HC Deb 23 February 1976 vol 906 cc1-6
2. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many letters he has received to date urging a referendum on the devolution issue; and what reply he has given.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)

I have received 80 letters calling for a referendum, out of a total of about 1,400 letters on the subject of devolution. I have made clear that the Government have no plans to hold one.

Mr. Roberts

Irrespective of those figures—I must say that I am surprised by them—is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the demand for a referendum far exceeds the demand for devolution, which is now understood in Wales to be a method of deflecting criticism away from Westminster and Whitehall to Cardiff? Is the Secretary of State aware that the demand for a referendum is a polite Welsh way of saying "No" to the proposals?

Mr. Speaker

I hope that Welsh hon. Members will set an example for the rest of the week by asking only one supplementary question.

Mr. Morris

I am aware that a number of voices have been raised in support of the idea of a referendum, but I am far from sure where the hon. Gentleman stands on that subject.

Mr. Fred Evans

To give a quick and accurate resumé of those figures, is my right hon. and learned Friend not aware that in Wales there are about 29 district councils and five out of seven county councils which wish to have a referendum? Will the Secretary of State accept that it appears from research in my constituency that 13 constituency Labour Parties also want a referendum and that a large number have not yet committed themselves? Does he not agree that this augurs well for a devolution referendum?

Mr. Morris

I am aware of the voices that have been raised in support of that idea, but my hon. Friend would be the first to say that other voices have been raised against the idea, including that of the Welsh TUG. I am sure that the arguments will be fully discussed at the Welsh party conference, as they were last year, when the suggestion was rejected.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

If there were a referendum, the line-up would be fascinating. Plaid Cymru welcomes the idea of a referendum, on condition that it would be fair and constructive, with all the options, including those offered by the unions, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Party and the Republicans.

Mr. Morris

There are a whole variety of questions, such as separatism—which I am confident will be rejected in Wales—federalism, the Government's solution, the reform of local government, and which parts of Wales should remain within the devolved structure. Some hon. Members who are anxious that there should be no diminution in the powers of Members of Parliament will be conscious that hon. Members should take a decision supported by the manifesto which was adopted at the last General Election.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree mat it would be a good idea to cool the hysteria on the subject? The arguments advanced by the principal protagonists on the one side are nothing like as one-sided as is made out. On Friday night my constituency Labour Party decided, in my absence, to support the White Paper and oppose a referendum.

Mr. Morris

I am pleased to hear the news. I am sure that if my hon. Friend had been there, the decision would have been the same.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When are we to emerge from this Celtic twilight?

Mr. Speaker

I cannot help hon. Members until tomorrow, when special efforts will be made to deal with the lighting defects.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not appropriate for English Members to be called on this subject?

Mr. Speaker

It is for Mr. Speaker to decide whom he calls on different Questions.

3. Mr. Gwynfor Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what repre- sentations he has received on devolution from the Welsh Council.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Alec Jones)

The Welsh Council is one of the bodies invited to submit comments to the Welsh Office on the White Paper, Cmnd. 6348. I understand the Council has been considering its response, and we await its comments with interest.

Mr. Evans

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the Press report that the Welsh Council has reached a consensus in favour of the policy in the Government's White Paper? Does the fact that this rather conservative body has reached that conclusion not suggest that the White Paper does not go far enough and that the future Assembly should at least have control of the Welsh Development Agency?

Mr. Alec Jones

I should not be prepared at this juncture to describe the Welsh Council as conservative, liberal, Labour or anything else and I am not prepared to respond to Press reports. If the Welsh Council is a responsible body, as I believe it to be, it is right and proper that the Government should react to its reasoned response after it has made that response known to the Government.

Sir Raymond Gower

Has the hon. Gentleman received, in addition, representations from most of the local authorities in Wales and from bodies like the CBI and the Welsh TUC?

Mr. Alec Jones

As the Secretary of State said, we have received a considerable number of responses from bodies. The Welsh TUC and the CBI have responded. The Welsh Council was one of the 55 bodies which were specifically asked for their comments on this document, but that does not debar any individual from making comments and suggestions to my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Anderson

Does the Minister agree that it is far more appropriate to give weight to the fact that the greatest number of Labour Parties in Wales which have declared themselves are in favour of a referendum on this matter than to the opinion of a body of placemen, however distinguished, who I understand came down against a referendum by only one vote? In view of the present climate of public expenditure cuts, can my hon. Friend now seriously maintain that the devolution proposals are a priority of this Government?

Mr. Alec Jones

My hon. Friend must appreciate that if we are to give the fullest consideration to all the various viewpoints expressed to the Government on this and any other subject, it is right to wait for those responses. But it is equally important to give due weight to every point of view in Wales, whether it comes from a large body or a small one.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Has the Minister received any representations from the Farmers' Union of Wales or the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales? If so, are they both in favour of devolution?

Mr. Alec Jones

We have certainly received views from the National Farmers" Union. Perhaps the best thing that I can do is to write to the hon. Gentleman setting out the views that have been expressed to us.

Mr. Abse

Does not my hon. Friend think it necessary, apart from the representations which are being made, that the Government should be giving further consideration, in view of the severe and heavy cuts which will fall on Wales—inevitable and no doubt necessary—to some totally new policy, since the £15 million or more per year which, according to the Government, devolution is likely to cost, could be far better spent on augmenting funds for Wales, which faces such severe cuts under the new White Paper?

Mr. Alec Jones

My hon. Friend must appreciate that any costs of establishing a devolved Assembly in Wales are unlikely to be met in the immediate future. If he considers the White Paper on Public Expenditure he will see that devolution costs are part of the costs listed as coming from the Contingency Fund and not from any other sources in Wales.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does my hon. Friend not accept that any devolution to Wales, involving a further unnecessary and expensive tier of government, is an extravagance that this country and Wales can well do without? When can we stop this nonsense?

Mr. Alec Jones

We are always pleased to receive comments from hon. Members throughout the United Kingdom on our proposals. What we are proposing is not an extra tier of government——

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Of course it is.

Mr. Alec Jones

My hon. Friend knows that we had a four-day debate in which this subject was raised. I am sure that when the Bill is published he will be able to express his view on this and any other subject.

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