§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in Clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out 'and Wales as parts' and insert 'as a part'.
§ No. 10, in page 1, line 8, leave out 'and Wales as parts' and insert 'as part'.100
No. 11, in page 1, line 8, leave out
'Wales as parts of the United Kingdom. They'.
§ No. 56, in Clause 2, page 1, line 15, leave out 'and a Welsh Assembly'.
§ No. 63, in page 1, line 17, leave out 'each' and insert 'the'.
§ No. 71, in page 1, line 19, leave out and Wales respectively'.
§ No. 80, in page 2, line 1, leave out 'each' and insert 'the'.
§ No. 92, in Clause 3, page 2, line 12, leave out 'or Welsh'.
§ No. 107, in page 2, line 19, leave out 'or Welsh'.
§ No. 11, in page 2, line 23, leave out 'or Welsh'.
§ No. 255, in Schedule 1, page 69, line 6, leave out from 'Scotland' to 'submit' in line 7.
§ No. 263, in Schedule 1, page 70, line 2, leave out 'and Wales'.
§ Mr. Edwards
The effect of this amendment and those which we are to debate with it will be to exclude Wales from the provisions of the Bill. There seem to us to be two very good reasons why we should seek to do this. First, we believe that the scheme proposed for Wales is fundamentally unsound. Secondly, it seems to us right, as it did to a number of hon. Members who raised points of order earlier in the proceedings, that this House of Commons should have the opportunity to debate the principle of the Bill, so far as it affects Wales, in isolation, free of the quite different considerations that apply to Scotland.
We regard it as wholly regrettable that Scotland and Wales have been lumped together in one Bill, despite earlier statements by their spokesmen that a Labour Government would introduce separate legislation on Welsh matters, and despite the fact that on their own admission the situation in Wales is different from that in Scotland.
It cannot be challenged that many hon. Members on both sides cast their votes on Second Reading primarily on the basis of their assessment of the needs of Scotland and that their actions might have been different if they had been confronted with a purely Welsh Bill. Now they have a fresh opportunity to look at the Welsh provisions of the Bill on their own and 101 to express a view on them, for as The Guardian last Tuesday said:There is no case for legislating for both settlements together".In a few minutes I shall seek to explain why I think the proposals for Wales are fundamentally unsound, and I hope that, when I have done so, hon. Members who supported the Bill only because of what it proposes for Scotland will join me in the Division Lobby this evening.
As for those who refused to support the Bill on Second Reading, I must tell them that nothing has changed in the interval. The situation now is precisely what it was then, and they should repeat their opposition today. I say that the situation has not changed, and that is true; but a fresh argument has been introduced with which I shall now deal.
It is that, because there is to be a referendum it would be wrong to seek to drop Wales from the Bill because that would deny the people of Wales the opportunity to vote on the issue. What is being suggested is that because the Government have announced a referendum, this House is obliged to pass a Bill with which it may be in fundamental disagreement, and that Members of this House are to be deprived of their right—some will say their duty—to form their own judgments on the merits of this great constitutional issue.
I wholly reject that argument, which seems absurd and constitutionally improper. It is unthinkable that Members of the House of Commons should vote in favour of arrangements that they believe to be damaging simply to give the opportunity to the electorate later to express its opinion and perhaps to show greater sense and reject them.
We are confronted with what is essentially not a referendum Bill, but with a Bill setting out specific proposals for particular forms of Assembly for Scotland and Wales. On those proposals Parliament must pass judgment. I see no reason why this Committee or the House as a whole should be less critical in its examination because the ultimate choice may be taken elsewhere.
§ Mr. Kinnock
It is neither absurd nor a dereliction of duty so to approach this amendment that if it resulted in the withdrawal of Wales from the Bill the ghost of devolution would still exist in 102 Wales. If the people of Wales have an opportunity through a referendum to make a final, conclusive and authoritative decision on devolution, the whole nonsense of devolution will be buried for ever in Wales. That is not a dereliction of duty but a pursuit of the democratic voice.
§ Mr. Edwards
I take the point and I understand that position. But I find it incomprehensible that Members can vote for something with which they profoundly disagree in order that a referendum may take place. I will not give way on this point again until I have completed the whole of my argument about the referendum because it is an important matter and I want to deal with it completely.
If the public are to be asked to express a verdict in a referendum, they are entitled to expect that Parliament will have already carried out its job of scrutinising the legislation as thoroughly as possible and that Parliament will not have included anything in the legislation with which it disagrees. No doubt, if the moment comes that is exactly the argument that the backers of the Bill will use. They will tell voters that they can confidently support the measure because it has been voted on and approved by Parliament. Supporters of the measure will say that these Assemblies have the stamp of parliamentary approval and that voters may make their choice confident that the arrangements have been subjected to critical scrutiny.
For that reason, it will not be enough to make minor modifications here and there to reduce the damage that we otherwise foresee that the Bill will create. Those who believe that the proposed scheme is fundamentally unsound have a duty to oppose it with all their energy. To suggest that we should do otherwise is to establish a remarkable principle—that is, that a simple declaration that there will be a referendum is enough to remove responsibility from Parliament. That is not a reasonable proposition.
There are differences of opinion, even among those who favour referenda, about the circumstances in which they should be held. I understand that point, although I doubt that you, Mr. Murton, would permit me to argue it in detail at this time. There will be an opportunity for that later.
103 I have consistently advanced the view, on practical and constitutional grounds, that a referendum should be held on this issue only after the legislation has been passed. Others take the view that it would be preferable to have a consultative referendum prior to the legislative process. Whatever one's view, it is clear that the referendum issue—its form and its timing—is entirely separate from the other issues upon which the Bill legislates. It cannot be right, in any circumstances, to pass bad legislation simply in order to create a situation in which a referendum may be held. Each issue must be decided on its merits. If the House wishes to create a situation in which a referendum may be held, it could do so whether or not this amendment is passed.
The essential point is that Parliament should be its own judge on the merits of each issue and that Parliament should exercise its judgment unfettered and to the best of its ability. I deeply resent the suggestion that has been made outside the House that, in acting on that principle, I and those who think as I do are acting dishonourably. On the contrary, we would be failing in our duty if we did otherwise. It is on that basis that I shall now present my reasons for believing these proposals to be fundamentally unsound and why I shall urge all those who oppose the Government's scheme for Wales to support the amendment.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman advocates that Parliament should vote as Parliament thinks. Has he noticed how the result of the Second Reading Division has been used, not least by some of his hon. Friends? We were told before Second Reading that we should not vote against the Bill because that would be denying discussion. Yet after Second Reading we are asked how we can frustrate a measure that has received a majority of 45 votes in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Edwards
It has always been my view that these proposals would be bad for Wales. I said so on Second Reading and that is why I voted as I did on Second Reading. I pointed out at that time that the Government appeared to have chosen from all the possible options the permutation that would offer the least 104 chance of success for Wales. I explained why I thought that there is no sustainable middle ground between a system based on a structure in which one Government is responsible for the whole of the United Kingdom and a federal structure with a clear definition of powers and other safeguards.
According to this Bill, there would be created in Wales a second Government with sufficient power to render the intentions of this Parliament totally ineffective but with insufficient power to improve the economic health of Wales or to satisfy anyone who wants a fundamental change in the situation there. That is a recipe for disaster, for frustration and for bitterness, particularly at a time when a nationalist party waits, itching to exploit the opportunity that will be given to it.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
I am interested in what has been said about federalism. What is the hon. Gentleman's personal position and the position of his party on federalism? Does he support a federal system and does his party advocate one?
§ Mr. Edwards
I suggest that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) turns to my Second Reading speech, to which I referred earlier. I dealt with the matter at length and made the position clear. It would not be right to delay the Committee by repeating the arguments.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
Since the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) advanced, as the first of his two arguments supporting the amendment, his view that the scheme for Wales is unsound, and since he and his Opposition Front Bench colleagues did not oppose the proposals for Scotland, may I take it that the scheme for Scotland is sound?
§ Mr. Edwards
That is absurd. We made it clear that there are many objections to the Scottish proposals, but we said that the degree of our objection to what is proposed for Wales was of a different order because the proposed fundamental structure for Wales is unsound and that it would be very difficult to amend it.
The proposal for Wales is that the first stage of legislation would be passed at Westminster and that the second stage 105 —the vitally important secondary legislation—would be produced in Cardiff. The Assembly would also be responsible for implementing legislation. In practice, it means that the Westminster Parliament could—and in many cases would—find it totally impossible to enforce its will.
We have had experience on controversial political matters of the difficulties that arise when a local authority is reluctant to operate an Act with which it disagrees. I see my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas), who has had experience of dealing with such matters while in office, nodding his head in agreement. The difficulty would be aggravated tenfold if secondary legislation were under the control of an Assembly which claimed to speak for a nation, and which would have moral and political authority to challenge the central Government.
Members of the present Government may suffer from the smug delusion that there would be cases only of a Labour-controlled Assembly challenging a Tory Government at Westminster. That is a prospect that they may possibly view with relish, for they have never hesitated to encourage subordinate organisations to challenge the authority of Tory Governments. I suspect that it may not be quite as simple as that, particularly when times are difficult. I can foresee Labour Governments faced with a combination of political power in the Assembly utterly unwilling to translate the Government's intentions into practice.
Nor will it be just the Government at Westminster who find themselves in difficulties under this remarkable scheme. The process of government is a two-way movement; this is something on which the Kilbrandon Commissioners had a great deal to say. On the one hand, laws are made effective and, on the other, administrative experience is translated into fresh law. But now there is to be a divorce; the unity is to be broken. The Assembly, stimulated by its own experience, may wish to create fresh laws with which the Westminster Parliament has no sympathy.
A second feature of the scheme is also a recipe for dissension. The Assembly is to be given responsibility for the administration of most of the social services, but it will have no control over the economic activity which finances those 106 activities. The electorate will therefore look to the Assembly for houses, hospitals, schools and the whole range of public services which they now expect, and when the Assembly fails to provide them or when the services fall short of public expectations, the Assembly will naturally blame the Government at Westminster, with their responsibility for economic management.
At present, when a Government are held responsible in such circumstances, the people may, when the time comes, remove that Government from power and elect another. When the Assembly is established in Cardiff, the cry will be not just to change the political party in power but to change the seat of government itself. It would not be an Administration which would be sacrificed but, infinitely more precious, the system of government.
A system of government which fails can be changed, but to design a system which, by its very nature, will stimulate a demand for change is a peculiar form of madness. It is a curious and novel constitutional concept that we should seek to build instability into the structure from the outset.
This is not some strange aberration of the Conservative Party or a delusion of mine. The belief that there is a fundamental instability in the Government's proposals is the one point on which the nationalist parties and my party agree. That is why they support the Bill and the principal reason that we oppose it.
The justification given for this measure is that the Welsh people should be able to control their own affairs and that the system of government would be more democratic. The first argument gives the impression that the decision-making process at Westminster works rather like a giant international rugby championship in which every decision is taken on the basis of Wales versus England or England versus Scotland, with the interests of Wales and England being in continual competition and with English Members trampling through the Lobbies like an enormous scrum in which they have a huge weight advantage.
It is said that this element of rivalry has entered into things. Looking back at my time in Parliament, I find it hard to think of times when the interests of 107 Wales and England have been in conflict, and on those few occasions I have not always been aware that I have been on the losing side.
Those living in Welsh constituencies have at least the same say in this Parliament as those in English constituencies. Their affairs are debated at least as often, the votes of their Members count for at least as much. Their interests on almost all issues are shared with similar constituencies throughout the United Kingdom.
I said "as least as much" because the truth is that we have advantages; we have a Secretary of State in Cabinet, a Welsh Office and our own Grand Committee. With the aid of those instruments we and our Scottish colleagues, who have similar tools of government, usually extract a little more than we might expect if we represented English regions. We also seem to get a pretty good share of the great offices of State.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
The hon. Gentleman has spoken about the absence of a conflict of interests, but does he not think there was a conflict of interests between the majority of those representing Welsh constituencies and the majority representing English constituencies when the last so-called reform of local government was pushed through this House? The majority of Welsh Members voted against it, but were unable to prevent that law from being imposed upon them.
§ Mr. Edwards
The considerations which affect local government in England and Wales are similar and the objections to local government reform heard in English constituencies are almost identical to the Welsh objections. I am glad that one of the great officers of State from Wales has intervened at this stage. He proves my point that the Welsh play a full part in the government of the United Kingdom. I fear that the price for giving Wales a greater say in its own affairs will be that it will have less say in the affairs of the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
Has my hon. Friend forgotten 108 that in terms of population Wales and Scotland are over-represented in this House? Is that not an additional advantage for them?
§ Mr. Edwards
I was coming to that point. It is clear that demands for the reduction of that over-representation will be made increasingly. The reasons were eloquently spelled out in earlier debate by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who presented the argument powerfully. I have no doubt that it will be repeated.
I do not see how the influence of Wales on the affairs of the United Kingdom can fail to be reduced, not just for the reasons given a moment ago but for other reasons as well. If a range of responsibilities is transferred to the Assembly so that Welsh Members no longer deal on a day-to-day basis with great social issues, I cannot believe that they will carry much weight in the consideration of these matters at Westminster, and it will be a great deal less likely that Welsh and Scottish Members will ever again hold high office in Departments dealing with subjects such as health and education which, in future, will be the primary responsibility of the Assembly in Cardiff.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Will it not be the ultimate absurdity that hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies will be able to vote and speak on matters affecting transport and education in England but not on those matters when they affect their own constituents?
§ Mr. Edwards
Welsh Members will have some power in relation to legislation, but not when there are general debates on these subjects. Their position will be different from that of the Scots, and the proposed scheme would produce many anomalies and difficulties that should cause this House considerable concern.
When the Secretary of State is deprived of a range of responsibilities, he will not speak with the same authority in Cabinet. His position, which, in part at least, will be that of messenger boy for the Assembly, will be peculiarly uncomfortable. It is argued that all this will not matter because government will be brought closer to the people. The truth 109 is that in many important matters it will be taken further from the people.
We have to consider the effect on the individual citizen. A reorganisation of local governmentso soon after the last one would be bound to create confusion in the mind of the average elector. It is also probable that he would feel more remote from the affairs of a local government body administering services over a much wider area".Those are not my words. They are the Government's own words in their consultative document on England, in paragraph 83. Paragraph 54, arguing the need for further reorganisation of local government if regional authorities were established, states categorically:Many functions of the counties would need to be raised to the new regional authorities".If that is true of England—I believe that it is, and the reasons for it were amply spelled out in the Redcliffe-Maud Report on Local Government—it is true of Wales also. Many of the electors of Pembroke feel very remote from local government in Carmarthen. It is nothing to what they will feel about the Assembly in Cardiff, and for the people in North Wales and rural Wales the prospect is depressingly bleak.
We should be giving more responsibility to local government, but the Government instead are reducing it. It is at this point that we always hear about the nominated bodies, which have achieved in the eyes of devolutionists an almost sacred symbolic significance. The House should clearly understand that almost all the nominated bodies will continue to exist even if the Assembly comes into being. They will exist because there are very good reasons for having nominated bodies.
I recall the two Under-Secretaries of State for Wales spelling those reasons out recently in our debates on the Welsh Development Agency, the Rural Development Board for Wales, and the measure which established the Land Authority for Wales. It is surely curious that, at a time when the Government were preparing this legislation on the ground that the nominated bodies were so monstrous, they were passing through the House a string of measures which established new nominated bodies. Of course the nominated bodies will continue to exist. The 110 only significant difference will be that they will be nominated by the Chief Executive sitting in Cardiff instead of by the Secretary of State sitting in Cardiff. It remains to be seen whether that will be an improvement.
In consecutive debates, I have returned to the subject of the nominated bodies. In the White Paper debate, I went through the list and explained one by one why the great majority would continue to operate almost unchanged. I received no answer from Ministers. In the Welsh Grand Committee debate, I spoke about the problems in a democracy of reconciling the need for efficient executive bodies with the desire for debate and parliamentary control, and I suggested that, in practice, ordinary people are likely to find that life goes on just as before. Again, there was no response to these arguments by Ministers.
I returned to the subject again on Second Reading and put the view that the whole point about the consequences for democracy and the nominated bodies was absurdly exaggerated. Once again, there was no reply from the Government. In all three debates, Ministers neither denied what had been said nor attempted to refute the criticisms. They surely should begin to understand that it is not enough to utter magic spells about nominated bodies or to produce a string of generalisations about them.
At the end of the day, the disillusionment—indeed, the bitterness—of Mr. and Mrs. Average Welshman at being misled will be very considerable. Despite the great expectations that have been raised, most people simply will not notice any difference about their relationships with the nominated bodies. What they will notice is the cost and bureaucracy of the Assembly.
Faced with the cutback that is taking place in public expenditure, particularly by the local authorities, there is mounting anger in Wales at the cost of the Government's proposals. We do not know exactly who is going to pay—that is to say, we do not know whether it is to be the United Kingdom taxpayer as a whole or whether we in Wales are to have the cost deducted from the block grant. We know what the nationalists would like the position to be, because they believe in independence as long as others 111 pay the bill. They have just produced an economic paper calling for massive public expenditure cuts of about £9,000 million, as long as the whole lot falls on England and Wales escapes unscathed—an interesting exercise in political cynicism. Whoever pays, there is no getting away from the fact that the Assembly will produce nothing additional in the way of economic resources but its cost will deprive the people of hospitals, schools and social services which they could otherwise have had.
It is repeatedly denied that the Bill will produce another tier of Government. What cannot be denied is that it will produce a massive increase in the bureaucracy. The Secretary of State loves to tell us that the price of democracy is worth paying. But it is not democracy that we are going to be paying for—it is bureaucracy. At a time when we need less government, we are going to have more of it; at a time when we need simplicity, we are going to have complexity; at a time when we need economy, we are going to have extravagance; at a time when we need unity, we are going to have division.
I have put the case for rejecting the Government's proposals for Wales on practical grounds. I hope that that case will be answered with practical arguments. The Secretary of State may be tempted—he usually is—to abuse the Conservative Party, but that would be no answer to the points we make and would represent an attack on the very large number of people outside our ranks who agree with us on this issue.
There are Socialists in this Committee as well as Conservatives who will resent any suggestion that, in fighting for what we believe to be the best solution, we have not got the interests of the people at heart. The Secretary of State may argue, as others do, that the status quo is no longer an option, but there is no point in abandoning the status quo if that act of abandonment will produce no improvement in government. The status quo is an option and must be an option if that is likely to produce better government than the alternative.
On Second Reading, when describing our own proposals, first spelled out by 112 my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in his Llandrindod speech in 1974, I said that I felt no sense of embarrassment that they were modest and evolutionary. I believe that they have the virtue, because of their modesty, that they are likely to work. We press for the abandonment of the Government's proposals for the simple but important reason that we think that they will not work, and when everything else has been said and done, and when all the heat and emotion has been dissipated, that, on its own, is a more than adequate reason for this amendment to be passed by the House.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
We have just heard a typical Conservative speech from the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards), and it can be summed up in two words—"no change". Those two words have landed the Conservative Party in trouble throughout the years—this lack of imagination, this defence of the status quo at all costs.
The hon. Gentleman again rehearsed the arguments for a separate Welsh Bill. The only object of a separate Bill for Wales would be to delay the implementation of the proposals for Wales, and that would be objectionable. The argument for having two Bills is based not on principle but on expediency, and, recalling the arguments of the Conservative Party during the passage of the Local Government Act, the hon. Gentleman's remarks today can only be regarded as humbug.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
But when we recall the remarks of right hon. Members opposite at the time and their clear statements of intention, we can only regard the right hon. Gentleman's remarks as humbug. We have no alternative.
§ Mr. Hughes
On the contrary. This is a totally different situation. Anticipating with the procedural contortions of the hon. Member and his hon. Friends, he knows perfectly well that the consequence of having two Bills would be to postpone the Welsh measure well into the future.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Is it not the case that representations were repeatedly made to the Government that there should be two separate Bills? They 113 were made from this side of the House as well as from the Opposition Benches. They are alleged to have been carefully considered by the former Leader of the House, Mr. Edward Short, who still came back with the dusty answer that we would have a Bill in which all these matters would be so appallingly enmeshed and entangled.
What has really happened is that we are presented with this Bill because there is a Machiavellian desire on the part of the Secretary of State, and those who support him, to get the Bill through while clinging hard to the kilts of the oil sheikhs. It really does not do for my right hon. Friend to talk about expediency and humbug. The hypocrisy is coming from those who are denying Wales the right to have its own separate Bill.
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. Friend is avoiding my main point. If I believed that my hon. Friend or the hon. Member for Pembroke were genuinely in favour of making progress with a separate Welsh Bill, I should be more inclined to support them, but the sole reason they now advocate a separate Welsh Bill is to make it secondary to the Scottish Bill and to postpone it as long as possible. It is not my right hon. Friend who is Machiavellian but my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Pembroke.
The arguments of the hon. Member for Pembroke that a Welsh Assembly will be in constant conflict—and clash—with the United Kingdom Government are equally fallacious. The hon. Gentleman has a singular lack of faith in the Welsh people and their political maturity.
It is the case that it is dangerous to make comparisons with the former Stormont Government in Northern Ireland. But if one leaves aside the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, it is a fact that there was remarkable co-operation between the Stormont Government and successive Governments in this country for 50 years. Furthermore, any differences which exist between Wales and England, and Scotland and England, are minimal compared with the difficulties that existed in Ulster during that half century.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman 114 whether in his opinion the proposal to give these powers to the Welsh Assembly is to enable it to administer in the same way as England, or differently from England?
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall come to the right hon. Gentleman's point during my speech, and I shall return to the points raised by the hon. Member for Pembroke with regard to a referendum.
In the numerous debates on devolution that we have had in the House over the last three years, several themes have emerged. We have had arguments about structure, about functions and finance, about the relationship between the proposed Assemblies to Parliament and the central Government as well as the relationship with local authorities in Wales and Scotland. All this is right and proper because these are the central issues in the Bill. During the coming weeks we shall be debating them in greater detail in Committee.
But other themes of a more general character have developed during the course of our debates. One is the argument that there is no authority for this Bill. It has been made plain in the House that that argument could not be sustained. The evidence justifying the Government in introducing the Bill is conclusive. I do not propose to weary the House today with a repetition of it. The record is quite clear.
But, as the months have passed, one theme has increasingly transcended all the others. More vocal, clamorous and insistent has been the call for a referendum. Some of my hon. Friends have been consistent on this for a long time and the Conservative Party has taken a similar view. They have argued, with some confidence, that the great majority of people in Wales are opposed to devolution, and to the Bill, and that because of its constitutional implications they should be given the opportunity to take part in a referendum.
The clarion call has been "Let the people of Wales decide for themselves". One could quote extensively from the speeches of my hon. Friends and of hon. Members opposite. In this brief speech I propose to give only one quotation because it sums up the general attitude of the protagonists. I quote from the 115 speech of the hon. Member for Pembroke when he said:At the moment I am pointing out that there is an enormous public demand for a referendum in Wales, and if we are arguing about democracy we must be cautious in resisting that demand. I do not remember any single issue where there seemed to have been such a strong demand in Wales. The Government would make a great mistake if they set themselves firmly and irrevocably against this proposition.The hon. Gentleman went on:the Secretary of State should keep an open mind on the issue of a referendum and consider most carefully using this particular tool to obtain a consensus in Wales for our future constitutional arrangements."— [Welsh Grand Committee, 7th April 1976; c. 15–16.]Personally, and for reasons that I have given in the House many times, I have grave reservations about the referendum as a constitutional device. I may be wrong but that is the view I hold. During our debates on the Common Market we were told that it was "a once for all exercise". It has not taken long to disprove that claim. We are now in a matter of months to have another referendum. So be it. The Government have now made this major concession and the people of Wales and Scotland are to be given the opportunity to vote.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I say this as an interrogatory question. If the people of Wales and Scotland are to have a referendum on the same day, there might be confusion that they are having a referendum on the same issue. But that is far from the case. The proposals for Scotland are totally different from the proposals for Wales. Is it not misleading that there should be a referendum on the same day, in particular if Scots and Welshmen living and earning their living in England are to vote in that referendum?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am glad that my hon. Friend has drawn a distinction between the Scottish and Welsh proposals. No doubt the point that he has raised will be appropriate for the debate that we shall have on the details of the referendum. I would not care to predict today with any certainty how Welsh people will vote in a referendum, although I hope that they will vote for these proposals.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's views that the proposals are modest compared with the Scottish measures. They 116 are not a major constitutional change. [Interruption.] I regret that hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench disagree with me. I would call in aid the memorandum which the Law Society has today produced. It has some constructive criticisms to make of the Bill but it says:The designation of devolved matters in relation to Wales is of much less profound constitutional significance than that in relation to Scotland.It is not only the Law Society which believes that. The three hon. Members who represent Plaid Cymru take a similar view, I am sure.
§ Mr. Anderson
Is not my right hon. Friend missing the point, which is that there is in these proposals a certain dynamism which leads us far further along the road to separation? It is rather similar to the argument about it being only a very little baby. Many of us fear the road along which we are travelling.
§ Mr. Hughes
We have dealt with the "slippery slope" argument many times, but there are lessons in history which show equally that the failure to take reasonable steps in time compels Governments in the course of time, to take far more radical steps. I am surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), with his Welsh background, has not appreciated the lessons of Welsh and of Irish history.
§ Mr. Kinnock
It would be sterile to get into an argument about what are "major" and what are "minor" constitutional changes and about whether history is not more littered with the rewards of appeasement than with the necessity to make radical changes as a result of postponing modest changes. The latter is a matter that we can take up at greater length in later debates. However, since my right hon. Friend quoted the Law Society memorandum in aid of his proposition that this is a minor change, perhaps I may be allowed to read these words to him:The constitutional changes proposed are the most fundamental of their kind in Great Britain for centuries, and raise complex and far-reaching problems.I quote in my aid the White Paper (Command 6348) produced by Her Majesty's Government in November 1975.
§ Mr. Hughes
I was dealing specifically with the Welsh proposals. There is no 117 argument that, compared with the Scottish measures, they are modest. That is what the Law Society says, and I do not think that any hon. Member can disagree with them. But it would be intolerable and grossly insulting to the people of Wales, whatever their present views, to say to them "We are now taking Wales out of the Bill, and you will not get your vote, after all." As I understand it from the speech of the hon. Member for Pembroke, that is the stance of the Conservative Party.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Abse
If my right hon. Friend regards this matter as so peripheral and so modest, why is he making this enormous somersault and saying that he now belatedly accepts the idea of a referendum? Am I to understand that he really does not want a referendum, or that he does? The only slippery slope that we are seeing in my right hon. Friend's contribution so far is that he is sliding in a number of directions all at the same time.
§ Mr. Hughes
My difficulty is that I find it impossible to be as Machiavellian as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). He imputes motives to me that I do not possess. I thought that I had made it clear that I did not like referenda as a constitutional device. However, now that the Government have agreed to have a referendum, in response to Opposition Members and specifically to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool, I believe that the people of Wales should be given the opportunity to participate in it. What my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool aims to do, with the hon. Member for Pembroke, is to destroy the Welsh part of the Bill and so prevent the Welsh people being given the opportunity to express their view.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am obliged for your protection, Mr. Murton.
Last April, the hon. Member for Pembroke said about the call for a referendum:…If we are arguing about democracy we must be cautious in resisting that demand for for a referendum."— [Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 7th April 1976, c. 15.]I am not sure that I understand his brand of democracy. Is he afraid that the people of Wales will not vote in the way that he would like them to?
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
In order to create this referendum, does the right hon. Gentleman think that this House of Commons is obliged to pass bad legislation? Surely there are other ways of arriving at a referendum, if the House wishes, without having to vote for measures with which it disagrees.
§ Mr. Hughes
I will deal with that point immediately, and then I shall bring my speech to a conclusion because I know that other hon. Members hope to take part in the debate.
First, I remind the hon. Member for Pembroke that this House has already given the Bill a Second Reading and agreed to it in broad principle. To debate it in detail in Committee, as we should, is one thing. To destroy it in Committee and deprive the people of Wales of the chance to express their view is quite another.
Secondly, again in reply to the hon. Member for Pembroke, I would remind him that in Committee last Thursday we refused by a very large majority to exclude Scotland from the Bill. It would be offensive to the people of Wales to treat them differently. That is how it would be regarded in Wales.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If it is so offensive to treat the people of Wales differently from the people of Scotland in this regard, why not in the more substantial regard of totally different schemes?
§ Mr. Hughes
All that I am asking the Committee at the moment is for an opportunity to debate whether there should be advances towards the Scottish position or some other modifications in the Welsh proposals.
At present, there are differences of view on this issue in Wales. But there will be a united view throughout Wales if this attempt succeeds. I would not care to predict the repercussions and the consequences of treating us in such a fashion.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
I respectfully suggest that the question asked by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is extremely pertinent to this debate. Will the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) at least indicate his view? Does he believe that the powers conferred in this Bill are about right, too much, or too little?
§ Mr. Hughes
I regret that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) has not taken the trouble to listen to me on previous occasions on this issue. Broadly, I think that the proposals in the Bill are right. I have reservations about some matters of detail and I shall refer to them in detail if the Bill proceeds through its Committee stage. But, broadly, I think that they are reasonable. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.
I believe that it is our task to proceed to a constructive examination of these Welsh proposals in Committee. I hope that we shall have enough sense to enable this to be done.
§ Sir David Renton
The Committee may wonder why I seek to intervene in a debate about Wales. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I confess that I have no Welsh blood. I represent an English constituency. It is not only because I adore Wales and the Welsh that I seek to intervene. It is because, like all the members of the Kilbrandon Commission, I favoured a directly-elected Assembly for Wales. However, we were divided four ways as to what kind of Assembly there should be, and what powers it should have. 120 Three of us, including myself, wanted a consultative and advisory Assembly with no legislative or executive powers.
At the time the Kilbrandon Report was published I issued a personal statement in which I said:Wales has for centuries had the same legal system as England, and there is neither the need nor the wide demand for Wales to have a separate legislature. Indeed, it is significant that in their evidence to the Commission neither the Welsh Council, the Association of Welsh Local Authorities, nor the Welsh Counties Committee urged that there should be one".I must say that with the opportunity to reflect since then and study the legislation of this House which affects Wales, I really cannot see what advantage would be derived for the Welsh people from having a separate legislature.
What about the transfer of the mass of executive functions from the Secretary of State to the Welsh Assembly? It would be a confusing and costly process, especially as the Secretary of State would still be answerable to this House of Commons for a wide range of matters. I am afraid that he would administer these matters, for which the Welsh Assembly would also have a responsibility, by breathing down the necks of the Welsh.
Schedule 4, invoked by Clause 24, shows that there are no fewer than 35 enactments, many of them very important, on which the Assembly cannot act at all without the consent of the Secretary of State. In Schedule 5, powers can be exercised by either of them concurrently. That reminds one of the old Welsh definition of the difference between a collision and an explosion. It is:In a collision there you are but in an explosion, well where are you?Even in fully devolved matters the Assembly is not entirely free to act as it thinks best, because if what it proposes to do involves or is affected by the implementation of any EEC obligations, it will not be able to act, except with the permission of the Government as expressed in an Order in Council. The Assembly will have to go through all that palaver. I ask hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies to consider all the implications of that, because the EEC obligations now include the whole of agriculture, which is the largest industry in Wales, coal and steel, because 121 we are in the European Coal and Steel Community, and an ever-widening range of economic and social matters.
Therefore, it seems to me that the provisions of this Bill are a blueprint for confusion and conflict.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) in an exceedingly constructive and telling speech, said that the two charming Welsh Members of the Royal Commission are demanding that we pass these unworkable proposals so that the Welsh people can decide whether they want them or not, and the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) said that we should let the Welsh people decide for themselves. I say with respect to him—and I have a long-standing regard for him—that we do not do any service to the Welsh people by asking them even to consider this incomprehensible hotch-potch of overlapping and conflicting responsibilities. It is no compliment to say to them, in effect, "Here is a dog's dinner of devolution. Eat it, or do not touch it, as you please."
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Would not the right hon. and learned Member agree that this is just the beginning of the Committee stage which gives us an opportunity to put improvements into the Bill and to make it more acceptable to the Welsh people in a referendum? If he is concerned about overlapping responsibilities, would he support a federal system, which would avoid that?
§ Sir David Renton
As I explained when we debated the White Paper last January, along with other members of the Kilbrandon Commission I reject the federalist argument. As for amending this Bill and knocking it into a rational shape which the Welsh people can understand, this is not feasible while all the Welsh provisions are so interlocked with those affecting Scotland with its different legal system. Scottish legislation has been separately enacted for Scotland, while legislation for Wales has been enacted for the whole of the United Kingdom, or for England and Wales jointly.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
If the right hon. and learned Member believes that the provisions for Wales in this Bill will lead to confusion and difficulties in our 122 relationship with the EEC, would he not agree, on the ground of the comparative modesty of the proposals for Wales compared with those for Scotland, that there is even greater confusion in relation to Scotland? Will he accept that some of us cannot help but feel, with the greatest respect, that his argument is both specious and disingenuous?
§ Sir David Renton
I would have to make another speech in order to deal with that intervention. I simply say to the hon. Member that I do not consider that the proposals for Wales or Scotland are either modest or workable. I promised to make a short speech and I am not prepared to follow up that interjection.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
Taking up the point about the separate legal system in Scotland, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman assist the Committee in saying how this affects the issue? For example, how does it affect roads, housing, health and local government or, indeed, any other matter on which the Welsh Assembly will be called to make a decision?
§ Sir David Renton
If we do come to consider in detail at a later part of the Committee stage the exact functions for Wales, the hon. Gentleman will have a clearer understanding then of the confusion which is bound to arise. I have drawn attention already to the conflicts on issues where the Secretary of State's consent is needed, on issues where either the Secretary of State or the Assembly can exercise concurrent responsibility, and on EEC issues. That is quite enough confusion to start with without going further into details of the Bill, which we shall examine much more deeply later.
I conclude by saying that in my opinion the Welsh, in the government of Britain, have never had it so good as they have today. Even in the days of Lloyd George they never had it so good. Mr. Speaker, the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary are all native Welshmen. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the House of Commons represent Welsh constituencies. There is a spendid native Welshman as the Secretary of State for Wales, and there are half a dozen to a dozen other Welsh 123 Members occupying important positions in the Government.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The right hon. Gentleman should not forget Roy Jenkins, who is President of the European Commission.
§ Sir David Renton
I say to my Welsh Friends, for whom I have enormous affection and admiration—I have spent many happy times in Wales—let them continue, subject to a change of Government, of course, with the job which they do as well as they can of governing of Britain. I suggest that they will do that job very much better than the Welsh people are likely to do it if we present them with this dog's dinner of an attempt at devolution.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)
It would, perhaps, be of assistance to the Committee if I intervened at this stage. We have heard from the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) a regurgitation in large part of his Second Reading speech. If I do not follow his invitation and deal with each and every point, it is because I do not intend to repeat myself. I am sure that there will be ample opportunity in the course of our deliberations on the Bill to deal with the points raised, in particular with those regarding the nominated bodies.
I was flattered by the reference made by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) to the number of Welsh office holders. I confess that I have no immediate ambition to become Secretary of State for Scotland. The difficulty for the Opposition is that there is hardly ever an opportunity for an elected Welsh Tory Member to hold office in any Tory Government.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Does not the Secretary of State agree that the reference made by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) to the eminent Welshmen in political positions was an indication not that Wales has never had it so good but that Welshmen have never had it so good?
§ Mr. Morris
I am sure that Tory Members hope that the pattern will be repeated.
Hardly anything that happens in the House of Commons surprises me, not even this attempt in Committee, so soon after the House of Commons gave a Second Reading to the Scotland and Wales Bill, to strike out Wales, going to the very heart of the Bill as it affects the Principality.
§ Mr. Morris
I would not use a word as strong as that, neither would I follow the abuse that has been hurled at me from both sides of the House about this measure. I hope to deal with the matter as objectively as I can.
I have already stated that the status quo is not an option for Wales. I have challenged the Government's critics as to what they would do. What are their alternatives? All we get are a few flimsy, half-baked proposals—for example, to strengthen the Welsh Office, and to increase the power of a nonelected advisory council. A few other things may be thrown in to make the weight.
Over the years the Welsh Office has acquired various new functions, but the problem now is how to increase democratic control over the exercise of those functions and other important central government functions in Wales. Even on purely administrative decentralisation, the Tory record is poor. In considering the sincerity of the Tories' approach, we should remind ourselves that they opposed the setting up of the Welsh Office. When the Welsh Office was being set up they did not understand its implications. When they were in power before 1964 they ensured that there was no proper executive responsibility or a separate Department of State.
My contention is that they did not understand the significance of the event when my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), the then Prime Minister set up the Welsh Office. In the first Welsh Grand Committee debate after the setting up of the Welsh Office the then Tory spokesman for Wales, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph)—he is still 125 with us, though not present today; perhaps his interest in Welsh affairs was transient—in summing up his case in the debate on the functions of the Secretary of State for Wales and constitutional changes said:I will sum up my case by these last words: Wales has a widely respected Minister with a sonorous new title, but his powers have been cut".—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 16th December 1964; c. 9.]He could find nothing to say about the late Mr. James Griffiths other than that he was a widely respected Minister with a sonorous new title. That was the official Opposition Front Bench former Minister for Welsh Affairs taking the Welsh Grand Committee into his confidence on what had taken place.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that Deeside, for example, has a great affinity with Merseyside? A natural region with an economic and cultural centre could be based on Deeside and Merseyside rather than on the artificial division which is now likely to produce a rigid barrier between the North region and Merseyside? What will be the position of Englishmen who live on Deeside but who come from Merseyside, and the people who live in Liverpool but who come from Wales?
§ Mr. Morris
I fully understand my hon. Friend's contention and the economic draw between one area and another, but I can hardly see how his intervention arises from my delineation of the basis for the setting up of the office of Secretary of State by a Merseyside Member of Parliament, unless my hon. Friend wants to put back the clock and do away with that office. That decision was taken in 1964, and no Welsh Member—not even a Tory Member—wants to put back the clock before 1964. If any hon. Member does, I should like to hear of it.
I am concerned, but not surprised, by the suggestion for increasing the powers—
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
The Secretary of State quoted a comment made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). Does he recall that, at the time when the new office was initiated, the Secretary of State took responsibility only for a narrow range of powers—housing, local govern- 126 ment and transport? My right hon. Friend was obviously referring to the fact that the previous Minister for Welsh Affairs, although he had no direct departmental supervision, was responsible for the whole range of powers, whereas with the change to the new office, his powers were limited. Does not the Secretary of State feel on reflection that he might have slightly misrepresented the position?
§ Mr. Morris
I do not think so, when the right hon. Gentleman was relying on that remark as the summary of his argument. If the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) will do me the favour of reading that speech, he will see that his right hon. Friend was discussing the question of the Vote—there had not been one before—relating to the transformation of the office, limited though the functions might be. My recollection is that the functions were set out by the then Prime Minister in the House in the middle of November, before the debate.
What the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East failed to understand was that there had been a change to a Minister with a separate Vote, which was what began the growth of the Welsh Office under both Governments. Although I concede that there was a mess caused by giving Wales half of education and not the whole, that is another argument. The right hon. Gentleman failed to understand the nature of the change of the office.
I was on the point of dealing with the suggestion to increase the powers of an advisory council. That is a typical Tory approach. Tories have everything to fear from democracy. They love nominated bodies because the power of nomination is the Tories' only hope of keeping their influence in Wales, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) has repeatedly said. Our proposals extend and deepen democracy in Wales. It is the party that has been consistently rejected by the people of Wales that fears our proposals; no one on the Labour Benches should have anything to fear. As the holder of the office of Secretary of State for Wales, I am flattered by those who want to perpetuate it and even to extend it. But what the people of Wales must realise is that to act in that way is to ensure Tory rule in Wales under a Conservative United Kingdom Government if one is 127 ever elected again, with regard to the functions that could and should be devolved to the control of the majority of the people in Wales. It is this process of democratisation that is the essence of the Tory fear of an elected Assembly. The more people realise that, the better.
I find it odd that Conservative Members who were worthy advocates of a referendum should now, when we have agreed to hold one, want to deprive the people of Wales of the right to express their view on the Government's proposal. Conservative Members have tried to bluster this one out. I watched the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) on television. He said that even if it were deleted from the Bill—I hope that I am not misinterpreting him—Wales could still have a referendum. Who is he kidding? What nonsense was he perpetrating?
§ Mr. Morris
I shall give way in a moment. I do not want to be unfair or to mislead the House. That is the last thing that I want to do.
Who was the hon. Member for Conway trying to kid? He was driven into a corner. He knew he had no defence and he sought to brazen it out.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that we would all be greatly assisted if we had a sight of the clauses that the Government are supposed to be bringing forward that will govern the referendum?
§ Mr. Morris
Would that affect the hon. Gentleman's vote tonight? The hon. Gentleman knows that he was cornered when he was interview the other night.
§ Mr. Morris
The immediate reaction of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards), if he knows that he has a bad case, is to shout "Rubbish". That is his usual incantation. The hon. Member for Conway knows that he was cornered, and the sooner he admits it the better. He should know that the Government intend to hold a referendum on the Bill. We shall bring forward our proposals as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Morris
I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. If there is no Bill affecting Wales, there can be no referendum on the Bill. It is as simple as that.
§ Mr. Abse
I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend would like to tell the Committee how many times, and in how many places, he said adamantly in the Principality that under no circumstances should there be or would there be a referendum? With what brass does he now suggest that he is the great defender of the referendum? It was not until he was defeated in Cabinet, and until the matter was imposed on him largely as a result of the efforts of Labour Members, that he conceded the right of the people of Wales to be able to make their own decision. Does he think that the people of Wales do not see through such humbug—namely, that he of all people should profess to be the defender of the referendum?
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend should not get steamed up. He is very good at exaggeration. Already this afternoon he has accused me of being Machiavellian. I do not intend to follow him into the gutter by using such words. What I have done repeatedly is to advance to the House of Commons—I have done so at Question Time in reply to my hon. Friend—the difficulties that would arise from a referendum proposal. I said repeatedly in the House that the Government had no proposals for a referendum. My hon. Friend and others have strongly advocated a referendum and we have graciously given way. We said before we published our Bill that we did not intend in any dogmatic fashion to propose a Bill without being willing to hear reasoned argument. We have heard the argument and we have acceded to the proposal. In that case our gracious accession to the proposal should be met in exactly the same way by my hon. Friend.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My right hon. and learned Friend said something a short while ago that was new to me although it may not have been to other hon. Members—namely, that the referendum is to be a referendum on the Bill. Do we deduce from that that the question of the referendum will be along the lines 129 "Do you accept the Government's devolution Bill?" If that is not to be the question, have the Government any thinking as to precisely what the referendum question is to be?
§ Mr. Morris
I was using a form of shorthand when dealing with the thoughts and imaginations of the hon. Member for Conway. As for the possibility of a referendum without a provision in the Bill, the form of a referendum or referenda will be put to the House of Commons at the earliest possible moment. I am not able to assist my hon. Friend with detail at this stage.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say with any degree of conviction, and without the Committee having the referendum clauses before it, that the referendum is affected one way or the other by this amendment?
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the referendum proposals will be put to the House of Commons at the earliest possible moment. Are we to take it from that that an amendment will be tabled this week or next week to enable the Committee to debate what the Government propose, or is it meant that a new clause will be introduced at the end of the proceedings in Committee, which will defer consideration for many weeks? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give us an explicit answer?
§ Mr. Morris
No decision has yet been taken. This matter has been considered and we shall ensure that an appropriate provision will be brought before the House for consideration. The form of that provision will be considered—namely, whether it shall be an amendment or a new clause. That is a matter that is now being considered, but the provision will be brought before the House of Commons so that it can deal with the matter in good time before the Bill becomes an enactment.
§ Mr. Kinnock
On the subject of the way in which we conduct our business and whether people are in the gutter, I share my right hon. and learned Friend's view, as I am sure does by hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), 130 that the gutter would be a bad place for Members of Parliament, and above all for comrades on the same side of the Chamber, to conduct our business.
It occurs to me that it was not with graciousness or charitable forethought that my right hon. and learned Friend described me last year as one of the referendum boyos. That appeared to me to be a deliberately pejorative description of the belief that I have and will continue to have in the necessity for a referendum on devolution to Wales. The form that it takes will still decide what attitude Labour Members take to the whole referendum issue. I hope that the Government will be approaching the problem with great urgency and clarity of thought. If the question does not reflect a satisfactory examination and a satisfactory measure of the way that people in Wales feel about a referendum, support will be short lived.
§ Mr. Morris
When the matter is brought before the House of Commons, I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to consider it and to consider his views. I have no doubt that he will wish to consider the stance that he takes when the matter is debated at the appropriate time.
§ Mr. Morris
No, I shall not give way. I have given way on a great many occasions.
What I find odd is the difference between the approach of the Tory Party tonight and its approach on Thursday when we were dealing with Scotland. What did the Tory Party spokesman for Scotland have to say for himself? I have furnished myself with a copy of Hansard, and it seems that the hon. Gentleman said:We made clear from the beginning that we would vote against the Second Reading of the Bill and that from the moment the Second Reading was approved by a majority that we would be constructive in our approach to the Bill.That was the hon. Gentleman's defence for not voting for the Scottish amendment on Thursday. Why is there a difference in approach tonight? How can the Opposition differentiate between Scotland on the one hand and Wales on the other? How can the spokesman for Scotland put 131 up a different defence, and how can we have what has been described in strong words—I do not intend to enter into personal abuse—in another way today?
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) said:As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made clear, the Conservative Opposition"—we thought that this was great news—will be approaching the Bill in a constructive way, seeking to improve and amend it. In these circumstances, it would be unfair to suggest that we should remove Scotland entirely from the Bill. That would prevent us from putting forward constructive amendments."—[Official Report, 13th January 1977; Vol. 923, c. 1789, 1791.]Why is there a difference in the approach tonight? Why should it be unfair to seek to deprive the people of Scotland of the opportunity by an amendment in like terms to the one that we are now debating and yet to adopt a completely different approach today?
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
There seem to be two very good reasons, both of which I have already given. First, the Government have denied us the opportunity to consider the Welsh issue separately. That point has already been made by many of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's hon. Friends. This amendment will give us the opportunity to decide the issue separately on its merits. Secondly, the whole concept of a non-legislative executive Assembly is non-amendable nonsense. It is fundamentally unsound, as I sought to argue. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not sought to deal with the criticisms made of the Bill in the 25 minutes which he has taken so far.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman may try to brazen this matter out, but the whole country knows that it is utterly illogical to seek to approach the Scottish position in the way that the Opposition did.
§ Mr. Morris
Otherwise, they should have advised their colleagues, as they dared not do, to vote with them on Thursday night in the same way as, I understand, they are advising them to vote this evening.
Of course, we must examine the details of the Bill. I have made it clear that 132 neither I nor any of my colleagues regard ourselves as having a monopoly of wisdom, certainly not on a constitutional matter of this importance. In no sense is the Bill akin to the Tablets of Moses. We will listen to the views of hon. Members and, if the arguments are convincing, agree to amendments with good grace. But that is a wholly different matter, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) said, from cutting out the whole of our provisions for Wales.
The Conservative Party should think again about the ridiculous posture that it has taken in Wales. I shall not weary the House by reading the leading article in today's Liverpool Daily Post, where the whole of this matter is exposed.
The Conservative Opposition have always been against change in Wales—long before their opposition to the Welsh Office. Our generation finds it difficult to imagine the heat engendered by Chuch disestablishment in Wales around the turn of this century and over the next couple of decades. It was much the same as the opposition to the setting up of the Welsh Office.
§ Mr. Morris
No. I was castigated for taking 25 minutes for my speech so far. I do not intend to give way.
Two generations ago, opinion in Wales was deeply divided by the argument on disestablishment, and no one was more vociferous than the then Bishop of St. Asaph. His name happened to be Edwards. I understand that he was a distinguished relative of the hon. Member for Pembroke. What we have heard from the hon. Gentleman today in the House and elsewhere has aroused an aura of the controversy of those years. But we should remember that at the end of the controversy, when an Act of Parliament was passed to disestablish the Church, the same Bishop became the first Archbishop of Wales, and he brought his energy and ability to the service of what he described asthe new province of Wales.He then took great pride in the achievements of the new order in Wales. He acknowledged its advantages, not the least of which was the new concord and sense 133 of purpose which had been brought to the life of the Principality. The Archbishop said in his memoirs:A new and utterly unexpected power had appeared. Disunited Wales may often have been, but now the nation arose and thronging voices of approval came from far and wide.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
The Committee is fascinated by this lesson in Welsh history and the exploits of my distinguished relative. However, as the Secretary of State is now coming towards the end of his speech, perhaps he will deal with the specific criticisms which have been made of his measure on the questions of nominated bodies and the whole process of legislation as these matters have not been dealt with by Ministers either in Committee or in any other discussions. Surely the object of the Committee stage is that Ministers should reply to criticisms. The Committee is entitled to expect the Secretary of State to reply to some of the criticisms which have been made of his measure rather than to deal, as he has done, with long-past history.
§ Mr. Morris
I was seeking to show the consistency of the Tory Party on this measure, on the Welsh Office, and on a previous measure.
§ Mr. Morris
Later. I do not think that the hon. Member for Pembroke was present when I began my speech. I said that I did not propose to follow every hare that he raised but would in due course, when dealing specifically with the nominated bodies, seek to advance, and in the process educate him on, what we propose to do. The hon. Gentleman may have missed the gist of the proposals which were set out in our last supplementary White Paper dealing with the nominated bodies.
§ Mr. Grist
As the Secretary of State has persisted in the charge that the Conservative Party has always opposed change and that, by implication, the Labour Party has always been in favour of change in Wales, will he tell the Committee what the Labour Government did in that respect between 1945 and 1951? Does he not recognise that a Minister of State for Welsh Affairs, the Welsh Grand Committee and the annual Welsh 134 Day debate were instituted during the 13 years of Conservative Government which followed? What did the Labour Government do between 1945 and 1951 when they had an overwhelming majority and in their manifesto were pledged to the concept of a Secretary of State for Wales?
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman is wholly wrong about the manifesto. The concept of a Secretary of State for Wales grew over a number of years. The significance of that office, completely misunderstood by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North East, was wholly different and in a completely different ball game from the kind of cosmetic non-elected advisory bodies set up by the Conservative Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton took the most important step of all, in my view, because he ensured that there was a separate Vote for the Secretary of State for Wales. The incumbent of that office was made accountable to the House of Commons. It was from that time that we saw the real growth of administrative decentralisation. We are now seeking to democratise what was begun for the first time in 1964.
§ Mr. Heffer
Earlier my right hon. and learned Friend referred to the disestablishment of the Church in Wales. Is he aware that many of us believed that that was a great mistake because we felt that there should have been disestablishment of the Church in England as well?
§ Mr. Morris
If I give way any more, I shall be entering into the realm of a Second Reading debate which will have only a bare relevance to these proceedings.
§ Mr. Morris
I am sure that the hon. and learned Member will seek to catch the Chairman's eye later in the debate. If I have misinterpreted the facts, my right hon. Friend will deal with the matter in his winding-up speech.
I shall not enter into personal abuse—
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Morris
I shall not pursue what my hon. Friend the Member for Ponty-pool (Mr. Abse) said. I have read each of his comments in these debates and I shall not pursue him in the words and abuse which he has hurled at me. I have deliberately kept clear of that. Each hon. Member is responsible for his own words in the House of Commons, and my hon. Friend may well regret what he has said about me in the past.
I shall not today remind the Committee unduly of the taunts of hon. Members of the nationalist party that we were filibustering in preparing the Bill. They must acknowledge that the sheer evidence of the detail of the Bill and its workmanlike nature are proof of the hard work done. Our proposals were brought to the House at the earliest possible opportunity.
Of course, some people like the nationalists want to go further—and I am glad that they acknowledge that—because they are primarily separatists. But the opening words of the Bill make it clear that we stand for the unity of the United Kingdom. We reject separatism, we reject the whole posture of separate statehood—separate armies, separate navies, separate air forces, a separate economy—which are implicit in the views of the nationalist party. And so does Wales. But in asking the Committee to reject the amendments, I am happy to kill off any suggestion that our proposals were not welcomed in Wales and that they were not properly put to the people of Wales at the last election.
I remind the Committee that this specific issue has been discussed by the Labour 136 Party in Wales as far back as 1965, that we set up the Royal Commission on the Constitution, and that we gave our evidence to the Commission. The party opposite ignored the Commission. We have never had a word of explanation as to why it did so. The Commission came to Cardiff, but there was still no sign of the hon. Gentlemen or their predecessors. No wonder the people of Wales are forced to conclude that they are mere opportunists and that they care not one whit for Wales.
We made our views quite clear in the two manifestos of 1974. We consulted all the major bodies, including in particular the political parties. We were fortified by the fact that the majority favoured something along the lines of what we proposed. Against us were the Tory Party, the CBI, the NFU, the CLA—and the National Bus Company.
I want to draw the attention of the House to a letter which was recently sent to hon. Members by the Welsh Counties Committee. It is dated 14th January and reads:I am instructed by the Chairman of the Welsh Counties Committee … to say that the Welsh Counties Committee … is appalled that the Association of County Councils".I recall the Leader of the Opposition relying on previous communications from the Association of County Councils in one of our other debates on devolution. The letter states that the committee is appalled that the associationshould write to Members of Parliament in Wales to support amendments to the Devolution Bill which will take Wales out of the Bill.I shall not read the whole of the letter, but another part states:The resolution of the Committee is to ask for a referendum and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman are appalled that the Association of County Councils, being mainly English Counties, should have taken the unprecedented step of supporting a resolution to take Wales out of the Devolution Bill without even the courtesy of consultation with the Welsh Counties Committee. I hope that you will make this situation plain in the House of Commons and that the Welsh Counties Committee disassociates itself from the steps taken by the Association of County Councils.We published our first White Paper in September 1974. There was no question of this being in the small print of our manifesto. Our conclusions, with 137 all the attendant publicity, were spelt out. We went into the election. I dealt with the issue when in the company of my hon. Friends I did a party political broadcast. The whole of Wales knows our commitment, and I am confident that when the people are given the opportunity—which Opposition hon. Members seek to deny them—they will endorse our proposals.
From 1852 to today is a long time to be a minority party in any country. That is the history of the Tory Party in Wales. Since 1852 it has spoken for the minority, because Wales does not forget its past. That is why the Tory Party is fighting tonight to avoid majority rule. It will continue to be the voice of the minority because Wales will neither forget the past nor forgive the present.
Wales knows that the clock cannot be put back. Defeat tonight will not end the argument but will prolong it. It will be a running sore in Wales, because I am convinced that Wales does want more democratic control over institutions in the Principality. I advise the House to reject the amendment.
§ Mr. Hooson
When the Secretary of State suggested that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) should emulate his distinguished great uncle and as a result of the Bill become the Chief Executive in a Welsh State, he was using the most effective argument possible against the Bill.
The Bill has many deficiencies, but it is the only Bill that we have. The Committee has to consider whether it will go along with what is virtually a wrecking amendment, because the effect of the amendment is to deny the Welsh people, even those who have serious misgivings about the Bill or who might be against it in a referendum, any debate in depth on the merit of the Bill. That is the unacceptable procedure that has been adopted by the Conservative Opposition.
I have made clear that I believe that there should have been a separate Bill for Wales and that the decision to have a joint Bill was a tactical one. In retrospect, it may prove to be a major tactical error. However, the Government took a decision and this is the only Bill that we have.
138 If Scotland had been dealt with first, Wales, through a separate Bill, would have been more likely to have meaningful and effective devolution. It would have been possible to benefit from the debate on the Scottish issue. The views of the House could have been more crystallised because Scotland is already at a more advanced stage of devolution.
We are debating an amendment which is designed simply to wreck the Welsh part of the Bill completely and to ensure that there is no debate on Wales hereafter. For example, one of the most interesting matters in the Bill is contained in Clauses 22 and 23. Clause 22 makes the Welsh Assembly an executive body for Wales. It confers executive functions upon the Welsh Assembly. However, Clause 23 confers upon that Assembly the rôle of a subordinate legislature, and here there is a direct clash of principle. The old idea that democracy depends in the end upon a separation of powers and upon the control of the Executive by the legislature is directly in conflict with the joint provisions of Clauses 22 and 23. The debates we shall have on those clauses will be extremely serious.
Let us consider, however, what would be the effect of accepting the amendment. First, it would deprive us completely of the opportunity of debating this vital matter. It seems to me that it is time that the debate was elevated above the squalid party squabble that always develops between the Conservative Front Bench and the Government in its attacks. I absolutely disagree with the hon. Member for Pembroke. I could understand him voting against Third Reading, as he voted against Second Reading, in deciding that the Bill should not become law. However, the attitude adopted towards this issue by his party's spokesman on Scottish affairs is much more commendable than the attitude he has adopted.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that we had been engaged in squalid party attacks. It he had listened more carefully to my speech, he would have conceded that I made no squalid attacks but that I dealt in detail with the reasons why I thought the proposals were bad. It was the Secretary of State who indulged for about 35 minutes in a squalid party attack and made not the slightest attempt to review 139 the criticisms which had been put forward.
§ Mr. Hooson
The hon. Member for Pembroke repeated this evening his good Second Reading speech. I agree that there are points to attack in the Bill. I have serious misgivings about parts of it, and I, unlike the hon. Member for Pembroke, am a convinced devolutionist. The amendment is designed to take Wales out of the Bill. In other words, the vote on it will be the same vote as took place on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of his constituency interests. Since he represents a constituency containing fairly substantial forests, he should be aware that among the many misgivings about the Bill is one that the Forestry Commission will be broken up. I am not trying to score a party point, and I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's point of view. However, since he represents a substantial sector of the Welsh forests, he should say how he feels about the effect of the Bill on those forests.
§ Mr. Hooson
I am glad to say that I do not represent forests. I represent people. In that respect I am distinguished from the hon. Gentleman. I believe that the right time to deal with such specialised interests is when we come to the clauses dealing with forestry and the powers of the Commission. These are very important interests, not only in my part of the world but in Scotland as well.
However, since the Bill is the only means of extensive debate that we shall have on devolution, and since we have got this far, for heaven's sake do not let us lose the opportunity of dealing with the Bill in depth. Many important principles have to be dealt with, whether we approve of the Bill as it is, whether it is approved in some much more amended form or whether it is defeated and is eventually replaced by another Bill. There are very important matters which the House has hardly touched upon as yet. Therefore, the tactics of the Opposition in this regard are mistaken.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
The hon. and learned Gentleman compared the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) with the attitude 140 towards devolution of our colleagues in Scotland. Is he not aware that, whereas our Scottish colleagues commended to their electorates in two or three successive General Elections a separate Assembly for Scotland, those who contested the Welsh constituencies for the Conservative Party did not do so?
§ Mr. Hooson
I understand that point of view. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that on Second Reading and Third Reading he and his colleagues will vote against the Bill, I can understand that. That is a perfectly consistent viewpoint. Where I am really at issue with the Opposition, however, is that to adopt the tactics they have adopted at this stage is to say to the people of Wales not only that they are not to have the Bill but that they are not even to have a discussion in depth on it in the House of Commons. Like the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, I believed that there should be a separate Bill for Wales. The difference is that they want a separate Bill so that they can defeat it; I want a separate Bill because of the greater benefits which would flow from it.
This issue of devolution is of vital importance and this is the first opportunity that the House of Commons has had of going into the matter in depth, as opposed simply simply to exchanging general views across the Floor of the House. Therefore, it would be criminal to exclude Wales from the Bill at present. I shall certainly be supporting the Government tonight against this particular, amendment.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Some of the speeches that have been made this evening have seemed to indicate that those who hold certain opinions treat the opinions of others with a degree of contempt and refuse to admit that any sincerity is expressed apart from that expressed in their own contributions. I implore those who have already spoken, including the Minister, to heed my experience both in the House and outside it—I cannot speak for the whole of Wales—which shows that, apart from those who strongly favour separatism, this issue is causing deeper concern to many people in Wales than any other issue in recent years.
141 I know that the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) spoke in rather light-hearted terms about the slippery slope, but I can assure the Minister that there are many people in Wales who fear that the Bill could be the beginning of that slippery slope. It is not that they do not want any kind of devolution or any kind of representative institution to give voice to the peculiar differences which exist within the Principality. Their fear is that there is within the Bill the possible beginning of a movement to separate Wales from the rest of the United Kingdom, particularly England.
I saw a lot of force in the intervention by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who pointed out that there are many people in parts of Merseyside and North Wales whose interests, jobs and prosperity are almost inextricably interwoven. There are great differences within Wales, of course. Wales consists of three or four different kinds of people. There are those who are strongly Welsh-speaking. Then there are those who speak a modicum of Welsh but who are chiefly English-speaking. Thirdly, there are those who have no Welsh at all. Some of them are of Welsh parentage, but some are not. Finally, there are those who have arrived among us fairly recently, and those whose families have been established in Wales for 100 years or more but who are still not Welsh-speaking. The interests of these different peoples are diverse, and so are their anxieties.
If there are those in any part of the Committee who regard this issue in a light-hearted manner and who believe that devolution should go through like a relentless steamroller because there is nothing to fear from it, I can assure them that many people who have spoken to me about the issue do not share their view.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey—and, I think, the Secretary of State—asked why we took different attitudes to the Bill at different stages. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that possibly a majority of those who voted for me want the Bill defeated at any stage and by any method.
§ Sir R. Gower
The hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head. I respect his 142 views, but what I say is the case. I have had the benefit of representing my constituency for 25 years and I know something of my constituents' wishes and views.
§ Mr. Hooson
I think that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would be far better for his constituents and the country, if the Bill is to be defeated, that it is defeated after adequate debate.
§ Sir R. Gower
Yes, but on the other hand they would feel that we as individuals would be doing less than our duty if we did not examine the Bill in detail at every stage and contest it fiercely. That is what they want me to do. They are very anxious about what they regard as frightening legislation. In their view, it could tear families apart. They may be misguided and completely exaggerating the danger, but one has to accept people as they are, not as they should be.
I hope that most of these fears are unwise, exaggerated or unfounded, but the fact remains that many people feel that the British Isles and the British people say something important and have given something of value to a large part of the world and that if we destroyed their unity it would be to our ultimate regret. I hope that this will also be the view of those who in Scotland also seem determined to tear the United Kingdom asunder.
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Gentleman paints a picture of many of his constituents being under grave misapprehensions about the consequences of the Bill. His hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) has called for a referendum without discussion in Committee. Does not the hon. Gentleman feel that a referendum would come better after a discussion in Committee, when his constituents would have a better understanding of the Bill?
§ Sir R. Gower
No, I certainly do not. I do not like the idea of a referendum limited to the terms of the Bill, as this one will be. I should like a much wider referendum so that people could answer separate questions on a number of issues. That does not seem possible within the restrictions imposed by the Bill, so I should prefer a separate referendum.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that it might also be difficult to have the same questions in referenda for Wales and Scotland? For example, so far as I am concerned, no referendum question would be complete in a Scottish context unless there were a fairly explanatory reference to the oil revenues from the North Sea.
§ Sir R. Gower
That is a separate issue on which I am not qualified to speak in a Scottish context. But the terms of a referendum on something which arouses such great differences within parties as well as among people living in different parts of the United Kingdom are obviously difficult to frame.
In reply to the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), I would on the whole prefer a referendum which went beyond the terms of the Bill and permitted a wider question or perhaps two or three questions. The question which, within the terms of the Bill, seems likely is "Do you approve or not of what the Government propose?" That is too limited.
I can imagine that many people would approve of a different form of devolution. I should. I do not like devolution which sets such paramount importance by Scotland and Wales and gives hardly any attention to England. I do not like the title of the Bill. It is completely wrong. If we want devolution, it should be the "United Kingdom Devolution Bill". That is why I have put down an amendment—
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
While he is talking about the particular form of the question, does not the hon. Gentleman think that it would be a good thing to have two questions—first, whether people want to accept the measure as passed in Parliament and, second, whether they want separatism? That would satisfy the very human desire to be able to vote "Yes" and "No" on the same ballot paper.
§ Sir R. Gower
That would be an improvement certainly on a single question. But I had left that issue.
I should prefer the title to be "United Kingdom Devolution Bill". Then, all our attention would not be focused on the differences between Wales and Scotland on the one hand and the rest of the Kingdom on the other. How much better it 144 would have been had there been proposals at the same time to set up assemblies in a province perhaps to be called Northumbria or in the South-West of England. Then we should have had the basis of something which would not appear to break up the United Kingdom or advance a separate treatment for Wales and Scotland.
§ Sir R. Gower
I am not frightened by federalism. I would far prefer a federal system to the present Bill, which is open-ended. With this system, if things became difficult or turned sour, those on the Assemblies would be only human if they said either that they had not enough power or that they had not enough money. In both cases the responsibility would rest here at Westminster.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
On a point of order. Is the hon. Gentleman in order in arguing as he is? He seems to be arguing not about the amendment but about the case for having devolution to Scotland and Wales or for not having it.
§ Sir R. Gower
What I am saying is directly related to the amendment. I said that I could much more easily support a measure extending this system to parts of England as well. The real difficulty I face is that by limiting the provisions of the Bill to Scotland and Wales we are establishing the idea that these are very different parts of the United Kingdom which can go their separate ways.
§ Sir R. Gower
They are in some degree, with their separate cultures and so on, but they are not totally different in all parts. There are more similarities than differences. There are more good qualities shared by people in all the different parts of the United Kingdom than there are differences which need separate attention.
Somewhat reluctantly, at the end of the day—whatever the Secretary of State may say—the Government have said that we shall have a referendum. But we are given no details of the proposal which the Government will add to the Bill. Because they have made this general promise of a referendum, they suggest that everyone with doubts and anxieties about the inclusion of Wales should 145 immediately abandon all examination or opposiion and vote for the Bill enthusiastically.
That would make nonsense of what my hon. Friends and I have said in election addresses at the last three General Elections, on public platforms and in all previous public statements on this subject. The Secretary of State implies that only he and his colleagues have any interest at all in the future welfare of the Principality.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Sir R. Gower
The right hon. and learned Gentleman implied it. He said that the Conservatives had never had any such interest. He implied that all the useful things that had been done were done by him and his predecessors. He neglected to remind the Committee that the first Minister for Welsh Affairs was appointed by Sir Winston Churchill in 1951. He also forgot to remind the Committee that later a Minister of State was added by a Conservative Government, and he conveniently also forgot to add that after the institution of the Welsh Office it was a Conservative Government who added education to the functions of the Welsh Office. All these were quite important advances in the evolutionary process.
§ Mr. John Morris
The hon. Gentleman might conveniently read Sir John Colville's account of the time when he was private secretary to Sir Winston Churchill and how the then Government sought to appoint the first junior Minister with some responsibility for Wales, a matter in which I understand the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was also involved. When it was discovered that there were too many Parliamentary Secretaries, the Tory method of appointing a junior Minister was to send for "Burke's Peerage". The Tories started at the letter "A" and eventually found someone whose name began with the letter "L".
§ Mr. John Morris
That is right. That man, whose name began with "L1", was sent for. He happened to be caring for his pigs at the time. There has not been 146 for many a year any instance of an elected Tory Member for Wales being allowed to have a hand in any ministerial office.
§ Sir R. Gower
While I might derive great advantage from reading John Colville, I prefer to examine the statements of John Morris. I am referring to the Secretary of State's statement, not to anyone else's.
§ Sir David Renton
In order that the argument on this matter may be ended, it may help my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower), the Secretary of State and anyone else who may be interested, to refer to paragraph 134 of the Kilbrandon Report, which states the matter in a purely factual way and supports the case that was being put forward by my hon. Friend.
§ Sir R. Gower
The Secretary of State is entitled to minimise what we tried to do and to maximise what he sought to do, but people in many parties supported those advances and continue to support them. It is very different to take a far-reaching step which will for the first time separate the administration, the Executive's decisions, from responsibility to the House of Commons. That is vital. It is moving the whole field of Executive decisions from the direct responsibility of the House of Commons at Westminster. I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that that is an enormous step.
The Secretary of State should not deprecate the very real and, I believe, reasonable anxieties of those who want to step back, who hesitate to support such a step. This is a major change. We are not sure, but we have a good deal of evidence that many people in Wales have great apprehensions and fears about it and great anxieties for the future. I hope that those fears are unfounded, but we are expressing views of many, possibly of the great majority of the Welsh people. The Minister should not imagine that because he can count more supporters on these Benches many of his own supporters in Wales do not share the views and the fears which we are expressing. It is not limited to one party. Members of every party share these anxieties. Someone has to express these views in the House of Commons 147 tonight, since they are very important ones, just as important as any others which have been put forward.
§ Mr. Kinnock
A great deal of attention has been given in this debate to the matter of holding consistent opinions. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has accused the Conservatives of inconsistency, in that they sought a referendum and now seek to destroy the Bill, which would provide for a referendum. On the other hand, we see the extraordinary spectacle of colleagues who have for many months consistently and loudly attacked those of us who sought a referendum now espousing the referendum cause with an energy and enthusiasm which we could not have guessed at over the last few months.
I speak possibly as a member of a minority within a minority on this question. Although profoundly opposed to the Bill and all its works, I shall nevertheless vote against the Conservative amendment, which seeks to delete Wales from the Bill. The reason is obvious, and can be put very briefly. I think that everyone will appreciate the necessity of my action.
If we throw out Wales tonight, we throw out the referendum baby with the bath water. Devolution, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said, will continue to be a running sore in Wales. It will suppurate all over the Labour movement in Wales and will continue to divide and distract the people of Wales from the main matters of concern to them, economic affairs and social deprivation. For years to come the constitutionalists, the aspirants to national office in Wales and those with a vested interest in devolution will continue to prate about the need for devolution, even though there is not a single major deficiency in Welsh life or a single major problem in the Welsh economy that will be touched by devolution or any of the proposals in the Bill. Not a single interest of people anywhere in Wales—whether it be democratic, cultural or political—will be advanced one inch by devolution in Wales. That is my reason for opposing the Bill.
Be without the opportunity for a referendum, those who try to draw a 148 connection between the establishment of a mini-Parliament in Cardiff and the resolution of the chronic economic and social anguish of Wales will continue to market this lunacy, that by having constitutional change we can meet the political and economic crisis. Whenever there has been a real challenge, a real need for profound economic change and a clear political lead, those who are incapable of meeting the major pressures of politics have meandered into the constitutional archives. Their nostrum has been to come up with marvellous plans, models and re-arrangements as a means of diverting attention and dodging the main issues. That is the nonsense of the idea that we could somehow advance the cause of Wales through an independent Wales. We no more advance its cause through a devolved Wales than by supporting or embracing the separatism of the nationalists.
§ Mr. Anderson
Does not my hon. Friend agree that this is the last kick of the romantic nineteenth century view that one can basically alter a situation by tinkering with constitutions? That ignores the twentieth century view of economic change being paramount.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The twentieth century view was given by Aneurin Bevan on the last page of his book "In Place of Fear". He said that an old teacher had once told him "The clothes are there because the man is there, but nations must exist as economic units before they exist as constitutional units." Aneurin Bevan said that failure to recognise that was the mistake that many of the leaders of the new nations might be making then, back in 1952. It may be one of the mistakes that would-be leaders of newly-established States, mini-States, quasi-States or "devo"-States are making now.
The people of Wales are not impressed by those propositions. The only way to bury that delusion once and for all in Wales, and to get on with the major problems of extending democracy meaningfully and winning our way out of chronic depression as well as of rural and urban depression, is by ensuring that our minds and energies are no longer preoccupied with the false idea that we can find a constitutional balm for our difficulties.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
My hon. Friend quoted Aneurin Bevan in talking of the existence of nations. No doubt my hon. Friend will agree that, if in 1864 Bismarck had annexed the whole of Denmark rather than only a small part of it, Denmark now would have been part of Germany, Copenhagen would be a provincial town, and the position of Denmark would be very different.
§ Mr. Kinnock
My preoccupation is with Wales rather than with Denmark, and with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House rather than with Bismarck. I should be the last person to see any connection between their activities. Those who seek to use the analogies of events in the period 1865 to 1875 in German history and to superimpose them as a criterion in judging the Bill are avoiding the realities of the situation. The people of Wales want to be guided not by analogy but by reality.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I understand my hon. Friend's argument, but does he not accept that there may be some discretion in terms of the attitude over practicalities? If my hon. Friend votes on key issues in favour of the Government and on Third Reading, what will prevent my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House from going to Sophia Gardens in Cardiff and, with all his eloquence, saying "Parliament has passed this Bill. You must accept the package produced by Parliament"? That is how the Second Reading of the Bill went. Such is the enthusiasm for devolution, that it is being put about that the majority of the House of Commons, including my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), accepts the arguments on devolution.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
Is it not clear also that the Leader of the House will say when he goes to Cardiff "The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) is in favour of putting Wales into the Bill. Therefore, you should vote 'Yes' in the referendum"?
§ Mr. Kinnock
Perhaps I may correct an impression that may have been gathered by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I do not intend to give support, unreserved or otherwise, on most of this Bill to my right hon. Friends in the Government. I have taken every opportunity to make that 150 absolutely clear. It is a matter of mere expediency—honest expediency—that I am supporting the Government tonight, and my hon. Friends are aware of that, for the simple reason that I want to give the people of Wales a chance to kill the Bill so that it will not go on exhausting us for years to come. That is the basis on which I support the Government.
I am aware of the clear possibility of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—and I am even more aware that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales may do so—going to Sophia Gardens and drawing attention to the majority which the Government have had at various stages in the Bill's passage and seeking to get the people of Wales somehow to legitimise the whole process. If the people of Wales vote against devolution, there is a building in Cardiff worth £2.8 million, all dressed up with nowhere to go. Against that background, it will be suggested to the people of Wales that it will be better if they vote for devolution. That view, and also the view expressed by the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), does not give full credit to the Welsh people. The Welsh people in the majority are profoundly opposed to these proposals.
As we work our way through this Bill in Committee, we shall more and more adequately demonstrate that many claims made for devolution are false and that it is an expensive process. Furthermore we shall have the opportunity in the referendum campaign to express a view. The people of Wales, whatever their opinions on devolution, will readily acknowledge that, without the campaign of the anti-devolutionists, the people of Wales would not have had a voice on this issue, and a certain amount of credit will be given to us on that score.
I understand what the Government are doing. They are attempting, by a mixture of parliamentary boredom and public resignation, to present people with a referendum and with a devolution deal that is more or less signed, sealed and nicely packaged. It is unlikely that such a ploy will succeed, and consequently the people of Wales will reject devolution—and they will reject it by such a majority that we can then get on to deal with the other 151 subjects. If the question is drawn up in a proper manner, I hope that the people of Wales will not only reject devolution but will take the opportunity to give an accurate measurement of the demand for independence in Wales.
I realise that among the enthusiasts for a referendum, so we are told, are members of Plaid Cymru. It would be difficult for them to be anything else. I recognise that one of the most substantial criticisms of the referendum is that it is a populist ploy. After all, Plaid Cymru is a populist party. It would be impossible for its members to show such a lack of self-confidence in the essence of their party's existence by saying "We do not want a referendum on independence", because that would be the most obvious confession that they know that there is only the tiniest minority of the Welsh people who share their fanatical belief in independence for Wales.
Many people will examine the subject of the referendum and devolution, look at who supports each side, and say "The nationalists have warmly welcomed devolution and acknowledged that they consider it to be the gateway to independence". There is every prospect that when we come to a full and clear assessment by the Welsh people of what is meant by devolution and for what purposes it is being supported, we shall experience an outcome which many hon. Members on these Benches, and also many people in Wales, have long demanded.
That is good news for me, and it is appropriate in this context to give the reasons for keeping Wales in the Bill. It is incumbent on the Government in rejecting the amendment to say what would be the advantages to Wales. I should like to refer briefly to the now infamous petition or declaration, as I suppose it should be called, in the Western Mail of Thursday 13th January.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's speech, but he has not clarified his position or told us whether he is in favour of devolving any power at all to the Welsh people.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I will go into that in the closest possible detail immediately. 152 If the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) will tell me later precisely what he means by devolution—a subject that probably holds the world record for sheer turgidity and the fact that it can mean anything to anybody—I shall give him the full reward of being as explicit as possible about the kind of devolution or democratic advance or expansion that I should like to see. But I shall try to answer him now by making reference to the advertisement that appeared in the Western Mail.
I am told that there were about 800 signatures on the advertisement. I have not counted them, but it has come to my notice that fewer people signed it than were reported to have done so. Perhaps over the next few days more people will indicate that they were not asked to sign and that they have not donated any money to pay for the advertisement. Consequently, there is something of a misrepresentation in this rather grandiose declaration. The advertisement says:We, the undersigned, believe that an unanswerable case exists for a real extension of democracy and responsibility to the people of Wales within Britain.If there is anyone in Parliament who disagrees with that, I should be truly amazed. We are all in favour of an extension of democracy and responsibility to the people of Wales within Britain, just as we are all in favour of motherhood. sunshine love and—as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) who is under the American influence, suggests—apple pie. But I do not know what that all has to do with the proposals of the Bill. The idea that the Bill extends democracy—when in fact we are having just a multiplication of the deficiencies of the House of Commons without significant changes in the rights and responsibilities of people anywhere in Britain, including Scotland and Wales—defeats me.
The advertisement continues:Present arrangements for the accountability of the existing governmental administration in Wales is wholly unsatisfactory.And so say all of us, too. Present arrangements for accountability of existing governmental administration everywhere in Britain, in all departments, are unsatisfactory. Of course, nobody has defined the meaning of "unsatisfactory", but any hon. Member who has sat in the 153 House of Commons for longer than a week will understand that our arrangements, both in the House of Commons and at other levels, leave much to be desired. I do not know what all this has to do with the Bill. I do not know how the Bill would expand the scrutinising powers of elected representatives of the people. The advertisement says:As Parliament grapples with the increasing volume and complexity of European legislation, it is unrealistic to expect it to devote more time to Welsh affairs.Parliament has never devoted a great deal of time to Welsh affairs. One may hold British membership of the Common Market culpable for many crimes against the British people, but less time for Welsh affairs in the House of Commons is not one of them. The shortage of time results from the way that we approach the whole question of European legislation, as well as many other matters of interest to the House of Commons. It is not the Common Market that has spoiled things for Wales, or Wales that has spoiled things for the Common Market, but the inadequate outdated procedures of the House.
The declaration also says:Welsh economic and social problems, as well as the problem of accountability, cannot be met through any reform of procedures of one central Parliament.I think I said that first, so I can only agree. The advertisement addsThat the situation in Wales, therefore"—and I ask everybody to note that "therefore"—demands the establishment of a directly elected Welsh Assembly, answerable to the people of Wales.This assertion and conclusion directly follows the suggestion that the Welsh economic and social problems cannot be met through reform of the House of Commons. We are led to believe that it can be met by the creation of a directly-elected Welsh assembly. This is the central misrepresentation of the whole devolution case—the idea that more houses can be built, more jobs found, more happiness manufactured, more security and more unitl exist, if only we have an Assembly. Once that central idea of devolution is shot through by practical examination, the whole case crumples. Unless the changes proposed by the Government can deliver more 154 resources to the people of Wales—and I mean more, not just better, because they are our first demand as an impoverished country—the proposition that our condition in Wales can be substantially improved, let alone transformed as some devolutionists would have us think, is totally rejected.
There is another matter that I had not intended to raise, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and the Secretary of State have both referred to it, perhaps we should give it some attention at this early stage. The advertisement says:The need for a directly elected Welsh Assembly, and the expectation that has been built up over the last ten years, has reached a point where any frustration of the aspiration would dangerously threaten social harmony in Wales and relationships in Britain as a whole.I was once involved in a building strike—in fact, I have been involved in more than one building strike—that took place at a school. The employers' representative had been particularly unforthcoming in his reactions to our request for a little more recompense for our labours. In fact, he had been very cheeky about the whole matter and had disregarded democratic procedures. I remember a shop steward standing in front of the school, which had great plate glass windows, addressing the assembled building workers, and saying "We do not want any violence in this dispute, so I want you to ignore completely that pile of bricks behind you."
I am sorry that, in the name of expanding democracy, people have given legitimacy, succour and significance to lunatics in Wales—and there is a tiny minority which seeks the violent road to what is called "freedom" for Wales—that they have never had from responsible politicians of any party in Wales or from the Welsh people.
The idea is being spread that, if one does not vote "Yes" in the referendum, one will dangerously threaten social harmony in Wales and relationships to Britain as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey is not given to exaggeration, but he talked about repercussions. I hope that all hon. Members on this side of the Committee will, during debates on the remainder of the Bill, strike the alphabet of fear out of 155 their vocabulary. I hope that no hon. Member will seek to use fear as a means of trying to get a democratic result. Fear and democracy cannot travel together, and fear cannot produce democracy. Those who, in the name of democracy, use the threat that others may disrupt, disharmonise and destroy, are doing themselves an immense disservice and ruining the core of their argument.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
I agree with my hon. Friend, but I hope that he will include in the categories of fear that there should be no fear of the Welsh language.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I completely accept what my right hon. Friend says, although it might be as well if everyone chose to offset the way in which, in order to be Welsh today, one is required to support devolution, embrace the idea of a devolved system for Wales, and give a basis to the superiority of the Welsh language. [An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Gentleman is at it again."] No one can say that I am at it again. I might just be the last friend that the Welsh language has got.
I have the closest family associations with people whose first language is Welsh. They include my wife, her whole family and my mother's family in South Wales. As I have demonstrated many times in the House of Commons and elsewhere, I wish to see the Welsh language prosper. I do not follow that wish by saying, as do so many politicians, "but". I say that therefore the best way of securing the vital support that the Welsh language needs in the media and out of public finances is to see that it wins friends among the non-Welsh speaking population of Wales.
There are many who spout the cause of the Welsh language, but who, in their belligerence, do nothing to win friends for the language. I would never use fear of the Welsh language. I do not believe that the Welsh people, the majority of whom speak only English, would ever accept the usurpation of the system by people who speak only Welsh.
However, in islands in Wales there is the exercise of linguistic supremacy and it causes enormous resentment towards the 156 language. Those who are the true friends of the language will draw attention to this fact calmly ad tolerantly and will seek to work against it so that the language may flourish in an atmosphere of peace.
I would bet my last penny that, if we ever get an Assembly it will be considerably less generous in the financial provision for the Welsh language than the House of Commons is prepared to be. By the very nature of a devolved Assembly, all its financial margins will be extremely narrow and every penny will have to be searched for. Such an Assembly would not be able to spend, for instance, £10 million on bilingual road signs. That would be an outrageous misuse of limited funds. The only reason that it has been possible is the deficiency in our systems of scrutiny in this Parliament. However, if that is the means of sponsoring, supporting and fostering the Welsh language, those resource will not become available in the much more straitened financial circumstances of the Welsh Assembly.
I hope that all these matters will be considered in Committee. I repeat that if we take Wales out of the Bill, it will remain alive and twitching; if we defeat it in a referendum, we shall kill it and long may it lie dead.
§ Mr. Powell
United as I am with the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) in my strong opposition to most of the contents and principles of the Bill, I feel that he dangerously exaggerates the virtues of a referendum in bringing any subject to a decisive and permanent conclusion.
It may be that those who think as I do on the subject of Britain and the European Economic Community have a vested interest in that view; but it can hardly be said that the experience of 1975 is encouraging to the argument which the hon. Member for Bedwellty puts forward. It would, therefore, be dangerous for those of us who wish, like him, to see this will-o'-the-wisp laid and to see these illusions removed from the political scene, to leave Wales in the Bill and even hope that the Bill will complete all its stages, just to risk all, win or lose, on the outcome of a referendum which might well settle nothing for the future.
157 Some of the few who have shown themselves to be opposed to the amendment have described it as a wrecking or cynical amendment or as a mere contrivance of those who are opposed to the Bill. I cannot agree. Some right hon. and hon. Members, from the very first proposition in the first White Paper, have declared that Wales should be dealt with separately from Scotland and have sustained that view at every stage so far, including Second Reading. Surely, if they now move an amendment in accordance with what they have consistently said from the beginning, it is unreasonable to treat it as the sort of amendment which ought not to be put forward. Why, it would have been impossible for the Opposition, after all they have said on this subject, not to have put forward this amendment.
The reason why my colleagues and I will support it is that the Bill, in attempting to legislate simultaneously for Wales and Scotland, is thereby inherently a bad Bill, for it is impossible to debate the matters which arise out of the Bill in one and the same measure covering Wales and Scotland. The circumstances, the conclusions to be drawn from those circumstances, and the proposals in the Bill are radically different as they apply to Wales and to Scotland. Unless we separate them, every debate will be confused and infructuous.
For example one need go no further than the very clause to which this amendment is moved. Clause 1 says that the proposalsdo not affect the unity of the United Kingdom".Yet the effect of the Bill onthe unity of the United Kingdommust, on anyone's view, be extremely different according as the provisions affect Scotland or Wales. We shall find it impossible to debate the proposition in Clause I in its application at the same time to Scotland and to Wales.
Even the reasons urged in favour of the Bill are quite different for the two parts of the United Kingdom. My authority for saying that is none other than the Prime Minister's. In moving the Second Reading, he stated unequivocally that he regarded the inhabitants of Wales and Scotland as constituting nations and went on to say that the Bill was adjusted 158to meet the real aspirations".—[Official Report, 13th December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 992.]of those respective nations. So he regarded the nationhood of Wales, in contrast to the nationhood of Scotland, as justifying widely different treatment in the Bill, the nationhood of Scotland as calling for a legislative Parliament, the nationhood of Wales as calling only for an Assembly restricted to certain powers of secondary legislation.
I am not saying that I agree. I regard the proposition as absurd. But the framers of the Bill have built into it the principle that, so different are the circumstances of Wales and Scotland, so different is the nationhood of each which they purport to recognise, nearly all the provisions are different for the one part and the other. I say that it is an absurdity, and always has been an absurdity that the House should be asked to debate in Committee, and to pass through all its stages, a Bill which combines, centaur-like, two incompatible animals.
It is no good the Government saying "You are wrecking the Bill, because you move this amendment knowing that if it were carried, and if we had to start again with a separate Bill for Wales, we could not get the Welsh Bill, and maybe could not get even this Bill, through both Houses in this Session." That does not lie in the mouth of the Government. They are the people who control parliametary time. Being a party of planners, presumably they plan their legislation not in terms of a single Session but in terms of a Parliament. They cannot come to us when we say "You have combined incompatibles that ought not to be placed before the House together in a single Bill" and complain that that would land them in difficulties with their timetable.
I have mentioned that, after due consideration, my hon. Friends and I believe that the contention is thoroughly right—parliamentarily right and legislatively right—that Wales should not be dealt with in the same Bill as Scotland and should not be debated on it. But people will say "Is this not strange when the hon Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), in a speech on Second Reading which was widely commented on in the remaining course of the debate as well as outside the House subsequently, 159 drew attention to the fact that democratic administrative devolution does not raise many of the problems, arguably insoluble, which are raised by legislative devolution? Is it not strange that you wish to remove from the Bill provisions in respect of another part of the United Kingdom, namely, Wales, for administrative devolution?"
I make a confession. If this Bill contained provisions for restoring to Northern Ireland even ordinary democratic local government as it is enjoyed in the rest of the United Kingdom, and conferring on it representation in this House, even on the reduced scale of England, speaking for myself I would be sorely tempted, like Lord Chief Justice Crewe, to "labour to make a covenant with myself" and, whatever I felt about the rest of the Bill, to say that at any rate it was going to bring minimal justice to the Province where I represent a constituency, and therefore I would swallow my doubts about everything else in the Bill and vote for it on that account. But, of course, we are not being given in this Bill, those of us who come from Northern Ireland, which is in most need of genuine democracy, of democratic control of its affairs, anything whatsoever—at any rate so far. As for the future, we shall see.
But what sort of administrative devolution is it that this Bill is proposing to give to Wales? Indeed, are the proposals for Wales administrative devolution at all? If the intention were to create larger areas in which democratic assemblies could supervise, criticise and executively control the administration of whole spheres of public life and of the services received by the citizens, no one would dream of designating the Henrician Principality of Wales—for indeed in its present form it is no older than the Tudors—as an administrative area. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) remarked, there are parts of Wales—most parts, indeed—which have much closer economic, and more than economic connections with the adjacent parts of England. No one, of course, who sat down to draw administrative boundaries for administrative devolution would hit upon the Principality of Wales.
The reason which has been given by Her Majesty's Government—this is not 160 disputed by Plaid Cymru—is that the boundaries of the Principality are claimed by the Welsh nationalists to be the boundaries of a nation. It is therefore national devolution and not administrative devolution which is proposed in the Bill, and the proposals for Wales cannot be defended upon administrative grounds.
But what about local government in Wales? Is local government, the administrative devolution to elected local authorities representing the parts of the Principality—even though those parts may have been ill-drawn in the legislation of the Conservative Government—going to be benefited, is it going to be strengthened, by the provisions of this Bill? Of course it is not. Everyone knows that genuine local government in Wales is going to be crushed and squashed if ever the provisions in the Bill come into force.
§ Mr. Powell
And probably in Scotland, too. If we can get Wales out of the Bill, we can concentrate on exposing the damage which will be done to Scotland by the provisions as they apply to that country.
I ask again, is this administrative devolution? What sort of administrative devolution, or, at any rate, democratic administrative devolution, is it which devolves executive powers to an elected body which has no powers of taxation? How can it be claimed that to set up an Assembly and give it executive power over a whole range of services and yet to deny it the right to raise a penny rate is anything whatever to do with administrative devolution?
Once again, we in Northern Ireland can speak with some bitterness on this subject, for in Northern Ireland, in addition to a district rate which is levied by our district councils, we pay a regional rate. But it is a regional rate which is assessed by Her Majesty's Government as a lump sum. Why is that? It is because our larger elected bodies—all our elected bodies above the small district councils—the bodies which would be entitled to levy regional rate, and which would not, indeed in my view, have the right to administer unless they levied a rate covering a substantial part of the expenditure over which they presided—have been destroyed and have not been restored.
161 No. This is not administrative devolution in the sense in which it is recognisable in Great Britain or would be recognisable in Northern Ireland. So when my hon. Friends and I say tonight that Wales would be better out of this Bill, whatever other Bill is put forward, there is no inconsistency with our duty to say, and to say on every occasion, to the House of Commons that those whom we represent are still denied all but vestigial democratic control over the administration of their Province in the very smallest matters affecting the individual citizens.
In referring to the fact that the Bill confers upon the Welsh Assembly no powers of taxation, I have returned again to the point which so many speeches in these debates necessarily arrive at—namely, that the position which the Bill would create is a position of radical instability. It cannot stand as it would be left by a Bill of this sort.
The people of Wales have been told that they are a nation and that because they are a nation they are going to have devolved government as set out in the Bill. Is it to be believed that they will submit to being told "Ah, but you are not the sort of nation which can raise taxation"? Are they to be told "The representatives of the Welsh people, in Cardiff assembled, are not fit to vote a rate for the citizens of the Principality"?
Of course, it would not last. They would immediately ask "How can we realise for the people of Wales one-tenth or one-hundredth of the expectations raised in the context of devolution when we are only administering the limited sum dished out to us by the Parliament at Westminster or by a Minister responsible to that Parliament?" They would say "We as a nation cannot be denied the full fiscal rights which are inseparable from nationhood." Accordingly they would say "What is this we find about delegated legislation? Legislation is still to be made for Wales by the Parliament of England—Senedd Lloegr, as we call it. The Minister can make subordinate legislation, or the Assembly can even make subordinate legislation itself; but, of course, it must be under an English Act, made by a Parliament in which we Welsh are a small minority indeed."
162 Would they not happen to notice the difference between what was proposed for them and what was proposed for the other nation? Would they not say that if one nation has a right to make its laws, another nation has the right to make its laws? There cannot be grades of nations—primary-legislation nations and secondary-legislation nations. What sort of Welshman is it who, going abroad, would he prepared to say "I belong to a secondary-legislation nation"? That is what Wales would be in the United Kingdom. It is a house of cards, which can barely be kept standing to the end of the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Powell
Seeing the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) rise, I am reluctant to break his record of having interrupted, if not 100 per cent.—
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Gentleman renounces his record. In that case I shall conclude by simply saying that if Wales is taken out of the Bill I can assure hon. Members from Welsh canstituencies—Plaid Cymru or not—that they are losing nothing that would last. They are only losing the opportunity to be involved in what will prove—I hope sooner rather than later—to be a contradictory and impossible legislative fiasco. Even as a Welshman, I shall cry "Out with Wales".
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
I speak as another Member of Welsh origin who does not sit for a Welsh constituency. It is appropriate that I do so, although it is with some trepidation that I follow the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). The view that I take is as opposite as possible to the one that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed except in one respect—I share his doubts about the validity of the referendum.
In my view, the referendum is not an instrument which should endear itself to parliamentarians. When the Government conceded the pressure for a referendum, perhaps they took the step without full consideration of what the House of Commons as a whole thinks about referenda.
Our experience of the referendum in this country is small. What experience we have does not endear it to us. If 163 the referendum has a purpose at all—I am not convinced about that—it is to examine what people think about the state of affairs that they are in. That is what was done with regard to the Common Market.
We did not hold a referendum on the Common Market at the time when we were going in. We did not ask the people for permission to do that. If we had, I think they would have told us to stay out. When we ask people to say Yes or No to the question "Do you want this, that or the other?" experience suggests that unless their condition is very bad indeed they will vote to keep what they already have.
In other words, the referendum is a highly conservative instrument that results in people deciding to say "No. The devil we know is better than the devil we do not know."
Therefore, in making this concession I believe the Government have put their heads into a noose. I speak as a supporter of the Bill. Whatever the merits of the case, I think that it is likely, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has suggested, that the referendum will not go the way in which the Government want it to. On the other hand, it is equally possible for the Government to do precisely what was done with regard to the Common Market and defer the referendum for three years.
At the end of three years I believe that the people of Wales would vote enthusiastically for the devolution which by that time they would have got and would have enjoyed. That is a forecast. The record suggests that wherever a referendum is employed to sound out views on a constitutional matter people for the most part elect to support that which they have experience of.
§ Mr. Kinnock
In supporting that which they have experience of they might just be right. The other consideration is that, although people who demand referenda usually do so because they believe they will win. Governments who grant referenda usually do so because they know they will win.
The difference between our experience with regard to the Common Market and this experience is that we will not have 164 been devolved for two years before we have the referendum. There is every reason for saying that, if the people of Wales are to have a genuine voice in this irreversible and major constitutional decision, it must be taken as soon as possible and certainly before the thing is established. It certainly should not take place three years' later.
§ Mr. Jenkins
My hon. Friend speaks as one who rejects the Bill. He has no faith whatever in the whole proposition of devolution. I readily understand his point of view. He said that the Government would only hold a referendum if they are sure they are going to win. He is therefore suggesting that the Government have made a serious misjudgment.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Whether that is so or not, that is what my hon. Friend said. He is saying that the Government have made a serious miscalculation in holding a referendum now because it is my hon. Friend's view that the Government will not win the referendum. My hon. Friend is trying to have it both ways.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Pennistone)
Is it not the case that the Government agreed to the referendum before the vote on Second Reading only because otherwise they would never have got the Bill?
§ Mr. Jenkins
That is a possibility, but it may be a small consolation to the Government who may get the form of the Bill but lose its substance. That might well be the consequence of what they have done.
We shall have time to discuss the referendum later. I mention it in passing because it is relevant to the question about whether Wales will stay in the Bill.
It seems to me that the whole of this discussion to which I have listened but not taken part in till now, has turned on what is to happen in Wales and what is to happen in Scotland. The impression given is that we are proceeding from a state of perfection and that as a result of change, we are likely to land ourselves in trouble. That is the feeling and atmosphere of this debate. I suppose that that is understandable since, in the nature of things, it is the opponents of the Bill who 165 have been most active, whereas those of us who support it have been less vocal. That is normal in any Committee stage. In this case, however, it is taking place on the Floor of the House and, for that reason, it feels rather less normal than it really is.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will my hon. Friend take it from me that the experience in Scotland is that those who have read the Bill and who know most about it, professionally or otherwise, tend to be against it?
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Jenkins
That is always the belief of those with a special view about a subject. As I said when I began my speech, those of us who do not represent Scottish or Welsh constituencies nevertheless have a view about the Bill and have an important decision to take about it, and I want to talk about the Bill, about the proposal in the amendment and about the consequences of it for Britain.
I was saying that the atmosphere in this debate so far had been one proceeding from perfection towards something less perfect. But are we in this Chamber doing anything of the kind? I suggest that those hon. Members who are opposed to any form of devolution are trying to preserve one of the most centralised States in the world. Some years ago I made a tour of Europe. Instead of going to countries, I went to capitals and towns, and I made a comparative study of the powers exercised in different parts of Europe. At the end of it, I found that compared with Bucharest, Budapest, Vienna or Prague—almost everywhere, with the exceptions of Istanbul and Paris—this country was the most highly centralised, and that we devolved less and retained more control centrally than almost any other country in Europe. Therefore, if we see an opportunity to devolve some of these decision-making powers to assemblies elsewhere, we should not dismiss it out of hand.
I am much concerned about Parliament and government. I recognise that our Government are totally constipated with decision making. Decisions are made in the capital city which should not be taken here. Decisions are taken by civil servants in Whitehall which should be taken elsewhere in the country. This Bill is a step in the process of getting rid of some of the decision making to 166 where it should reside in Scotland and in Wales.
There is no reason why we should not devolve more of the decision-making process to Scotland and rather less to Wales. We have heard the reasons why that is proposed, among them the long history of Scotland and the differences in its judiciary. All of them seem reasonably persuasive.
§ Mr. Jenkins
My hon. Friend must contain himself. It is reasonable that he will say that the consequences of the Bill are not complete and total devolution. I believe that there is a strong case for English devolution and for English regional government. I believe that English regional government inevitably will follow from this measure. But, because the Bill does not achieve all that everyone wants, because it will not mean equal democracy throughout the country, and because it does not give us the opportunity to create paradise tomorrow, that is not to say that we should not take a small step towards it.
From the point of view of those of us who feel that the House of Commons tries all the time to do far too much, here is an opportunity to get rid of some it. I should have thought that even the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) would be in favour of it. He wants devolution for Northern Ireland, and I cannot see why he wishes to deny to Scotland and to Wales what he wants for Northern Ireland. For once, the right hon. Gentleman's famous logic seems to be missing.
§ Mr. Jenkins
If the Bill is good, the fact that it has been pressed upon the Government, for whatever reason, is not important. I argue that the Bill is good and that devolution is good. Therefore, I am not concerned with its causation.
167 I say that the Bill is a measure which does a great deal of good. If right hon. and hon. Members disagree with me about that. they should have voted against it on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
The hon. Gentleman is advancing an interesting argument. But, if he was seeking to produce a pattern of devolution for the whole of the United Kingdom, would he set out to produce a pattern of legislative devolution for all the English regions? Are they to have powers of legislation? Does he say that inevitably we shall get ourselves into that position?
§ Mr. Jenkins
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) has not reached a logical conclusion. Because we grant legislative devolution to Scotland and not to Wales, that does not mean that we have to follow the Scottish pattern for England. I believe that the degree of English devolution should be less than that operating in Wales—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] We had better not debate that now. But I am sure that no one will advance the proposition that every piece of devolved power from this Parliament or from Whitehall must be the same for every part of the country. What argument can there be in favour of that proposition?
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)
My hon. Friend asks what is the case against not providing the comparable type of devolution to all parts of the country. Surely the answer is that we maintain a comparable standards. After all, we are one nation. Is not it fair to say that the people who will make this assessment are those who will be on the receiving end of selective devolution?
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
The people who will make that decision are here in the House of Commons. The decision-making process remains here.
The hon. Member for Pembroke was wrong when he suggested that devolution will result in no change to nominated bodies. That cannot be the case. Certainly it is not necessarily the case. It follows, surely, that, once Assemblies are established in Wales and in Scotland, the hitherto nominated bodies in those two countries will come under the influence of those Assemblies. If it were 168 the view—I am sure that it will be—both in Wales and in Scotland that a great degree of nomination should disappear and be replaced by a more elective process, it is very likely that that would occur.
I take an example with which I am more familiar than with some others. I refer to the Arts Council of Great Britain, which is another constipated body, another nominated body and another centralised body which is far too localised in London. It has, in fact, two subcommittees—one of which exists in Scotland and the other in Wales—and in practice these sub-committees exercise a considerable degree of independence. However, the money they get, which is allocated from the Treasury, goes first to the Arts Council of Great Britain, which then hands it on to the Welsh Arts Council and the Scottish Arts Council. After this Bill, the Welsh Arts Council should be financed from the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Arts Council from the Scottish Assembly. That is the right pattern.
§ Mr. Jenkins
It will be financed from here. What I am saying is that these bodies, which are at present nominated, will in future, under the Assembly, be elected and be answerable directly to the people of Wales and Scotland. If there are any hon. Members here who reckon that that is not a change for the better, they do not know what they are talking about.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
On this point, does the hon. Gentleman suggest, as a result of his experience as Minister for the Arts, that the arts would be better administered without any nominees who are experienced in the arts, but instead administered directly by the elected body?
§ Mr. Jenkins
Certainly. If there is a complaint to be made about administration of the arts in this country, it is that this has been carried out by persons from too narrow a group, which has led to a degree of concentration. The arts need a greater representation of artists in the governing bodies and the elected arrangement could provide an opening for this. There would be a closer association 169 between the people in Scotland and Wales and the provision of the arts.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
The whole House is riveted by the hon. Member's exposition of constipation in the art forms, and the cure which he is suggesting by the laxative of the devolution Bill. When he talks about getting rid of the constipation, he talks about money coming from Wales. But where will the money come from in the first place, as long as there are no money-raising powers given to the Welsh Assembly?
§ Mr. Jenkins
There may be an opportunity for me to go into this at a later stage in these discussions when we discuss an amendment directly concerned with this point. There will be, after devolution, in this respect as in every other respect, a number of very important decisions which still have to be made centrally. This applies to the arts as it applies to everything else. We are not devolving all powers to the new Assembly. We are giving certain limited powers to be exercised locally. In the case of the arts, many major decisions will continue to be exercised by the Arts Council of Great Britain. But the point is that Welsh decisions will be taken in Wales and Scottish decisions will be taken in Scotland. United Kingdom decisions will continue to be taken here, and that is as it should be.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Abse
From his long and special experience as Minister for the Arts, would not my hon. Friend admit that it is true that there is always in the world of the arts a considerable battle which requires someone of considerable sophistication and with some aesthetic understanding and commitment to mobilise opinion? Is he seriously suggesting, knowing the battles which he lost, as well as those which he won, that these superior county councils, which will include, no doubt, men with a profound knowledge of the drainage systems and housing problems in our valleys, will, with the limited—and always inadequate—sums available to the Assembly, without some outside pressures, allocate money to the arts in Wales on anything like the scale which exists now?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I would have thought that the allocation would be on an even greater scale. I have much greater confidence in the artistic intentions of the Welsh than I have in those of the English. I would have thought that pressures would continue to be exerted on the Government of the day to maximise the amount of finance which goes out from here to the various Assemblies to enable them to fulfil their functions in relation to the arts.
For the reasons which I have adduced, and not just for Scotland and Wales, but for the health of the United Kingdom as a whole, it is my belief that Wales should be allowed to stay in the Bill and that the Bill should be given a Third Reading in due course.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
In 1976 there was a concerted and successful effort, in which the hon. Members for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and Pontypool (Mr. Abse) took a prominent and honourable part, to persuade the Government to have a referendum on devolution. The Conservatives took a full part in that effort, and the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) said at the time:The executive of the Conservative Party in Wales has repeatedly passed full referendum motions, and virtually every constituency association has pressed for a referendum.He also said that he personally, as Opposition spokesman on Welsh affairs, had supported the plea in a number of speeches.
Most of those people conceded that referenda were not an integral part of the British constitution, and many people argued that they derogate from the sovereignty of Parliament. Nevertheless, they contended that this issue of devolution was of such momentous constitutional importance that, after Parliament had done what it could to improve the Bill, the people should have the final say. We agreed with this, and most people in Wales seemed to concur. I do not think that anyone questioned the sincerity of those who called for a referendum.
Now, however, it seems to transpire that, with the Conservatives at least, this was an opportunist move. This gives rise to suspicion that it was just a cynical ploy, and, far from intending that the people of Wales should make the final 171 decision, their real hope all along was that Wales should be completely cut out of this measure so that the people would have nothing to decide in the end. The purpose was not so much to have a better Bill but to have no Bill at all for Wales. Some sought to do the same for Scotland on Thursday night, and they were overwhelmingly defeated. If the Tories succeed tonight, that will leave the Scots with both a Bill and a referendum and the Welsh without either.
The Conservatives are telling the Welsh people that they cannot be trusted to decide what is best for themselves. The Tories have never denied that they know what is best for us in Wales. In this case they think they know better than any other party in Wales what is best for us. All the other parties in Wales are agreed that the Welsh people should have some power of authority and of decision in their own affairs, but the Conservatives believe that those decisions should be made entirely in Whitehall and Westminster.
Almost everyone in the House of Commons concedes that Wales is a nation. Even the Conservatives now concede that. They accept that Wales should have a Secretary of State and a considerable measure of administrative devolution, which I interpret rather differently from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). They concede that it is so important that Wales should have this administrative devolution that the bureaucratic powers of the Welsh Office should be increased.
The Conservatives accept the myriad national nominated bodies in Wales, including the Economic Development Authority and the National Sports Council. Although Wales has no separate system of law, the Conservatives accept that, for the purpose of the administration of law in Wales, Wales must be administered as a national entity. They have quietly accepted the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales and the establishment of an independent episcopal Church in Wales, together with the other independent national denominational bodies. They accept the National Library, the National Museum, the National University, the National Eisteddfod, the National 172 Theatre, the National Opera, the national rugby team and other teams.
The Conservatives also accept that in the House of Commons we have Welsh Questions about six times a year, a Welsh Grand Committee that meets about four times a year and a Welsh Day once a year and that we also have the Welsh TUC—which is strong for a Parliament for Wales.
All the national institutions I have mentioned—I could have mentioned a host of others—are accepted by the Conservatives because now they accept that Wales is a nation with her own territory, her own history and her own culture. The Red Dragon is our national banner; "Hen Wlad y Nhadau" is our national anthem. The Conservatives' acceptance of Welsh nationhood has been an advance from the time not so long ago when Wales for the Conservatives was no more than a geographical expression. They now admit that Wales is a historic nation.
If you will permit me, Mr. Crawshaw, I should like to strengthen my point by quoting two lines from a Welsh poet:Gwyr a aeth Gatraeth oedd ffraeth eu Ilu Glasfedd eu hancwyn a gwenwyn fu.Those lines come from a great ode written by Aneurin in the sixth century. Perhaps the last line of that stanza would not be inappropriate to the end of the marathon debate on devolution. It goes as follows:Ac wedi elwch tawelwch fu.That means after the uproar there was silence.
The earliest surviving Welsh poetry has an elegance which shows that there must have been centuries of tradition behind it. There is no more treasured part of our tradition than our great Welsh literature, which has an unbroken history of 1,400 years. Today the Welsh people are more than ever conscious of the extraordinary continuity of their history and of the deep roots which give them enviable security. They are more conscious of this than they used to be when they were taught in their schools nothing but English history. This is a factor that inspires increasing numbers of them to work for national regeneration. They feel that the character of their effort has a universal validity. They do not ask for themselves anything that they would deny to anybody else.
173 For some time the Conservatives have acknowledged that Wales is the kind of historic entity that we call a nation. It was they who recognised Cardiff as the capital city of Wales. What they have never done is to concede that Wales should have the power to act as a nation. That is the point at which they are sticking now. That is why they seek to wreck the Bill in relation to Wales. They are prepared to pay lip service to Welsh nationhood, but they will do everything they can to obstruct the power of Wales to act as a nation and to obstruct Wales in the exercise of choice and initiative. They have spoken often of the antiquity of Wales, and many of them are keen antiquarians, but they never speak of a national future for Wales.
What rôle do they see Wales playing in the future? One asks in vain. They give no impression that Wales has any value in herself or that her character and integrity should be defended so that she can fulfil the duty she owes to European civilisation. They appear to be content that Wales should be swallowed in the British State. That British State seems to many of us to harness the ideology of English nationalism and the techniques through which it is expressed.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman referred to Wales' duty to European civilisation. Does he mean by that that he would wish Wales to have a Commissioner in Brussels and a Welsh Minister on the Council of Ministers?
§ Mr. Evans
Of course we should have all those things. We should have a full voice in Brussels and a place in the institutions mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.
I do not think I do the Conservatives an injustice in saying that they think the State takes precedence over the Welsh nation. Theirs is an absorptionist ideal. For them there will always be an England, but the function of Wales is rather to serve England or the British State. This contrasts with the nationalist belief that Wales has value in herself and that it is to herself that she should be true. For us Welsh nationalism is polycentric in the sense that we see our nation in the context of the European and the world community of nations. Against great concepts of freedom, democracy and more power for the people, the Conservatives 174 reiterate the comparatively light-weight argument about the cost of the Assembly.
Answers to Questions I have asked in Parliament show that every year about twice as much is spent on maintaining the fabric of the Palace of Westminster as will be spent on the capital cost of establishing an Assembly in Cardiff. The running costs are calculated to be about £5 million a year to begin with, rising to £12 million. Even when they have risen to £12 million, they must be seen in proper perspective. For instance, this year £52.5 million is being spent by the British Council on furthering the English language in some parts of the world.
From the point of view of Wales, it is important that the costs of the Welsh. Assembly are spent in Wales, thus giving employment in Wales to Welsh people. That has not been true of prestige projects such as Concorde, in which the costs were almost entirely spent outside Wales, mostly in England.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Does the hon. Gentleman concede that if the Assembly costs only what he says it will cost, which is a fraction of the cost of maintaining the fabric of this place, it will still be an additional cost because, presumably, this place will be maintained in the manner to which it has been accustomed, although that is pretty inadequate? Secondly, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the whole cost will in justice have to be borne by the Welsh people, which means that it will have to be taken from moneys that would have been available for other expenditure—for example, hospitals and schools? Thirdly, does he agree that if we had had the referendum, for which I know the hon. Gentleman is as enthusiastic as I am, before we reached this stage we could have saved ourselves a great deal of money in any case?
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Evans
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should make so much about costs. Of course £10 million is a large amount, but it must be considered on the basis of being averaged out over the whole of the United Kingdom and in relation to the costs that this Parliament votes each year. For instance, this Parliament has decided that we are to order 385 aeroplanes called the Tornado, which will cost about £10 million each. I may 175 say that in Western Germany it is estimated that the cost will increase to £15 million each. The cost of each aircraft will equal the total running costs of the Welsh Assembly in one year. The costs must be seen in perspective.
I turn to another argument which has so often been repeated by the Conservatives—namely, that the Assembly is not wanted by the people of Wales. Let us consider some of the polls which the Conservatives have been making great use of in recent weeks. It must be admitted that the polls can be interpreted in different ways. For instance, the most recent poll, from which the hon. Member for Bedwellty quoted, showed not only that a certain number favoured the Assembly or opposed it but that 68 per cent. of the people interviewed were either satisfied with the powers of the Assembly or wanted more powers. In fact, the majority of them wanted more powers.
The previous poll indicated that 70 per cent. of the people wanted equality with Scotland. We must take facts such as these into account. In any case, the issue of whether the people want the Assembly will be decided by the referendum. We are obviously looking forward to the referendum.
§ Mr. Evans
I am glad to hear that there is some agreement about that on the Labour Benches.
When the Conservatives proclaim that they want to take Wales out of the Bill, to plough Wales, as it were, into the ground and harrow it, I am reminded of what Cromwell said—I believe at the Battle of Dunbar—about the Lord having delivered them into his hands. This is something that the Welsh people do not understand. It is something that the Welsh people will not accept. They believe that they will have this final power of decision. They will be extremely angry if they do not get it.
The Bill is not the measure that Plaid Cymru wished to see before the House but we shall do our best to improve it. If at the end of our proceedings in Committee it is found to decentralise some power to Wales, to strengthen Welsh democracy to some extent by making the 176 bureaucratic tier answerable to the people's elected representatives; if it genuinely brings some power of government closer to the people of Wales; if it encourages in them some more self-reliance and more responsibility for managing the small and manageable patch that they have in Wales; if it does something to increase their freedom of action as a community and releases some more of their energies as a people—if it does some of those things, as I think it can, thus giving an old people a new chance and, as it were, a new start in life, it will be a measure well worth putting before the people of Wales in a referendum. In that event it may prove to be the beginning of accepting the challenging task of rebuilding in an ancient nation a community in which the best of its national traditions and values will flourish.
§ Mr. Anderson
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) is always consistent and always on the same theme. He wants a sovereign nation State of Wales; he wants Wales to have independent representation overseas; he wants separate Welsh armed forces, and he sees the Bill as a useful step along that road. The sad thing is that the Government have apparently been prepared to give him this little step along the road that he wishes to travel.
My right hon. Friend the Lord President talked elsewhere of a measure of home rule. Although the people of Wales might accept to a degree the case for administrative devolution—the valid distinction has been made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) between administrative devolution and devolution to a nation, with all the anomalies, conflicts and different conceptual elements that flow from it—I am confident that they would not be prepared to accept it if they knew that it was the road leading to an independent and separate Wales.
I concede that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State does not see what I have just set out as his ultimate step. My only fear is that there is no obvious stopping point in the measure that he has brought forward because it is not a coherent constitutional proposal for Wales. There would be a logical stopping point if the Liberal 177 Party's proposal were accepted and there were a federal structure, because limits would then be delineated.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the stopping point is as far as the people of Wales wish to go at any point in time? If this proposal is accepted in the referendum in Wales and it has a majority, that will be the stopping place. If a strong feeling develops that the Assembly should have more power once it begins to operate, the device of a referendum might be used by the Assembly itself to ascertain whether the Welsh people require it to have legislative power. The stopping place is as far as the people of Wales wish to go.
§ Mr. Anderson
What the hon. Gentleman ignores is the dynamic nature of any such innovation and the extent to which the real choice will be taken away from the people of Wales. They will be forced because of various vested interests to set Wales against England. This is the idea of setting Wales against England. There are vested interests in the Press and among individual Assembly men. The Welsh people will be told "Give us the powers and we will provide what you want." Expectations will be raised. It will be suggested in some way that this constitutional device will be a means of solving the economic problems of Wales. That is the point that has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock).
Inevitably all the pressures will be in favour of greater and greater powers being given to the Assembly. There is the danger that we shall move further along the road that is favoured by the hon. Member for Carmarthen.
The hon. Gentleman has been absolutely straight on this issue, as he is on most issues. I recall when he first came to this place in 1966. He said something that was almost Khrushchev-like—not "We shall bury you in 10 years" but "Within 10 years we shall see a Welsh Parliament." What irritates me is that apparently quite fortuitously the Secretary of State and the Government are now prepared to provide a Welsh Parliament when they do not need to do so. The hon. Member for Carmarthen will be able to go round Wales saying "I told you so. Here it is, signed, sealed 178 and delivered, within the decade which I promised."
The problem was outlined by the right hon. Member for Down, South in his contrast between the case for administrative devolution, which in Welsh terms would be the natural economic, commercial units of Wales—the north-south links—and national devolution which involves going much further in giving financial power with no obvious stopping point.
Various accusations regarding motivation have been levelled at both sides. An outsider might be cynical about the way that the rôles have been reversed. The Labour Government are now arguing for one Bill and the Conservative Opposition are arguing for two Bills. A few years ago, the rôles were wholly reversed. The then Labour Opposition were arguing for separate treatment for Wales under local government reorganisation and the Conservative Government were arguing for one Bill covering both Wales and England. The impartial outsider—
§ Mr. Anderson
—might detect a degree of cynicism and of tactical considerations entering the argument rather than a deep-seated consideration whether there should properly be one Bill or two.
§ Mr. Grist
I accept to a certain degree what the hon. Gentleman said. Does he accept that the Local Government Act contains Welsh sections separated from the English? One of the major problems with this legislation is that the Welsh and Scottish provisions are so intermingled.
§ Mr. Anderson
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the matter dispassionately, he will see that tactical considerations entered into the discussion no more than they do now.
I think that I shall please the hon. Member for Carmarthen—I shall certainly be pleased if what I say is accepted by my right hon. and learned Friend—because I intend to vote with the Government. When I first entered Parliament, I was told "When in doubt, vote Labour." I shall always try to maintain that principle.
Despite my scepticism about the Bill, of which I have spoken both in this place and elsewhere, I feel honour-bound to 179 vote against what I believe to be a wrecking amendment. However, I should not wish my vote to be misconstrued. I appreciate the dangers of silver-tongued orators on the Government Front Bench some months later saying that Parliament endorsed the Bill. I think that the eloquence of my hon. Friends the Members for Bedwellty and for Pontypool (Mr. Abse)—
§ Mr. Anderson
—will show that the motive was not an acceptance of the broad principles of the Bill. Each of us who is sceptical about the Bill has his or her own dilemma, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen pointed out, because of the Government's volte-face on a referendum. I am sure that the Secretary of State—an objective man if ever there was one—will not argue that he listened to the arguments with his mind not made up about a referendum and that suddenly, like a clap of thunder and flash of lightning on the road to Westminster, he realised "I have been wrong all along. I am now convinced of the case for a referendum deployed so eloquently by my hon. Friends." It does not happen like that.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
I am extremely interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument. Does he think that the argument that he is now deploying to defend his action in the Lobby tonight would be equally valid if we were discussing a guillotine motion?
§ Mr. Anderson
My attitude throughout will be not to support anything which I see as a wrecking measure. I have stated many times that the final say on this basic matter should be with the people of Wales. I shall do nothing to deny them that final say. Therefore, my attitude on the referendum—I hope that the Whips are listening—will depend in part on the timing of any guillotine motion.
§ Mr. Anderson
If it is in August, certainly. If I feel that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is jumping the gun, I shall certainly not support such a motion. If I feel that the Bill is 180 in a morass, I am unlikely to oppose the guillotine. I shall cross that bridge if and when we arrive at it. I am on the border of being out of order, so I had better stop there.
We know that the Government took the decision reluctantly and took it too late to gain any favour from those of us who for sometime have consistently argued for a referendum. Nevertheless, the decision has been taken. Therefore, the Bill is in a wholly different context.
I maintain my mistrust of the Bill. I believe that it is an unstable, short-term measure. There are conflicts which may lead to separation. The Bill may lead to less democratic representation in that powers will be taken from local authorites. Whole areas of decision-making, such as proportional representation, the status and powers and number of Members in the House of Commons and, in particular, the weight of the Welsh Office in the Cabinet, where the real decisions will continue to be made, have not been properly thought through.
I believe that there was and is a widespread demand in Wales for a referendum. I also believe—not cynically, but as a matter of principle—that, when the rules of the game are changed, those new rules demand greater endorsement than is provided by the House of Commons. It would be wholly inconsistent for me now to snatch the opportunity of a referendum from the people of Wales by an opportunist vote in this debate.
I share the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty that if, by some form of parliamentary manoeuvring at this time—a coalition—Wales were to be excluded from the Bill, we could have some form of stab in the back legend. The hon. Member for Carmarthen is an expert on legends and folklore. I say this not in any disparaging way. We all share the long tradition of the reality of legends in our Welsh history and study of the Mabinogion legends, and so on. There would be a real danger that it could be said that a coalition of Englishmen destroyed the wish of the people of Wales to determine their own future.
The spectre of devolution and national status which has been haunting Wales for a decade, or perhaps a century, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen said, would 181 receive some impetus if we were now to take Wales out the Bill. That spectre could be exorcised in a referendum if the people of Wales so decided. It will be wholly for the people of Wales to decide how far they want to go and what they conceive to be their own national future. If our people want devolution or separation, no power on earth either will or should prevent them from having it. I believe that they do not want it, but I shall do nothing to deny them the opportunity of making that decision.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) finds himself in doubt, because every intervention of his that I have heard on this subject seemed clearly to point in one direction—against not only the principle but the details of the measure. When he focused on a referendum, he repeated in a milder and perhaps more clearly reasoned way the arguments of the Secretary of State. The most persuasive arguments in favour of a referendum were those advanced by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock).
To suggest that by voting to exclude Wales from the Bill we shall deprive the Welsh nation of the possibility of considering devolution undermines the whole basis of parliamentary government and confirms me in my instinctive antipathy towards the referendum as a constitutional weapon, although there may be rare occasions when it should be invoked. The primary responsibility in considering the question of devolution must rest in a parliamentary system with Parliament.
Secondly, I believe that such debates as there may be, if a referendum is mounted either throughout the country or in Wales or Scotland, will be assisted by the debates that we shall have in the House of Commons. I hope that the difficulties, the dangers and the real points of principle will have been clarified by our interventions.
Finally, it would be quite wrong to leave the country with the impression that Parliament has somehow set its imprimatur on the Bill, which is what the hon. Member for Swansea, East and his hon. Friends—those who are assuming the same position as him tonight—would very likely do by this vote.
In the light of what has been said by the Welsh nationalists, I suppose it is 182 necessary for those of us who are fortunate enough to speak to declare our credentials to take part in the debate. I am happy that the debate has broadened out from a narrow, regional debate and that hon. Members from various parts of the United Kingdom are playing a part. I was particularly glad to hear the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) speak not only for his Province but for the whole of the United Kingdom. Since, however, the Leader of the Welsh National Party has sought to give the debate a nationalist flavour—I make no complaint about that, because that is the emotional basis of his party's argument—I must tell the Committee that, although I have the privilege to represent an East Kent constituency, I have ties with the Principality, particularly with the county of Monmouth. The present name Gwent has as much connection with Monmouthshire as the name Ghana has with the former territory of the Gold Coast.
I put it to the Secretary of State and particularly to the Lord President of the Council, since he has Welsh connections, that a border county such as Monmouthshire will deserve and need special treatment, not only in relation to a referendum but also on the detailed provisions of the Bill. I hope that there will, in fact, be no need to do that, because I hope that the whole of the Principality will be knocked out of the Bill by the vote tonight. But if against the advice of my hon. Friends and despite the powerful interventions from Labour Members, Wales is left in the Bill, I shall hope for special treatment for the county of Monmouthshire.
§ Mr. Abse
The hon. and learned Member is presenting an interesting argument. What has he in mind? I appreciate the enormous feeling in Gwent which, in my judgment, is overwhelmingly against an Assembly. Do I detect that the hon. and learned Member has a separate scheme? If so, is it not right for him to indicate what it is? Certainly it would be something to be weighed by the people of Gwent when they are discussing this matter.
§ Mr. Rees
I am always delighted to respond to such courteous interventions from the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). He will recall that it was but recently that the statutory provisions 183 of King Henry VII which specifically excluded Monmouth from the Principality were reversed. There is a strong case for putting the position back to where it was left by that distinguished Tudor king who hailed from the Principality.
I commend to the hon. Member and to the Leader of the House, who has the good fortune to represent Monmouthshire constituency although he does not come from that fair county, that if there is to be a referendum the particular views of the residents of Monmouthshire should be sought and considered on their own. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the historical connection between Gwent and Monmouthshire is very remote. That interesting and historic theme should need not be pursued tonight.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Speaking of Welsh names or Scottish connections, does the hon. and learned Gentleman feel that those residing in England who have ethnic connections with Scotland and Wales should be entitled to vote in a referendum?
§ Mr. Rees
Yes. It would be a travesty if those of obviously Welsh or Scottish descent could not vote. One has only to see what happens in my own constituency on St. David's Day, when so many people are anxious to reaffirm their connections with Wales, or on St. Andrew's Day, when members of Caledonian societies are so anxious to emphasise their connections with Scotland. It would be wrong if the beliefs of such people were not taken into account. I am grateful to the hon. Member for his intervention because it has enabled me to declare my position, which I have long and keenly held and which is shared by many of those east of Offa's Dyke and south of the border.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
Does not the hon. and learned Members accept that a referendum in Wales specifically dealing with Welsh issues would not allow those with Welsh ethnic connections to take part?
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Rees
I am not over-concerned with what has happened in the past on other issues, because this is a constitutional issue of transcendent importance. If there is to be any severing, even on 184 only a partial scale, of the links that bind the United Kingdom together, we are bound to take account of the fact that not all those persons of Welsh descent are now to be found west of Offa's Dyke. Equally, not all those persons of Scottish descent, whether they be Gaels, or Anglo-Saxon so are to be found north of the border.
The saddest feature of this whole debate is the spurious generation of friction between the component parts of the United Kingdom, because after several centuries of unity we are now a mixed nation. I shall readily concede that perhaps there are more people of purely Scottish descent in, say the West Highlands and more people of purely Welsh descent in, say, Merioneth and Caernarvon than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. However, to ignore the constant emigration from both sides of these historic frontiers is to do violence to the history of our country, and that is a factor which must be taken into account by the Government if they get so far as a referendum.
Let me now turn to the remarks of the leader of Plaid Cymru, who put the case for a separate Assembly for Wales. He based his case on the separate and special identity of the Welsh people. I do not feel that the historic identity of the Welsh people will be best supported, encouraged and affirmed through an emasculated Assembly based on Cardiff. If we are to take a political test of the identity of the Welsh people, I am bound to say, I hope with humility, modesty and a certain amount of diffidence, that the penetration of political life throughout the United Kingdom by people of Welsh descent might be a cause for resentment by those of Anglo-Saxon descent. I have only to invite hon. Members to regard the occupancy of the Chair when the House is not in Committee, and the occupancy of the Woolsack in the other place. Those are only two, and they are not by any means unique, examples of the comparative success of the Welsh people in establishing themselves politically in the councils of the United Kingdom.
If we are to take a professional test—and I choose that because I happen to be a lawyer—many people would think that the Welsh nation was well over-represented in medicine and the law. If we 185 are to take a cultural test, I do not believe, notwithstanding the rather ambivalent remarks of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), who had a certain responsibility for these matters, that the cultural vitality of the Welsh people would be advanced one iota by the situation of an emasculated Assembly in Cardiff. It was only too painfully apparent to me that the hon. Member for Putney, notwithstanding his previous incarnation in government, was quite unaware of what the Arts Council had been doing in Wales and was quite unaware of the staggering vitality of Welsh opera. When we come to his rather unattractive physical metaphor, he appeared to be afflicted with a degree of fiscal constipation when he was considering the implications of what he was proposing.
I do not see this Bill as the culmination for Wales of a historic debate. The Secretary of State was compelled to say rather lamely that the Labour Party had been debating this issue since 1965. Seen in these terms, this issue then can hardly be compared with the debates on Home Rule for Ireland. If my memory serves me correctly—the Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party is here and will correct me if I am wrong—Home Rule for Ireland eventuated after three Home Rule Bills introduced by various Liberal Governments.
§ Mr. Wigley
Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman concede in that example of Ireland that the history of Ireland would have been much happier if the first Bill had gone through?
§ Mr. Rees
I rather wonder. There are pressures on us in this debate, and on another occasion I should be happy to debate the intricacies of that matter with the hon. Gentleman. I wonder, however, whether, if Lloyd George had not lost his nerve at a certain point in 1920, the whole future of the United Kingdom, and possibly of the British Empire, might not have been a little different. To be led into that interesting historical byway might take me out of order, although I hope that the hon. Gentleman has demonstrated how impossible it will be to debate devolution without bringing in the historic Province of Ulster. With, I hope, the benevolent connivance of the Chair, I shall do all I can to assist right hon. and hon. Members representing 186 seats in that Province to broaden our debates so as to consider their position.
Whatever view one may take of the Irish situation, to try to assimilate devolution for Wales under this Bill with it is a travesty of historical truth. I do not wish to speculate on the private life of the Leader of Plaid Cymru. I hardly see him in the rôle of Charles Stewart Parnell. Because he is such an agreeable Member, I would hardly encourage him to follow in the steps of Mr. Nehru and serve an apprenticeship in a British gaol.
If we disregard the spurious arguments about the Welsh identity and the more spurious ones about the historical processes, we should then look to see what are the real pressures in Wales for an Assembly of this kind. At the moment, the views of any hon. Member may be a little impressionistic on this. I attach no weight to the advertisement which appeared in the Western Mail on Thursday 13th January. Those who put their names, and perhaps contributed their pennies, to that advertisement are numerically small. A rough analysis by me of those names shows, interestingly enough, that the name of the Bishop of St. Asaph—I refer to him in view of what the Secretary of State said—appears twice. This could mean that there is a twinge of conscience in the Principality as a result of the disestablishment of the Anglican Church there and a feeling that the Bench of Bishops should receive its due weighting. Beyond that, one finds that Sir Julian Hodge, demonstrating once again his undying attachment to the causes espoused by the Prime Minister, has also put his name to the advertisement.
I suppose that the largest politically identifiable group of people are those of the Liberal Party. One may draw one's own conclusions—[Interruption.] Of course there are members of the trade unions, and even a leading member of the Ceredigion Conservative Party. But it is a widely spread group, and the advertisement can hardly be called an elitist charter.
I believe that the Bill fails on close analysis from the points of view that I have so far considered. We are therefore forced back, at least in this Committee, to testing the Bill on its merits. Of course there is a real problem to be 187 tackled by the House of Commons. I believe that this country is over-governed and over-taxed, perhaps over-centralised. There may be a case for diffusing power, but not in this way. We in Dover feel and resent the hand of Whitehall as keenly as do hon. Members and electors in Pembroke, in Sandwich as acutely as in Rhyl, in Deal as deeply as in Aberystwyth. But I wonder whether, within a matter of years of a wholesale and perhaps rather imperfectly constructed reform of local government, we should be embarking on another great constitutional measure.
I therefore ask myself a few simple questions. Will the Bill bring the real government of Wales closer to the people? Will the electors of Caernarvon feel happy to be controlled from Cardiff or, if the day goes against the people of Cardiff, if the Lord President should change his mind—he is often capricious in these matters—and the Assembly were sited in Caernarvon, would the electors of Cardiff be happy to be controlled from Caernarvon?
In sheer miles, by siting this enuch of an Assembly in Wales, the Government could say that they had brought government closer to the people. In a real sense, however, we in Westminster are closer to the totality of Wales than any Assembly sited at random in the Principality itself.
The next question that the Committee should ask itself is whether this so-called measure of devolution will make government cheaper. That can hardly be so, even on the preface to the Bill. A great number of civil servants is to be hired, and great capital expenditure. I am not impressed with the comparison by the Leader of Plaid Cymru with our defence budget. At least there is something demonstrably to this country's advantage in our defence budget. We have in the Bill a mess of pottage on which we should not spend a penny.
The next and, perhaps, rather crude test that I would apply is whether it will simplify the government of the Celtic fringe of this country. [Laughter.] Why introduce another stratum of government? In Heaven's name, government is complex enough. I am glad that repre- 188 sentatives of the Scottish National Party find a source of merriment in what I have said. We shall turn in due course to the complexities of devolved government in Scotland.
§ Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)
My hon. Friends in the SNP and in Plaid Cymru were laughing at the use of the phrase "Celtic fringe".
§ Mr. Rees
That is a very interesting intervention. The hon. Gentleman is conceding by implication that there is no serious ethnic argument for devolution in Scotland because he is recognising—it is not for me to speculate on his own origins—that there is a large proportion of people of Anglo-Saxon origin in Scotland.
It was not my intention to do so, but I have uncovered certain differences of opinion in the Scottish National Party. Perhaps SNP Members will explain whether theirs is an ethnic, cultural or economic argument. The word "politics" in this situation is used to conceal many points which we shall have to examine in due course. One point is lamentably clear: that, once we manoeuvre the SNP off the central theme of devolution, SNP Members speak with at least 13 or 14 different voices. It will be necessary to probe exactly where they stand on the great economic and cultural issues of our time. Are they as homogeneous as they like to pretend?
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (South Angus)
If the hon. and learned Gentleman means Scotland, let him say so and not use terms like "Celtic fringe".
§ Mr. Rees
I used the term only because the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) was advancing an ethnic argument in support of the case for devolution in Wales. It may be that the SNP, for obvious reasons, does not wish to deploy the same argument. No doubt we shall have a chance to test its position later. I do not need to remind SNP Members that at least two-thirds of the population of Scotland are not of Celtic descent. The number of people who speak Gaelic is probably less than the number of people in Wales who speak Welsh.
§ Mr. George Thompson (Galloway)
May I help the hon. and learned Gentleman with the history of my constituency? When the Romans were here, Galloway had people who spoke the language from which Welsh is descended. Then there was a period when there were Gaels coming into the area from Ireland, and a vast number of our place names are of Gaelic origin.
§ Mr. Abse
On a point of order, Mr. Crawshaw. Do we have to endure this fascinating lecture during debate on an amendment on the question of whether Wales should be in the Bill? Does it not make still clearer the absurdity of seeking to deal with the affairs of Wales and Scotland at the same time? I am sure that the people of Cardiff, Pontypool and all the Principality are waiting with bated breath to hear how the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) will continue to explain the fascinating history of his own constituency.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)
It has been a wide-ranging debate, but I am not certain that it is not getting a little too wide-ranging. Perhaps we could return to the amendment.
§ Mr. Rees
I had not meant to expose the Committee to the history, interesting though it may be, of the ethnic origins of tthe people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. There will be time enough for that on another occasion.
Test this measure how one will, there is no substantial case for including Wales. Why, then, has it been included? Is it because the Secretary of State wishes to be true to his own rather flirtatious political past? It is not only the Bishop of St. Asaph who has changed his position on political matters. Is it that the Lord President, newly arrived in Monmouthshire from Cornwall, wishes to demonstrate his Celtic virility? I do not believe that is the case.
What underlies the Bill is a rather squalid compact between the Government and the Welsh National Party. The Government need the votes—yes, even three votes—of those hon. Gentlemen to maintain themselves in difficult periods. I believe that this is not a compact to which I or the Welsh people—certainly not those east of Offa's Dyke—or, indeed, 190 the more perceptive among Labour Members need subscribe. I shall vote for the amendment with enthusiasm and relish.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Evans
It has been said that without the efforts of a few of us this debate would not have taken place and that this mater would probably have gone through on the nod. I am sure that that is not true when we bear in mind the number of English voices that have been heard in this debate.
A little earlier I raised a point of order seeking to draw attention to some issues which are bedevilling the future of Wales in the United Kingdom, which will have a significant part to play in the future of Europe. It is a matter of regret that I must add to the point of order by handing to Mr. Speaker tomorrow morning a matter involving privilege. That matter arises from a newspaper article by a man who calls himself the secretary of the, Trades Union Congress of Wales. In that article he threatens those of us who have carried on the fight to secure a referendum that we had better watch ourselves very carefully in future, presumably from the point of view of our political security.
One of my constituents addressed a letter to Mr. Speaker asking what he intended to do in ruling on such matters. It is a matter of intense regret to me that this kind of issue should be raised in these discussions. It is also a matter of regret that in the early days when we conducted the fight for a referendum we were jocularly referred to by the Secretary of State for Wales as "the referendum boyos". The "boyos" now find themselves in the not unusual situation of Welsh rugby teams, because when we take a count we find that we have at least 16 men on our side because the Secretary of State has joined us. We may have a much larger number at the next count.
The holding of a referendum was secured by the pertinacious efforts of a few people. It is now a matter of history that this question was first raised in my constituency. That constituency has always shown a deep sense of responsibility and a strong interest in matters affecting ordinary people. The exercise was not undertaken lightly. I do not like, any more than any other hon. Member likes, the use of the referendum as a means of government. But we have stipulated a 191 condition that referenda should be held only on a matter of grave constitutional importance, a matter which could be shown to be one that would have a vital effect on generations to come and on the future of the country.
It is therefore a matter of regret that we find the referendum referred to as it has been by the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees). It is regrettable that there should be faulty names, double entries, and trade unionists denying that they ever consented to having their names inserted. There is an aura of suspicion and the net result has been intensely regrettable to those of us who have compaigned for the referendum because we were determined that the voice of the people of Wales should be heard. We went no further than that. I can remember, in responding to an intervention by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) during a debate, saying that if the people of Wales by a free, unfettered vote showed that they wanted to have a separate Wales, I would honourably try to work to make their wishes come true.
In the situation that is now developing, people's attitudes are changing. Already the referendum for which we fought so hard is being overshadowed by serious doubt about the influences that will be brought to bear upon it. I shall say no more about this aspect of the issue, other than to repeat that tomorrow I will take the opportunity of laying documents before Mr. Speaker in order that he may give his ruling. I do not want to prejudge his ruling in any way.
What motivated much opposition to devolution in Wales was a determination that there should not be a break-up of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has led to an association of free peoples, developing their own kinds of free institutions and their own social democracy. The United Kingdom has played a significant part in the broad world of today and it still does so. We find ourselves enriched by this close contact. We give incalculable strength to one another. Some regions are blessed with great cultural development; others have been the subject of intense industrial exploration and productivity. Politically, economically and culturally we share so many things that, if we had to operate 192 alone, we would be a far less happy country than we are today. I do not say for one moment that there are things in our society that do not need radical attention. The threat to the United Kingdom was the development of a national consciousness finding its expression through nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland.
A heavy responsibility must lie upon those who were panic stricken by a few by-election results. I sometimes think that the only people who were not panic stricken were those fighting the elections. They were usually too busy to have time to panic. The Government got themselves on a hook by promising some kind of devolution. They promised it too lightly and without the necessary deep examination.
There have been broad suggestions about devolution in Wales for many years, but not enough work in depth has been done to arrive at correct conclusions. For example, many of us would applaud what has been said about the need for a thorough overhaul of local government and an examination of its rôle in undertaking the duties of the many nominated organisations which have created so much animus in Wales. It must be said, however, that this animus is all too often spurious, because the Bill will make little change in regard to nominated organisations.
We are deeply concerned about the financing of devolution. Some hon. Members have already pointed out that there is almost bound to be some backlash. I referred in my last speech to the problems which could arise in some industries. For instance, we know how bedevilled mining has been by regional wage structures and how difficult it was to get a unified approach in the British coalfields because of the various structures in the fields.
After many years of strenuous effort, this difficulty was overcome, but how much longer would it last and how much longer could teams of pit workers go from region to region getting comparable payments for their jobs? Could we expect that they would get the same pay if they moved from a field which is only occasionally economic—such as the Welsh field—to, for example, a developed Selby with its gigantic wealth of coal?
193 Human nature being what it is, can anyone doubt that there would not be voices raised for separate treatment by people working in more economic regions? That would be the beginning of a return to the old system and the undoing of a great deal of work by the trade union movement.
From this would flow, in all probability, a fragmentation inside British trade unionism. Is that not much more likely to occur if there is fragmentation at administrative levels? Would it not be said to Wales that, we should have a small coal board and operate on our own? It is all very well to express pious hopes that this kind of thing will not come about, but a study of history, especially economic history, shows that all too often it is quite easy to put the clock back.
So we have said, and keep saying, that, having secured a referendum, the people of Wales and Scotland should be allowed to speak uninhibited by external pressures. We cannot avoid them all, but at least we can see that the balance is kept reasonably fair. In my constituency, the determination—no longer as evident as it was—was that we should have a fair referendum and that, the people having spoken, we would abide by that decision. Now we are no longer convinced that we shall get a fair balance to put before our people, and from that situation will come the resistance.
We are worried about the situation in local government, where the cart has already been put before the horse. We are worried about the ability to pay. Where is the money to come from? Is it to come from powers of taxation in the Assembly? Is it to come from elsewhere? That view was evidenced by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), who was apparently quite happy to say "We will have all the reforms, but the money will come from elsewhere." The sums asked for by Plaid Cymru for Wales are astronomical, and we are worried about where the money is to come from, only to be told by Plaid Cymru that it will come from a separate Welsh economy.
So we say that the future of Britain remains as a united Britain and that where reforms are needed they should be carried out across the broad spectrum of 194 the nation as a whole. We say that we should give the people in our countries the chance to express their own opinions about some kind of devolution. We say that, in the final analysis, they must realise that, if they decide to go their separate paths, they must face the economic, social and political implications of those separate paths. We say that, if they are not brought face to face with those implications, time will hold bitter reproaches for them and even more bitter reproaches for those who allowed such a chain of events to be set in motion.
§ Mr. Grist
As the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) and others indicated, we are really talking about devolution in the Bill because of the panic set up in both major parties, but in particular in the Labour Party, by localised nationalist successes. We are not debating what we should perhaps be debating—a wholesale reform of our constitution, including the place of the upper House, representation in Europe, and the rest. We are discussing localised nationalist-based proposals.
It would be as well for us to consider the Government's proposals in the Government's own words and set what they have called for alongside what they are now proposing.
To that end I would remind the Committee of what the Secretary of State for Wales said in June 1974, when he outlined four proposals for devolution. He said that any proposals should be judged on the basis of these four principles. The right hon. Gentleman said, first, that the taking of powers from a central body should meet a genuine need; secondly, that they should be based on widespread public support; thirdly, that any changes should be clear and a definite improvement; and fourthly, that they must be designed to provide a stable constitutional framework for the future.
It is only fair that the Secretary of State should justify every proposal in the Bill as it affects Wales against those four principles that he enunciated. They are excellent principles and I recommend the right hon. and learned Gentleman to go back to them.
If devolution is itself a good thing, we might expect that the Government, in looking at devolution in England, would be as enthusiastic as they have been with 195 regard to Scotland and Wales. The argument is that it has nothing to do with nationalism. If so, does not the argument hold good for England as well?
Therefore, we should consider why what is proposed for Wales in the Bill is not apparently suitable for England. If we take the Secretary of State's "genuine need" argument, it turns out that in the White Paper on England one of the needs for Parliament is that there should be more time to consider legislation. The argument is that when we have Scottish and Welsh Assemblies the House of Commons will have more time to consider its legislation.
That is not true. We all know that there will be just as much legislation with regard to England in the House of Commons if there is a Scottish Assembly and a Welsh Assembly as there is now. There will not be any more time. If there was any more time, I am absolutely certain—as are other hon. Members—that every Ministry in the land has Bills up its sleeve and is only waiting for the opportunity to slot them in. There will not be more time in the House of Commons when we have Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. That, apparently, puts the need element in some doubt.
We then come to the Secretary of State's statement that any such move should enjoy widespread public support. Does the Secretary of State really believe that the proposals for a Welsh Assembly enjoy widespread public support in Wales? If he does, would he point to the proof? Would he demonstrate where his confidence lies?
It would not be in the 700 names listed in the Western Mail, because one can produce 700 names for almost anything. One hesitates to think, but, nevertheless, one could produce a better list of 700 names that had been properly edited and culled through and which, at the end of a letter for signatures, did not say:Please add your signature and position"—that is a real elitist touch—and those of anyone else you feel appropriate.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I would draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to a letter in today's Western Mail written by Professor Davies and Mr. Gwyn Morgan, the Chairman and Treasurer of the Wales for 196 an Assembly Committee. It states that the request for "positions" appearing in that advert was "a misunderstanding". That is extraordinary in view of the evidence that the hon. Gentleman has brought before the House that the original letter that went out to would-be signatories asked specifically for their position and that of anyone else they thought appropriate in order to give some legitimacy to this crazy scheme.
§ Mr. Grist
It may be that the literacy of some of these gentlemen is in doubt. They must have produced the advertisement at great speed. But it seems that certain headquarters have felt justified in bunging in the names of some of their staff without asking their permission, in the rather arrogant belief that because a person belongs to a particular body he must believe in that body's official policy. As and when—and if—we come to a referendum, there will be some big surprises for those who believe in that.
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Gentleman says "If and when we come to a referendum". Is he now in favour of a referendum, bearing in mind that he denied that a short time ago on television?
§ Mr. Grist
I have always been against referenda. I believe them to be against the constitution. But, when we have a Government who ride roughshod over public opinion, if it is the only way of preventing the passage of a measure which will affect the United Kingdom I have to go along with the proposal.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
Is my hon. Friend aware that the letter which was sent out inviting signatures carried the following paragraph:We believe that a substantial majority of the people of Wales wholeheartedly welcome the creation of such an Assembly"?If my hon. Friend looks at what appeared in this advertisement, he will find that the 600 signatories are already in retreat because they say in it:We believe that a majority of the people of Wales will, in a referendum, welcome the creation of such an Assembly.It appears that some of the people concerned with the advertisement realised how absurd it was to claim that the majority of the people of Wales gave the Government's proposals their wholehearted support.
§ Mr. Grist
My hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) is right, as was the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), to draw attention to the very clear threat contained at the end of the advertisement, to the effect that any frustration of their aspirations'would dangerously threaten a social harmony in Wales and relationships in Britain as a whole.I am afraid that that is on a par with the statement by the Leader of the House that to frustrate this movement would promote an Ulster situation in Wales. That was also to misunderstand the feelings and aspirations of the vast majority of the people of Wales—
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
As I understand it, of the 600 or 700 signatories whose names appeared in the Western Mail, two or three have said that there must have been some mistake and that they did not intend their signatures to appear on the advertisement. This is a very large number of signatures, and they are very representative of the life of Wales—from bishops to NUM officials, it might be said. But, if a motion appears on the Order Paper of the House of Commons and 60 or 70 signatures are appended to it, a day or two after its appearance invariably there is a disclaimer from some hon. Member who says that his signature was included in error, or something of that kind. The fact that there were 600 or 700 signatures to that contribution in the Western Mail makes it a pretty bone fide advertisement, in my view.
§ Mr. Grist
"Qualified" might be a better word. The signatures include that of a 14-year old school boy whose father seems to have bunged in the names of all his family; they include that of the leader of the Labour Party in Swansea, who certainly did not give permission for his name to go forward; they include the name of one of my local councillors, that of the principal of one of the university colleges—how his name got in without his permission, I cannot imagine—and those of two members of the 198 Transport and General Workers' Union who are actively anti-devolution. How did their names get in?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Albert Costain)
I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) will remember that this advertisement has been the subject of a great deal of discussion today. It would help the Committee if he would get back to the business in hand.
§ Mr. Kinnock
For the sake of accuracy, it is necessary to specify that, unlike signing an Early-Day Motion in the House of Commons, this act of signing in the case of the advertisement—
§ The Temporary Chairman
I draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that this has been discussed a lot already, particularly by the hon. Member.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Kinnock
On a point of order, Mr. Costain. The last thing I want to do is to cause difficulties for you. But it is difficult to know how the advertisement, which is intended to convince hon. Members taking part in this debate of the necessity of keeping Wales in the Bill, can be out of order.
§ The Temporary Chairman
It is not a question of the advertisement being out of order. I was referring to tedious repetition. The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has referred to it quite a lot. Mr. Grist.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I want to avoid repetition of all kinds, including tedious repetition. But since my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) raised the analogy between signing the advertisement and signing an Early-Day Motion, I should point out that in the latter case signatures are collected at all hours of the day and night, and in the former case to get one's name on the advertisement one had to make a subscription of money and provide a signature after reading a letter. In the 199 circumstances it is extraordinary to tell us that names could possibly have been entered in error.
§ Mr. Grist
Indeed, it is most extraordinary, but it is a most extraordinary list.
We then come to the Secretary of State's third touchstone for devolution, that any change should be a clear and definite improvement. One might ask for whom the improvement must be. The onus of proof must be on the Government. It is not for those who oppose it to say how it will not be an improvement. The onus is on the Government to show that there will be an improvement, and so far they have signally failed to even try to do so.
In what we might call the English document, paragraph 20 rejects English regional assemblies, partly on the basis that many domestic matters might showmarked differences over short distances in England".This is one of the great dangers of devolution—that there will be a growing divergence in law and practice over very short distances in the United Kingdom. Those are the words of the Government themselves. If that could happen in England, how much more is it likely to happen in a little country such as Wales, alongside such a giant country, relatively speaking, as England.
In paragraph 30 on block grants to Scotland and Wales, the Government state that these will be settled annuallysubject to the approval of Parliament, and normally, it is expected, with the agreement of the devolved administrations.Really? Does anyone really believe that if there is a Socialist Assembly in Wales and a Conservative Government in Westminster, and there is anything like the situation which exists today, there would be any agreement whatever? Does anyone believe that? If they do, what is he doing in the House of Commons, and if he does not why is he supporting the Government's proposals? Does he really believe that any public body which has the power to spend on this scale without the odium of raising the money will not fight all the way with the grant-giving Westminster body with whom it has to deal? Of course it will fight.
200 On block grants the Government say in paragraph 74:Such block funds would make the Government's task of economic management more difficult. The composition of expenditure is important because different types of expenditure have different effects on important economic aggregates, such as the balance of payments, the public sector borrowing requirement, and unemployment, as well as different effects on the various sectors of the economy.It is not simply a case of Westminster voting the block grant and saying to the Welsh and Scots "Here is your money. Go and do what you like". The Government will be taking into account the balance of payments, the public sector borrowing requirement and unemployment. If the Government fear that the Scots and the Welsh are not prepared to operate through the block grants in those fields, the discipline on the economy will fall on the English, because they will be the only element left on which the Government will have a direct political pull. Or did not the Government know what they were talking about when they wrote the White Paper "The English Dimension"?
Paragraph 54 deals with local government reform—the argument that if we have a Welsh Assembly we can do away with the county councils and have 19 unitary authorities in place of the eight counties of Wales, with 19 directors of education and 19 directors of social services. All these first-rate people are hanging around. There are many more than eight in Wales who could head these administrations and that, presumably, would save money. One of the great arguments for unitary authorities is that they will save money.
§ Mr. Hooson
Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the Conservative Government's reform of local government was one of the causes of the great increase in public expenditure, and that many Welsh counties have innumerable assistant directors of education who could all become directors of education of unitary authorities?
§ Mr. Grist
I do not deny that certain economies could be effected in local government, but it ill becomes hon. Members to be too hard on local government expenditure when the House of Commons spends a great deal of time passing legislation which imposes duties on local 201 government without giving it the funds with which to operate. That is sometimes a cheap gibe. I remind the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) that the new authorities came into being at the time of the inflation explosion and they got a bad name because of that. The local authorities in the hon. and learned Gentleman's area were breaking down because they could not afford to employ the staff to which they were entitled under the previous scheme.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes
A motion has been tabled by the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton), signed by many Conservative Members, in the following terms:in view of the mounting disquiet regarding the structure, manning, salaries, efficiency and constantly increasing responsibilities of local government, this House appoints a Select Committee to appraise the situation".That gives a rather different Conservative slant.
§ Mr. Grist
It underlines what I said. The Select Committee will look at the duties imposed on local authorities. To that extent I support the motion. It is in no way in conflict with what I said.
Paragraph 54 is about the establishment of elected regional executive authorities, which is precisely what is proposed for Wales. It reads:The establishment of elected regional authorities of this type would thus in practice directly involve a comprehensive reorganisation of local government … Many functions of the counties would therefore need to be raised to the new regional authorities.Planning is the obvious example. Instead of planning being at county and district level it would be at all-Wales level—and that brings local government closer to the people? Will those who support the abolition of counties please tell all their councillors and constituents that planning decisions for Flint, Pembroke and Merioneth will be taken in Cardiff?
Paragraph 68 of "Devolution: The English Dimension" statesThe transfer to elected English regional bodies of powers at present exercised by Ministers (whether at a departmental headquarters or in a regional office) would have far-reaching constitutional implications. In particular it could directly reduce their ability to maintain national policies on devolved subjects, limit the rôle of Parliament and restrict the scope of the work of its Members.202 That is the Government recognising that if we have elected regional authorities in England, the power of Members of Parliament will be reduced. That is precisely what will happen to the powers and probably the numbers of Members of Parliament from Wales and Scotland.
Will those who support the Government's proposals in the Bill go to Wales and explain their effect to the people of Wales, or will they go round assuring people that there will be no cut in the powers and the numbers of their Members? If the latter statement is true, surely what the Government state in the English White Paper cannot be true. We all know from the reaction of English Members on both sides of the Chamber that they will not put up with Scottish and Welsh Members interfering in their home affairs when they have no say in home affairs of Wales and Scotland.
We come to the last of the Secretary of State's touchstones on devolution, and he has said that they must provide a stable constitutional framework for the future. Who believes that? The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) has said that he has always seen devolution as the way to make progress towards a greater degree of self-government for Wales. That is what he believes, and I believe he is right. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) has said that the Assembly, though almost certainly Labour-controlled, will become a part of the nationalist movement. That is the fact.
We are debating the Bill because of the presence of nationalists in this place. They see the Assemblies as the vehicles to further their aims. There can be no doubt that in the nature of the way in which these bodies are being set up—they are non-fund raising, only spending in certain areas, but with all the authority of being elected—there is the prospect of more and more powers being given to the Assemblies, to an extent that Westminster cannot hope to stop. It would be a one-way process and there would be no way in which the House of Commons could reassert its powers over the powers that it had given away.
Ultimately, the Welsh Assembly will undermine, or at least severely damage, people's faith in democracy. I believe that it will further estrange people from relevant institutions. As has already been 203 pointed out, it cannot answer the real needs, demands and desires of the people. It cannot provide one more job in Wales. It cannot provide one more home in Wales. It cannot hold down one price in Wales. It can do nothing that the people really care about at bottom.
If the Government had only paid attention to some of the smaller statements in the Kilbrandon Report, they would have noticed that the Kilbrandon Commission was impressed by the fact that the people of Wales and Scotland did not so much worry about where their Government came from so much as the success of their Government. I am afraid that what we have been asked to support in the Bill is dangerous and misguided. It is an illusion and it is based on funk.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Abse
This debate has been quiet in the latter hours. We had a more spirited, though not necessarily better informed, debate earlier.
There is bound to be a certain ambience in this place, which is not characteristic, when we speak now. With the possibility of a referendum, it is clear that we are talking not only to each other in trying to shape opinion but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) rightly said, as part of a referendum campaign. Therefore, we should be ready to inject into our speeches not only the sophistications, the manner and practices of this place but language, simple and direct, which will clearly reach the electorate and inform them of the issues involved. Indeed, we must sometimes speak to them in dramatic terms. As we are concerned with Wales, we must certainly speak to the people with elan, polemics, warmth and vigour. I should not want to participate in this important debate in any manner which would suggest that I want it to be a cosy debate. This is an important debate which will impinge considerably on the future of the Principality.
In assessing whether one should vote for the amendment. one should ask why we are presented with a Bill which does not disengage Wales from Scotland. There has been no answer to that question, despite the fact that hon. Members on both sides have repeatedly questioned and challenged the fusion of the two 204 countries into one Bill. Despite all the questions, there has been no reply whatsoever by the Leader of the House or the Secretary of State for Wales. Excuses are now advanced. It is suggested that if we support the amendment we shall wreck the Bill. From the beginning, after all the importuning which has gone on and after all the admonitions, no one has given an answer to the question because no one dare give the true answer. The Government—the Secretary of State for Wales in particular—knew full well from the beginning the reaction that would come from the people of Wales. They wanted to evade public opinion in Wales because, as I have said and will repeat, they wished to hang on to the kilts of the Scottish oil sheikhs.
Wales has been insulted. The people of Wales are being disregarded by the Secretary of State for Wales and by the Leader of the House. They are dismissing with contempt the idea that Wales should have a Bill of its own—a Bill which would be totally different in its aims and structure from the provisions of the Bill which impinge upon Scotland.
In considering my response to the amendment, I have to say that my constituents, whom I proudly represent, are being treated with rare contempt. The people of Wales are being told that, although this is the biggest constitutional change which has ever taken place in Britain and despite the fact that it impinges upon Wales more than upon anywhere else, the Leader of the House has decided, without one word of explanation, that they cannot have a separate Bill.
There are important consequences that I must take into account when considering the amendment. I have a duty to concern myself with the attitude of hon. Members who represent English constituencies. I do not take a provincial view, a parish-pump view or a xenophobic view of the Bill. I am aware that there are hon. Members who represent English constituencies who, perhaps reluctantly, believe that they must face certain political realities and who when Second Reading came decided, with importuning by Scottish colleagues, that they had no alternative but to agree to the passage of the Bill. The telescoping into the Bill of the Welsh aspect has caused severe embarrassment to many English hon. Members because they have learned from 205 the debates that there is nothing like unanimity on the issue in Wales.
Those of us who have to face our own electorates know that it is we who persuaded the Government to have a referendum because we are so confident about the final verdict. When I am asked to vote for the amendment, against it or abstain, I have a duty to ask why I should further embarrass English hon. Members when the opportunity is open to the Government to have a separate Bill. What of the Scots? Are they not also placed in a difficult position? There are bound to be those who believe that the Bill is a repugnant, placatory gesture to nationalism and that it is repugnant to everything that involves international, democratic Socialism.
§ Mr. Abse
I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) would contain himself. He made a particularly vicious attack on me in the Second Reading debate, and I have more important things to deal with than to reply now to him. I shall be dealing with all these matters later. I shall give him a full opportunity when the time comes.
§ Mr. Buchan
My hon. Friend referred to Scottish hon. Members. The short answer is that they will not be embarrassed. My hon. Friend claims credit for achieving the referendum. Is it not strange that he should now argue the case for two Bills when we are now discussing the Bill that is in front of us and the only one that we will have this Session? Why does he argue a case which basically would deprive the Welsh people of an opportunity to decide in a referendum?
§ Mr. Abse
I am coming to the issues and going through the considerations I 206 must make when deciding my attitude to the amendment. Be assured that I claim only that primarily with my Welsh colleagues, and with the aid of hon. Members from the Opposition side as well as from this side of the House, we brought about the referendum. I will before the end of my speech, because there is plenty of time and the night is young, come to the issue to which my hon. Friend has rightly directed attention.
Though my hon. Friend may regard the way in which the telescoping of the Bill affects Scottish Members as unimportant, what must be abundantly clear to everyone is that, precisely because so many Welsh Labour Members are antagonistic to the Bill, we shall be involving ourselves in these debates, perhaps in every amendment affecting Scotland and certainly in every amendment affecting Wales. We shall be an incubus on the back of the Bill the whole way. If Scottish Members can look with indifference at that, they underestimate the pertinacity and persistence of Welsh Members who feel that they have a duty to speak up for and protect their own areas.
It would clearly be much wiser, and, in the interests of Scotland, that the Bill should deal only with Scottish affairs and for Wales to be left out. But why is the Leader of the House so concerned that the Welsh Members should deal with the Scottish situation? Why have he and the Secretary of State for Wales created the unnecessary situation now presented to us which clearly causes offence in Wales and, I should have thought, in Scotland too?
§ Mr. Buchan
May I ask my hon. Friend a specific question, which he has answered so far with certain threats concerning the effect on Scotland of the Bill? If he claims the credit for and takes pride in the referendum, why does he seek to pre-empt a decision on the referendum?
§ Mr. Abse
My hon. Friend is too impatient. I shall deal with the question of a referendum. It is kind of him to insist on giving me credit for it, but I claim credit with my colleagues—that is if one can claim credit for such an instrument when we have a Parliament.
207 I want to take account of the position in which Wales will find itself in its relations with its Members when the Bill becomes an Act. It is a most curious feature that the Government should attempt to impose upon us a Bill of this kind when one bears in mind that the Leader of the House has been a passionate instructor of us all on the sovereignty of Parliament. He has been insistent during the whole of his political life that at all costs we must protect the sovereignty of the House of Commons and of this Chamber in particular. No one has tutored hon. Members more in this doctrine. No one has insisted more upon the supremacy of Parliament or been a more jealous guardian of it up to now than my right hon. Friend.
Now we have a Bill which, in practice, will mean that half the work is to be taken away from Welsh Members and handed over to Assembly men. This will apply over a wide range of matters—education, housing, health and social services. It will not be possible for an hon. Member representing a Welsh constituency to question Ministers in charge of those Departments, because those matters will be dealt with down in the Cardiff Assembly.
The guardian of the rights of the House of Commons presents us with this proposition and asks us to acquiesce. When our constituents come to us on social security or education matters, we shall have to say that they are not matters for us and that they must go to their Assembly men. We shall have to say that we have no leverage and that we cannot question Ministers or initiate Adjournment debates on those matters.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
If the hon. Gentleman has read the Bill, he will know that social security is not to be devolved.
§ Mr. Abse
Certain aspects of social security are certainly to be devolved. I shall not go to the minutiae, but that intervention in itself is an acknowledgment that the bulk of my argument is correct—that a huge weight of the work calculated by the Government at half, of Members representing Welsh constituencies will be given to an Assembly and we shall be reduced over that area to political eunuchs. I hope that the Leader 208 of the House will explain how he reconciles his fidelity to the supremacy of this the House of Commons with the fact that he deliberately and calculatingly intends to cut down the work of those Members in that rash manner.
Already amendments have been tabled suggesting a diminution of the number of Scottish Members, and there are intimations of similar amendments in regard to Welsh Members. If the Bill goes through, how can it be argued, when half our work will have gone to Cardiff, that we should retain similar numbers here, participating in the work of hon. Members representing English constituencies and debates on matters in which they will have no say so far as Wales is concerned?
Those who are concerned with the future of Labour government should realise that, if the Bill went through as it is and a Conservative Government came to power, it would follow inexorably that seats would immediately be extinguished. The present arguments justifying the disproportionate numbers of Members for Wales could no longer be sustained. The Leader of the House, with the collusion of the Secretary of State, in the belief that they will gain some temporary advantage, are guaranteeing that in the long run the radical elements which Wales and Scotland have consistently produced to provide the Labour majorities will be snatched away in a miserable piece of transitory opportunism because of a failure to stand up to a swelling of nationalism in a few areas.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is not only a question of disproportionate numbers. Is it not also a question of however many Scots Members there were—say we were reduced to 36—voting on issues for which we should have literally no responsibility? The question of numbers does not make it right. How, in terms of this Labour Government, could the present Lord President or the present Prime Minister, who represent Welsh constituencies, initiate delicate English or housing legislation for which they themselves would have no constituency responsibility?
§ Mr. Abse
My hon. Friend has underlined my argument.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House represents one of the smallest constituencies in Wales. If anybody is guaranteeing his own liquidation, it is 209 my right hon. Friend when he puts forward this proposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] Whatever cheers may come from the Opposition Benches, there will be no cheers from me. I know the contribution my right hon. Friend has made to the Labour movement, even though he has so extraordinarily misled himself by being seized in this paroxysm of English romanticism.
§ Mr. Powell
May I offer the Lord President the reassurance that when there is equitable representation in the House of Commons there will be additional seats in Northern Ireland for which he would, no doubt, be considered.
§ Mr. Abse
We in Wales are too fond of my right hon. Friend to want to lose him into the bogs of Ireland.
There are more serious consequences even than the extinguishment of seats, consequences for hon. Members representing English constituencies in particular. As a Socialist, I cannot understand how one measures people's needs according to whether they are Welsh, English or Scottish. I am well aware, as all of us who have been there must be, of the acute problems in the centres of so many of our cities such as Liverpool. They are grim problems. I am aware, as everybody must be, of the problems of the North-East. When, as Socialists, we decide how we should allocate such money as is available, the criterion is obviously that of need. We do not ask whether the man concerned comes from the North-East or from Liverpool. That is not the measure.
Let hon. Members representing English constituencies fully understand the position. Each year there will be a battle between the Assembly and Parliament over funds. Each year, whatever is obtained will be regarded as insufficient. Each year, as an alibi for all the deficiencies that there will be within the Principality, under the control of the Assembly, it will be claimed that the English Government—as Plaid Cymru Members describe it—were responsible. Each year the Chief Executive of the Assembly and all his merry men and women will say "If you don't give us extra money, the nationalists will take over."
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
The hon. Gentleman is underrating the fre- 210 quency with which these battles will take place. They will take place not only each year, when the block grant is settled, but every time there are public expenditure cuts after that.
§ Mr. Abse
The system contains an inbuilt exacerbation of relations between Parliament and the Assembly. But the relevance of this, which I am putting to hon. Members representing English constituencies, is that if the Government begin on their course of appeasement, if they make the original placatory gesture, they will be compelled to continue on that course. Hon. Members representing English constituencies must ask themselves where the money is coming from. It will come from the money now being allocated to Liverpool, the North-East and all those areas in need, because we shall suddenly have introduced a new criterion—not need, but whether one lives beyond Offa's Dyke.
§ Dr. Phipps
Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to consider what might happen if the Welsh or Scottish Assembly unilaterally decided to exceed its block grant in any one year?
§ Mr. Abse
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) correctly said that there was an inbuilt instability in the whole system. It is not a question of creating a machine with boundaries. It is an open-ended scheme which, by its nature and by the declared policy of Plaid Cymru, would mean that it would go on and on at the expense of hon. Members representing English constituencies.
I am ready to fight for my constituency if there is a genuine need, and I am ready to fight for those areas of Wales where there may be a need. But it is an extraordinary and repellent sense of priorities that it should be determined on anything but need and on the belief that some ethnic group or nation exists or that somebody happens to live in a particular place behind an ancient boundary. It is contrary to anything I understand as a Socialist that we should base need on national, mystic considerations rather than on genuine personal requirements.
There are other consequences that affect Wales. It means that local government would be gobbled up by an Assembly. The Secretary of State for Wales has made it clear that the first 211 job to which the Assembly would be assigned would be the area of local government. Perhaps it is not quite right to say that that would be the first task. The first task would be for the Assembly to decide its Members' salaries. Never has there been a situation in which we as a Parliament were creating another body and giving that body, as the Bill shows, full powers to decide its own salaries and pensions, with no check whatever from this House of Commons or anybody else. All we shall rely on is the conscience of the newly-elected, untried, untested Assembly.
I repeat that I was wrong to say that local government would be the Assembly's first task. It is bound to be its third task. Its second task would be to appoint the civil servants and clerks who would serve it. I hope the Committee appreciates what that involves. According to the White Paper and statements made by the Secretary of State for Wales, an extra 1,300 jobs would be created. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) spoke of the jobs to be created. The Assembly would have power to create jobs for the boys—jobs for the bureaucrats. It would not involve only 1,000-odd civil servants. That is all part of the fallacy.
The Bill gives other powers to the Assembly. The Secretary of State has said that he hopes that the Welsh Assembly will share its civil servants with Whitehall and the Welsh Office. What a hope! Can one really believe for a moment that an Assembly, if it had any self-respect—
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.