCR, Honeywell, Caterpillar, IBM and British Leyland would not be in Scotland today. That is not just my view. Lord Polwarth, who understands industrial realities in Scotland, said in a forceful letter to The Times on 2nd December:my experience in industry and finance in Scotland, England and overseas, as well as two years in Government, have now convinced me that an additional … layer of government can only damage, rather than help, the prospects for economic prosperity and inward investment on which Scotland so much depends.Similarly in Wales the major new industrial estates at Bridgend and Hirwain were suggested from London. The large Swansea estate was proposed by the local authority in Swansea and supported and financed from London. All the major new firms, including ICI at Pontypool, Hoover at Merthyr and Ford and Mettoy at Swansea, were steered to Wales by the Board of Trade in London. The great new steelworks at Port Talbot, Trostre, Velindre and Llanwern were located in Wales by decisions of the central Government; and the same has been true of a host of smaller projects, including the Mint and the major new industrial estate 1591 of the 1960s at Llantrisant. Where would employment in Wales and Scotland be without these major new enterprises?
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
Is the right hon. Gentleman not illustrating the natural consequence of centralism for peripheral regions? Does this not always happen? Is that not why the Government must help peripheries directly? Does one find this situation in Finland, Sweden or Norway? If not, why not?
§ Mr. Jay
It shows that the periphery of an industrial area is likely to suffer unless there is a deliberate planning policy of directing new employment to the periphery rather than to the centre.
I can quote figures which show how great the loss of employment might have been over the past 30 years if the drop in the number of jobs in the coal industry in Scotland and Wales had not been counteracted by increased employment in new industries. Between 1948 and 1974, employment in the coal industry in Wales fell from 136,000 to only 39,000. But employment in Government-owned factories alone—not counting private projects and the new steelworks—rose from 14,000 to more than 67,000.
In Scotland, the figures have been even more striking. Employment in the coal industry—as was foreseen in the early post-war years—fell from 90,000 to 29,000; while employment in new Government-owned factories rose from 26,000 to 82,000.
It is clear that had it not been for development area policy, planned and supported from the centre, unemployment in Scotland and Wales would have been in each case at least 100,000 greater. Some further striking figures were published only last week by the Department of Applied Economics at Cambridge which confirm what I have been saying.
This Cambridge report says that between 1960 and 1971 alone, Development Area policy produced about 300,000 new jobs in development areas. Even if one assigns only 25 per cent. of this number to Wales and 25 per cent. to Scotland—which is probably an underestimate—it suggests that the figures which I gave earlier were too low and 1592 that unemployment today would be much higher even than I said.
The Cambridge report adds that development area policies haveworked principally by diverting new factories into development areas from more prosperous regions. There is now considerable evidence to suggest that they have been powerful in this respect.That is an interesting independent account of what has happened.
I also urge my Scottish and Welsh colleagues to understand two other rather sobering facts. Because Northern Ireland was separated administratively, during these years, those of us with responsibility for directing policy did not feel the same immediate responsibility for Northern Ireland as we felt for Scotland, Wales and the North-East Coast of England. As a result, when major English and American firms asked for advice from the Board of Trade on location, they were more often steered to Scotland and Wales than to Northern Ireland. Perhaps it was wrong, but that is how administration works, and it is one of the reasons there are so many major firms in Scotland and Wales and one of the main reasons for Northern Ireland having suffered very much higher unemployment in the past 30 years than Scotland and Wales.
The most sobering fact, which is seldom mentioned and which was a surprise to me, is the remarkable absence in recent years of major native industrial enterprise in Scotland or Wales. The vast majority of new projects which brought new employment came from the Midlands or the South-East of England or from the United States. Worse than that, too many established Scottish firms, from North British Locomotives to Fairfields and many others, contracted or collapsed during that period.
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
Did my right hon. Friend hear the fascinating speech by a Northern Ireland Member last night in which he accepted that Northern Ireland had done less well economically and added that when the devolution experiment started neither the majority nor the minority party in Northern Ireland wanted it, yet 50 years later the one thing which unifies those parties is a desire to return to devolution, despite the economic problems? 1593 Is this not a matter which my right hon. Friend must take on board?
§ Mr. Jay
I was coming to that point at the end of my speech. So far I have merely stated what the economic effects have been, whether we like them or not.
Too many Scottish firms have gone out of business during this period. I remember all too well the chairman and managing director of Fairfields coming to see me at the Board of Trade on a Tuesday in 1966 and saying that the firm could not go on paying its employees' wages beyond the Friday of that week and that only £1 million of public money put in very quickly could save the firm.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I agree with the basic premise of the right hon. Gentleman that it would be a disaster if England, Wales and Scotland were separated economically, but does he not agree that the dispersal of industry policy followed by West Germany has been at least as successful as the policy followed in this country?
§ Mr. Jay
I am not saying that other countries have not followed successful policies, though I doubt whether West Germany ever had such severely depressed areas as we had in earlier years.
The Government found £1 million of public money for Fairfields in less than a week, though heaven knows how we did it. For that reason that yard is still operating today. Incidentally, in the case of Scotland, if Rolls-Royce at Hillington and Chryslers at Linwood had both collapsed, what would be the number of unemployed on the south side of the Clyde today?
Therefore, I invite those who have the future of Wales and Scotland at heart to realise how disastrous it could be if the economic and industrial link were severed between those countries and the heart of British industry and British Government. For those reasons, I would feel it very difficult—I think I am coming to my hon. Friend's point—to bring myself to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, unless I feared that many people in Scotland and Wales might have been so misled by facile propaganda as to believe that a severance of the economic links would do them good rather than harm.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
I have been following my right hon. Friend's argument with some interest. Surely his argument is based upon a total economic separation, and not on the kind of proposal in the Bill. On the limited example of Northern Ireland, which has a very large number of deep and peculiar problems related to it, none of this argument invalidates the necessity for the Bill.
§ Mr. Jay
I trust that is so. All I am saying is that if it involved the severance of the economic link, it would do great harm. I hope that is generally accepted. It is not possible to establish simply from the text of the Bill whether that is true. Despite this, if the people of Scotland wish to make experiments of this kind, I very much doubt whether it is for us here to deny them the opportunity to do so. But I hope they will do so, if they do, with their eyes open. I believe, therefore, that it would be the right course to give this Bill a Second Reading and to let the issue which my hon. Friend has raised be argued out in Committee and on Report.
In those circumstances, I see a strong case for giving both the Welsh and the Scottish people separately, the chance to vote in a referendum for or against the proposals which finally emerge from debate in this House. It seems to me that they ought to know what they are voting for before being asked to vote in a referendum. That way I should hope that we can at least reach some sort of compromise which will strengthen what to me matters most—employment in Scotland and Wales, and the unity of the United Kingdom.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas (Hendon, South)
I very much agree with much of what the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has said. I find it hard to disagree with him on any one matter, but nevertheless I feel that I must. At the beginning of his speech the right hon. Gentleman said that he thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) had exaggerated the situation. I wholly disagree with that. My hon. Friend made a compelling and a devastating analysis of the proposals for Wales. In the end, it turned into an indictment which was unanswerable.
1595 It was interesting that the Secretary of State for Wales, before my hon. Friend had spoken, had quite clearly anticipated that an attack would be made and that it would be difficult to answer. The Secretary of State gave the impression, when he made his speech, that he was in the dock, and he made a forcible defence which in some ways could almost be described as an apologia for what he was presenting to the House.
I adopt what my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke said because I think that his argument today was one which most hon. Members would accept. It is a bad Bill—and many hon. Members have said that it is—because it provides no answer to the serious problems facing the people of Wales and Scotland today. I cannot help but feel that people outside this House may think us mad that at this time of grave crisis, we are preparing to spend weeks and months on a costly bureaucratic constitutional experiment, support for which from any part of the House can be described as only lukewarm. How bad this Bill is will be well demonstrated when it reaches Committee, if it ever does. The Bill is more than bad. It is shameful. It has come into being not as a result of a genuine search for better government, but for other and much less worthy reasons.
The Secretary of State got into some difficulty when he tried to tell us about the history of the Labour Party in respect of devolution. He knows perfectly well—as I suspect do most of his hon. Friends who entered into that short debate—that the Bill was conceived by an initial loss of nerve and a gross misjudgment of the significance of certain by-election results 10 years ago. The Labour Government were not the only ones to misjudge it. The Conservative Party also misjudged the situation in Scotland to some extent.
However, the reaction of the then Government to their misjudgment was to resort to short-term and short-sighted political expedients. I include in that, without apology, the setting up of the Crowther-Kilbrandon Commission, which most of us at the time were well aware was a blatant attempt to put off for as long as possible the responsibility of decision. After years of inquiry and deliberation, those commissioners, 1596 excellent and worthy men though they are, produced reports outstanding as a combination of intellectual complexity and emotional simplicity, in which the only unanimous conclusion of major significance was that the unity of the United Kingdom must be preserved.
By the setting up of the Royal Commission the then Labour Government gave new credibility and a stimulus to nationalist and separatist movements which benefited even more from the votes of those who were disgruntled or disillusioned with the main political parties. No one can persuade me, for instance, that the unprecedented vote for Plaid Cymru at Caerphilly in the 1968 by-election or the vote it received at Merthyr Tydfil in 1972 represented a new wave of support for Home Rule for Wales. Of course they did not, and subsequent General Election results showed that, but the Labour Party in Wales lost its nerve. It thought that by going half-way down the path to separatism it could meet the enemy and destroy it. How wrong it was. All that it did was make that path more respectable and easier for its disillusioned supporters to travel along.
I suggest that it is of some interest to hon. Members to consider these contrasts. In the new counties of Gwynedd and Dyfed, in 1966, the Labour Party held all eight seats. Today the Labour Party holds only two. The seats that it has lost were not taken away from it by just Plaid Cymru. Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and the Liberals all gained seats. In each one of those eight seats the Labour candidates vigorously proclaimed their commitment to an Assembly for Wales.
We have heard the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). Both of them have consistently been well known and uncompromising as opponents of devolution. When one looks at the results in their constituencies in the last General Election one finds that not only their votes but their majorities increased. I think that the same could be said of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans), who has also been uncompromising in his attitude towards devolution.
1597 In the last General Election, which was not a particularly good one throughout the United Kingdom for the Conservative Party, every Conservative candidate in Wales supported the policy which was spelt out so clearly today by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke—the Conservative policy for Wales that I had announced some time previously at a meeting at Llandrindod. This policy stated firmly that we as a party were opposed to an elected Assembly. Wales was the only region in Britain in which no Conservative seat was lost. In every seat that we retained, Plaid Cymru was at the bottom of the poll.
The truth is that an elected Assembly for Wales was hardly an issue in most parts of Wales during the last General Election, and in fact it has hardly been a real election issue for the last 10 years, and well back before then. Admittedly, it became an issue in those constituencies that Plaid Cymru now represents. It was an issue because that is what Plaid Cymru stood for. The Labour candidates, Plaid Cymru's opponents, also stood for an Assembly. However, Plaid Cymru Members know—particularly the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans)—that they are in this place today to a great extent because of tactical voting on the part of voters who traditionally would be Conservative or Liberal in order to keep the Labour candidate out of the seat.
§ Mr. Wigley
I can speak for my constituency. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman not admit, having been a Member of Parliament for an adjacent constituency for some time, that in the Caernarvon constituency the Plaid Cymru vote built up over a number of years and was a phenomenon more related to the generation than any other factor, and that the final stage, when we won the seat, was a relatively small shift of votes and not a major tactical move?
§ Mr. Thomas
Yes, and I also go as far as this. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I represented the other half of the county for 15 years. Plaid Cymru was then nearly always at the bottom of the poll. The interesting thing is that my hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) stood in that half of Caernarvonshire, the Welsh-speaking half, firmly opposed to an elected 1598 Assembly, and Plaid Cymru was at the bottom of the poll and he won. Next door, the person who succeeded Lord Goronwy-Roberts stood for an elected Assembly. He, therefore, gave credibility and respectability to that, and the contest was between the hon. Member and the Labour candidate, who might have won the seat, but the hon. Gentleman knows only too well that there was tactical voting in his constituency, and by reason of that he now holds the seat, and has held it now for two General Elections. I mention that because, as I have said, the truth is that an elected Assembly in Wales has not been an election issue, and there is not a demand for it in Wales.
Quite clearly, this Bill commands very little support in Wales. It was interesting that my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke mentioned the poll that was conducted recently by the Research and Marketing Survey Company for the Western Mail and HTV. Both the Western Mail and HTV have been very active in promoting support for an Assembly in Wales. The House should know the figures. Some 27 per cent. gave support to the Bill, 40 per cent. said firmly "No", and 33 per cent. were not interested.
If that poll is to be called in aid, as it was by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) in a somewhat misleading way when he said that 35 per cent. said that they would wish to have greater powers, it should be borne in mind that those polled were asked a question which postulated an answer on a fait accompli; in other words, assuming that the body was actually in existence. They were asked "The body is in existence. Do you think that it should have more powers or fewer powers?" It certainly had no reflection whatsoever on the one question that matters to this House—whether there is support in Wales for the Bill. Only 27 per cent. showed support for the Bill, but 79 per cent.—that is eight-tenths—thought that we should have a referendum. One thing is absolutely clear. The Government must commit themselves to a referendum. I hope that they will do that before the Bill becomes law.
In relation to the poll that I have mentioned, the hon. Member for Caernarvon will remember that people were asked what their voting intentions would be if 1599 an election came on the next day. The poll showed that the majority, 33 per cent. as opposed to 30 per cent., would vote Conservative, 30 per cent. would vote Labour and only 11 per cent. would vote Plaid Cymru. In other words, the majority of the people polled said that they would prefer to vote for a party whose policy was opposed to an elected Assembly.
I have referred to Wales because it is clear that hon. Members know that I have a considerable interest in Wales and have had for most of the time that I have been a Member of this House. I do not claim to be able to speak with any authority about what the people of Scotland may wish, although I was very impressed by the contribution made last night by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). However, I am wholly opposed to what is proposed in the Bill for Wales.
The Secretary of State is proposing an executive body which from its inception will show increasing discontent with the limitation of its powers and its functions. It will be in sustained and mounting conflict with the Welsh Office, Whitehall and local authorities. The County Councils Association is absolutely appalled at the prospect facing its constituent authorities in Wales. Far from being a vehicle to promote partnership, the Bill will be used to promote discord and disunity, and will move us further and faster along the road to separation.
The Welsh Office, which in the past 12 years has grown in influence and stature and which, through its Ministers and officials, has brought the central Government close to the Welsh people, is to be demoted. As time goes on its influence and role in Wales and Whitehall will rapidly diminish. The Secretary of State will be stripped of his executive powers and degraded into eventual oblivion. Once the Bill is passed, in my view there will be no justification for the holder of that office to remain in the Cabinet.
As for Welsh Members of Parliament, they know that if the Bill is passed they will become politically enfeebled, and, as there can be no logical answer to a demand for a diminution of their numbers in this House, they will have no defence against it.
1600 That is a prospect which I, as a former Secretary of State for Wales, and also as one who has an abiding interest in and love for Wales, view with great dismay. Tomorrow, without hesitation, I shall vote against this Bill.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
It was good to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) once again, even though he spoke from the obscurity of the Back Benches. As for his references to bad Bills, he is undoubtedly an expert on these matters, as during his tenure of office as Secretary of State for Wales he introduced quite a number of Bills which did immense harm to the Principality when they eventually became law. One need think only of local government, the National Health Service and the water authorities, though I could mention other examples.
The right hon and learned Gentleman spoke of the Labour Government acting from expediency. The facts and figures that he gave about election results in Wales seem to indicate that the Labour Party was not acting from expediency at all but was acting because it felt that the proposals now in the Bill were good for the Principality.
I welcome the Bill without hesitation, because I believe the Government's measures to be both reasonable and logical. First, the Bill will, as the Secretary of State said, make democratically accountable those nominated bodies which have proliferated in Wales over many years. We know that these bodies are invariably manned by Tories and their supporters.
Second, the Assembly will become the top tier of local government in Wales. As the Secretary of State said, one of the first tasks of the Assembly will be to draw up plans to simplify the structure of local government in Wales. It will be necessary to rectify the costly and bureaucratic structure of local government organisation which was imposed on Wales by the last Conservative Government. My constituency of Newport has suffered badly from this reorganisation, both in loss of status and identity and in the fact that ratepayers have had to pay an awful lot more for a less efficient service.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Could the hon. Gentleman explain why, for a recent "Any Questions" programme held in Newport, with a large audience collected on an all-party basis, only about half a dozen people could be found who were in favour of the Bill?
§ Mr. Hughes
I know nothing at all about "Any Questions". I find the programme an absolute bore. There was no reference to it in the Welsh Press, either.
The points I have made about nominated bodies and local government bear out the logic of the Government's proposals for Wales. I shall not deal with Scotland, which is a separate subject entirely.
§ Mr. Hughes
The fundamental point about the Government's proposals, as I understand them, is that they have nothing to do with separation. We must get that absolutely clear. Why, then, do we have this artificial controversy? One of the reasons for it is that the Government have not put over their case in Wales as they might have done. In a democratic society, that obviously needs to be done.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) is not here, because I shall make a number of references to him. There is no excuse for the hysterical outbursts on this subject that we hear from him from time to time. He has played on all the fears and anxieties of the people of Gwent and Monmouthshire, and some of his utterances could well have been referred to the Race Relations Board. I find it very difficult to understand why the media pay such attention to his remarks.
Last Friday in the South Wales Argus, which is printed in my constituency of Newport—I see that the Lord President of the Council has the extract in front of him—there was a disgraceful headline, based on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool, to this effect: "Be ready for a referendum if you do not wish to be a foreigner in your own country." That is absolute rubbish. I speak as someone who has lived in Monmouthshire for just about all my life, with members of my family in many parts of the county. The hon. Member for Pontypool has never lived in Gwent.
1602 The Government's measures for Wales are modest in the extreme. I made a considered reply immediately to that sensational headline in the local paper, pointing out what damage it was doing to the policy of the Labour Government in this respect, as well as to my own position as Member for the constituency in which the paper is printed. So far, my reply has not been printed, presumably because the newspaper has not yet been given permission to do so by the hon. Member for Pontypool.
Even if the Government's proposal is unpopular, is it to be said that a Government legislate only for measures which are popular at a particular time? I dare to suggest that there would be a number of items in the Government's present programme, or that of the previous Government, for that matter, which would not find overwhelming favour.
The late Mr. Sydney Silverman campaigned for the abolition of hanging. If that issue had been put to a popular vote, I wonder whether he would have been successful.
§ Mr. Abse rose——
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. Friend must wait a minute. I have a few more references to make to him yet. Then there was the question of the reform of the law relating to homosexuals which my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool pursued with such zeal. If that issue had been put to a popular vote in Newport, I should have found it difficult to get a majority for him.
§ Mr. Abse
I understand that in my absence my hon. Friend, without giving me notice, suggested that some of the comments that I have made are capable of being referred to the Race Relations Board. I put it to him that any Assembly that comes into existence in Wales will be an Assembly that has been demanded by the Welsh nationalists. Therefore, those attending there will have to be bilingual. It will mean that the civil servants who will be required to service the Assembly will have to be bilingual. This will inevitably mean that what will come into existence in Wales will be a Welsh-speaking bureaucratic elite and that in Wales English-speaking Welshmen will become foreigners in their own land.
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. Friend's interjection has borne out my point most adequately.
Then there is the question of a referendum. We had one on the Common Market issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) said that he regarded that as a one-off job. I took quite a part in the campaign before that referendum and I thought that it was the con trick of the century. In view of my experience on that referendum, I am not anxious to have another. However, this is a matter for the Government to decide. I would say from my experience in Wales that the demand for a referendum, if such a demand exists, has been artificially created, and on a false promise.
The Government are merely honouring the clear commitment in their election manifesto of October 1974:
The next Labour Government will create elected assemblies in Scotland and Wales.There were no ifs, buts or maybes. What is more, that paragraph in Labour's election manifesto was put in at the unanimous request of all Welsh Labour Members.
Prior to the February 1974 General Election, a host of meetings was held. Indeed, at one stage the Welsh Labour Group was meeting almost every day of the week on this subject. That is no exaggeration. I quote from the minutes of a meeting on 6th November 1973, and I will supply a copy of the minutes to any Member who requires them:Unanimous agreement was reached on the Group's attitude towards the various recommendations of the Kilbrandon Report at a specially well attended meeting (26 members present) of the group today.The minutes say that 26 members were present. There was one member missing. That was the Prime Minister, who as Home Secretary had been responsible for the establishment of the Kilbrandon Commission which recommended devolution for Wales and Scotland.
The minutes go on to say:The group welcomed the establishment of an All Wales Elected Assembly with real powers as the best means of exercising closer democratic control over those distinctive features of Welsh life.I stand by the promise which was made in that document.
§ Mr. Abse
Without going into the history of these events—who was present at the meeting and who was not—would it not be of interest to tell the House and the people of Wales of the strange situation that exists at the moment? The Secretary of State for Wales has an empty seat behind him; he is the only member of the Cabinet who cannot have a Parliamentary Private Secretary of his own. Following the resignation of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) because of the Secretary of State's views on devolution, not one Back Bench Welsh Member was prepared to support these proposals.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We shall make better progress if we can hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying.
§ Mr. Hughes
The Secretary of State can answer for himself about what appointments he makes. The question I pose is whether my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool was at these meetings or whether someone was impersonating him. He was part and parcel of the decision.
§ Mr. Abse rose——
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall not give way again. I want to proceed.
The decisions by Welsh Labour Members immediately prior to the February 1974 General Election have since been endorsed by all sections of the British Labour movement. They were endorsed by the general management committee of the party in my constituency and by the Labour Party in Wales. The policy went to the national Labour Party, where it was approved by a heavy majority at the conference last September. It was also approved, by a very heavy majority, by my trade union, of which I was an officer before I came to the House.
The policy was endorsed by the Welsh Trades Union Congress which my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool once described as a bunch of Communists. It is in fact the most responsible, and perhaps the most powerful, part of the Labour movement now in Wales. The decision has also been endorsed by the 1605 Trades Union Congress nationally. All Labour Members should now loyally support what the movement itself has overwhelmingly decided upon.
In conclusion, we must bear in mind that over 80 per cent. of the population of Wales live in the counties of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. Therefore, many of the population do not speak Welsh. It follows logically that the representatives from those two heavily populated counties will play a major part, though not an unfair part, in the affairs of the Assembly. I am sure that they will ensure that the Welsh language is not rammed down our throats, so to speak. I am sorry that hon. Members think that that last remark of mine was funny. This is a serious matter. I am one of the first to defend the Welsh language and culture.
Finally, tomorrow night on a point of honour alone I shall vote with the Labour Government in response to the pledges I have given personally and which the whole Labour movement in Britain has given.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I hesitate to enter this fratricidal combat. When I heard that there were daily meetings of the Welsh Members of the Labour Party before the February 1974 election I was glad to learn that in those days all was honey and light, apparently, and that the hon. Members for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) and Pontypool (Mr. Abse) all agreed, as the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) told us, with the recommendations of the Labour Party that there should be an elected Assembly for Wales with real powers. I suppose the meaning of that depends on the nature of reality as it is understood by those three hon. Members in particular.
The Secretary of State for Wales, in a combative speech asked hon. Members—and he was particularly addressing the Conservative side—to declare their own views. I give my own view. I do not believe that we can stay with thestatus quo. I am basically a federalist, and I think that that is the arrangement we shall eventually be driven to in any event. If we want to keep the unity of the whole country and yet give meaningful 1606 devolution to its constituent parts. logic and the need to preserve that unity will drive us to a federal system.
If we do not do that, whenever things are difficult in the regions, if powers are devolved, and if the limit of those powers is fudged, the centre will be blamed and the case for total withdrawal will be argued. When things are going well the balance will swing the other way.
The Secretary of State would have done better today to make a speech which persuaded his friends instead of attacking his enemies. I mean that kindly, because there are real doubts in Wales about the Assembly. He would have served the cause better had he tried to meet those doubts.
A good deal has been said about the need for a referendum on this issue. I believe in the case for a referendum on all major constitutional changes in this country, and I have said so in the House on a number of occasions. I spoke in the debate in 1969 on the proposal to hold referenda in Wales and Scotland to assess the views of the people on what form of devolution, if any, they wanted. I firmly adhere to that view.
I say to the Secretary of State and to those who support him, and I am a devolutionist myself, that it is absolutely essential if they are to succeed for the Government and the House to take the people of Wales with them on this Bill. If they are to do that the Government must be true to the pledge they gave to adopt a flexible approach and must be prepared to meet not the total opposition of the Conservatives so much as the friendly criticism of those who really want to see meaningful devolution achieved.
I was driving to London on Sunday when I heard on the radio the dulcet tones of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) who was arguing the case against a referendum. I was very interested in the debate. He said several times that if Parliament says it must have a referendum on this issue it is virtually saying that when there is a vitally important matter to be decided, Parliament cannot be entrusted with that decision. I do not agree. There is a basic difference between the case for a referendum on a constitutional issue of this magnitude and on any other issue, however serious.
1607 For example, take the case that has so often been made for a referendum on whether we should have capital punishment. There have been times when we have had capital punishment, when it has been suspended and when it has been abolished. We can always go back on that if we want to do so. But with a major constitutional change one is permanently changing the relationship between Government and governed. In a mature democracy such as our own, if the Government cannot take the people with them on such an issue the Government should fail on it. That is a basic distinction which the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian did not acknowledge in the radio debate.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
The hon. and learned Member should realise that where there is a written constitution which sets aside certain issues for settlement in this manner it does not invite the legislature to pronounce upon them until the public has pronounced. That is a different matter. To invite the legislature to pronounce first, and then to invite the public to contradict it on a yes-no basis can do nothing but downgrade the parliament.
§ Mr. Hooson
I acknowledge that the hon. Member has a more powerful point against a referendum conducted after the Parliament has pronounced. But I am nevertheless satisfied that there should be a referendum and that this country is moving inexorably towards a written constitution. Every constitutional development over the last 50 years, or even longer, including the Canada Act and the Australia Act points in that direction. There has been a Northern Ireland Act. We are now talking about a Bill of Rights. If we establish the Welsh the Scottish Assemblies that will be yet another step towards a totally written constitution.
The hon. Member should acknowledge that if the Government cannot take the majority of the people with them on a Bill of this kind—however much we as individuals want to see the aims and objectives of the Bill achieved—a mature democracy such as ours is in a sad state.
§ Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)
I hope that the hon. and learned Member and his colleagues will now feel able to sign the amendment which stands in the 1608 name of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). More important, he is raising a point which touches the absolute essence of the opposition on the Labour Benches. It is not that we are not in favour of reasoned devolution for the United Kingdom, but that is not what is being presented in the Bill. We are being asked to do something specific for Scotland and Wales in isolation. We are not asking the people of the United Kingdom. If we were, and if we were devolving power to the people of the United Kingdom, everyone here would surely vote for that. But from the hon. and learned Gentleman's own arguments, the Liberal Party should be going into the Lobby against the Bill.
§ Mr. Hooson
I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I heard him shout from a sedentary position during the speech by the hon. Member for Newport that the nationalists would use the Bill to gain separatism. That very argument was used about the Government of Ireland Bills in the last century. They were not passed. Look what happened. In the end Ireland did not just have Home Rule—that is, a domestic Parliament as Gladstone and Asquith had proposed. The result was that because this House denied it to them—I know that the situation there was very different—the Irish eventually forced total independence and total economic separation through bloodshed. This is a serious debate and it is important that hon. Members do not shout out, as the hon. Member did, that the nationalists will use the Bill to gain separatism. The hon. Gentleman must have regard to the history of this country.
I said at the outset that I basically believed in federalism. It was interesting that the Secretary of State dismissed that subject today without a discussion or any kind of appreciation of it. That was in total contradistinction to what the Prime Minister said on Monday. He saidFederalism is an excellent system, but it is not for us.Later he saidThe task before us is to modernise and reinvigorate a partnership between a large historic nation and three much smaller historic nations. I say that federalism is simply not a relevant road for the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 13th December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 985.]1609 I want to take up that last point. The Secretary of State said today that there were countries which had devolved extensive power to the regions and which were economically successful. But he did not acknowledge that each of those countries is based upon a federal constitution. I refer to West Germany, Canada, Australia, the United States and Switzerland. But what the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot do is point to one example in the modern world where there is a devolved Parliament of the kind proposed for Scotland and Wales which is not based on either a federal or a quasi-federal system.
The argument put by the Prime Minister ignores what I would describe as the European dimension to the debate. Anyone would think, from such statements, that we had not been through the great debates of the past 25 years about the need for greater unity in Europe. There is a European dimension. There are two clearly discernible trends in modern political life, not only here but in Western Europe.
The first is the need for people to get together in order to gain greater security against attack and greater economic benefit from larger units. That draws us slowly but surely in the direction of European unity. At the same time, there is the trend that we see not only in Wales and Scotland but in some of the English regions, where people feel that Government is far too remote and want to preserve their own identity and press for a greater say in their own local affairs. These two trends, far from being in conflict, are complementary.
I think that in the end we shall be considering the whole issue of devolution in relation to a European concept. The Prime Minister is right to say that if there were a federal system in the United Kingdom alone, there would be an obvious disparity between England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland in size, but if there were a true demand from the English regions, that situation would perhaps change. If I were English, I would personally rather preserve England as a complete entity in any future European federation.
One of the great weaknesses of the Bill is the fudged powers. It is all very well 1610 to say that the powers are clear, but they are not. The detailed criticism, already heard, that the Government are giving with one hand and taking away with the other is justified. One could not introduce a federal system immediately, but if the Bill were based on clear federal principles—sovereignty within separate spheres—we would be sure to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom. Final sovereign power must rest here in Westminster. Nevertheless, the allocation of powers to both Scotland and Wales should be based on a clear sovereignty within their clearly defined spheres.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
The hon. and learned Gentleman made the point that there would be a desire to maintain the integrity of England within the European context. Does he not understand the importance of maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom within the European context, with far greater power and far greater weight in the united Europe that he and I believe in?
§ Mr. Hooson
Looking at the history of our respective countries, which have been in partnership for so long, I think we are apt to underestimate the common sense and the affinity of our peoples if we do not accept that, in any European federation, if England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland would very much pull together. Already in the EEC, with the exception of the agricultural question, where the Irish and ourselves have different interests, the Irish have gone along with the United Kingdom on most things, even though they have serious differences with us historically.
§ Mr. Raison
The hon. and learned Gentleman leaves me confused. He says that he still wants to have the United Kingdom and to uphold its integrity, but then he says that the point, raised by the Prime Minister and others, that one cannot have a federation in which one unit is much bigger than the others could be overcome by membership of the EEC. How does he reconcile these two apparently contradictory remarks?
§ Mr. Hooson
At present, I do not think that a European federation is on, but I think that we shall move steadily in that direction. I think that when we have achieved it, provided that we have 1611 a common defence policy and a common economic policy on the main issues, it will not in practice matter very much whether Scotland is regarded as part of the United Kingdom or as a separate entity within that European federation. I am sure that England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland can very much pull together. However, all that is very much in the future.
The vote tomorrow will be a vote on principle. It is important to ensure that there is a debate in depth on this subject. It is a major error of the Conservatives to try to defeat the Bill on Second Reading. I would have been more impressed, when the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) and the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) were extolling the virtues of the Welsh Office, if I had not had the clearest recollection of the debates in this House when Wales was granted a Secretary of State. The Conservative Party attacked that move on a three-line Whip.
§ Mr. Hooson
It was suggested then that there would be a great growth of bureaucracy in Wales. I think that it was a mistake by the Conservative Opposition. The Conservatives did not take a dispassionate view. The creation of the Welsh Office was a valuable contribution, and its development under successive Secretaries of State has been of considerable advantage to Wales.
I heard a good deal of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition and I have read it carefully. I agree with some of her detailed criticisms—she has clearly done a great deal of work on the Bill—but I totally disagree with the tone of her speech. She argued that the real choice for the country is between maintaining thestatus quo and having total separatism. I fundamentally disagree. That is a recipe for total disaster. If it is her view that the choice facing Scotland and Wales is between maintaining the status quo and having total separatism, then God help the chances of the union of the country.
I am not saying that in relation to Wales in particular. I was recently in 1612 Scotland, and if I am any judge of the mood of Scotland I basically disagree with the right hon. Lady's analysis. With the examples before us of the United States, whose federal system has had strains enough, Canada, which is undergoing strains at present, West Germany and Switzerland, I do not believe that the ingenuity of man cannot find a system which enables the Scots and the Welsh to have a good deal to say in their own affairs while preserving the unity of the United Kingdom. The tone of the right hon. Lady's speech was entirely wrong, as was her analysis.
I agree with her, however, that there should have been a separate Bill for Wales. I know that many people in Wales who support devolution argue that we shall have a much greater chance to get it through if it is tagged on the tail of Scottish devolution. I do not agree with that approach. I believe in devolution, but I do not believe in getting it by deceit or in an underhanded way. Either the people of Wales want devolution or they do not. I think that if Scotland had devolution, devolution would come to Wales as day follows night. I think that it would be impossible to resist. I think that it would be more meaningful devolution to Wales if that happened. Although I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill, I think that it would have been better and straighter if the Government had introduced a Bill for Scotland, where the state of public opinion is different and where the problems are different from those of Wales, and followed it with a Bill for Wales.
I want to deal with the crucial argument put against the Bill in Wales. I think that the Secretary of State had better address himself to it, and his hon. Friends should do the same. The argument, which is widespread, is that the Assembly will be simply another tier of government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not deal adequately with it today. There is no elected body in Wales at this level at present. There is not a body there which can deal with subordinate legislation. The Assembly will in fact be another tier of government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would do well to face that fact and acknowledge it. It is just the same as the reform of local government that the Conservative Party introduced 1613 into Wales. If the truth be known, that introduced another tier of government.
The Secretary of State should address himself to the consequent great fear in Wales that the Government's proposals will lead to a considerable addition to bureaucracy and officious meddling and supervision of local government by the Assembly. It is suggested that it will be costly and virtually another tier of local government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman remarked that my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) once said of the powers proposed for the Welsh Assembly that they would provide for a glorified Glamorgan County Council. He suggested that in many quarters that would be regarded as a tribute. I do not know about that, but I know that in many quarters that comparison would be regarded as highly defamatory. My right hon. Friend is right in that there is a fear that an Assembly with the powers that are proposed will have a good deal of ability to meddle in local government and will prove extremely costly.
§ Mr. John Morris
I was referring to Glamorgan County Council in the context of its distinguished record, especially in education and social services, in the admiration of which I yield to no one. Glamorgan has gone through an enormous period of adversity, and anyone with any recollection of the problems of the inter-war years will know the proud record of the county.
§ Mr. Hooson
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate that those who make slurs on Glamorgan County Council have in mind the way in which it conducted its business. There was a caucus deciding matters, pushing them through the council in a very short time and steamrollering any opposition.
In the debate of 17th December 1971 on the Local Government Bill, when I spoke for the Liberal Party in opposing the Bill, I said:It was a major mistake of the Government"—I was referring to the Conservative Governmentnot to wait for the Crowther Commission's report. It is no use saying it is possible to distinguish between local and national government 1614 as though they are in watertight compartments.I then said:To miss this opportunity to consider the reform of the whole of local government in the light of the proposals of the Crowther Commission seems an act of immense stupidity."—[Official Report, 17th November 1971; Vol. 826, c. 536.]It was such an act. The Conservative Government did us the greatest possible harm by pushing through the Local Government Bill, the reform of the health service and the Water Bill without considering the recommendations of the Kilbrandon Commission or Crowther Commission.
The Secretary of State will make his proposals acceptable to Wales only if he can virtually guarantee that one tier of local government will disappear. Surely that should be done simultaneously in the Bill. I see no reason for the powers of the county councils not being given to the district councils. They should exercise those powers on a purposeful basis. Perhaps a few powers might have to go to the Assembly, but only very few. One of the greatest harms done to Wales that upsets many people was the centralisation of local government. There is also the further fear in Wales that under the present voting system the Assembly will be dominated heavily by one party. The introduction of proportional representation in the elections would make al enormous difference to the attitude of many people towards the Bill.
The Secretary of State spent a good deal of time one evening trying to persuade me that the committee system proposed for Wales would be more democratic than the parliamentary system. I accept that he genuinely believes that to be so. He was anxious to meet my fears on the matter and to put them at rest. The more I consider the matter, the more dismayed I am by the prospect of the Welsh Assembly being run on a committee system. It will enable the whole operation to be controlled by a tight caucus. I much prefer the parliamentary system. We should follow the Scottish rather than the Welsh proposal. There is the fear that bad local government habits, to use a neutral term, will creep into the running of the Welsh Assembly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would be well advised to forget about the 1615 committee system and go for a parliamentary system.
§ Mr. John Morris
When I introduced the Bill I said that we would be prepared to listen to arguments. I shall be most interested to hear the arguments introduced from both sides on this issue. I am not being dogmatic. I hoped that our proposals would meet the wishes of the minority parties. If they are not taken up, we shall be prepared to consider the arguments.
§ Mr. Hooson
I am most grateful for that indication. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should also consider that he makes no provision for independent Members. He makes provision for minority parties to be represented on committees but not for independent Members. Perhaps it is unlikely that there will be independent Members, but it is a possibility for which he should cater.
I have said on many occasions that it is more important for Wales to get devolution right than to get it in a hurry. I am sure that that is so. It is vital that we take the people with us. In Committee we shall be watching to see how willing the Government are to accept changes in their Bill.
I am sure that there will be increasing pressure within the country and from Europe for greater unity within Europe. That is a dimension that will have to be considered. I have said on a number of occasions that although I have always been interested in devolution—this is a matter that my party has argued for many years—the debate is still in its infancy for many people. We may regard the Bill as possibly a pro tern measure, but in the end we shall have to find a system of government that ensures that we are not over-governed, a system that gives us vastly more control over local affairs and regional matters and yet enables us to keep the unity of the United Kingdom with a view to an even greater unity by the end of the century.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
The debate was started by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and from the beginning it has suffered from the making of a number of false comparisons. I believe that my right hon. Friend led us in that direction by his reference to Italy. I know that he has been busy 1616 entertaining important foreign visitors and that that is why he cannot be with us now, but that cannot prevent us from referring critically to his major speech in starting the debate. I hope that he will forgive us for any criticism we may make of his absence.
My right hon. Friend's reference to Italy was wholly mistaken. In Italy there is no separatist movement. The regional system of government in that country can in no way be compared with the provisions that we are now invited to discuss.
It is no good ending a speech, as did the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), with a perfunctory final sentence expressing a pious hope about maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom without having seriously addressed oneself to the problems involved in this legislation for the future of the United Kingdom. The Government, in their introduction to the Bill, take very much the same course.
This being a Second Reading debate and the first occasion on which the House has been called upon to consider the principles involved, I propose to spend almost all my time on the major consequences that I see ahead if the Bill is passed, although I hope that that will not be the result.
The Scottish National Party in its representations in this debate has made the purposes to which it wishes to put this legislation quite clear, although in less chauvinistic and less outrageous language than it has employed in recent years in its propaganda in Scotland. I use the term "chauvinistic" deliberately because I speak as an internationalist. I do not regard chauvinism as less evil because it is directed against a fellow group in the United Kingdom. That is just as evil as if it were directed against Jews or coloured people. It is equally bad and equally immoral no matter who is on the receiving end. I have watched with growing apprehension the increasingly chauvinistic campaign being carried on in furtherance of nationalist policies which are not in the interests of the Scottish people themselves.
We must relate this legislation to the common people of Scotland and not to 1617 future Ministers or ambassadors, or people who will lead the army and the air force. I was struck when listening to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) late last night, or should I say in the early hours of this morning, because he kept returning to the theme of the place at the top table for the future Government of Scotland. All he was concerned about was that place at the top table—the Ministers and representatives in European councils. He made very little reference to the ordinary working people of Scotland, the farmers and others who earn their living in daily work. That is not surprising when one looks at the general propaganda of chauvinistic organisations. It is always the same—it is the pomp and glory with which they are concerned. It is high time that we examined the policies of the Scottish National Party very carefully from that point of view.
It is not good enough to say, as the Liberal representative from Scotland, the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), said, that people must realise that many Scots identify their aspirations with those of the Scottish National Party. He is misguided and mistaken. It would be highly dangerous if other political parties in Scotland were to abandon their own principles and take on these assumptions by following the ideas of the Scottish National Party. That would not strengthen democracy; it would weaken it. Competition with chauvinistic parties by non-chauvinistic democratic parties is never successful, in Scotland, Wales, or anywhere else.
We must look carefully at the actual political situation in which we find ourselves. No legislation exists in a vacuum. I do not take kindly to the considerable amount of detailed criticism made against my right hon. Friend who is the main author of the Bill. I do not join in it. My right hon. Friend had a job to do and he did it after much hard work. I do not take kindly to the Leader of the Opposition, whose approach has been blatantly tactical. She has the difficult problem of a divided party behind her, and she has been directed by a majority within her ranks to oppose devolution. That is the truth of the matter and I 1618 do not know why she could not say so. But she wanted to create a facade of unity and agreement, so she backed up her statement of being opposed to the Bill, that same evening with a published statement giving faint praise to devolution in principle. She got around this contradiction by saying that this was a bad Bill. That will not wash. Obviously, some hon. Members opposite will draw their own conclusions, and so will the country.
That is not the issue before the nation at this stage. It is far more serious than that. What we must face are the implications for the future of the United Kingdom as a unit if this legislation is passed. My opposition to the Bill derives from my fears of the consequences. Just as I believe that the Prime Minister was wholly misguided when he referred to Italy, I believe the reference by the Lord President of the Council to Ireland was equally mistaken, and indeed dangerous.
Anybody who has studied the Irish problem will know immediately that the whole history of Scotland as part of the United Kingdom cannot be compared with the very tragic history of Ireland. To pick a simple example, after the first spate of bombings, when 95 houses were fire bombed in the 1960s, a group of us—three hon. Members and three members of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party—went to have a look at the situation in Ireland prior to the visit of the then Home Secretary who is now the Prime Minister. We interviewed more than 50 people. I interviewed a woman who worked in the placing section of the Ministry of Labour in Belfast and she told me that in 26 years that Department had never employed anybody from the minority religion until six weeks before our visit. Such was the blatant discrimination there. Happily, there has been no such discrimination in Scotland. How can one compare the kind of relationship we must observe in Ireland with the situation in Scotland?
Moreover, one must remember that the proposals we are debating today, if they are to be debated in the way the Scottish National Party is debating them, provide not just a stepping stone, but a deliberate instrument for the deliberate destruction of the United Kingdom. It is not the purpose of the Scottish National Party to use these proposals to improve 1619 the standard of living of Scottish people. They intend to use them as a means of finding a place at the top tables of the world. Against this background the House of Commons must warn the people of this country and particularly the people of Scotland.
The solidarity of the people of the United Kingdom has been immensely valuable in peace and war—not least in peace. There is no question of the advantages which have gone to Scotland after a difficult period economically as a result of this solidarity. Scottish National Party Members get nervous and start arguing when this is pointed out. No wonder, because a number of them used to be members of the Labour Party. This is not untypical of members of chauvinist parties. Mussolini used to be a Socialist, so we are accustomed to this kind of transformation. The benefits to the people of Scotland of having national solidarity with the United Kingdom are real. Although there is no racialist tinge attached to the term, the solidarity of the people of the United Kingdom has been real for a long time and is valuable, and one does not have to be a chauvinist to wish to preserve it. That solidarity was based on an understanding in all the regions of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that we all make sacrifices for one another.
I represent an area where at no time have I been questioned by any of my constituents when I have voted consistently for large sums to be devoted to create more employment in any part of the United Kingdom. I think that applies to my right hon. and hon. Friends in their activities throughout the land. That is how the job has been done. Indeed, there is nothing that I can teach my Front Bench colleagues in that respect. Many have led me in those policies, and I have followed them.
All this is at stake in this debate and should not be forgotten. But we still hear these puny demands for places at top tables, for consular representatives, and we have had references to what was written in a Swedish paper in 1904 as if that could have anything to do with the present situation.
Arising from these discussions, there are a large number of people in Scotland—and I can claim to have some know ledge 1620 of its people, having visited the country regularly over a period of 35 years—who do not believe that the claims made by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire are convincing. The SNP in the House is keen on getting this legislation passed on Second Reading tomorrow night because that will give respectability to its claims for the first time in the history of the United Kingdom. The SNP needs the stamp of approval from the House of Commons to make it appear that its claims are reasonable.
Let not my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench act under the misguided belief that they will get any credit whatever —if there be any credit—from this legislation. The representatives of the SNP will say "The people did not get these things from a Labour Government, but because we asked for them. The only way in which you, the people, got this kind of legislation was by voting for the SNP rather than for Labour or any other party." In that attitude lie the seeds of change that will arise day after day in the Assembly—not to better the standard of living of the Scottish people but to pile conflict upon conflict. The SNP will try to destroy the Assembly so that it can say that it is no good and that what is needed is complete separation from the United Kingdom and its complete destruction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller), who, if nothing else, is an internationalist, made a profoundly moving speech yesterday in which he attacked some of the chauvinistic policies of the SNP. One SNP Member who spoke a little later accused my hon. Friend of having attacked all Scots. That was blatantly false, but it was done for a purpose. A party based in chauvinism needs an enemy. My hon. Friend could not hate anybody and would never attack a whole nation. Such remarks would never fall from his lips. That attack on my hon. Friend was made deliberately.
I wish to put the record straight by making clear that my hon. Friend was not attacking all Scots. He was seeking to defend the interests of all people and to pursue the aims of solidarity in the interests of the principles that Robert Burns stood for. Those who sit for 1621 Clackmannan and one or two other places are now betraying the people every time they make a speech.
In this debate and tomorrow night there will be at stake hard political thinking about the future of this country. Everybody in that situation must assume his or her responsibilities. There can be no question of asking hon. Members to say to each other "Because there may be bad political consequences if you do not pass this legislation, you must vote for something the intrinsic value of which you do not support." That can be an argument about whether one increases VAT by 2 per cent. or whether one believes that indirect taxation is better in one form or another. It can never be an argument about the future of a country.
Everybody must choose when it comes to the future of the country. I am confident that everybody will choose in accordance with those principles.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrewshire, East)
It is perhaps somewhat unusual for me to find myself in almost complete agreement with the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). The trouble with this debate has been that too often we have not got to the heart of the matter—a matter that will affect us for many generations and centuries ahead.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) illustrated to the House those things that have transformed the post-war face of Scotland, many of which are to be seen in my constituency in the form of many works that would not be there had it not been for the structure of the United Kingdom.
One other matter to which I should like to refer was mentioned in the remarks of the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes). I hope that the House listened carefully to that part of his speech relating to race relations. Never in my long years in this House had I heard any reference to race relations in connection with the indigenous population of this country until the advent of this Bill and the proposals contained in it began to be discussed. That is a regrettable situation because these questions have arisen in the minds of people when there is no need for them to exist.
1622 This important debate has come at an unfortunate time. It is totally irrelevant to the difficulties in which we find ourselves and which have been clearly evidenced this very day We have had perhaps the most serious contribution from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we shall have in this Session of Parliament at a time when we have been overtaken by the even more important constitutional considerations that are before us in this Bill.
As I see the situation, the judgment challenging us is not about party policies or manifesto writings. It is not whether we shall win a seat here or lose one there. It is not whether one party or another will maintain or gain power. It is a judgment about where we are leading this nation and how we can be sure that we sustain the United Kingdom which for 250 years has developed and preserved that state of freedom and standard of living of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) spoke so eloquently on Monday. The question is whether this Bill will advance or arrest the separation that is the avowed intent of the SNP. Separatism is not the wish of the vast majority of the Scottish or Welsh people. Separatism would assuredly break up the United Kingdom in which nearly all of our peoples believe.
The aspect of devolution which is acceptable to most hon. Members is that which provides and goes on providing administrative devolution in every sphere. But the Bill offers legislative devolution—a full Executive, a complete Parliament, yet without the power to control its own affairs and thus inexorably bound to conflict. In a directly elected Assembly with an Executive and without full power the controlling party needs only to blame its lack of power for every failure and unacceptable decision and upon sovereign Westminster will be made further demands. As the hon. Member for Penistone said, so it has been throughout the history of the nationalist movements and so self-determination and separation come about. That is why the nationalist parties emphasise so much their support for the Bill.
If any proposal for an elected Assembly could have built into it a stopping place beyond which no separatist could travel there might be a case for 1623 further discussion. But the Bill in almost every clause and schedule contains the seeds of conflict varying only in degree.
Support for the Bill comes from those who for personal, party, or power advantage believe that its content will camouflage the real malaise from which we suffer—inflation, over-spending, over-borrowing and over-taxing at the tragic expense of the hard-working and the unemployed. Yet the Bill is costly in terms of bureaucracy, further taxation and yet another layer of government superimposed upon the 5 million Scots who would then be the most over-governed people in the Western world.
Opposition to the Bill comes from almost every responsible element of the Scottish people, and that opposition grows daily. Does the Bill provide better government? Better government would have an appeal to many who feel that the individual is being smothered and swallowed by the limitless demands made on him by Government and bureaucracy alike. But the Bill simply imposes a further layer of government that will burden the citizen and in no way lighten his load.
A further aspect is too seldom mentioned in the debate—where does the responsibility lie when in domestic matters part of the United Kingdom decides its own destiny within the bounds of the power devolved and that same part of the United Kingdom sends to Westminster hon. Members who will then vote on those domestic matters in England which have already been decided in Scotland and Wales. That aspect of conflict is written into the Bill as surely as that that will arise when party balance at Westminster differs from that in Scotland or Wales.
There is not time to consider the possibilities and difficulties of having selective voting rights at Westminster. What I have said clearly indicates that this dissension will inevitably follow. The Bill makes no mention of that—one of the most important considerations which will arise quickly. Suffice it to say that no Parliament, in Edinburgh, Cardiff or at Westminster, could long survive having first and second-class members.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
The right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) is one of 1624 the hon. Members who has spoken in the debate who has experience of the Chair. Is it not hard for the Chair to make a judgment on selective voting rights about what impinges on the United Kingdom as a whole or what is genuinely a Scottish or Welsh matter?
§ Miss Harvie Anderson
I do not want to take any responsibility for considerations which the Chair might make, but I can say that throughout my time in the Chair I have strenuously fought to ensure that the Chair is protected from making any such decisions which sooner or later impinge upon party political considerations in which the Chair must never take part.
The final and perhaps the most significant consideration of all is that which affects the whole of our island race. We look out on a world that is dominated by alien ideology, seized still with the reality of tyranny versus freedom and, as for centuries, we in Parliament and in the country have the overriding responsibility of maintaining the strength of our democracy.
We have only to glance at the map and look at the Lebanon, Angola, Portugal and NATO—the key points of international affairs, yes, and Scotland, where lies our NATO base, the North Sea and the oil upon which so many of our hopes depend. Some would not be sorry if we failed to hold united against the challenges there.
I can do no better than to quote the words of one of my constituents whom I do not know personally. His name is Cameron MacGregor, which reveals his identity and perhaps his history. He writes:I am well enough versed in the history of these islands to know what cost and sacrifice, in human terms, went into uniting them and what achievements spring from this unity. I can feel the same thrill at the mention of Waterloo as at Bannockburn and the same grief at the mention of Flanders as at Flodden.Those are words that we understand. They make us believe that the United Kingdom is our heritage and our example. It is to defend it that I shall vote against the Bill.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
I do not intend to take part in a floor show or to play a penitential rôole and go into the 1625 confessional box. I do not intend to mention that a chairman of the Welsh Labour Party has confirmed that it was not a total agreement but a consensus of opinion to which I, among others, agreed. I cannot find any reference in any Labour Party manifesto which precludes a referendum of the kind which has been suggested by so many hon. Members. Many manifesto commitments stretching over many years have been abrogated, pushed into pigeon holes or conveniently forgotten.
My constituency has a long history of believing in devolution in its proper context—that is, in the context of bringing power as near as possible to the people, so that they can learn to recognise power, see power being manipulated in their interests and sit in judgment of that manipulation of power. That is the essence of devolution. When we gave evidence for my local authority before the Aneurin Bevan Boundary Commission in the late 1940s, that is what we had in mind.
We said that what Wales wanted could almost all be achieved by all-purpose authorities—without the proliferation of nominated bodies—by allocation of power responsibly through local government and by keeping power close to the community, which is the essence of democracy. We failed in that. We were told that that would interfere with a national boundary—a river, three yards wide—and that it was outside the terms of reference of the Boundary Commission.
A great deal of thinking has been going on over many years on this question and it is folly to look upon the people who are debating it in the House as Johnny come-quicklys who have not given serious consideration to the matter in the past. I find some of the thinking rather illogical. For example, the Leader of the House argued that violence might possibly result if the wish for devolution were not granted in Scotland and Wales. It is just as arguable that violence might possibly result if that request were granted. Nothing is surer than that the Assemblies would he used as stepping stones in the demand for greater powers. There would be a playing-off of the inadequacy of the powers granted to the Assembly against those of the Westminster 1626 Parliament and that would open up an area of conflict. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) was charged with overstating the case, but the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) did not exaggerate.
Another potential cause for unrest, or even violence, lies in the industrial non-Welsh-speaking population of the south becoming frustrated and almost detesting the way in which affairs might be manipulated to their disadvantage by a small group of people. I do not say that that unrest would arise, but that that danger is present in people's minds should have become obvious during the debate. That again is a possible area of conflict that causes great concern.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) is on record as saying during the debate that his aim is to advance towards separatism for Wales. He does not trouble to hide his opinions, and I do not criticise him one iota for that. It has been stated that separatism is the ultimate aim, and that what is called Welsh nationhood—which I have never heard defined—is to be the test. It is claimed that the country will eventually have a separate political and economic system. The people of my country are frightened that a separate Welsh economy could lead to the breakup of patterns that have taken centuries to develop.
For example, painfully over the years the National Union of Mineworkers has struggled to achieve an equal grading system throughout the British coalfields. People are frightened that there might be a reversion to separate coal boards which cut across the whole pattern of nationalisation. If that happened, inevitably the trade unions would have to follow that pattern, and there would be a return to the evils of regional pay agreements, and so on, which the trade union movement has done so much to overcome. Already the people of Wales are putting forward passionate arguments against their salary structures being influenced by the Welsh Assembly. That is symptomatic of what may happen. There could be a break-up of the United Kingdom pattern and the seeds of conflict within the so-called separate nations.
This afternoon I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much public expenditure could be saved if even at this late hour by some happy inspiration the 1627 Government dropped the whole devolution exercise which so many of us consider to be futile. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is not always the cleverest boxer with his footwork, but he rode that punch by referring me to today's debate.
The questions that pre-occupy the minds of our population today are rates, rents, pay freezes and the traumatic effects of our economic crisis. These preoccupations make them hypercritical of expenditure cuts. They are not slow to point out that, although they are suffering and cuts are made even in the social services, there is one sacred cow which must not be touched, whatever happens, and that is the Bill.
§ Mr. Evans
Many people outside the House would be relieved if that were to happen.
The general public, noticing that no element of the public expenditure cuts must be allowed to interfere with this exercise, become highly critical and regard Members of Parliament as people who do not know whether they are on their heads or their heels. Many are rapidly coming to the conclusion that in times like these they would prefer to be governed by people who are on their feet and have kept their heads.
Therefore, it would be best to drop the Bill altogether. The public regard the time as unfortunate and the expense as unwarranted, and in the end we are accountable to our people. I am fairly sure that if every Back Bench Member of Parliament in Wales were to speak honestly, we should find very few whose constituents gave unreserved support to the Bill.
§ Mr. Wigley
I had understood that the hon. Member was a passionate advocate of a referendum. He is now talking about dropping the Bill completely. Does he want to have a referendum in order to give the people in his constituency a chance to decide for themselves, or does he now want to scrap the Bill, without giving them that opportunity.
§ Mr. Evans
What we are saying is that we want the people of Wales to be allowed to speak. I am trying to voice some of the criticisms that have been made to me personally. I have not said for one moment that I accept all the criticisms. Th point has been made to me very forcibly that the best thing to do with the Bill would be to bury it. This point has been put in somewhat richer language by many miners. The complexity and the mixture of powers, and the almost impossible task of disentangling the Welsh from the Scottish elements in the Bill, are aspects which have aroused a certain amount of criticism.
What I say unequivocally is that I and many others on the Government side stand for a Socialist approach to curing the ills of our time. We do not want to see the break-up of a United Kingdom pattern of Socialism. To us, a miner in Durham is the same as a miner in Caerphilly. It is no good hon. Members smiling about it. After all, it is the hon. Member for Carmarthen who is on record as saying that he does not hate the English, he hates Britain. He has made many other statements—for example, that Wales has always been treated as a colony and that the Welsh people have been treated as serfs. If this does not warrant the accusation of arousing race prejudice, I should like to know what does.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (South Angus)
The hon. Member says that he wishes to retain a United Kingdom pattern of Socialism. Is he, therefore, saying that Keir Hardie got it wrong when he wanted Home Rule for Scotland?
§ Mr. Evans
We shall not achieve the sort of Socialism that this country needs if we take our existing pattern, fragment it, and then try to introduce Socialistic elements into the parts. The pattern for the development of a Socialist country is there already. It has been painfully built up by years of trade union work and by years of dedicated work in the political field. The possibility of the overthrow 1629 of this programme disturbs my part in Wales very deeply indeed.
§ Mr. Buchan
Will my hon. Friend say whether he thinks that Keir Hardie would have argued that the oil belongs only to Scotland? Secondly, can my hon. Friend tell me what the people of Wales and Plaid Cymru in particular feel about that slogan coming from Scottish nationalists when there is no oil to be given to Wales?
§ Mr. Evans
The nationalists in Wales are prepared to follow exactly the same greedy line, as shown by their almost immoral display of huge posters of shivering old-age pensioners, together with comments about Welsh oil. In 1970, in the election campaign, pamphlets were put out by the Welsh nationalists talking of "our oil". We had to ask "What oil?", because there was no Welsh oil, and there is still no Welsh oil.
§ Mr. Evans
My hon. Friend will probably come up against the problem of Shetland oil. But my point is that the same sort of evidence can be seen in Wales. The plain fact is that it is a crude attempt at populist politics. Their idea is to sling everything at their opponents, trust to God that some of it will stick, and then see what can be capitalised out of it. That policy is now beginning to rebound on the nationalists, as populist politics nearly always do.
I was talking earlier of trying to make Britain a Socialist State. I believe that the existing pattern is there to be built on. I hope that we shall avoid the pitfall of devolution, and that we shall in Britain advance towards a truly Socialist country which can be an inspiration to much of the rest of Europe which is—and has been ever since the War—moving towards the Right.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
Following the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) I do not think I need declare a somewhat obvious interest—that I, too, am Welsh. I want the best for the people of Wales, for Welsh speakers like 1630 myself and for non-Welsh speakers like the hon. Member. I look at the Bill with nothing but that end in view—the best for the people of Wales.
§ Mr. Roberts
I shall speak about Wales, as a Welshman who is a Member of this Parliament. We have our problems in Wales. Our language and our culture are in a critical state, not for the first time in our long history. Our economy is gravely threatened. England and the English have always been very easy scapegoats—too easy by far to allow proper self-criticism. Yet it is always to England that we turn, even the most rabid nationalists among us, with our demands. Our help in time of trouble comes not from the hills, Colonel Gaddafi, the Swiss cantons or any of the other places held up by the nationalists for our esteem: it comes from the United Kingdom Treasury. Any constitutional move that threatens to weaken Welsh power at Westminster cannot be in the best interests of the people of Wales in the long run.
The Government say that the great purpose behind the Bill is to bring government closer to the people, but it could be contended that their real aim is the reverse, that they are taking themselves further from the people by placing an extra tier of government between themselves and the electorate. I do not know whether that is deliberate, but it is certainly the effect. They now have an excellent reason for doing so. We have embarked on a long period when Government expenditure will be reduced, and there will be growing protests from the electorate. If the Bill becomes law, those protests should be directed towards the Assemblies at Edinburgh and Cardiff, because they will be dispensing the money for health, housing, education and so on.
But the ruse will not work. The protests will still come here, to Whitehall and Westminster, because it is here that the amount of the block grants will be decided, just as the rate support grant is fixed here now. Just as the local authorities are increasingly and openly blaming the Government for not giving them enough, so will the Assemblies. They will bark incessantly at the Treasury gates 1631 but will not have the power to open them. The power will remain here in this Parliament.
The Government have also talked about devolution as enabling more local selection of priorities for spending. If the public expenditure White Paper means anything, coupled with the Chancellor of the Exchequer's announcement today, the Assemblies' main task will be the selection of cuts in spending. It may be argued that as a Tory I should approve of the Government's strategy for reducing expenditure through the Assemblies. I can hardly admire the Government's tactics, for they are giving the odium of rigour to the Assemblies while reserving for themselves the privilege of whatever mercy may be available by way of supplements to the block grants. If I were a nationalist, I should be very wary of a Labour Government's bringing gifts by way of a national Assembly.
The people of Wales are very dubious about the Government's motives in introducing this costly Bill at this difficult time. They cannot see its relevance to our problems, and neither can I. There could hardly be a worse time to introduce such a measure, involving as it does extra expenditure and additional bureaucracy. If we faced a prosperous future, the atmosphere might be different.
We shall undoubtedly be over-governed, as so many speakers have said. More government does not mean better or stronger government, which may very well be precisely what we need. Perhaps the need for better and stronger government is the explanation for the 35 per cent. in the Western Mail HTV poll who wanted more powers to be given to government in Wales.
There is the further point that we in Wales have not fared too badly under Westminster's care, as the provisional public expenditure figures per head of population clearly show. Provisional figures for 1975–76 show Wales receiving £826 per head compared with England's £732. What concerns us is that the situation could change to our disadvantage when the Assembly comes into being, because Welsh representation here is bound to mean less in time.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman is always quoting the higher per capita public expenditure in Wales. Will 1632 he tell the House how much of that is accounted for by higher per capita expenditure on social security benefits because of the lower per capita income in Wales?
§ Mr. Roberts
Each part of the United Kingdom has its own demands and needs. That is why there is the variety in public expenditure per capita between Wales, England and Scotland. But I urge upon the hon. Gentleman that we have not done at all badly under the present system and that there is a danger that change could be to our disadvantage.
Wales requires enormous investment in new jobs, as the Moore and Rhodes study of regional policy and the economy of Wales pointed out. This should be top priority. We shall not get that investment under this Bill. It will come only with a return of business confidence, a cut-back in Government expenditure and lower taxation.
We have social and cultural problems in Wales; we are divided linguistically and between the rural North-West and the industrial South-East. There is no guarantee that an Assembly dominated by the populous and largely monoglot industrial areas of the South will make a substantial and wise contribution to the peaceful solution of these problems.
The people of Wales are sceptical about the value of the Bill. I am no respecter of polls, but it may be significant that the recentWestern Mail HTV poll and the Marplan survey conducted for the Sun showed 27 per cent. and 25 per cent. respectively in favour of the Government's proposals.
There is an overwhelming demand for a referendum and this is an expression of the distrust not only of the Government's motives, but of the judgment of this House. We must have a referendum despite the fact that it is clearly fraught with problems. For instance, what will happen if Scotland says "Yes" and Wales says "No"? Can the two parts of the Bill be separated?
§ Mr. Budgen
Does my hon. Friend agree that the only justification for a referendum would be if all politicians in all parties agreed to be bound not only by its result but by the result of all future referenda? Would my hon. Friend be bound by the result?
§ Mr. Roberts
The Government took the result of the Common Market referendum as significant advice from the public. I do not recall a prior commitment to be bound by the result.
I am sure that hon. Members representing Wales will agree that the demand for a referendum is clearly based on a distrust of the present proposals and of the judgment of this House. If a referendum were held, there would be a clear implication that the Government would be bound by the decision.
The Government have made a rod for their own back by joining two countries in one Bill. The Prime Minister had his first beating from that rod when he opened the debate. Tomorrow night, we shall decide whether we approve or disapprove of the Bill as a whole. Those who believe that it can be improved in Committee and made acceptable will vote for it; those who believe that it is misconceived and unworkable will vote against it.
I believe that it is a singularly ill-timed measure, calculated to raise endless suspicions about the Government's real motives. They are proposing to hand over a great deal of power and it is not in the nature of governments to do that without good cause. I have not heard sufficient cause advanced for the Government's action from the Front Bench opposite.
I begin to reflect the suspicions of the Welsh people who are asking whether perhaps Wales and Scotland are becoming too much of a financial as well as a political liability. Does this lie behind the Bill or are the Government afraid of violence by a minority as the Leader of the House seems to have implied in a broadcast this week?
I assure the Government that these questions are in many people's minds, ordinary people who do not spend much of their time thinking of a better "instrument of national identity"—as the Prime Minister called it. They suspect that somehow, somewhere, they are being ditched by a weak Government anxious to pass on the responsibility for a wide range of activities affecting important aspects of their lives.
1634 For all the reasons advanced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who I thought made mincemeat of parts of the Bill in her opening speech, and because the people of Wales clearly do not want this Bill and all the irrelevant and expensive paraphernalia it entails, I shall oppose its Second Reading. This does not mean that I am opposing the principle of devolution, but simply that this Bill is a bad embodiment of that principle. I am sure that a better embodiment could be devised.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I am sure that all hon. Members will be interested to hear the latest report on the state of play. About 26 hon. Members still wish to take part in the debate this evening and there are about 80 minutes left for play.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. George Rodgers (Chorley)
It has become clear in recent years that there is broad and growing support for the shift of power away from central Government. But I accept that people have travelled varying distances along the road and that there are problems about the definition of devolution. None the less, those who oppose the spirit are now a small and dwindling number.
The unfortunate lot of Conservative Members is to defend an almost incomprehensible formula. If I understand the position correctly, the Conservative Party is already deeply committed to the establishment of a Scottish Assembly and simultaneously committed to voting against the very Bill that would make that possible, at least in the foreseeable future. I can only assume that the Leader of the Opposition is determined to demonstrate that she is ag'in Government regardless of the logic, the consequences and the advice of those in her own party who are closer to the realities of the situation than she is.
It has perhaps been recognised that the only opportunity of the Conservative Party achieving office is the advent of an early election. I suspect that as the months roll by the circumstances which would make that prospect feasible will recede and ultimately vanish. Therefore, the Leader of the Opposition feels bound to snatch at any passing straw and appreciates that the devolution programme is 1635 the only straw that is likely to float by for many a long day. Although it is possible to feel a pang of sympathy for her dilemma, it is difficult to believe that there is any conviction or merit in the arguments presented from the Opposition Benches during the course of the debate.
I strongly favour the devolution principle. I have long considered it a vanity and an absurdity to believe that all intelligence is concentrated in this Chamber. Surely we are all aware that the majority of us are here by chance and circumstance. We must recognise that there is a huge multitude of people in the country with a capacity to serve our nation with integrity, sincerity and ability. It is a contradiction of democracy that so few are given an opportunity to influence the course of events that affect their everyday lives.
My fear about the proposals is that they tend to move power sideways rather than downwards and towards the people. There is little virtue in transferring power exclusively on a geographical basis. We are inclined to speak volumes in this place about our allegiance to democracy but there seems a curious reluctance to implement our philosophy when the opportunity presents itself.
I personally welcome the intention to place authority in the locations that it is intended to serve. But that is only one part of the equation. It is no comfort to be able to observe power from one's window if one is not able to penetrate its walls and harness its activities.
There is, of course, encouragement in the proposals that nominated bodies should become more accountable, but it is a matter for concern and regret that Schedule 11 does not include health or water authorities. These are surely the nominated organisations that have attracted most criticism as being undemocratic and unaccountable. I recognise, of course, that these bodies require the presence of experts, those with special knowledge in their particular fields. The trouble is that too often the professionals have become autocrats rather than advisers. I have in mind particularly the Health Service, which seems to be dominated by the professionals where consultants are involved.
Devolution gives a golden opportunity to introduce reform to the structures of 1636 some of the monolithic organisations that were originally created to serve the public and are, indeed, financed by public funds, though somehow we have allowed them to become detached and remote from the community. Therefore, I look to my right hon. and hon. Friends to rethink this aspect of the programme and to display a greater boldness and a greater faith in the democratic principle.
Many peculiarities will surely flow from the legislation. Assembly Members with fewer responsibilities will represent a lesser number of constituents than Members of this Parliament. Scottish Members of the House of Commons will be relieved of an enormous amount of constituency involvement and with diminished commitments in that area will be enabled to assume an entirely different rôle in this Chamber. Members from north of the border and from Wales will have differing responsibilities from their English parliamentary colleagues but will be allowed to influence the decision making that affects the English people and the English regions, and there will be no reciprocal arrangements.
The road is littered with imponderables. It may be that an entirely new breed of Member will emerge, one who will specialise in the subjects that will become the exclusive prerogative of the British Parliament as distinct from those that belong to the Assemblies.
I foresee that problems will arise from the allocation of the block grant. It is all very well to speak about a negotiated agreement, but should the new Assemblies be dominated by factions that are hostile to Westminster, it could well become impossible to reach an agreement on what constitutes a fair allocation of financial resources. The negotiations could provide a very tempting sounding board for those whose eyes are set on a destination that lies beyond devolution. It may well be wiser to establish a mechanism that could decide and define an appropriate sum, perhaps on a population basis with a weighted addition to meet special circumstances, similar to the rate support grant.
If a firm procedure is not introduced, the Government of the day could well find themselves with the worst of all worlds—under constant siege by the 1637 Assemblies and being held responsible as paymaster for every problem afflicting the devolved sectors.
I am intrigued about another aspect of the Bill. I do not know how we stand in regard to the role of the House of Lords. I have read the document. As I understand it, the Scottish Assembly will be able to introduce primary legislation and that will not be obstructed. Presumably there will not be a House of Lairds in place of the House of Lords. Thugh there are checks and safeguards, there will certainly be no opportunity for the House of Lords to obstruct legislation passed by the Scottish Assembly.
I warmly welcome that development. It is a splendid advance. However, if the Government think for a moment that English Members in this House will tolerate a situation in which their legislation can be obstructed when similar legislation via the Assemblies will receive a speedy passage, they are presenting an excellent case for the abolition of the House of Lords.
On the issue of a referendum, the arguments are finely balanced. I resent government by referendum. If a Government achieve office, they should contain in their manifesto sufficient for their programme without further reference to the electorate. It is true that the Common Market referendum was covered in a manifesto, but I thought that it was an ugly business. There were deep arguments about the manner in which the referendum was financed.
A referendum provides a temptation to influence people within a Government or within a party in office. If they cannot secure their objectives through their parliamentary colleagues or through their conference, there is a temptation to take the issue outside to secure the support of their opponents in achieving their objective. I suspect that that was the motive behind the Common Market referendum.
§ Mr. Buchan
I agree with my hon. Friend about the use of a referendum on general policy matters, but is there not a new situation where one has a House of Commons elected in order to make decisions for one State and a process is set in motion which may give rise to the 1638 creation of another State. It is not our wish to create another State. We have no mandate to do that. Only one group can do that, and that is the people, since it transcends parliamentary boundaries.
§ Mr. Rodgers
I welcome that interjection. There is a powerful case for a referendum to decide or dispose of the separatist issue. I think that this would expose the false standing of the Scottish National Party. The SNP is tied hand and foot to the creation of a separate Scotland. Indeed, this has become an albatross which, I think, will finally destroy it. The majority of people who support the Scottish nationalists voted for them, understandably, as a protest. I think that a referendum would decisively isolate the Scottish nationalists. Already the ordinary Scot is sickened by the selfish bleating about "Our oil", a parrot cry which has become a substitute for policy.
§ Mr. Welsh
I would not accept the contention that the people of who voted for the Scottish National Party do not agree with our policy on independence. But if one agrees to a referendum to ask the Scottish people whether they are for or against self-government, one is setting a precedent, and the Scottish people may be asked the same question again in future.
§ Mr. Rodgers
I refer the hon. Gentleman to his own manifesto. I suggest that he examines it carefully if he says that.
The constant cry of "Our oil" has become a substitute for a policy and for any set of ideals. If Scotland were to become independent, there is small likelihood that the ordinary Scot would receive any fairer share of the revenue from North Sea oil. At present, there are a great number of Scottish aristocrats in possession of vast tracts of land and Scottish capitalists in possession of great wealth, but I hear no cry from the Scottish nationalists to redistribute these internal assets.
The natural allies of the Scottish working class are the English and Welsh working classes. The purpose of the SNP seems to be to divide working people as though they are one another's enemies rather than the common victims of a repugnant economic system.
I turn now to the document which purports to clarify the Government's attitude 1639 to devolution in England. It is a small document containing small arguments. After such a lengthy period of brooding, I think that we were entitled to a more succulent egg. For my part, I have never sought English Assemblies based on the present regional boundaries. There is nothing sacrosanct about the dimensions of the English regions. I am convinced of the need to have another electoral layer, an intermediate layer, to administer health and hospital services, land use and public transport. Those are prime examples, but obviously there are others.
I cannot avoid the conclusion that this will involve a restructuring of local government. I have never heard anyone say a kind word in favour of the recently reformed local government system. I am weary of being told that it is not possible to unscramble the omelette, however unpalatable the omelette may be. Our concern is not with omelettes but with people. The scheme has proved to be so disastrous that it must be reformed and we must provide one that is not only more efficient but is closer to the people.
The paltry 22-page pamphlet "The English Dimension" is an impudence. There are many people who will campaign for speedy progress towards a genuine shift of power away from the centre and towards the periphery and the people in the English regions.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
This debate is the third bite that we have had at the devolutionary cherry in the last couple of years and each time its taste seems to me to become more and more bitter, like a type of poison eating into the heart of the body politic.
When I hear hon. Members extolling the virtues of the Bill, or even the principles of legislative devolution, as some of my hon. Friends do, I am astonished that there can be so much difference of opinion between us as to the likely practical outcome of the Bill. Its supporters believe that it will benefit government in Scotland—the Secretary of State for Scotland said that yesterday—and strengthen the Union, whereas I fear that it will do the very reverse. I fear that an Assembly will be positively harmful to good government in Scotland, will make it more 1640 complicated and more costly, and will certainly pave the way for the break-up of the United Kingdom. In spite of all that has been said in the debate, I do not see how with this Bill it can be otherwise.
I realise, of course, that an Assembly is now regarded by some as being inevitable because the people of Scotland are said to want it, though it is doubtful whether they are aware of the full implications of an Assembly, since the more people know about it, the less enthusiastic they seem to become.
One popular reason often given for wanting an Assembly is that, if there were an Assembly, one tier of local government could go. However, it cannot be said too often that an Assembly is irrelevant to changes in the structure of local government. Local government can be changed in any way we want now, whether there is an Assembly or not. So it is quite unnecessary to support an Assembly as the only way of getting rid of the much disliked regions. There is no connection between the two. However, the belief that there is a connection between the two—that there must be an Assembly if one wants to get rid of the regions—is one of the many myths, as distinct from facts, that bedevil every discussion we have on devolution.
Another of these myths, which was given expression to in another place the other day by Lord Crowther-Hunt, is that an Assembly would reduce what he called the overloading of Parliament. Despite the source of this view, I had some doubts. I felt that the extent of any reduction would be minimal. I made some inquiries and found that, if all Scottish business were to be removed from this Chamber, it would reduce the burden on the House of Commons by precisely 4 per cent. It is a mere drop in the bucket. If the object is to reduce the load of business in Parliament, a much more impressive reduction would be achieved simply by the Government exercising a little self-restraint and not introducing the excessive volume of legislation that they now inflict upon us.
What is, I believe, yet another myth is the view expressed by Lord Home in The Times on Monday—There is a powerful case for devolution in terms of better government for Scotland…".1641 The Secretary of State flirted with that idea yesterday. This statement can be taken to imply only that the present system of government in Scotland is bad. No one would claim that it was perfect, because nothing ever is perfect, but is government in Scotland really worse than it is in the rest of the United Kingdom where there is not any proposal to have any change at all?
I would most hotly contest such a view. I argue that government in Scotland is probably better. I believe, from my experience of having served as a Minister in a United Kingdom Department, in an English Department and at the Scottish Office—I do not think that anybody else has had that variety of experience, so nobody can either agree or disagree with my conclusion—that the Scottish Office is very much more responsive to Members as well as to Ministers.
I do not think that the extent to which Scottish Members are favoured in this House is always recognised. Under the present system the Scottish Member has twice the opportunities to ask Questions about Scottish Departments as his English colleague has to ask similar Questions about English matters. The opportunities for general Scottish debates, about which we are always hearing, are twice as great, if not greater, than those which exist for debates about purely English matters. Of course, if those opportunities are not taken—they were not taken this year—the fault is not with the system but with the Ministers concerned.
At the moment, through Questions and the Scottish Grand Committee, we have within Parliament's existing procedure the very thing that Lord Home's committee proposed and the very thing that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in the debate last year that she wanted; we have a method of discussing Scottish affairs and legislating for them by elected Scottish representatives that is linked to Parliament. Surely, instead of taking a dangerous leap in the dark and setting up an Assembly, the effect of which we do not know, we should try to make better use of the system we possess. I stress that I believe, having thought a great deal about this matter, that the only way of achieving diversity of legislative treatment for different parts of Britain without threatening 1642 the unity of the country is through the present system.
Let me turn now to the Bill. In essence it seems to take parliamentary scrutiny of the functions of the Scottish Office and legislation on those matters from Westminster and to transfer them to Edinburgh. In the process of doing that the number of Ministers is to go up from about half a dozen to more than 20. The number of MPs is increased from 71 to 220. There will be vast increases in the numbers of officials. The cost will also rise staggeringly. It seems a strange choice to spend money on these unnecessary appointments when we do not have enough to pay for useful people such as nurses and doctors.
I wonder how many of those who clamour for an Assembly now realise that its strongest supporters want to be able to use the Assembly to extract more money from people's pockets than is already taken by the Chancellor in tax and by local authorities in rates. I wonder what people have in mind when they call for "meaningful devolution" as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said in our debate last year. I wonder, too, what Lord Perth's call for Scotland "to run its own affairs" involves in practice that is fundamentally different from the discretion which exists today. The Ministers concerned should know all about that because the functions to be transferred by the Bill are largely only the existing functions of the Scottish Office on housing, health, education and so on.
I do not think that there is any great criticism of the way in which these are curently managed or any great demand for change in them. Housing, admittedly, is terrible, but it is worse in Scotland than in England not because of any failure in our legislative process, not because of any diktat from Whitehall, but simply because under the present system, working through Parliament, Scottish elected representatives have chosen to do and have been able to do things differently from the way they are done in England.
Sometimes the Scottish dimension may produce better results. Sometimes, as with housing, the freedom "to run things our own way" and to have what I would regard as "meaningful devolution" produces 1643 worse results than in England. At any rate, we have the freedom to legislate differently when we want to do so.
I do not see how transferring the legislative process on these matters from Westminster to Edinburgh will greatly alter the independence which already exists in the Scottish Office functions of housing, health, education, and so on. In any case, the subjects to be devolved, important though they are, are not those that people feel affect them most vitally. The number of jobs, the rates of taxation, the standard of living, the extent of inflation are the matters which people really care about—and these are not to be devolved, for the very good reason that they cannot be devolved if Britain is to remain one country.
Yet once an Assembly is in action, it will claim to be the voice of Scotland, and as the voice of Scotland it will wish to deal not only with the safe Scottish Office subjects for which the Secretary of State is responsible and which have been devolved and about which there has been little discontent, but with the more important economic matters which cannot be devolved and which people really do care about. So the mere setting up of an Assembly sets us on a collision course between Westminster and Edinburgh which, if history is anything to go by, is bound to lead to separation.
That is what happened to the colonies in America, which at one time had devolved government. Once the threat of French invasion had gone, they became separate. It happened also in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and within Canada now it is happening again with Quebec. In each of these cases, the devolved assemblies eventually became independent Parliaments, and the countries, which had formerly been united to this country, which had been part of Britain —as the American colonies were—separated from Britain.
That is what I am afraid will happen to Scotland if an Assembly is ever established in Edinburgh, and it is something that I do not want to happen. I think that it will be disastrous, not only for Scotland—because the oil we hear so much about will not last for ever—but for the rest of Britain. It will be pulling down and destroying a political edifice which has a unique record of achievement 1644 and which, despite our present economic difficulties, has great potential for good.
It is therefore the very negation of statesmanship for unionists—and that surely means all of us—to set up such a body under this Bill when all experience shows that separation is encouraged by so doing, and when separation is the very thing that the Bill's supporters wish to avoid. It is crazy. There must be something wrong with a proposal to set up an Assembly when the Scottish National Party welcomes it so openly as the road to separation. How can we, especially the Government, be so blind to the dangers?
We must try to face the facts about the separatist effect of devolution and devolving powers to legislative assemblies in the past. We must try to put behind us temporary party electoral considerations and look at the matter not as Conservatives or Liberals or Socialists, but as Britons thinking of our country's welfare. Above all, we must try not to delude ourselves or others with wishful thoughts of some middle course between the status quo and separation, for ultimately there is no middle course.
The real issue before Parliament is not about an Assembly at all. It is whether we are to stay as one country or become two countries. That is the stark choice that we are in duty bound to place before the people of Scotland instead of encouraging them to think that it is possible to devolve legislative power to part of the country without endangering the unity of the whole.
Unfortunately that cannot be done. We can remain a unity as one country if we want to, but that means having only one Parliament. Alternatively, we can have two Parliaments—two legislative bodies—if that is what we want, but that means we shall become two separate nations. There is no alternative.
The tragedy of the Bill is to pretend that there is a further alternative. It falls for the old temptations of not facing reality, of trying to appease and of seeking a cosy compromise when none is available.
Those of us who are Unionists at heart —I hope that that means most of us—will not be hoodwinked. We shall vote against the Bill not for party reasons but 1645 because it imperils the foundations of the State and puts at risk the unity of the country that we hold so dear.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) devoted himself to the Scottish aspects of the Bill but I do not propose to venture north of the border. When listening to the hon. Gentleman and other Scottish Members I was forcefully reminded that there were Scotsmen on both sides in the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
A Government who set out to deal with devolution in these islands are possessed of at least two qualities—courage and imagination. It is a daunting task and the Government deserve great credit for tackling it.
Of course the Bill is not ideal. The Archangel Gabriel, assisted by Solomon, could not have drafted a devolution Bill to gain total support in the House. However, the Bill is the culmination of a long process of inquiry, consultation and debate.
It is wrong for anyone to suggest that devolution is a new subject in Parliament. The House has been debating devolution in various forms for a century or more. Many of the reactions to the Bill that we have heard during the debate demonstrate the impossibility of finding a formula that pleases everybody. Some say that the Bill goes too far, others say that it does not go far enough, while others say that it will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
This is an important constitutional measure but its proposals for Wales are modest. I find all the talk about the dangers to the constitution and the Union grossly exaggerated. If the British constitution is anything it is flexible. If it ceased to be adaptable to change, it would not survive. Historically, whenever this Parliament has sought to impose a centralist constitutional doctrine, disaster has invariably followed.
I propose as briefly as possible to deal with three broad questions that have been raised since Monday. The first is whether the Government have authority for introducing the Bill; the second is whether the functions to be evolved by an Assembly 1646 justify the setting up of a directly elected body in Cardiff; and the third is whether public opinion in Wales is in favour of this measure of devolution.
Surely no one questions the Government's justification for bringing the Bill before the House. It was a clear and unambiguous commitment in both the 1974 manifestos. It is important to place the facts on the record. The election manifesto for Wales of February 1974 said:Accordingly Labour will establish a directly elected council for Wales with functions, powers and finances to enable to to be an effective democratic force in the life of Wales.Again, the manifesto for Wales in October 1974 said:Labour will establish a directly elected Welsh Assembly with responsibility for a wide range of functions.It then went on to list those functions.
§ Mr. Raison
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for giving way to me because I take his point about time. Could he tell us what the United Kingdom or English election manifesto said about devolution in 1974?
§ Mr. Hughes
The Labour Party's national manifesto said in October 1974:The next Labour Government will create elected Assemblies in Scotland and Wales.The position is perfectly clear. This pledge was repeated at the Labour Party's annual conference in Blackpool last October. There can be no doubt that the Government are fulfilling a clear and longstanding electoral promise by bringing this Bill before us.
In addition my hon. Friends will remember that Welsh Labour Members held several meetings during 1973, under the chairmanship of the Leader of the House, to discuss the Kilbrandon Commission's report and to work out a policy in conjunction with the Welsh Council of Labour. In 1973 we did achieve a consensus. With respect to my hon. Friends the Members for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and Caerphilly (Mr. Evans), they were all present during those discussions and they subscribed to the consensus that we reached.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have plenty to say, and the only thing that deters me is the fact that other hon. Members want to speak. I have been a devolutionist for over 30 years. I have been perfectly consistent about this, and I am not ashamed of it. I have supported the Labour Party manifesto on some issues on which I did not entirely agree. My hon. Friend is saying now that on a matter of principle, when there is no doubt where this party stands, that he is completely against decisions made in meetings where he had collective responsibility and where he failed to reserve his position. He is perfectly free to do that—as long as he understands what he is doing.
It has been argued by some hon. Members that this is not the right time to discuss this matter. But as far as those who oppose devolution are concerned, there will never be a right time. They should remember that we are legislating for the future and for a time when the economic situation will be somewhat less harrowing than it is now. We may also have to pay a heavy price for procrastination and delay on this issue now.
My second point is whether the functions described in the Bill justify the creation of an Assembly. I believe they do. Hon. Members who study Schedule 7 will observe that the powers are extensive for matters which do not engage a great deal of attention in this House. In fact, most of them go without any democratic scrutiny whatever.
The Welsh Labour Party made some pertinent comments on these matters last year as follows:The present Secretary of State has signed well over 100 orders and instruments, binding on the people of Wales. Not one has been debated in the House of Commons. That is not the fault of Welsh MPs. However conscious and hard-working they may be, there are only 36 of them out of a total of 635 MPs. They must take a full part in what Parliament does for the whole of the United Kingdom. … They must play their part in arguments about international affairs. … They have a responsibility to deal with the particular problems of their own constituencies. 1648 Conscientious MPs feel frustrated at the lack of time available to them to keep matters at an all-Wales level under proper scrutiny. An hour of Welsh Questions once every three weeks while Parliament sits, an occasional adjournment debate when lucky in the draw, and three or four Welsh Grand Committee sessions a year are not enough for a proper level of control.That statement issued by the Welsh Labour Party last year warrants careful consideration.
We must of course examine Schedule 7 and the relevant clauses carefully in Committee. The broad thrust of the Bill on these matters is in the right direction. One of the most sensitive parts of the Bill relates to finance. In providing for a block grant the Government have accepted the terms of the Labour manifesto. I wish, however, that it were possible to devise means for the Assembly to raise money on its own account. There is a case for saying that "there should be no representation without taxation". But the present climate is not conducive to raising additional rates or taxes, and the provisions of Part IV of the Bill are therefore broadly right.
I turn finally to the question of public opinion in Wales. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) dealt with the matter in his speech and the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition did so on Monday. We were told what they thought the people of Wales wanted. They are entitled to their opinion. We were told that Wales does not want devolution, and some of my hon. Friends enthusiastically agree with the Leader of the Opposition. I do not share their view, although I would not be as dogmatic about the matter as they are.
Opinion polls fluctuate, as they did on the issue of the Common Market, but there are some powerful indicators in the other direction. The Kilbrandon Commission came to a firm conclusion after years of study. The Welsh TUC, the Churches in Wales and other public bodies have said that a measure of devolution is desirable. I appreciate that the Conservative Party in Wales, the CBI and some of my hon. Friends take a different view. As I have said on other occasions, I do not like referenda. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) discussed that matter at length. I do not share his view, 1649 but if the people of Wales agree with it, I would not be afraid of a referendum in Wales on this issue.
Indeed I am prepared to contemplate a referendum. It is just tenable on the ground that a constitutional change is involved. But I warn the House that a series of referenda will erode the authority of this Parliament far more than will Assemblies in Edinburgh and Cardiff. It is a far more dangerous road to travel than many people have so far realised.
The people of Wales do not regard these proposals uncritically. I live there, I have always made my home there, and as I travel the Principality extensively, I know what the people are saying. There are things that they are apprehensive about. Their experience of the reorganisation of local government in 1973 has not been a happy one. They will not take kindly to further large increases in the number of public servants. I believe that they would respond warmly to a system combining the Assembly with about 25 to 30 unitary authorities. I suggest that such a system would give efficient and economic service and would not involve a great expenditure.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North-West)
Would the right hon. Gentleman seriously advocate 25 education authorities for Wales?
§ Mr. Hughes
I would need more time to discuss that point. Education is a major subject. I venture to say this without the necessary thought that one should apply to such an important subject. It is possible that I should wish in those circumstances to give much of the authority for education to the Assembly and perhaps allow unitary authorities to act as agents for the appointment of teachers and the building of schools for example. But the hon. Member must not lead me into discussion on detail at this time.
The hon. Member for Pembroke said that some people in rural Wales were apprehensive about the dominance of Gwent and Glamorgan. They do not share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool that the Assembly will be run by the Gorsedd of Bards! That attitude is divisive and will do us no credit. Our objective should be to unite the people of Wales and not divide them. Nor should anyone frighten the 1650 people of Wales into thinking that this is a springboard to separatism and independence, because at the end of the day the people themselves will decide what they want and how far they wish to go.
I reject the concept of separatism for Wales and on this I agree with Kilbrandon. But if the people of Wales wanted independence, would anyone deny it to them? If the people of Wales clearly wanted federalism, would anyone deny it to them?
In these debates, we should go back to the report of the Royal Commission more often. It is a remarkable document of great historical significance. It said many wise things. We should remember that the majority of the Commission's members were able Englishmen and they rejected separatism and federalism. I quote two sentences from the Report. Page 39, paragraph 130 states:Generalisations about a people are difficult to make and usually unsatisfactory, but it seems true that as one moves eastward and southward through Wales, the "Welshness" of the people, though it undergoes subtle changes, persists. Despite divisions and gradations—and they are manifest in this House—there remain a strong sense of Welsh identity, a different way of looking at things and a distinct feeling that the needs and interests of people in Wales must be considered separately from those of people elsewhere in the United Kingdom.The Government have tried to meet those needs and interests in the Bill.
I shall be glad to support the Government tomorrow night. Any attempt to wreck the Bill will have long-term repercussions that we shall rue. It is our duty to give the Bill a Second Reading and to examine it carefully in Committee and to consider the opinions of the people of Scotland, Wales and of England as they develop in the course of our debates.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
I pay tribute to the stand taken for the past 30 years by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes). He referred to Nye Bevan and his conversion in 1959 to the idea of a Secretary of State for Wales. Some of us might be praying for the conversion to that view of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse).
Devolution is not a set of proposals. It is a movement in two senses. It is a 1651 movement away from the kind of arid separatism described by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) towards a greater degree of accountability and a greater degree of local and national democracy. It is also a movement that has brought together the people of Wales and Scotland with the support of the Welsh TUC, the trade union broad rank and file, the Liberal Party and so on.
The Bill is the minimum programme that Plaid Cymru is able to support. The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) is, apparently, able to distinguish between the principle of devolution and support for the Bill. He has been in the House longer than I have, but my understanding of a Second Reading debate is that it is a debate on the principle of a Bill. This is the minimum programme Plaid Cymru is prepared to support, but there must be no watering down of the Bill and no weakening of what is already in our view a relatively weak Welsh Assembly compared with the Scottish Assembly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) said that if there is to be a referendum, as the proponents of a referendum argue, the referendum must be in Wales. It would be inconsistent to seek to cut down or remove the relevant Welsh clauses of the Bill or vote against the Second Reading, because the decision on the Bill must be taken not merely by the House but by the people of Wales and Scotland.
As the Secretary of State said, the devolution movement depends upon the democratisation of the existing powers of Welsh government—the Welsh Office and nominated bodies. I welcome Clause 86 as giving the Welsh more power to dissolve existing nominated bodies. I hope that the Assembly makes wide use of that power, so that there will be more answerability in Welsh government and a reduction in the number of part-timers—usually nominated Conservative part-timers—appointed to serve on boards who are insensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people they govern.
The devolution movement leads beyond the democratisation of existing powers of government to an attempt to establish more effective policy-making machinery in Wales. We think of that particularly 1652 today when there has once again been a cut in the allocation of resources applying throughout the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Conway said that the Welsh Assembly will become merely a body for implementing the cuts decided in Westminster. That may be so if we have a Labour Government committed to a Tory economic approach. I would much prefer cuts for Wales to be channelled through the Welsh Assembly than to be inflicted from Westminster.
The Welsh Assembly will be able to decide priorities for policies and allocation in Wales, and the spread of the allocation between health and personal social services and the spread of the allocation in housing, and so on. Particularly in the exercise of public expenditure cuts there is a high level of vertical decision-making in the allocation of resources between education, housing, health and so on, but there is little sensitivity to the horizontal—the geographical—needs of areas in the allocation of resources. The result of the devolution movement in my view will be that the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Assembly, although they will not have substantial powers of revenue-raising, will have the powers to allocate revenue more effectively, more sensitively and more locally.
I believe, as does Plaid Cymru, that the devolution movement must go beyond the more effective allocation of resources and more democratisation to ensure a far more effective management of the Welsh economy and an improvement in the social position of Wales relative to that of the rest of the United Kingdom.
Between 1965 and 1975 there was a loss of 100,000 jobs for men in Wales. That is the record of the unity of the United Kingdom, the record of the centralised economic management of the United Kingdom about which we have heard so much. We have heard a lot about the unity of the United Kingdom but very little about the diversity, the disparity, the geographical inequality, the lower activity rates in Wales and the lower per capita proportion of the GNP in Wales, despite higher productivity. We have unemployment rates in Wales which have always been 170 per cent. of the average level. Only the North of England has done worse. As for poverty, 40 per cent. of families in Wales are below the official poverty line.
§ Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)
South Wales is industrial and based on two industries, coal and iron, both of which have declined over a long period. What difference, if any, would devolution have made to the problems thrown up by the long-term decline of those industries?
§ Mr. Thomas
The major need of an economy which is suffering from a contraction in its extractive sector is effective economic planning in its manufacturing sector and a detailed strategy as to the kind of jobs needed to replace the declining jobs.
We have not had one effective economic plan in Wales. If we have a Welsh Assembly, with the WDA answerable to it, it will be possible to plan the Welsh economy in a far more effective way than this House or the centralised economic planning of the United Kingdom have been able to do.
I was saying, before the intervention, that 40 per cent. of all families in Wales are living below the poverty line of supplementary benefit plus 40 per cent. Wales is at the top of the league for social security expenditure, with 330 families per 1,000 involved. In Wales, £187 per head is spent on social security compared with only £115 in England.
In Wales, the relative deprivation is the result of the lack of Government machinery to plan in and for Wales. There is a lower number of dwellings completed per 1,000 population. There is a lower per capita public expenditure on housing. This is especially relevant after the swingeing cuts announced today. My great fear is that the current levels of £65 per head in Wales and £74 per head in England will not be maintained following this grave further cut.
The record of centralised management from London, politically and economically, led me as a Welsh Socialist into Plaid Cymru. If I were given evidence that the continued unity and the continued running of the United Kingdom as a unitary State would result in a change in that record and a reversal of these social and economic indicators, I would be converted to unionism. But the record of centralised State capitalism, centralised private capitalism, and what we have seen so far in terms of centralised State Socialism, 1654 are such that there is always this geographical inequality. To be a Welshman is to be poorer and to be more often unemployed. This is why we must fight for a change in the system which will allow us——
§ Mr. Palmer
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. May I, as a Bristol Member, put to him a question that I put to the Secretary of State for Wales? If these and similar proposals go through, why should Bristol, which is much closer to Cardiff than to London, be governed on a completely different principle?
§ Mr. Thomas
I should not want to intervene in the internal affairs of Bristol. If Bristol wants to be run on a regional basis within the South-West of England, that is a matter for Bristol. As for Wales, the improvement of internal communications is as important as the installation of the high-speed train or the improvement of the M4. That is another argument in the area of priorities. If I were looking at the rail system, I should not give priority to high-speed trains to bring Bristol nearer to London.
Hon. Members on the Government side who are centralists and who are Socialist centralists—I respect them for their Socialism but not their centralism—favour a society which seeks to impose changes from the top down. I believe most passionately and strongly in the devolution movement as something related to a greater self-management of the economy, with workers' control at plant level. I believe in creating centres of power in regions and nations which will be self-regulating and self-regenerating. Worker control will not come about without changing ownership, because worker control at plant level is change of ownership. There will be far more radical changes of ownership through a Welsh Assembly in Cardiff, which must develop into a powerful Welsh Government, than through this House.
§ Mr. Buchan
I disagree with very little of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but he has argued the case against centralisation, while his major premise is that Wales is a nation, and therefore should be a State, which is quite different from decentralisation. Plaid Cymru 1655 seems to be wishing to create a centralised State. Is it the slogan of the hon. Gentleman's party that North Sea oil is Scotland's oil, or does it believe that the resources of the United Kingdom should be shared?
§ Mr. Thomas
I can say without breaching any confidences that there have been intra-party discussions about recirculating any oil revenues.
In speaking about the desire to create a State in Wales, I do not mean that I want to create a nineteenth-century nation State. My party does not want that either. We want to ensure that full national status is given so that we have power to decide our own economic destiny, to do our own economic planning and allocation of resources. That is not a State.
§ Mr. Thomas
What we must be looking for in this debate is a system of government and national participation within Britain which breaks out of the straitjacket of nineteenth-century nationalism. My party is not here to revive nineteenth century nationalism or State-ism. Our thinking is carried out in the context of European confederation and developments on that basis. That is what the whole debate is about. It is a groping by this post-imperial Power for new forms of national status, which must be effective. That is why my party and I are more anxious than other hon. Members may be to see the Welsh Assembly work, both as a forum for decision-making and——
§ Mr. Dalyell rose——
§ Mr. Dalyell rose——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) is not giving way—and time is going on—he must he allowed to proceed.
§ Mr. Thomas
I should like to take up a point made briefly by the right hon. Member for Anglesey, who talked about the state of public opinion in Wales. I describe devolution as a movement in a broad sense. There is also an internal movement in the political movement in the political thinking of the people of Wales, shown when they are asked concrete questions as 1656 opposed to abstract questions about devolution. Asked "How much power do you want for the Welsh Assembly?", a substantial proportion of those replying—and I do not know whether the sample was taken in the Cardiff and County Club; the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Thomas) is not here——
§ Mr. Thomas
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I meant the hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts), who I see is here. A substantial proportion of those who replied, including 32 per cent. of Labour voters and 20 per cent. of Conservative voters, 20 per cent. of the hon. Gentleman's electorate, said that they wanted more power for the Assembly. If we analyse that reply, given in the recent Western Mail-HTV poll, and an earlier reply by those who support the Government's proposals, we find that a total of 44 per cent. favour a degree of devolution up to the Government's present proposal or beyond.
There is a movement of opinion in Wales in favour of substantial devolution. I believe that if there were a referendum next October we would win it handsomely in Wales. The forces of radical change—the trade union movement, my own union, which is the Transport and General Workers' Union, the National Union of Mineworkers, the rank and file and leadership of the Labour Party in Wales and what is left of the Liberal Party in Mid-Wales would all be allied in compaigning for change. The forces of reaction, including the CBI, the Welsh TUC and the CLA, led by the generals below the Gangway on the Labour Benches—for the leaders of the Tribune Group lead the forces of reaction in this debate—would be on the other side. Nothing can prevent the people of Wales from working out the kind of constitutional framework they want.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (South Angus)
I shall try to be as speedy as usual, Mr. Speaker. Devolution is not new and nor is separatism. Scotland has had separatism for many years. We have had separate or, as I prefer to call them, independent institutions including the Church, the law, education and a whole host of other organisations.
1657 This separatism has been recognised by Parliament for a long time in the creation of separate institutions of government for Scotland. Past waves of nationalism led to the re-creation of Secretary for Scotland which, in turn, produced the post of Secretary of State for Scotland with automatic Cabinet rank. This gives us an embryo Executive, and the recognition of Scottish separateness led to the establishment of St. Andrew's House, which is, more or less, an embryo Scottish civil service.
Thus we have an embryo Executive and an embryo Civil Service. It is logical to put on top of those a democratically elected Assembly to oversee their work. That is the job of devolution.
In this debate too much effort has been expended on looking at the negative aspects of devolution. Its opponents have given us all sorts of gloomy prospects and impressions about the Bill and how it will work out in practice. We have heard talk about the slippery slope to independence, about the Bill meaning the break-up of the United Kingdom and prophecies that we shall somehow be knee deep in civil servants and burdened down by extra taxation. There has been a myriad of speeches littered with gloom and doom.
Even the supporters of devolution have failed to realise the positive element and the potential it contains for bringing back decision-making powers to Scotland and allowing Scots' minds to concentrate on Scottish affairs within the context of Scotland. There is a positive potential for us to do things our way. The Conservative Party must realise that the status quo is no longer an option.
The Secretary of State was right when he said that the Scottish governmental system within the United Kingdom framework had reached the end of the line and that it had done all it could do. We now have a part-time Secretary of State and Under-Secretary system. This is simply not good enough for the government of Scotland.
Let me take a practical example. Scottish education is in trouble and Scots Members will accept that something has to be done to meet its problems. Yet at the last Scottish Grand Committee—which governs our affairs—the meeting 1658 broke down six times because it was impossible to get a quorum of 17 of the 71 Scots Members to attend a Tuesday morning debate on education. That is not good enough for the government of my country.
Scots Members have the opportunity to ask one Question of Scottish Office Ministers only once every four weeks. If I wish to ask a Question on education, I can do so only by excluding Questions on housing, police, and a whole host of other matters which have individual Ministers and Ministries in England. The answer lies in having Scottish Ministers on the floor of a democratically-elected Scottish Parliament who can be closely examined by my representatives on my behalf.
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)
Before the hon. Gentleman goes on about the difficult problem of deciding on which subject to table a Question, I should point out that he did not table any Questions to the Secretary of State today.
§ Mr. Buchan rose——
§ Mr. Welsh
I shall not give way now.
We need to progress towards Scottish control over Scottish affairs, with the responsibilities as well as the rewards that that system implies. I realise that there is no magical solution contained in the Bill, but it would give us an opportunity for Scottish people to concentrate on Scottish affairs and the introduction of a Government physically closer to the people and taking place within the context of Scotland. That is important.
We believe that Scotland has something distinct and individual to offer to the world and to the community of nations. As with self-government, it is another opportunity for people from all parts of Scotland to get together to discuss our affairs and to think out the best solutions for Scotland. This is sharply 1659 opposed to the divide and rule philosophy of hon. Members who have spoken over the past few days and who have suddenly discovered the Shetland Isles. There has been no mention of them over the past 10 years. But because some hon. Members want to make cheap debating points and because it suits them, they suddenly discover the Shetland Isles, which no doubt they think are hidden away in a small block on the right side of the Scottish map near to the Buchan coast.
§ Mr. Welsh
We are seeing the beginning of the Scottish dimension and of Scottish interests which can be seen in the Scottish National Party, in the Scottish Labour Party and even in the ranks of the Tories. It is very interesting to watch the differences, whether they admit it or not, and the creation of Scottish feeling among certain Tory Members. Some of them realise that Scotland is theirs and that they have to think about it, as opposed to those who remain ultimately loyal to London. It is their choice.
What is happening in the Scottish Labour Party and the Conservative Party, and the powerful existence of the Scottish National Party shows that we are witnessing the embryo beginnings of what will be the future Scottish political party system beyond self-government. Through these debates we are seeing the logical and almost inevitable process sparked off by the rising power and strength of the Scottish National Party.
I find it difficult listening to these debates to reconcile the Scottish National Party that I know and joined with the one described by hon. Members from both sides. Members of my party have been called all sorts of rabid nationalists and all kinds of extremists. That is not the SNP that I know and joined. I wish that some of those hon. Members who put forward these ideas would check their facts and check the reality of the Scottish National Party. It is an extremely healthy and democratic development in Scotland and that is something for which we should all be grateful.
Devolution is an ongoing affair. There is no once-and-for-all settlement. This Bill is not a once-and-for-all settlement. Ultimately this issue will only be decided by the Scottish people. The SNP is a 1660 gradualist party. People know where we stand. But we can only do what we are given a democratic mandate to do.
We have always chosen, rightly, the difficult way, the democratic and peaceful way, of achieving our ultimate goal of self-government for our nation. It should come as no surprise to any hon. Members anywhere that that is our aim, although a certain Liverpudlian fringe looked on it with surprise on finding out. I joined a party whose motto and slogan is "Put Scotland First". I believe in that. I am here to speak for my constituency and my country, and that country is Scotland.
The SNP has always said that it will promote Scotland's interests in any Assembly where decisions are taken affecting our country. We have always said that we would participate constructively in whatever devolved Scottish Assembly this House cares to produce even though ultimately it will never be a substitute or an adequate replacement for a Scottish Parliament. But we need an administration in Edinburgh capable of meeting Scottish needs and capable of getting to the roots of Scotland's long-standing social, economic and political problems, and with the resources and the powers adequate to meet this task.
In the last analysis, this Assembly's ability to transform the social and economic prospects of Scotland will obviously depend upon the extent of the controls that it enjoys over the nation's fiscal and industrial machinery. There are obvious and massive deficiencies within the Bill concerning that matter—for example, the lack of economic and monetary control and the economic and financial muscle power necessary to meet Scotland's problems. However, this is a first step. We accept it as such.
Devolution seems to have few real friends. That has become plain throughout these debates. But at least we welcome it as a first step towards a new unity of the United Kingdom. I hope that when we say that it will be taken at its face value. I believe that from the SNP Bench people will hear what we really mean to say. We are not a group of people who say one thing in one week and entirely the opposite thing the next week—like a certain hon. Member, and taking half an hour as official spokesman to do it. 1661 Perhaps that is acceptable in this House because it is looked upon as part and parcel of the job. However, when we say that we look upon devolution as a first step towards a new unity of the United Kingdom we mean it.
Ultimately, logic and history will demand a self-governing Scotland. Devolution is only a first tentative step towards meeting the dynamic re-awakening of Scottish political consciousness and the wish of our ancient nation to take our place in the world and to play our individual and distinct part.
Ultimately and rightly, the decision rests with the Scottish people themselves. Only they will decide how far this process shall go. They know where we stand. They know where the Bill stands. Ultimately the Scottish people will decide. Personally, I await their decision with confidence.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Bates.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.