§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does that mean that we may return later to the purpose of the amendment? What we are seeking to do is to have a referendum before we get through the processes of the Bill. The purpose of the amendment is to say that, irrespective of whether the Bill is enacted, it will still be possible to have a referendum in Wales.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
In commending the Bill to the House, may I repeat what has been previously said: that the Bill does not affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supremacy of Parliament. Indeed. I believe that the Bill, by giving a measure of devolution to Wales, will help to preserve and strengthen the unity of the United Kingdom. It will ensure that a large measure of decision-making will be transferred to an Assembly in Cardiff. It will mean that decision-making will become closer to the people, not only in terms of geography but in the sense that more decisions will be taken by a democratically-elected Assembly as opposed to a Minister or a nominated body.
I cannot see how that will harm the unity of the United Kingdom. It will enhance it. I believe that the quality of decision-making will be improved. The decision-makers, drawn from all over Wales, will be more attuned to the needs 358 of the whole of Wales. The whole pattern of the decentralisation of power to the Welsh Office and the devolution of powers to the Welsh Assembly is quite clear. Those powers which are primarily concerned with environmental and social matters are to be devolved. Those which are primarily concerned with the economy, with industry, agriculture, training and employment, which go to the heart of the unity of the United Kingdom, are not. They will remain with the Welsh Office. I believe that this is the right balance, satisfying both the needs of unity and the needs of greater accountability.
The Government have listened to the House in the debates on the previous Bill. Constructive views were put forward and we have sought to respond. We have also taken the opportunity to simplify the measures proposed for Wales and to improve them in the light of representations in the House, from within the Labour movement and from the Liberals and others. I believe that the Bill as now presented sets out more clearly what is proposed for Wales and distinguishes more clearly what is to be devolved and what is to be reserved.
The guiding light of our efforts is to increase democracy and accountability, to give people a bigger say in decision-making. I want to see established a system of government that will be more attuned to the needs of the numerous communities that make up the people of Wales.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
I apologise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for interrupting rather early, but an important matter arises at this point. He will be aware that education authorities have expressed deep anxiety lest, far from bringing things closer, this legislation will take education further away from the people, away From a body of the size of a county council to some- thing much larger. Will the Secretary of State comment on that?
§ Mr. Morris
I confess that I have not heard the argument put in that way. We are here clearing up the botch left by the Conservative Administration under which primary and secondary education were transferred to the Welsh Office but higher and further education were not, In our view at the time, that was wholly 359 indefensible. It has not worked out. What we seek to do now is, in the first instance, to hand those powers over to the Welsh Office to ensure that there is the machinery available for the Assembly in due course to take over the responsibility now carried on the shoulders of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and on my shoulders.
I have repeatedly said in the past, and I say it again, that this has nothing to do with local authority powers. It is ministerial powers that we are seeking to transfer. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will in due course apply himself to that.
§ Mr. Morris
I am deliberately keeping my speech short so as to avoid any charge that Back Benchers are not able to take part.
I should make clear that the Government's broad policy on devolution as set out in a series of White Papers and in a statement to the House by my right hon. Friend the Lord President is given effect by the Bill. There have been some changes in presentation and detail which I believe will commend themselves to the House.
Let me deal first with some of the matters that have been omitted from this Bill. They include the rating and valuation system, the making of building regulations and agricultural functions other than land drainage and freshwater fisheries. There was not much scope for differences in practice in these fields, and all these and other changes simplify and shorten the Bill. Of more substance is the decision, following representations from my hon. Friends—in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Newport (Mr. Hughes) and for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans)—and the teachers' unions, to reserve the pay and pensions of teachers and, on the same reasoning, those of health service employees. I believe that these changes have been very welcome within the professions, and I am sure that my hon. Friends will be pleased with their efforts.
The Government's powers of intervention have been narrowed to what is considered essential to preserve political and economic unity. They now relate only to matters for which there is no devolved 360 responsibility in Wales—for example, defence and energy policy.
But the present Bill retains powers for the Government to intervene in certain areas where there are special problems. For instance, the Government will be able to intervene in order to safeguard England-Wales policy and interests on the English side of the border in relation to water services. Because rivers, and consequently water authority areas, cross over the England-Wales border, these powers remain essential. However, the Asesembly will have responsibility for water policy in Wales.
We have thought it right that in the matters where the Welsh Assembly has responsibility—for example, health and pollution control—it should also be given the power to implement EEC and other international obligations. This avoids risks and uncertainties over the extent of its jurisdiction. But, whenever necessary or desirable, the Government themselves will be able to ensure that international obligations are implemented within Wales, and elsewhere.
We have omitted from the present Bill some procedural details. On reflection, we believe that these are best left to the Assembly's standing orders.
We have reviewed our approach in the important field of complaints of maladministration. It is now proposed that the remit of the Parliamentary Commissioner should be extended to the Welsh Assembly. This should be more clearly understood and more economical.
Another change which, I know, will be widely welcomed is the inclusion in the Bill of a provision requiring the Assembly to review the structure of local government in Wales. Wherever I go in Wales, the view is expressed that the last reorganisation of local government was bungled by the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Morris
I move about a great deal in Wales, and I know that the people of Wales have had to suffer from it. What is wanted is an urgent review of the present system. I believe that the Welsh Assembly, with men and women representing every corner of Wales, will be uniquely qualified to carry out such a review. The Assembly will not be taking over— this is where the misconception in the mind of the hon. Member for Barry 361 (Sir R. Gower) arises—any tasks of local authorities. This I have said time and again. But I am sure that the Assembly will contain many who will understand what sort of local government machinery is required to provide the best and most economical system for Wales.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Are we to understand that the review now provided for will be confined solely to boundaries, excluding functions? Is it being seriously said that the remit to the Assembly is not to include functions which are at present exercised by local authorities? Is it not a fact that the fear of the county councils, a very understandable fear, is that the Assembly will devour the councils because the Assembly itself will be judge as to what powers are to be available?
§ Mr. Morris
—which will explain to him the kind of remit, a very broad remit, which the Assembly will have. Let it be quite clear that it is not the intention, and it is not provided in the Bill, that any local authority powers should go to the Assembly. If Parliament eventually gives approval to the Bill, matters will rest as I have explained, and there is no question of the Assembly, as my hon. Friend put it, devouring the councils. I hope that that will be made manifestly plain. I canont add to or subtract from the words of Clause 13, which we shall deal with in due course in Committee.
I ask my hon. Friend to recognise that there is a great anxiety in Wales, whatever interested parties may say, whether they be councils, Members of Parliament or anyone else. Beyond peradventure, there is great anxiety that the present system is not the best. It is not working properly, and in my view, this is the opportunity to examine it at the earliest moment.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
My right hon. and learned Friend is entirely right to speak of local government problems, especially after the highly inflationary reorganisation carried out by the Conservative Government. We certainly need a simplification of the structure now, because there is duplication of functions among many authorities. But, in making 362 progress, will my right hon. and learned Friend protect the interests of local government officers and ensure, if necessary, that they are incorporated into the Assembly structure?
§ Mr. Morris
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said, and I am sure that he will make that point again in Committee. What we want is the most economical system, and I am sure that I carry him with me on that.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
Does the Secretary of State realise that he has given the clear impression that, whatever the conclusions of the review by the Assembly, he as Secretary of State, if he is still in office, will not allow powers and functions to be taken from the local authorities by the Assembly?
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman must do me the service of reading the Bill. I say that with no disrespect. There is no proposal here for the transfer of any significant functions. It is not proposed in what is before the House.
There is one point with which I did not deal in my reply to an earlier intervention. If Parliament approves the Bill, it will be for the Assembly to make proposals, and it will be for the Government of the day and Parliament to decide what legislation is necessary if the changes that are proposed are to be implemented. That is the major point that has been missed by hon. Members. The ultimate power of disposing will lie with Parliament in whatever legislation is necessary.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) that there is nothing to prevent the Assembly from recommending that the district councils, for example, should swallow the county councils and make local government more local in Wales? What people complain about with the present set-up is that it has effectively centralised local government.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. and learned Gentleman has made his point. No doubt he will study the wide terms of the powers proposed for the Assembly to carry out its investigation, and there will be a second bite at the cherry for the Secretary of State to make whatever proposals 363 he wishes to put to the House. The cardinal point that I want to make to the House, and I regret that this is not universally accepted—[Interruption.] I was never aware that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) was enthusiastic about the last piece of local government reform, particularly as it affected Pembrokeshire. This is not the first time that he has changed his stance.
As I go from one end of Wales to another, I find immense dissatisfaction with the present system of local government there. It is expensive and not easily run, and I believe that this is the opportunity to have a body drawn from all over Wales that will have on it people with wide experience who will be able to bring forward proposals for consideration. I think that they will be better proposals than the existing system, and I trust—this is the essence of the setting up of the Assembly—that they will be more acceptable than the proposals imposed upon Wales by the previous Government, with only minor representation from Wales.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that the local government reorganisation carried out by the previous Government was a botch. During the previous debate I said that we could not escape the duty to deal with local government, but I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consider whether, in the proposals that he is putting forward, he is not adding to the botch.
As well as reorganising local government, we are to have an Assembly. Our right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) spoke about an elected council for Wales, with a single-tier authority below. That was the proposal put to the Kilbrandon Commission by the Labour Party in Wales. That would have been a viable system. We have community councils, district councils and eight county councils. We are now to have an Assembly which, it is being said, is nothing to do with local government. The whole purpose of the Labour Party's argument was to have a top tier of local government.
§ Mr. Morris
I do not think that that is a correct interpretation of any of the deliberations in which I took part. We have gone over this on innumerable 364 occasions, and I shall return to it in a moment. [Interruption.] We have had the argument about names before. I attach no great importance to a name. What I want is a better system in Wales, and I return to the argument. The tier of government is there already. I must ask my hon. Friends who do not accept that from me to study the way in which decision-making is entrusted to my hands and to those of my right hon. Friends. I shall come to deal with the whole host of nominated bodies right across Wales. The tier of government is there, and the sooner that my hon. Friends and Conservative Members recognise that the better it will be.
I come back to what I was saying before I was interrupted on one or two occasions. I am sure that the Assembly will contain many people who will understand what sort of local government machinery is required to provide the best and most economic system in Wales. That is why we have written Clause 13 into the Bill. The Assembly will clearly have to consult local government organisations, the unions and other interests concerned before reporting to the Secretary of State. I repeat that if changes are proposed legislation will be necessary, and it will be for the Government and Parliament to consider what effect is to be given to the Assembly's recommendations.
The present Bill sets out in detail the Government's proposals for a referendum in Wales. Here again, we are responding to various views expressed in the House and in Wales. We provide for the referendum to be held after the Bill has been passed but before the first commencement order is approved by Parliament. I shall return to this question later, but perhaps I should just say now that in the Government's view the stage at which the referendum is proposed to be held is the right one.
It is important that people should know clearly what they are voting about, and they will not be able to do that until the Bill has completed its parliamentary stages. On the other hand, it will be for Parliament finally to decide, in the light of the referendum result and all other circumstances, whether action should be taken to bring the Act into operation.
I want to turn to some of the principal features of the Bill which I have not so far mentioned. The framework of the 365 constitutional arrangements proposed is a system designed to combine effective decision-making and democratic control. The Assembly will be empowered to set up a number of subject committees, and will be required to ensure that the balance of parties in those committees reflects that in the Assembly. I believe that that will ensure that while, as in any democracy, the view of the majority shall prevail, minorities will have an effective rôle in the committees.
The leadership of the committees will be in the hands of the Executive members, and they and a small number of others will comprise the Executive Committee of the Assembly. Within that framework it will be for the Assembly to evolve its own detailed mode of operation, but I believe that we shall in this way be able to ensure that the representatives of North and South Wales, of industrial Wales and rural Wales, will be able to participate in the democratic control of decision-making.
The Assembly will be charged with a wide area of government. It is no good saying—I return to one of the previous interventions—that a new tier of government is being proposed. It is not so. The tier of government is there already, either in my or my colleagues' hands, or in the hands of the nominated bodies in Wales. What is going to happen, if the House agrees to the Bill, is that a wide area of decision-making in fields covering health, education, housing, the environment, roads, cultural matters and the operation of nominated bodies will be transferred to a democratically-elected body.
The functions are defined in Clauses 10 to 12 and in Schedule 2. Of course, when the Bill was published the old cry went up again in some quarters that the Assembly would just be a talking shop. Those who say that have obviously not read, or at least not understood, the Bill. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth. The Assembly will take over the powers that I and other Ministers now have in these areas and will exercise much closer democratic scrutiny than Ministers and Members of this House can now exercise. The Assembly will be responsible for deciding rate support grant, it will decide the pattern of motorways and trunk roads and the allocation 366 of resources to build them, and it will decide the pattern and development of the National Health Service in Wales. There is no subject about which people feel more passionately in Wales than the provision of hospitals.
If decisions on these matters—and they are not easy decisions—are taken by an elected Assembly, they will, I believe, be more acceptable to those who are affected. If the nationalists really believe that these powers are insignificant, I believe that it merely demonstrates their isolation from reality and from what really concerns people in Wales. It is decisions on matters of this sort about which the people really care.
The accountability of nominated bodies in Wales is, to put it at its mildest, very limited. I can understand why the Conservative Party might be in favour of the nominated bodies. They can be the means whereby a minority party in Wales is able to perpetuate its influence in or out of office, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport has repeatedly said, and I cannot imagine anything more undemocratic than that But I cannot understand how anyone who has not a vested interest can oppose a democratisation of the system. This is one of the essential aims of the Bill.
There are, of course, instances where we have to propose for sound practical reasons that the body itself will remain in existence, but it will become fully answerable for its Welsh activities to the Assembly. In the case of statutory bodies operating wholly in devolved fields and solely in Wales, the Assembly is to have the power to assume their functions directly if it so chooses, subject only to the final consent of the Secretary of State.
The system of financing the devolved services will be crucial to the success of devolution. We believe that our proposals for a block fund and related arrangements are fair and practical; and when I say "fair" I mean both to Wales and to the United Kingdom as a whole.
The majority of the Kilbrandon Royal Commission came down in favour of the expenditure-based method of financing. The Government believe that the Commission was right. An expenditure-based system will take full account of 367 the needs of Wales and will ensure a fair distribution of resources over the United Kingdom as a whole and between devolved and non-devolved services. At the same time, the payment of a block fund will give the Assembly a wide measure of discretion in the way it allocates resourcees to different services.
Some critics of the block fund system argue that it will mean hard argument between the Government and the Assembly. I acknowledge that there will be hard-fought negotiations over the block fund, but any system of government where there is a split responsibility has experience of this. Indeed, we have it in our relationship with local government as regards the rate support grant. Vigorous negotiations on the block fund will certainly not endanger political stability in this country.
The estimates of additional costs arising from devolution, given in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, are modest and reasonable. They are based on the assumption that the Assembly will choose an effective and economical method of operation. I am sure that Assembly Members, like the Members of this House, will be concerned that the expenditure they directly generate should be kept to a reasonable level.
But, however modest the provision we plan to make, there must be some additional costs arising from our proposals. To those who say that these are unnecessary, I ask: what price do they put on democracy? At what point are we going to say that we can no longer afford better democratic control? Is it not desirable—is it not even essential—when decisions on public spending priorities become more and more difficult, when they need to reflect more and more closely the needs of the people, that these decisions should be placed ever more firmly in the hands of representatives of ordinary men and women? I believe that our proposals will improve government in Wales and that the modest cost is fully justified by the benefits that will result.
The Government see devolution as an essential reform—a reform in the main traditions of a party committed to social change and improvement. The issues 368 cannot be allowed to drift on a sea of indecision. It is now over four years since the Kilbrandon Commission reported. I believe that this is the time for action.
§ Mr. Abse
I interrupt my right hon. and learned Friend only because he appears to have left the financial provisions. Has he come, or has he not yet come, to Clause 72, a clause which has not yet been before the House and which has great significance for the issue of confidence which can arise between the Assembly and this House?
§ Mr. Morris
I am sure that we shall return to that clause in the course of the proceedings on the Bill. I assure my hon. Friend that for any actions it takes the Assembly will be liable, in exactly the same way as I am liable, in the ordinary courts of the land. I hope that that will satisfy my hon. Friend that the same kind of jurisdiction will arise qua the Assembly and that it will be no different from the way in which I now exercise my responsibilities.
§ Mr. Abse
There is clearly within the Act—which I trust that the Secretary of State has read— in Clause 72 a provision which makes it clear that for the first time a situation is arising in which we are telling the Assembly that it will have the funds to commence litigation and defend litigation against this House. Therefore, despite all that has been said in the past to the effect that there will be no conflict between the Assembly and Westminster, the Secretary of State is making provision for heavy litigation. Surely he should be at least commenting upon this novel constitutional feature that an Attorney-General who is supposed to be a judicial officer will in fact be taking over political issues and becoming embroiled in issues and making decisions of a political character between this House and the Assembly. This is a matter of fundamental constitutional importance, and I am surprised that the Secretary of State is deaing with it in so perfunctory a manner.
§ Mr. Morris
I am sure that my hon. Friend, who certainly did not make his submission in any perfunctory manner, will want to return to this point. I do not chide him for using the word "Act". We are in fact dealing with the Bill.
369 I fear that my hon. Friend's words were, to say the least, extravagant. I can be corrected if I am wrong, but the clause to which he referred has no such significance for litigation between the Assembly and the House. I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to reflect upon this matter and return to it in Committee. The clause deals with the issue of vires.
I repeat that on the issue of vires the Assembly will be in exactly the same position. We are not setting up any particular system of courts or machinery for the Assembly. As to the Acts it inherits and the responsibilities it will have, the Assembly will be subject, in the way that it discharges them, to exactly the same legal processes as I am subject. If I err in any way in the way that I carry out my executive functions, I am liable, if I exceed my jurisdiction or behave improperly, to be dealt with in the ordinary courts of the land. I hope that that will satisfy my hon. Friend. I have not in any way sought to deal with his submission in a perfunctory manner. I think that he has misunderstood the position.
I have spoken for quite a long time. I do not want to take up much more of the time of the House. I want to make two final points. First, devolution has nothing to do with separatism. On the contrary, I believe that devolution is essential for the underlying unity of the United Kingdom. There is nothing wrong with diversity and flexibility within a united country. Our constitution has long been renowned for just those qualities. It is diversity and flexibility that devolution is all about.
Secondly, some of my hon. Friends have argued for a referendum. Some have done so because they are either far from satisfied that devolution is wanted in Wales or because they are deeply opposed to the concept. I understand and I respect their views. I hold different views. The Government have responded to our hon. Friends who urged that the people of Wales should have the opportunity of saying "Yea" or "Nay". I trust on this basis that my hon. Friends will be satisfied. Opposing this Bill would be the denial of the rights so eloquently demanded, and conceded by the Government. That denial would cause grievances to fester perhaps for generations.
370 Under Labour Governments, great progress has been made in the machinery of government in Wales. We compare well with the absentee rulers from the Tory Party who used to decide what was best for us. The long list of Tory Ministers for Welsh affairs with constituencies right across England but never in Wales would be difficult to explain to any inter-parliamentary delegation from far-flung corners of the globe.
How does one explain the whole galaxy of talented stars who have been stewards of Wales—for example, Maxwell Fyfe, the former right hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, Henry Brooke, who represented Hampstead, Charles Hill, who represented Luton, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), of all places, and others who have lost Welsh seats or failed to gain one? There was Gwilym Lloyd George, the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, and the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas). That is the history of recent government in Wales. It is no wonder that the Opposition will cling to the formula of no change. Kilbrandon came and Kilbrandon went, and there was not a squeak from the Conservative Party by way of evidence to the Royal Commission.
I believe that our proposals are well founded. I believe that they are needed in Wales. I believe that as they respond to the wishes of the House they should be put to the test in Wales. I commend the Bill.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
The Secretary of State for Wales has presented his Bill as a great act of administrative devolution, a measure constructed out of a passionate concern for democratic principles, devised with no other object but to bring government closer to an afflicted and clamorous people. It is, of course, nothing of the kind. In our January debates the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) suggested that that Bill was an act of political expediency. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) rightly pointed out that no one concerned primarily with administration would select the Principality of Wales, handed down to us by the Tudors, as a proper place for it. Nor, if their real concern was the lack of democratic 371 control over Government and its agencies or its remoteness from the people, would they choose to isolate out of a population of 55 million the 5 million Scots and the 2¾ million Welsh.
The reality is that we are dealing not with administrative devoluton but with national devolution that is offered for short-term political considerations on the basis of a claim to nationhood. In that respect Plaid Cymru is much more honest than the Government. It does not pretend that it is on any other basis or for any other reason that it advances the claim for Wales to have special treatment.
The fact that nationhood is the justification rather than grounds or administrative logic is of crucial significance when we consider the probable results of the Bill. As I said when we debated the White Paper in January 1976The act of isolating the treatment of Wales and Scotland because of their sense of nationhood at once sets them apart and sets us on a momentous and dangerous course."—[Official Report, 15th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 592.]When I listen to the arguments advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman I marvel at the insensitivity of Ministers and the astonishing forbearance of English Members. Do they not care for democracy? Why should their constituents suffer nominated bodies that operate in a manner that the right hon. and learned Gentleman regards as intolerable? Why should the English endure government by a remote bureaucracy? If all these things are as bad as the Government make out, why do they not make a serious attempt to provide an Assembly for Britain as a whole and not just for a fragment of it? I can well understand the irritation of English Members as they see the Welsh and the Scots picked out for these alleged privileges and the economic benefits that they fear may follow.
Once again Plaid Cymru is honest and clear-sighted about the consequences. It states quite plainly that its object is separatism. It wishes for dominion status—namely, the same sort of relationship that Canada and Australia have with the United Kingdom. It is not necessary to be a nationalist to be taken down that road. If we are given a separate sort of Government on the basis that we are a 372 nation, it will not be long before we feel aggrieved that, unlike any other nation, we do not have the power to legislate or raise taxation; that, unlike any other nation, we can decide how many hospitals, schools and roads we need to build but not how much money we shall have to build them.
The Bill gives Wales not merely an Assembly but a form of government. Despite the contrived subtlety of its committee structure and the quaint, almost ludicrous, title given to its First Minister—the Government might have changed that since the Scotland and Wales Bill was debated—that is how it will be regarded. When that Government fail to meet the expectations of the people—and what Government do not from time to time?—they will blame the Government at Westminster. They will demand the right to run their own affairs, make their own laws and impose their own taxation. Given the range of their responsibilities—almost all the services that most matter to ordinary people—and the limitations of their power, their members would be inhuman if they were not to react in that way, even if there were not in the Assembly one political party with no other object in mind.
The settlement proposed in the Bill simply cannot last. It is said that we should have the imagination to be able to meet in different ways the varied aspirations and needs of those in different parts of these islands, and that there is no inherent reason why the Welsh and the Scots should feel themselves to be different but should not be treated differently. Indeed, there is not. However, that will not be achieved by inflating national aspirations without providing the means adequately to fulfil them. Nor will it be achieved by cataloguing a whole series of blemishes in our system of government and offering a cure only to the minority. We do not solve a problem by attacking it piecemeal. In taking that approach one merely produces a structure that is unstable.
If I came to believe that the arguments that have been advanced for change were so compelling as to be irresistible, I should seek to find a solution in some form of federalism. Indeed, sooner than many realise we may come to that, but until we reach the moment when that is an acceptable solution to a sufficient 373 number of our countrymen, I do not feel any sense of unease in defending the status quo, by which I mean a system based on a single Executive for the whole of Great Britain and on the legislative supremacy of this place. I do not believe that there is a halfway house that will endure.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Perhaps I should not interrupt in a Welsh debate, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the sentiments that he has recently expressed are a bit different from those put forward yesterday by his right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) on the Scottish Bill.
§ Mr. Edwards
I make two observations. First, because I believe that what is proposed affects the government of the whole of the United Kingdom, it seems right that Members from all parts of the House should intervene in these debates. They will all be affected by the consequences. Secondly, I do not believe that there is anything that I have said that is in any way incompatible with the thoughts of my right hon. Friend or with anything that he said yesterday.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Hear, hear. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) did not say anything.
§ Mr. Edwards
The Secretary of State failed to address himself to the central question. He failed, as he has failed before, to deal convincingly or adequately with any of the detailed and powerful arguments that have been advanced from all parts of the House during our successive debates on these proposals. He chose instead—I understand the reason—to concentrate on the changes that have been made and on the details of his proposals. He launched into his usual attack upon the Conservative Party. He challenged our right in Wales to fight the Bill on behalf of the Welsh people.
I do not blame the Secretary of State for that, but I do remind him that he is the heir to great estates which he played no part in building—the inheritance of old-established Labour loyalties in Wales which were brought together not on the basis of this Bill but by the events of history, and it is a fact that the period in which the present devolution scheme has 374 been before us has coincided with a marked decline in Labour support in Wales.
The mandate theory is pretty good bosh when applied to an individual measure, but never more so than in this instance, when so many Labour supporters would reject the right hon. and learned Gentleman's assertion that their votes for his party committed them to support of this Bill. He knows that on this issue many of those outside the Conservative Party share our view that a substantial proportion of the Welsh people—I believe a majority—are hostile to it, proud to be Welsh but proud, equally, to be British. They demand that we should fight it, and we should be failing in our duty as an Opposition if we failed to respond and to reflect the strength of opinion in Wales.
The fact that the Government have reluctantly conceded a referendum in no way diminishes our duty in this respect. I cannot accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. It cannot be the proper function of Parliament to pass Bills that it believes to be bad simply to give the electorate an opportunity to vote on them. On a constitutional issue it is one thing to say "As a Parliament we think that this is a desirable measure. Do you want it? You have a right of veto." It is quite another to pass something that we believe to be wrong hoping that the electorate will reject it.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
May I follow that thought? If we accepted that procedure of submitting to our makers the works of our hands, the referendum would be addressed to all those who have sent us here—all of us who are to produce this measure. It would not be submitted to a section of the electorate who sent us here.
§ Mr. Edwards
I entirely accept that argument. The fact that the Bill has passed through Parliament and become an Act will be regarded as a stamp of approval by many of the electorate, a sort of badge of quality, and supporters of the measure will present it in that light. They will say "It has been passed by Parliament. You can give it your approval with confidence."
I am certain that our duty as individual Members remains to judge this Bill 375 on its merits, and the inclusion of a referendum clause provides no reason for not voting against its Second Reading. I believe that those who said yesterday—no doubt others will follow today—that although they dislike the Bill and will campaign against it in a referendum they will allow it to pass on Second Reading are playing a dangerous game and will undermine the cause that they believe in.
Both the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House assert that the Conservative Party has no interest in democratic accountability. They repeat the words like an incantation, as though that gives them a special value. I am encouraged by the fact that some of their Back Benchers who hold political views very different from mine but whom I acknowledge as dedicated democrats all feel the same dislike as I do for this Bill. Judging by their reaction, enthusiasm for the Bill is not a necessary test of democratic feeling.
I would be rather more impressed by their sincerity if the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House showed a good deal more enthusiasm for a Welsh day debate on the Floor of the House to discuss all the matters that directly confront us at present, and if they had not repeatedly rejected our proposals for a Select Committee on Welsh Affairs so that we could probe and examine the performance of the Government and their agencies. Democratic accountability begins at home.
Anyway, it is possible to enlarge democratic accountability as well, without any new institutions, simply by getting central Government off the backs of local authorities. As I have gone round Welsh local authorities this summer, I have heard the complaint made time and again that decisions of local elected councillors have been overruled by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his Welsh Office bureaucrats. I regard it as a high priority for a Conservative Government greatly to extend the freedom of the existing local authorities.
We can make a start by reductions in the activities of the Welsh Office's roads division and in the supervision of local authority housing plans. Let us bring government genuinely closer to the people by making full use of the potential 376 existing in the reorganised local authorities instead of taking it away from them to a remote Assembly in Cardiff, which, despite the denials, repeated again today by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, is exactly what this Bill will do.
It must be profoundly irritating for the Secretary of State that on this point no one now believes him. He has repeatedly told us—he said it three or four times in his speech just now— that these proposals would not affect the functions of local government. But as the right hon. Member for Down, South, who has studied these proposals with care, told the House on 18th January,Everyone knows that genuine local government in Wales will be crushed and squashed if ever the provisions … come into force."—[Official Report, 18th January 1977; Vol. 924, c. 160.]Even Welsh local authorities, which, with endearing naivety, originally believed the Secretary of State are now beginning to realise that they were conned. In its discussion paper on proposals for further local government reorganisation, the Welsh Counties Committee, after quoting all the assurances it had received from Ministers, says:Prior to the publication of the Scotland and Wales Bill, the Welsh Counties Committee had supported the concept of Devolution … Whether the Welsh Counties Committee would have adopted this approach in 1974 if Ministers of the Crown and others who have subsequently changed their tune and who now urge further reorganisation as a concomitant to Devolution had not made the statements attributed to them as shown above is open to conjecture.The Association of County Councils says in its memorandum that it isgravely concerned that the proposals will weaken local government in Wales.It has always been the probability that if one set up an Assembly on an all-Wales basis powers in time would pass to it from local authorities. The Government's own consultative document on the implications for England of devolution pointed out in paragraph 54 thatMany functions of the Counties would need to be raised to the new regional authorities.If that is true in England, it is equally true in Wales.
The reason is clear. Central Government at present retains wide power to interfere with the decisions of local authorities, and those powers to interfere are 377 to be transferred to an Assembly, where they will be implemented by committees, with the result, as the Association of County Councils has put it, thatAt two levels in Wales there will be committees of democratically-elected representatives dealing with the same services over the same areas.Ministers and officials wish to interfere—and I shall be charitable here—out of desire to maintain overall standards. The Assembly committees will interfere for the most powerful of all reasons—because some of them will have an electoral interest in doing so.
There is another reason. The Assembly is to control the block grant and is to negotiate the rate support grant with the Government. The local authorities are, therefore, to be isolated from the most important single negotiation that they undertake in the course of a year with the central Government. The probability that transfer of powers will take place becomes a certainty if one undertakes a further reorganisation of local government.
An hon. Member interjected earlier "What of the district authorities?" Many of them who are most enthusiastic for change are already advocating that some major county functions should be transferred to the Assembly. But as the Welsh counties point out,of the many who advocate transfer of 'strategic' functions from local government to an Assembly, there is not one who has considered the size and remoteness of the Assembly in Cardiff.With ample justification the Welsh counties speak ofthe unacceptable nature of proposals to centralise in the hands of a regional body which, by its nature is infinitely larger and more 'remote' than any existing County Council.We are now entering a prolonged period of uncertainty for local government, which is wrong and unnecessary. The real irony is that a measure of devolution that its supporters justify on the ground that it will bring government closer to the people will inevitably take a good deal of it away from them.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
I recognise that we are about to enter a period of grave difficulty for local government. Will the hon. Member at least concede that if the Opposition had not proceeded with local 378 government reorganisation and had implemented the Kilbrandon recommendations we would not be experiencing the present difficulties?
§ Mr. Edwards
Whatever had been done about local government, if the pattern proposed had been single-tier district local authorities under an Assembly it is inevitable that considerable powers would have been transferred to the top tier, for the reason set out in the consultation document for England. The whole relationship of the Welsh people with this Parliament will be changed for the worse.
I hope that hon. Members will understand and forgive me if I speak in rather personal terms. Like many hon. Members, I spent most of Friday and Saturday with my constituents. I held my surgeries, visited an old people's home and a sheltered workshop, and I met about 30 unfortunate people whose homes had been damaged by flood water. That flood tells us something about the much criticised relationship between central Government at Westminster and the people in the country. Those who were involved in the disaster spent one hour with two senior officials from the Welsh Office and an hour with their Member of Parliament, who had discussed the issue in detail the previous Wednesday with the Minister directly responsible at Westminster. Nothing very remote in that relationship. It is hard to see how contact with an Administration in Cardiff could be closer or more effective.
This weekend I was conscious that if the Bill goes through my relationship with my constituents will never be the same again. I should have to say to almost everybody that I met this weekend "I am sorry but I can do nothing for you. You must see an Assembly man." With all the social functions taken from us, I suppose that in Wales we shall cease to hold surgeries, become detached from the day-to-day anxieties of our constituents, and take a lofty view of economic matters and international affairs.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Could not the hon. Member hold surgeries on the pressing interests of his constituents in foreign affairs, defence and macro-economic policy?
§ Mr. Edwards
I have just said that it is on that that we shall have to concentrate our minds.
379 I know that I shall be the loser and that I shall regret the change deeply, but will my constituents benefit? I shall still have to debate and decide on the social legislation that affects them. However, I and the rest of us in Wales will do so without the knowledge and experience that gives our contributions value. At best we shall be reporting secondhand and the Government will no longer be introducing social legislation in Wales on the basis of their own administrative experience. As a result there will be what the Kilbrandon Commission regarded as an impoverishment of the legislative process.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
The hon. Member began by saying that he had some sympathy with a federal solution. If there were to be a federation of the nations of these islands, would his relationship with his constituents be as it it is now?
§ Mr. Edwards
The responsibility of a federal Parliament would be different from that of an Assembly because it would have a legislative role. A federal Parliament at Westminster would have a totally different function, as it does in every federation. That is not the proposal that we are debating.
It is hard to see how Welsh or Scottish Members will ever again play quite the same part here. How could an Aneurin Bevan, steeped in the social experience of his own town, come to Westminster to transform the lives not only of the Welshmen he represented but of all his countrymen, whom he valued just as highly? It is hard to believe that he would have given this legislation a warm welcome. He would have abhorred the narrow nationalism and parochialism that the Bill represents, as do some who follow him in the Labour Party today.
The effect of the Bill must be to weaken the impact of Welsh Members on the Government and to weaken the influence of the Secretary of State in the British Cabinet. That is bound to be bad for Wales.
Although we shall be deprived of so much influence in Wales on these great social questions as they affect our constituents, since we shall be unable to question Ministers or press them for action, by our voices and by our votes we shall help to decide policy for England. 380 With our Scottish colleagues, who without a legislative rôle will literally have no say in these matters in their own constituencies, we shall be a decisive influence on the political complexion of the English Government.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), by his staccato and oft-repeated interjections in our debates, has helped to make this point clear. He has made it so clear that it has become what was described in the House yesterday as "the West Lothian question". It has emerged as one of the central flaws in the Bills.
That which was acceptable as the price for a political settlement in the case of a dozen Ulster Members could never be acceptable for long if more than 100 Welsh and Scottish Members decided for England what they had no right to decide for their own countries. Despite that, Ministers do not appear to have even addressed their minds to the problem. The Secretary of State today passed the issue by without a mention.
Sometimes it is implied that English Members should stand aside from these debates. Anyone who imagines that the Bill does not concern the government of England deludes himself.
I turn from the central objections about the nature of the legislation to a specific criticism of the structure that is proposed. Instead of the Cabinet system with which we are familiar, the Government propose a system of committees, which is supposed to involve minorities in the decision-making process. I fear that it will do nothing of the kind; it will simply obscure where responsibility lies.
I am wholly in agreement with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who demolished the Government's case in the 1976 debate when he said:if we are to have an Assembly, for heaven's sake let us have it based on a parliamentary rather than a committee system. Let us have it open, public and esteemed, not following the model of the county councils".Whatever the faults of this House, blame or credit can clearly be apportioned to those responsible.
Under the system in the Bill, minorities would share the collective blame but would have little influence on the decisions. Those would be taken by the 381 Executive Committee, largely formed from the Executive members of the individual committees, to whom power could be delegated, and almost certainly drawn entirely from the majority party.
Again, the hon. and learned Gentleman got it right when he asked:What does that mean in practical terms in Wales? It means delegating the power to the party boss on that committee."—[Official Report, 15th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 656–7.]The Secretary of State may brush the criticisms aside, but the Welsh people will well understand the implications. It will be deeply disturbing for many in Wales inside and outside local government that negotiations on the rate support grant and the allocation of the block grant, which will make local government subservient to the Assembly, will be in the hands of a party caucus.
I do not propose to repeat in detail all the other criticisms that I voiced in the debates of December and January a year ago. I shall simply say that serious anxieties remain in the countryside and in the North about the domination that would be exercised by industrial Wales, and that deep hostility exists about the cost of the bureaucracy involved.
The Secretary of State has thought it important to prove that he is not establishing an extra tier of government. He said that he did not care about names. Frankly, I do not mind what he calls it either. The fact is that there will be new buildings, new offices and a whole lot of self-important people, 1,150 new bureaucrats—I suspect that the Secretary of State has got the forecast number down by 150 since we last looked at the measure by slipping 150 into the Welsh Office while we have been discussing things, in order to put up the starting point but perhaps there is another explanation; there will be annual costs of at least £12½ million and start-up costs of £6½ million. It may or may not add up to an extra tier, but it all constitutes more complicated government, more expensive government and more bureaucratic government.
In the case of Scotland it is argued that, however formidable all the objections may be, the strength of Scottish feeling is more important still. It is said that too much water has flowed under the bridge to turn back now. That argument does not apply in Wales. It is 382 impossible to suggest on the basis of any substantial evidence that Welsh public opinion demands this change. All that can fairly be said—I think that I am being absolutely fair—is that an influential minority demands the Bill, while many more are apathetic or deeply hostile. Not even the most enthusiastic supporters of this legislation can claim that there is that consensus that should be the basis for major constitutional change.
That being so, the House is entirely free to act on its own judgment of the Bill and reject it, confident that that act will cause no great political upheaval in Wales and equally confident that it will not bring down the Government. Whatever might have been the consequences of a defeat on the Scottish Bill, nobody here believes for a moment that the Prime Minister would go to the country and fight a General Election on the loss of a Welsh Bill that most of the Welsh people do not want.
The Bill should be rejected for the following overriding reasons. It threatens the unity of Britain by seeking to establish a system that would focus discontent and concentrate it in a form likely to create hostility to this Parliament and the constitutional arrangements themselves. It would be devastating to local government in Wales, and far from bringing government closer to the people it would take a great deal of it further away. It would destroy the position of Welsh Members of Parliament, weaken the influence of Wales on the government of Britain and create a political situation that could not endure because it could not be acceptable to the people of England and to their elected representatives.
Therefore, in the interests of the people of Wales and all the people of the United Kingdom, I beg the House to reject the Bill.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I do not propose to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) in great detail. I think that I can summarise what he said by saying that he is against devolution to an elected Assembly in Wales and always has been. His speech was a repetition of what we have heard from him before.
But the hon. Gentleman said one thing that was of great interest, and his right 383 hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said it in his speech yesterday. The hon. Gentleman said that he recognised that federalism might come. What I and the rest of the House would like to know is whether he and his right hon. Friend believe in the concept of federalism. Does he regard it as a policy that his party might well adopt in the near future?
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
I made it quite clear that I am personally sympathetic to the concept of federalism. The right hon. Gentleman referred to my previous speeches. If he looks back to one of them on this subject, he will see that I enlarged on the matter and made my view perfectly plain. But, like any other constitutional change, this is one that must be acceptable to the people and I do not believe—I think that this is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said—that we have yet reached the point where federalism is generally acceptable in such a way that we could put legislation through this House.
§ Mr. Hughes
The Conservative Party has seldom been in advance of public opinion. Therefore, it is refreshing to hear the hon. Gentleman say what he did. One can only regard this as a remarkable conversion. We hope to hear more from the hon. Gentleman about federalism.
There are some matters about which there will be general agreement in this debate. Whatever our views, we must accept that there is a clear election commitment by the Labour Party. The issues of devolution have been well ventilated in the House and in the Press and other media. It cannot be argued today, as some hon. Members argued in previous debates, that hon. Members representing English constituencies have been taken by surprise and were not aware of what was going on. Certain hon. Members are bitterly opposed to devolution of any kind. They can believe that even the modest democratic assembly will inexorably lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. They are probably genuine in their belief, but none of them, can say that there has been a lack of discussion and consultation.
Many of the urgent criticisms that were heard in our debates last year have been 384 met in the Bill. For example, the hon. Member for Pembroke devoted a large part of his speech in January to a plea for a separate Welsh Bill. Now he has his separate Bill, and we are debating it, but he does not seem very grateful for it.
Hon. Members will also be fortified by the knowledge that at the end of the road they have the safeguard for which they fought so vigorously and to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State referred—a referendum. "Let the people of Wales decide" was the cry of hon. Members a few months ago. The people of Wales are now to have the opportunity of deciding next autumn. By all means let the Bill be thoroughly debated, and let it be amended in Committee, but, after telling the Welsh people that they were to have the chance of expressing their views, it would be offensive to deny them the opportunity. That is how it would be regarded in Wales—not only in Anglesey, but in Gwent and Glamorgan. From north to south people will say that they have been let down by Opposition Members if they are deprived of the opportunity to vote in a referendum.
§ Mr. Abse
My right hon. and learned Friend should contain himself. Does not my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) think that, after so determined a fight against a referendum by the Secretary of State, it is humbug and hypocrisy now for him to come along and effect to speak as if he and those who thought like him should be regarded as saviours for giving the people of Wales the opportunity to make their view known?
§ Mr. Hughes
It is unfortunate that my hon. Friend should have used the words "humbug and hypocrisy." My right hon. 385 and learned Friend the Secretary of State has for many years been a strong advocate of devolution; he was also perfectly entitled to dislike the concept of a referendum. The Government have decided that there should be a referendum and my right hon. and learned Friend joined in the collective responsibility for that decision. It is wrong to call it humbug and hypocrisy. If my hon. Friend proposes to start using language like that, I should inform him that the people of Anglesey are capable of using equally strong language—in both English and Welsh. Therefore, I strongly advise my hon. Friend, for his own sake, to modify his terms.
I am grateful to the Government for introducing the Wales Bill concurrently with the Scotland Bill. On 26th July my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that the Government wouldbe fully and equally committed".—[Official Report, 26th July 1977; Vol. 936, c. 313.]to both Bills. My right hon. Friend has kept his word. A good deal of criticism has been levelled at him in our discussions on this subject, but it is to his very great credit that at no time has he wavered in his conviction or determination to honour the Government's commitment. I think that his record in this matter will stand the test of time.
There is a considerable difference between the Wales Bill and the Scotland Bill. It is so great as to constitute one of principle. The difference is that the Scottish Assembly would have the power of primary and subordinate legislation with an Executive drawn from the Assembly. On the other hand, the Welsh Assembly will have the power of subordinate legislation and executive power whilst the Assembly itself will be the Executive. Scotland is to have an Assembly and a Government. The Scottish Assembly will have a primary legislative capacity over a wide area. For that reason, the Scotland Bill is of considerably greater constitutional significance than the Wales Bill. We must recognise that fact. I made that very point to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) two or three years ago when we discussed the matter shortly after the publication of the Kilbrandon Report, and he recognised it.
Some hon. Members get over-excited about the shining virtues of the unitary state and of centralisation. No one could say that the Wales Bill strikes at the root of the unitary state. I mentioned the changes from the Scotland and Wales Bill, most of which I welcome. However, I should like to mention one or two points of detail.
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall not give way to my hon. Friend, because I must curtail my speech. Many other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.
I note that Part II of the Bill makes for much greater flexibility and less detail about the way that Assembly business is to be conducted. That is a sensible change.
I warmly welcome Clause 13, which provides for a review of the structure of local government in Wales. The hon. Member for Pembroke said that the people of Pembroke objected to the reorganisation of local government. The old county of Pembroke is opposed to Dyfed and has passed a resolution asking for its dissolution. I believe that Pembroke will, in fact, commend my right hon. and learned Friend on the perceptive proposals that he is now making. I have no doubt that he will be made most welcome on his visits to Pembroke.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should speak for Anglesey, allow me to speak for Pembroke, and let the electors in Pembroke decide whether I deserve their support. They have so decided up till now.
§ Mr. Hughes
I think that we are all entitled to make observations on the general scene in Wales. I am not making a constituency speech. I am speaking as the Member for Anglesey certainly, but also as a former Secretary of State for Wales who knows the Principality well. I know the view of many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents on this issue. Indeed, he held this view himself some years ago.
387 The fact that reorganisation was recent is no argument for not changing it again. If it has weaknesses—it has been widely criticised in Wales I put it no higher than that— the sooner it is changed, the better. I think that there is a case for doing it now. On the other hand, like my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, I believe that an elected Assembly will and must have the experience and ability to tackle the job. It will be for the House of Commons to consider any recommendations and to decide what changes in local government need to be made. This final decision is not being handed over to the Assembly. It will be for us in this place to decide in due course.
I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House what power, if any, the Assembly will have over local government finance in Wales. For example, how will the rate support grant be fixed under the new arrangements? This is an important point which both district and county councils will be interested to know about.
I should also be grateful if the Lord President would tell us something about the University of Wales. I declare an interest as president of the University College of Wales. I know that the constituent colleges are interested to know how the university is likely to fit into the new pattern of government.
I listened with amazement to some of the speeches and interventions made during the debate on the Second Reading of the Scotland Bill yesterday. Some of them were jingoistic nonsense which I thought had died in the last century. If yesterday's debate had been televised, I think that it would have recruited many people to the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. But that does not reflect the general view of all the parties in the House. All the cries about a reduction in the numbers of Scottish and Welsh Members were quite spurious. The block fund is voted by this House. Taxation which is collected in Wales and Scotland comes back here for distribution through the Treasury. Certainly whilst that situation prevails there should be no reduction in the numbers of Welsh and Scottish Members in this place. If either Assembly had a substantial power of taxation, we should be in a different position, and there would be strong arguments for 388 reducing the numbers of Welsh and Scottish Members.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
I do not think that my right hon. Friend is being quite fair with regard to yesterday's debate. Although some hon. Members are in favour of a reduction in the number of Scottish and Welsh Members, many of us have opposed any reduction in the vote. What we said, and say now, is that we fear this will become inevitable—not that we want it. We shall oppose it, but it will become inevitable if the proposed changes are introduced.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for what he has said. I do not disagree with a word of it. I am arguing that there is no case for reducing the number of Members while the purse strings are held in Whitehall and while the block fund is voted by this House.
By any standards this is a moderate and modest measure of devolution It contains less than was recommended for Wales in the Kilbrandon Report. It does not begin to threaten the unity of the United Kingdom. It will not, or need not, be expensive. Indeed, it will save money if it is followed quickly by the reorganisation of local government.
It will make for better government and for more democratic accountability in Wales for the reasons which the Secretary of State has given. I believe that those hon. Members who oppose the Bill for the sake of opposing it will be guilty of another classic blunder. I hope that they will not do so.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
I sincerely hope that the confidence of the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) is soundly based. None of us on the Opposition side of the House who feel profound anxieties about this matter believe other than that the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State are sincere in their views. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman, on his part, will acknowledge that persons can hold different views and be just as sincere.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State has left the Chamber for a moment. I should like to comment on one or two points that he raised. The Secretary of State talked about the possibility of changes in local government. I hope 389 that the Lord President will consider this matter. I do not want to overstate but I believe that it could cause some anxiety in the minds of those employed in local government.
As I understand it, at present, posts in local government are freely interchangeable between English local authorities and Welsh local authorities. That is not entirely the case with regard to Scottish local authorities, but certainly a person who takes a job, say, with the Dyfed authority could later enlarge his experience by taking a job in Yorkshire or elsewhere. He could conceivably return to Wales later with a rich and diverse experience in a wide area of local government.
If, as was suggested, one of the first duties of the Assembly will be to reconsider the whole basis of local government, and if local government in Wales is then altered on a basis put forward by the Asembly, it seems almost inevitable that Welsh local government will differ fundamentally in form and shape from local government in England. That will sadly reduce the mobility and opportunities for some of the numerous people now employed by local authorities in the Principality. That is something which they regard with anxiety. Indeed, some of them have already expressed this point of view to me.
The other point that I wish to make relates to the referndum. I note with interest the proposal of the hon. Members for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and Aberdare (Mr. Evans) that there should be a referendum at an eary stage.
§ Sir R. Gower
As the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) observes, it could conceivably save time. But it seems that the Government are determined to reject that advice. Certainly, the amendment to that effect has not been selected. It is a pity that we do not have an opportunity to consider this matter, but whatever is done about the referendum it is important that it should at least be contemporaneous with the Scottish referendum.
I believe that that would offer an opportunity to have a fair referendum in 390 Wales. I do not think that there is any chance at all of a fair referendum in Scotland, because that referendum will obviously be overshadowed by the question of oil. That may influence people's votes. But if there is a certain result in Scotland before the Welsh referendum is held, it may have a very important effect on the Welsh referendum. To have any value at all the referendum on this Bill should at the very least be contemporaneous with the one in Scotland.
Like the right hon. Member for Anglesey, the Secretary of State spoke with great confidence about this Bill. Both, apparently, have no trace of the anxieties unease and felling of confusion admitted to me by many who have considered this matter. I acknowledge that there is a degree of certainty in the minds of members of the SNP and, indeed, Plaid Cymru. I believe that the representative of the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells), is also certain about this matter. But there are many people in all parties who have deep anxieties. Many people simply confess that they do not know. Few of us can forecast with certainty what will be the effect of the implementation of this legislation.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey says quite definitely that this will not lead in any way to separation. I hope that he is right. But the fact remains that if we institute Assemblies of this kind they will want work to do. They will want enlarged powers. I cannot see such an Assembly, at times of difficulty, when the economy is facing particular problems at home and when there is increasing unemployment, being prepared to take the blame itself rather than blame the central Government at Westminster.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
If the hon. Gentleman goes to the Library and looks at Hansard for 1887 and reads the report of the Committee stage of the Local Government (England and Wales) Bill he will notice a number of speeches that read exactly like the one that he is making now.
§ Sir R. Gower
If the dangers and anxieties that I experienced were no greater than those with regard to setting up county councils, I believe that we would be talking about a very different thing indeed.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Perhaps the question of powers should be more properly put to the Secretary of State. There seems to be an odd contrast between the Scotland Bill, where the whole question of powers is given over to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and the Wales Bill, which states, in Clause 72, thatWithout prejudice to any power exercisable apart from this section, the Attorney General may institute, and the Assembly may defend, proceedings for the determination of any question whether anything done or proposed to be done by the Assembly is within its powers.Ought we not to go back to the question raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and establish why there should be these differences?
§ Sir R. Gower
I accept that there are means of exploring this question. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to do so in Committee. I hope that any timetable agreed upon tomorrow will afford us time to look at such an important matter which comes towards the end of the Bill. It should not be prohibited by such a timetable.
We are told that unless we bring government closer to the people, and unless we give the people of Wales and Scotland more direct control over their own affairs, they will seek to opt for separatism. What evidence have we of this? What evidence have we that these proposals will satisfy those who want more? The implication is that by introducing something on this modest scale we shall probably satisfy the large majority of people. I should have thought it just as likely that this would provide a vehicle for those who wish to go further than the House may be inclined to do at present.
It is also reasonable to fear that legislation of this kind will threaten the very unity of the United Kingdom, although the right hon. Member for Anglesey does not think so. I confess that at this stage it is not possible to prove either way. We cannot demonstrate that our fears in this respect are soundly based. We can only have an uneasy feeling about it, and I hope that we shall not be blamed for having that feeling.
After all, it was not inevitable that these islands should become a united kingdom. There were great differences between the people who composed these 392 islands. The very reasons that brought these islands together do not subsist today to keep them as one. Some of the reasons that made this a community last century no longer obtain. I believe that the break-up of the Commonwealth has in some respects lessened the cohesion of the United Kingdom. So the United Kingdom is itself an entity that we may have to fight to retain in anything like its present form.
I agree that the fears of many of us may be exaggerated, but I hope that the confidence of those who take a different view is not misplaced.
We must also have some regard to the nature of the devolution and the likely effect upon this Parliament. I cannot think about these matters without seconding or underlining what was said so capably yesterday by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I find it hard to reconcile these Assemblies with an effective United Kingdom Parliament.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey said that he could see no inconsistency in keeping this Parliament the same size as at present, even with these Assemblies, and he instanced the control over money. But I put it to him that that still comes back to the theory that has been promulgated so effectively by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). The fact remains that, under these proposals, Members of the Assemblies will be able to discuss more freely matters that are not in their own constituencies, whereas Members of this House will be prohibited from doing anything similar. The English Members will be just a Parliament of Members limited to England, while Scottish and Welsh Members will have—
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
The hon. Gentleman is making very heavy weather of this. Any English Member is perfectly entitled to come to Welsh debates, although one seldom sees them there when the opportunity arises. Hon. Members representing English seats wanting to make a point on any matter in Wales will have the opportunity to do so when the vote of the block fund is debated on the Floor of this House. They will not be precluded.
§ Sir R. Gower
I do not dispute what the right hon. Gentleman says, but the 393 fact remains that the balance of Parliament is altered by these changes.
As the right hon. Member for Down, South said, it is not possible within a unitary parliamentary State to devolve widespread legislative authority to an elected Assembly. It cannot be done effectively over a long period.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
If one leaves the peculiar difficulties of Ireland out of account, the Stormont Government was not a bad concept. It worked for 50 years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I prefaced that comment by saying "leaving the political situation in Ireland out of it". The right hon. Member for Down South (Mr. Powell) and his right hon. and hon. Friends would like to see that set up again. How can they object to an Assembly that is much smaller?
§ Sir R. Gower
The difference was one of scale. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks for a moment, he will remember that that was limited to 12 representatives from Northern Ireland, whereas in this Parliament, as he knows, we have more than 100 Members representing Scotland and Wales. It is so different in size as almost to be different in kind.
The right hon. Member for Down, South said that it was not possible to have widespread devolution of this kind unless there was a design for a federal devolution. I should not go so far as to say that it is not possible, but it would be extraordinarily difficult and not easily sustained over a long period. An organisation that represents the Welsh county councils has been referred to. That body has indicated that some parts of the Bill would threaten it and lead to some of the functions now under its control being put under even more remote control.
The Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) has said, is also objectionable because it involves political and not just administrative devolution. That is one of the most obvious objections to the Bill. If it were devolution involving the whole of the United Kingdom, that would soften the association of the Bill with national differences. It would lessen that effect. I hope that the Minister can see that with this Bill the Government would be creating such a difference between Scotland 394 and Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom that they would be dividing the United Kingdom. If it were a general devolution, that objection would not obtain. Things would be quite different.
§ Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)
Is the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) discussing the theoretical concept or announcing his adherence to the concept of devolution for the whole country?
§ Sir R. Gower
I do not need to do that. I tabled amendments advocating a Federal system but, unfortunately, they were not selected. However, I agreed with the Liberals on this matter before last year's Bill was debated. This is a different matter. We are considering a form of devolution that would be quite wrong for such a country as ours. For that reason I wish that the Government had waited and had introduced a system embracing the whole of the United Kingdom. That could have been done in this Parliament if the Government had set their minds to it at the beginning, and that would have had much wider support, because it would have been seen as something that would not threaten the unity of the United Kingdom. We do not know whether this Bill will do that, and we are anxious. Had the Bill presented a federal system we could have gone forward much more confidently. That is why, unfortunately, some of us will have to oppose the Bill.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
When empires fade or fall, we all know that history has shown us that, in the metropolitan homelands, with the collapse of confidence comes schism and disintegration. The sophistications wither and the visions, as wide as the far-flung boundaries of empire, shrivel. The imagination, encompassing massive areas of the world, dissipates.
Today we are witnessing—and if we are gutless we shall be participating in—the final ignominy. A Westminster which in my lifetime governed and administered perhaps no fewer than 600 million people has now become so palsied that it shrinks from governing little more than 50 million and so febrile are we required to confess ourselves and so fearful of responsibility—we who had the arrogance and the 395 courage to presume to administer so many hundreds of millions of diverse peoples with a handful of civil servants—that we are undermining the sovereignty of Parliament. At the same time, we are ready voluntarily to declare our readiness to place ourselves still further into the bondage of burgeoning bureaucracy.
For those of us who are Socialists, for those of us who still retain our allegiance to the Socialist view, the events of today and yesterday are a double humiliation It is a humiliation because we consciously subverted empire. We spent our political lifetimes subverting empire. The price that was being paid for the benign side effects of imperialism was, we thought, far too high to justify its essential malignancy and injustice. For the oppression of one people over many others, we sought to substitute the millenarian hope of the brotherhood of man. We spelt out in plea and in Wales in hymn and in all our propaganda our call to the workers of the world, people of all lands, to unite.
That may have been extremely naive of us, but it was a noble ideal that elevated our constant demonds for the amelioration of the appalling conditions that existed in the South Wales of our youth. It was, indeed, a may in which we elevated our self-interest to a noble ideal. It was the very cement that bound together our Welsh Labour movement and a deliberate alternative which we presented as a philosophy to the false sentiment of an aggressive patriotism that held the country together primarily to preserve its capacity to wage wars.
Now, to our shame and to the shame of all of us who are Socialists, the vacuum created as colonialism has ended is not to be filled by legislative expressions of our international philosophy. Far from it. Here in our legislature, in the Mother of Parliaments, we are making a spectacle of ourselves to the whole world that bears comparison only to a newly-created African State lapsing into tribalism. The tribalists may laugh but the Socialists do not. Maybe our Socialist hopes that we could become citizens of the world looked far too much ahead of the present potentiality of man. It seems so when we see how, hesitatingly we are prepared to become even citizens of Europe.
But are we now so lacking in conviction that we even lack the will to resist the tug of a spurious and regressive 396 Ethnocentricity—because there is no hon. Member who in his heart, believes that what we have in front of us today is a measure that relates purely to decentralisation, a measure that is simply a devolutionary administrative tactic? Nobody believes that. Nobody today put that view forward—and it has been put forward in the recent past with less and less conviction. Such a view, we all know, would totally lack authenticity.
We know that the Bill was conceived out of opportunism and reared in expediency. The sick dynamic behind the Bill is an ugly and intemperate nationalism. The Bill is a capitulation. It yields to the fanatical exponents of a destructive doctrine who are prepared to use every chauvinistic and parochial ploy to obtain a separate Wales in which, I have no doubt, if they ever achieved their objective, the English-speaking majority would be condemned to be strangers in their own land.
Those who dispute that view and who plead that to avoid such a grim prospect we must now make these placatory gestures to ward off demands are deceiving themselves. Have they not lived and learned through the experience of this century sufficiently to know that there can be no appeasement of nationalist parties whose ideologies are founded on dangerous fantasies and never on reality? We deserve contempt for our cowardice if, rather than fighting this irrationality with reason, we provide these nationalists with an Assembly and a stage upon which they can act out their dangerous dreams. We would be providing a theatre where, by artifice, they could seek to envelop the young and the politically immature into their dangerous racial myths.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
My hon. Friend says that the Bill is spurious and expedient, but is he not aware that it reflects the views of the Welsh Council of Labour that were publicly expressed at least 13 years ago?
§ Mr. Abse
The views that I am ex-expressing are the views that I held when the leader of the nationalist party was a young man, a little older than I. I remember repeating these views in a debate that he and I held more than 40 years ago. They are the views that are traditional in the South Wales Labour 397 movement, always emphasising our repugnance of the nationalism expressed by the leader of the nationalist party and emphasing the international overtones that have always been part of the Labour movement in South Wales.
Fortunately, the people of Wales have a greater political maturity than many of those who claim to be their mentors. They are looking with increasing disdain, as every opinion poll shows, upon those who are peddling this measure and claiming that it is a response to the real needs of Wales.
In a way, the Bill is a massive provocation for Wales. While we are asking the people of Wales to exercise wage restraint, the Bill taunts them with a demand that they must pay £31,250 a year for the salaries and services for each of the 80 Assemblymen.
At a moment when thousands of steelworkers are fearing redundancy, they will see new jobs being created for thousands of extra civil servants. I do not accept the Government figure of 1,100 extra civil servants. An Assembly that depends on its annual or biannual negotiations for its funds will depend on the skill of its own civil servants to achieve its target for funds. No self-respecting Welsh Assembly would permit its civil servants to serve both Westminster and the Assembly. It will demand its own Civil Service and refuse to share it with Westminster. The figure of 1,100 is a sham. Thousands more civil servants' jobs will come into existence.
And as we taunt the steelworkers with that, what, too, do we say to the parents, from the Rhondda to the eastern valley of Monmouthshire, who are impatient to see an end to the 11-plus? They will see millions of pounds spent not on much-needed new comprehensive schools but on the adoption of and equipment for the Exchange in Cardiff. And what do we say to trade unionists protesting against the severe cuts in the social services? They will see £10 million a year being spent on the salaries and accommodation of a horde of new bureaucrats. And into the hands of the Assemblymen and their bureaucratic satraps, and contrary to the specific pledges of the original White Paper, will be delivered, of course, the fate of all the councils, and—as my hon. 398 Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) should recall—all the local government employees in Wales too. Of course, it cannot be doubted that the Assembly will devour the councils of Wales.
The equivocations which were the response to my earlier intervention by the Secretary of State for Wales, in which he gave no clear answer as to whether, when the clause said that the Assembly should review the structure of local government, the functions should be reviewed, were once again revealing that the anxieties which have been expressed by the county councils and by all our local authorities are well founded. A promise was made at the beginning that this Bill would have nothing to do with local government. It ends the day by handing over to an untried, untested Assembly, inevitably hungry for power and for more and more functions, the penultimate decision on how in fact local government should be formed.
If it were said that local government was perfect, we would be very foolish. It it were said that we need consideration as to how we ought to reorganise local government, there would be nobody who would doubt the necessity. But a review of local government functions and local government structure by an interested party—not by an independent commission—is an insult to every local councillor throughout the whole of the Principality. I am not surprised, since they are politically sophisticated men—as, happily, we have in Wales—that the protests from members of the councils are rising, because they realise that they are being subjected to a massive confidence trick, that they were misled at the beginning, and that an attempt is being made to mislead them again.
§ Mr. Abse
I have given way once. I shall not give way again.
I say that authority will be wrested from our elected councils, and it will be wrested to an untried Assembly. It will also be wrested to the Welsh-speaking bureaucratic elite who will be the Praetorian Guard of those Assemblymen.
Let there be no doubt at all about it. Wales has rumbled to the fact that the Members—not all in the nationalist party 399 —will exercise their undoubted right to speak in Welsh inside the proposed Assembly.
§ Mr. Abse
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) asks "Why not? Of course, "Why not?" If one creates a Welsh Assembly, that is a right which they must have and which they have a right to exercise. But if they exercise that right, of course, one has to have officials who understand what they are saying. If they continue to exercise their right in every way in which they deal with every official—and they will so exercise it, knowing in particular their fanaticism about the language—then will be a precondition for entry into the Welsh Civil Service that one will need to be able to speak Welsh. The men and women from Gwent, from Cardiff and from the bulk of Glamorgan will find that they have no rôle to play in this Assembly and in the framing of powers which the Assembly will be exercising.
The Assembly will find that it can devour the local authorities and take over their rôle. More, no longer will the elected Members for Welsh constituencies be able to intervene effectively on their constituents' behalf over a wide range of issues such as housing, roads, education, health and personal social services. By relegating all these matters to the Assembly that great defender of Parliament, the Lord President, is seeking to ensure that the Welsh Members will become political eunuchs.
For the same salary as our colleagues representing English constituencies, we shall be required to do half the work. We shall be able to determine the fate of all the constituencies represented by our English colleagues but they will not be able to determine any matters in our constituencies, and nor shall we. We shall be excluded too. Our rôle will be impoverished. That intimate link between a Member and his constituency, which is so meaningful, will have gone. We shall be undermining respect and regard for the House of Commons. It will speedily be known in our Wales that our rôle is insignificant.
On the very maters which will impinge most upon their deaily lives, we shall be unable to intervene on behalf of our 400 constituents. We shall become miserable creatures in this House. That is not a state of affairs that could last for long. It could not. It is not something that a Welsh Member of Parliament would desire. It is an intolerable situation. When we vote on this Bill it will not be, as the Whips whisper, necessary for us to vote for it to obtain another Labour Government. On the contrary, together with the Scotland Bill it almost guarantees the end of future Labour Governments because it is the voice of radicalism in Scotland and Wales which has enabled us over the years to have our Labour Governments. The number of Scots and Welsh Members in the Commons will be drastically reduced.
Let no hon. Member representing an English constituency think that for some short-term gain, some momentary opportunism, he is not putting at risk the possibility of our having a permanent anti-Labour Government in this House. When I have to look to my loyalties, as some hon. Members present tonight looked to their loyalties yesterday, I prefer to recognise that there are many loyalties which we have from the moment that we enter this House. I have my loyalties to my Labour constituents, to my electorate, to my Parliamentary Labour Party, to my constituency party, and to the nation, and my loyalty to my conscience and self-respect.
These are competing loyalties with which we all have to live from the moment we come to this House. I prefer to eschew the public agonies which we endured yesterday and to retain the dignity of deciding how to resolve those conflicting loyalties in private. Having made up my mind—I did so a long time ago—I stick to my decision. I know that I was not elected to sabotage the prospects of future Labour Governments. I was not elected to help liquidate the United Kingdom or to break up the unity of the British Labour movement, and I was certainly not elected to demean Wales into a parish pump. For all these reasons, when the Question is put tonight I shall vote against the Bill.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
For generations the more radical British parties promised Wales a measure of self-government. These parties, of course, do not include the Conservative Party, which 401 has put its John Bull-ish bulk between the people of Wales and any measure of control over any aspect of their national life. The Conservatives even summoned all their vigour and virulence to oppose self-government for the Episcopal Church in Wales. Fortunately for that Church they failed, and their failure then to prevent its disestablishment has proved most beneficial to the Chuch, as Conservatives themselves now admit.
It is little wonder, then, that the Archbishop of Wales has just put his name to a report to the British Council of Churches, entitled "Devolution and the British Churches", which declares that the Assembly of the British Council of Churchesrecognises the need for devolution legislation to meet the special needs of Scotland and Walesandcalls upon Christian people in Scotland and Wales to take full part in the operation of the Assemblies.There is a group in the Conservative Party, as we have heard tonight, which favours a federal system for Britain. One can only wish that it had put its evidence to the Kilbrandon Commission. But the party as a party has failed enthusiastically to support any measure of power for the people of Wales, although it has enthusiastically supported the transfer of power from this House and Parliament to the bureaucrats in Brussels.
As a party, the Conservatives still deploy the old anti-disestablishment arguments against the very mild measure of control which the Government now propose to give the Welsh people over the bureaucracy which is so firmly in the saddle and which is riding Wales today. Conservatives still live emotionally in the nineteenth century, and as a party they have not yet come to terms with the fact that the British Empire has gone. They are still a party of British Imperial nationalists—a breed, as we have just heard, not confined to one party.
One is not surprised that Mr. Paul Johnson, the erstwhile editor of the New Statesman, made his Conservatism explicit by joining the party. He commends the declaration made by Thomas Cromwell, who was responsible for the measure incorporating Wales in England 402 in 1536, that "This Realm is an Empire". That is the view still of the Conservative Party, the party which at its Welsh conference this year sang "Land of Hope and Glory"—Wider still and wider may thy bounds be set;God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.That was their song in Wales this year. One can see them sending the gunboats up the Towy and the Taff to quell the rebellious natives.
Whatever kind of freedom Conservatives believe in, it is certainly not freedom for Wales. It is not freedom for Welshmen to control their own national life. Their policy over recent centuries has been one of naked assimilation—assimilation of our nation in that of England and an attack upon the national identity of the Welsh people. Some Conservatives may now make noises which suggest that they recognise the existence of a Welsh nation, but they are determined that that nation shall not act as a nation.
The Liberal background is quite different. Liberals have a history of sympathy with nations rightly struggling to be free. Indeed, at the end of the last century the Liberal nationalist movement in Wales was strong enough to compel the Prime Minister of the day in 1895 to come to Cardiff to declare himself in favour of a Parliament for Wales. That was 82 years ago, and we are still told not to rush the matter. In the absence of an independent national party in those days. there was no way of compelling the Government to honour their commitment.
For a long part of its history, for decades after Keir Hardie's day, Labour stood for Welsh freedom. Its attitude in 1918 was summarised in a powerful statement by the Secretary of the party, Mr. Arthur Henderson, and put out by Transport House. He said:The Labour Party is pledged to the widest and most generous measure of home rule that can be devised. … We regard the claims of Wales to self-government on these lines as strictly analagous to those of Ireland",and he gave two reasons. These were:1. The House of Commons is incapable of dealing with the urgent public business it is required to handle.2. Local legislation on the federal plan will help very materially to deepen and strengthen 403 the national spirit in each of these self-governing communities. Nationalism means the vigorous development of the material and moral resources of the whole people.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
There are certain similarities in the statement by Arthur Henderson which the hon. Gentleman has just read, and his own philosophy, but there is one difference. Arthur Henderson, in espousing separatism, nationalism and what he called freedom of nationhood, would have voted against the Government's proposals for devolution. I understand that the hon. Gentleman, as a means of securing his own ends, or attempting to do so, by a more devious route, will vote for these proposals.
§ Mr. Evans
wonder how the hon. Gentleman interprets the late Arthur Henderson's mind on this matter. I imagine that he would do what we are doing—see the measure as a step forward towards federalism, if that was his aim.
Arthur Henderson went on to say:It is hardly possible to conceive an area in which a scheme of parliamentary self-government could be established with better chances of success than Wales. All the problems that embarrass statesmen and challenge the imagination of reformers are seen in Wales reduced to manageable proportions. … Given self-government Wales might establish itself as a modern Utopia and develop its own institutions, its own culture, its own ideas of democracy in politics, industry and social life, as an example and an iinspiration to the rest of the world.That was the statement put out by the Secretary of the British Labour Party and by Transport House, and I think that his assessment was right.
In 1928, 10 years later, "Labour and the Nation", a statement of official policy, said:Believing as it does in the value of local initiative and patriotism, the Labour Party would support the creation of separate legislative assemblies in Scotland and Wales.In 1939 Clement Attlee said:The Labour Party has never departed from its policy of complete autonomy for Wales.That policy was not dropped before 1945. By then, unfortunately, the centralism of the Webbs had captured the party completely. They became even more centralist than present Conservative policy, and wrote a volume extolling the virtues of Russian centralism. As with the Liberals, no effort was made by either of 404 the pre-war Labour Governments to fulfil their Welsh policy. The Labour Party had become a British nationalist party, unconcerned for the national life of Wales, and increasingly assimilationist. There are some Labour Members who are still resolved that Wales should not have what one right hon. Gentleman yesterday called the "highly privileged position" that he thought the measure would give Wales.
Recently, Labour has recovered some part of its former vision—or was it just a vote-catching policy? It is right to note that the Labour Party in Wales published a brochure, for which Jim Griffiths wrote the foreword, putting its case for an elected Welsh Council a decade before Labour's conversion in Scotland. But the British party remained unmoved until the nationalist threat gathered power.
In 1976, support for the Government's slight measure came from the Wales TUC, which rightly wanted more economic and legislative power. Since then, the British TUC and the Labour Party Conference have given their support. Now the unemployment situation in Wales provides over 90,000 other good reasons for giving the Welsh the tools to do a good job there.
If there is any doubt at all about Labour's current intentions, they have been fostered by its attitude to the Kilbrandon Commission's report and by the way the Government allowed the Scotland and Wales Bill to founder. We await, not with too much confidence, to see whether they are capable of keeping their word this time. The powers which are proposed in this Bill are far from matching the needs of Wales and are equally far from matching the rights of a nation.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
Speaking of the needs of Wales, the hon. Gentleman quite rightly mentioned the 90,000 unemployed. Will he say how the Bill will help in the solution of that problem?
§ Mr. Evans
One way in which I hope it would help very materially is that one of the first actions of a Welsh Assembly would be to devise an economic plan for Wales to ensure the proper way of developing Wales as a balanced economy. Unfortunately, the Government have not kept what was a pledge to include economic powers in a measure of this kind. 405 But the Bill is a step in the right direction, and if the Welsh people do not want to go any further nobody can compel them to go any further, although the nationalists will do their best to persuade them, of course.
The important thing is to trust the people. Most of the people with whom this measure is concerned are proud to be Welsh, proud of their identity, proud of their nationhood and proud of their national traditions, in defence of which they have a long record of self-sacrificing struggle.It is for freedom that the Welshman fights, it is for freedom that he sees it sweet to lay down his life.So wrote Giraldus Cambrensis eight centuries ago.
It is Wales' total lack of freedom today which explains its parlous situation. The Welsh are totally unfree today. They are dominated now by a State which is not theirs. The British State is not ours.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
The hon. Gentleman keeps repeating the nonsense that there is a total lack of freedom in Wales. The people who represent Wales in this Parliament are elected by all the people in Wales. Why, then, does he say that they are denied freedom? If the people of Wales wish, they could all vote for nationalist candidates. As the hon. Gentleman knows and as I shall be telling him later, in the 36 Welsh constituencies 27 nationalist deposits were lost. That was the people of Wales exercising their freedom.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
There is one occasion which I recall very vividly in this place, and that was a debate on the fate of a valley in Merioneth. Liverpool wanted to drown the valley and take the water from that district. Every Welsh Member who voted, except one, voted against the measure, yet the measure was carried overwhelmingly.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
I have already given way once.
What freedom can the people of Wales be said to have in those circumstances? They are certainly dominated by the State, and the State does not serve Wales. It is England's State, and England is not 406 Wales. Although this measure is a far cry from national freedom for Wales, it could help her to live and I believe that it could help to strengthen the tradition which has such an amazingly long and continuous history in Wales.
The division on this issue is the division between those who are for Wales and those who are against Wales. It will not place Wales amongst the free nations of Europe, but it will give her power. It will take her more in the direction of the federal Länder of West Germany, whose prosperity is due in great part to its decentralised order. It does not approach the powers of the Swiss cantons but gets closer to those which will be enjoyed in Catalonia, and soon by the Basques, for Wales is a part of a much wider movement towards self-government among submerged nations in Europe which include the Bretons and Basques, the Catalans and Corsicans. Jean-Paul Sartre's statement that the French are a mass but the Bretons are a people applies to all these people in their various situations, including the Welsh. No country in Europe has greater potential than Wales has. It is as great today as it was in Arthur Henderson's day.
The present system of government is responsible for the near collapse, which could prove final, of a magnificent culture that has been transmitted over the centuries—even over the millennia—by a splendid language. Mainly because of Government action or inaction, the language is dying. It will not be a natural death. Languages do not die natural deaths. They are killed, and the Welsh language today is being killed. The Government cannot escape the charge of linguistic homicide.
The importance of a language to the quality of life of the people in Wales today and to future generations is beyond measure. Language is never neutral. The English language has been used quite ruthlessly for centuries as the most powerful weapon of Governments to assimilate Wales, to make the Welsh English. That strikes at the heart of Wales. Although most of our time has of necessity been given to economics, which are so much bound up with social justice, and to politics, to which economics should always be subordinate, 407 most basically be struggle in Wales, as in the colonial countries, has been for its cultural identity. Culture and community are the foundations upon which the Welsh nationalist movement is built.
§ Mr. Anderson
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the possibility that the Welsh Assembly will be less sympathetic to the language than the current Government, given the composition of the Assembly?
§ Mr. Evans
All these considerations have passed through our minds. However, we are aware of the situation in Wales. The country is becoming more aware of its national identity. I am sure that that process will continue. The committed Welshman finds the vulnerability of his nation heartbreaking. He finds the cold unconcern of successive English Governments to be arrogant and intolerable. That is shown in their attitude towards television in Wales, which is doing more than anything else to destroy the language of the country.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I can hardly believe that the hon. Gentleman is being serious when he talks about the arrogance of English Governments. It is rubbish and nonsense, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. What is special about the Welsh as against the English, the Scots, the French, the Irish or anyone else? Every country has its own peculiarities. Every country has its own language and its own culture, which it cherishes. Why should the Welsh be so special and above and beyond any other nationality? That is what the hon. Gentleman is preaching. He is suggesting that any other nation is inferior to Wales.
§ Mr. Evans
All those things are important to the individual Welshman. Wales should be allowed to live as Wales. It should be allowed to live its own life in its own way under its own institutions. I regard the hon. Gentleman as a British nationalist. He has great company in the House. The cultural and psychic injury that English domination has done Wales is immeasurable.
408 Much of the evil is due to depopulation and migration. They have been the consequences of unemployment, which has been a vicious feature of Welsh life for the past two generations.
§ Mr. Evans
Nine of the 13 old counties of Wales have smaller populations than a century ago whereas every one of the 18 counties of Norway has an increased population. There are increased populations stretching up to the Arctic Circle. The answer seems obvious to nationalists—namely, that Norway has its own Government, who have developed an adequate infrastructure and a balanced economy, whereas the Welsh infrastructure, including the roads, railways, ports and houses, has been allowed to lag far behind that even of England, in a crippling way. Whereas England has, for example, 2,000 miles of electrified railway, Wales has none. Norway has 58 per cent. of its railways electrified. Wales has not a single mile.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North-West)
Would the hon. Gentleman care to make a comparison with Eire in these matters?
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
The point made my my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts) was not the state of Ireland before independence but the progress that Ireland has made since. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the progress of Ireland since independence has been greater and better than that of Wales under the present arrangements?
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
Does the hon. Gentleman know that three years ago, for the 409 first time since records were kept, there was net migration into Ireland?
§ Mr. Evans
I think that the story of Wales, for all her history of emigration and depopulation, would have been quite different if we had had the kind of Government that Arthur Henderson wanted for Wales. Today we are governed by a centralised system of the British Parliament, of which the Sunday Times wrote last year:Parliament manufactures laws all the time without scrutiny and without scruple. More than 2,000 statutory instruments a year supplement debated legislation. … No amount of procedural reform would enable Parliament to sieve and check and ventilate grievances.That describes the situation. Our countries are controlled by bureaucrats and not by this Parliament. The House may recall that the last issue of the Economist took a similar line to the Sunday Times.
Yet the only alternative offered by those who oppose this measure of devolution is still more procedural reform, still more bureaucracy, still more strength for the Welsh Office and still more bureaucrats in the Welsh Office. They speak of bureaucrats attached to the Welsh Assembly but they do not speak of the bureaucrats in the Welsh Office, of whom they want to see more.
We think as nationalists, but we want parliamentary democracy, and that lies, even in England, through the decentralisation of power. This is not the time to deal with the Bill in detail. Despite its weaknesses it has its advantages in that it would give the people of Wales more control over local government, health, social services, education and development. These at least could be ordered on a human scale providing the beginnings, at any rate, of a participating Welsh democracy which could prepare the kind of development plan I have referred to and start the much-needed modernisation of our political and economic system. Most important, it would give Wales a voice which would be heard clearly in London and also in overseas countries, giving Wales worldwide advertisement which would doubtless attract industry which would not otherwise come to our country. It would increase the Welsh sense of self-confidence and release new energies, with a consequent greater degree of self-help in Wales.
410 We will try to improve the Bill. For those reasons, however, despite its shortcomings, we shall give it our support. The embers of Welsh nationality had for long been dampened, but they had never been extinguished. In recent years we have seen the breeze blow on them, and they are now leaping into flame—the flame of vigorous nationhood. The House must accept that fact. The flame will never be put out. If Wales is once again betrayed, that flame will become a blaze.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
I should like to take up the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) who made an interesting speech. I want to follow the philosophical and theoretical points that he made as a Socialist. I wish to emphasise a fact that is of importance. It is the basic reason behind this and the Scotland Bill. It is the "only begetter" and the raison d'être of the Bill. The fact is that Wales is a nation.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that the people of Northern Ireland did not believe that they belonged to a separate nation. I assume that he meant that they regarded themselves as English. The right hon. Gentleman knows more about Northern Ireland than I do, but his statement surprised me. I believe that behind all the difficulties in Northern Ireland there is an ethnic issue. We have barely begun to scratch the surface of the psychology of the ethnic group. That is one of the great lacunas in the Marxist philosophy. It is important that we appreciate that Wales is a nation.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool said at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party that to him as a Socialist a coal miner in Senghenydd was exactly the same as a coal miner in St. Helens or Timbuktu, I told him that if he had said that to me 30 years ago when I was down a coal mine in Wales working my guts out I should have told him that he was talking through his hat. I am not the same. I am no better and no worse than an English coal miner, but I am different. My hon. Friend talked of the "evil of ethnocentricity." It is not an evil, nor is it a virtue. It is a fact, One cannot be human without a sense of nationhood. One has to have a sense of history, a sense of the past to support 411 one, otherwise one would be merely a member of a species, like a tiger or an elephant.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
My hon. Friend referred to what my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) said about the people in Wales having things in common with people outside Wales. He seemed to resent that. Does my hon. Friend not recognise that Welsh miners would say that they have more in common with Scottish, Yorkshire, and other miners than they have with Welsh property speculators and asset strippers? They do not regard themselves in a narrow nationalist sense.
§ Mr. Ellis
I am coming to that. I was a Welsh coal miner, and I had a lot in common with an English coal miner. I once drew a horse in a raffle. I asked the fellow who sold me the ticket "Is it a good horse?" and he replied "Yes, it's got four legs." It was a horse. Clearly a Welsh coal miner has a lot in common with an English coal miner.
I am obviously ruffling a few feathers. I was making the point that one cannot be human without having a sense of nationhood. This brings me to the question of the Socialist theory of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool, who spoke about the need for workers of the world uniting, the, end of Empire, and so on. I still agree with the slogan "Workers of the world unite", but my hon. Friend must accept that the Socialist theories of 50 years ago have long since become outmoded. One has only to read the more recent and more advanced Socialist theories of such people as Sartre, Lefèbvre, Guy Heraud, Yves Person and Tom Nairn to realise that. It is significant 412 that all of them, the avant garde of Socialist theoreticians, are writing in unitary State.
Those writers have demonstrated today that to a large extent Socialist theory myth and plain acceptance of a great deal of capitalist prejudice. The Socialist theory of my hon. Friend is based on the concept of la grande nation, the idea of separate individuals making a contract to form an abstract State, the grande nation of Rousseau, as compared with the more organic nation of Herder that grows organically, with its own language, customs, traditions and so on. The grande nation concept, which Socialists swallowed hook, line and sinker, has clearly been outmoded and has been shown to be very far short of coming anywhere near a Socialist solution to the problems of the world.
This kind of mechanistic philosophy is precisely the philosophy of capitalism, that all that matters is production. Some Socialists have said "To alleviate our consciences, we shall talk not so much about production but about distribution." But today even Socialists in this country, who are 50 years behind the times in Socialist thinking—I refer more particularly to the left wing of the Labour Party—say that distribution does not matter much more than production. It is in this sense that when my hon. Friend talked about the Bill's being anti-Socialist he was clearly up a gum tree. The great lacuna in Marxist thought is the complete failure to recognise the nation in the sense of nationhood.
§ Mr. Heffer
My hon. Friend must surely know that one of the biggest arguments about Socialist theory over the years has been on the quesiton of self-determination of nations. For example, Rosa Luxembourg was totally opposed to any concept of the nation, but Lenin argued—there was a great polemic about this—for self-determination and nationhood. Joseph Stalin wrote an entire book about nationality. Therefore, if anyone is out of date, I do not know who it is, because the argument about self-determination, about nationhood, has been going on in the Socialist movement ever since it was formed. There have always been two basic arguments. I happen to be on one side and my hon. Friend is 413 apparently on the other, but it is not a new argument.
§ Mr. Ellis
I accept every word that my hon. Friend says. However, I was responding to some theories that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool had advanced, and specifically answering his points. At a later date I may enter into a long discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpol, Walton (Mr. Heffer), but his point gives me an opportunity to demonstrate something closely connected with the Bill and with this House.
This Bill presents the House with problems. However, they are by no means as great as the problems posed in the Scotland Bill. The problems presented in the Wales Bill are not insuperable. I think that they are readily soluble. However, there are problems.
I have a great deal of respect for this House—the Mother of Parliaments—but that respect falls short of idolatory, because this Parliament has many imperfections. One has only to read the leading article in last week's Economist to see it spelled out. I advise any hon. Members who have not read the article to read it. I often get the feeling that many hon. Members regard anything that goes on here as being perfect. The late Herbert Morrison said that Socialism was what the Labour Party did. In a sense, hon. Members seem to think that parliamentary democracy is what this House does.
There are many imperfections, and I want to mention only one in relation to the Bill. This House, in a national sense, is not homogeneous. All kinds of problems arise from that fact.
The right hon. Member for Down, South yesterday said that we had a unitary parliamentary State. We have had a unitary parliamentary State for a very long time, but the State is now clearly crumbling at the edges for some obvious reasons. They are not the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool. They are reasons connected with a change from the hierarchically structured society, with people at the top having power and issuing orders to a laterally structured society where Jack is as good as his master. In the laterally structured society, every man wants to 414 have his say and his rights, and no more than his rights. It is in the sense of this House being made up of a minority and a majority group—that is, a minority of one nation and a majority of another nation—that the problems arise.
I am not advocating that we should seek perfection. Politics is a practical job. We have to get on with it in a practical way. I want to illustrate what I mean when I say that this House has imperfections.
I was born in Wales. My mother and father and my grandparents were born in Wales. As far as I know, I am what might be called the true, genuine, Welsh aboriginal. Yet, when I come here, I am not allowed by the rules of the House to speak in my mother tongue. From the point of view of Socialism and equality, there is something fundamentally un-socialist and unequal about it.
Mention has been made of the situation in Ireland. A fortnight ago I had the pleasure and privilege of going to the Dail—the Irish equivalent of this Chamber. I think that it has 147 Members. I was intrigued to see the interpreters' booth. A proportion of people in Ireland speak Gaelic. The proportion is less than the number of people in Britain who speak Welsh. I understand that three or four Members of the Dail habitually speak in Gaelic, and there is a translation facility.
I am not making the point that, for some perverse reason or reasons of malice, this House has been anti-Welsh language. It has come about because, under the structure as it has developed in the last 200 years, it did not enter anybody's head that anyone would want to speak Welsh in an English Parliament. The Welsh language was regarded as a whim—a language that only odd characters like myself might wish to speak. I am not making an attack on the House as such. The point is that this is one of the imperfections in the structure of the House which is increasingly coming to light.
When the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) announced the publication of the Kilbrandon Report, I and my Welsh and some Scottish colleagues were agog in our seats. What was the reaction in the House by the 500 or so English Members? It was either a big 415 yawn or jokes about Home Rule for Yorkshire. I was amazed at the insensitivity of professional politicians, who are supposed to know what is going on. They were oblivious to the fact that they were sitting on a time bomb. They regarded it as a matter of Home Rule for Yorkshire or a big yawn about some crackpot idea that a Royal Commission had brought forward.
Another example, which has been mentioned on a number of occasions, is the Scottish Grant Committee. The mere existence of that Committee in a sense demonstrates the imperfections of this House. It had to be set up as some kind of stop-gap. Just like the Welsh Grand Committee, it was an arrangement to cater for the problems which increasingly came to the fore. The only reason why the Welsh Grand Committee was set up was in response to the need for the people of Wales to have their say. That again illustrates the imperfections of this House.
I could go on talking about other imperfections. Some hon. Members object to the number of Scottish and Welsh Members that are proposed. They argue that they will be able to vote on matters which, in Scotland, English Members will not be able to vote upon. In theory that is a very fundamental problem.
I was struck by the way in which the right hon. Member for Down, South spoke about a theorem—but politics is not a theorem. Politics is about life, and it has all the imperfections of life. The 500 English Members will not give in to the 30 Welsh Members or the 70 Scottish Members. The 500 will outvote the 100 any day.
This argument has not been produced because of any inherent practical objection; it has been produced because of prejudice and the search for any argument that can be put forward to try to deny this Bill.
This is the sort of Bill that is slowly edging us into the twenty-first century. We have had slogans about bringing us kicking and squealing into the twenty- 416 first century. I sometimes believe that the House of Commons is the last place in the world which could be taken kicking and squealing anywhere. It is high time that we did things which made it kick and squeal, and I am happy that as a result of this Bill the House of Commons is beginning to kick and squeal.
I have many more things to say, but I shall not take up any more time. I have attempted to try to explain my view to some of my hon. Friends who feel that in some way the Bill is an anti-Socialist measure. I exclude my hon. Friend the Member for Walton because I have not heard his views as a Socialist with regard to this Bill. But there are others, like my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool, who have expressed views which I think are the antithesis of contemporary Socialism. Times have changed. This is 1977, not 1922. It is as simple as that.
I hope I do not sound presumptuous when I say that my hon. Friend should read the advanced thought of people such as Person, Heraud, Le Fèbvre and Nairn so that he may appreciate that in a very profound sense this Bill is in the front of Socialist thought.
It was not for nothing that Sartre said that the new Left is in the regions. It is not for nothing that, speaking in the context of the Basques, he said:To speak an oppressed language is to attack capitalism at its softest spot.That should persuade my hon. Friends that this Bill is a very mild measure. It will set up a glorified county council. But I believe that in the best possible way it will grow naturally and evolve. I do not believe that we can produce out of thin air a big theoretical structure like the Industrial Relations Act. No man is clever enough to produce an industrial relations Act out of his head. However, the Assembly that is set up under this Bill will grow organically and will evolve. That is why I commend the Bill wholeheartedly to the House, and I hope that it will have a thumping big majority tonight.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)
As a staunch devolutionist, I feel it an honour and privilege to be here representing Ceredigion on this historic occasion, and I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Wales has had the privilege, he being a Cardiganshire man, to present the Wales Bill to Parliament.
I have listened with interest to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I have come to the conclusion that one is either in favour of devolving power to the people of Wales or one is not. I was delighted to listen to the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and to hear that he was in favour of devolving power to the Welsh nation. I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) say that he was in favour of it, as was the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) and others. But I was sorry to learn that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) and a few others on the Conservative Benches were not in favour of devolving power to the people of Wales.
Although I have some reservations about the new Wales Bill, the Government have over the past few months, moved some way towards Liberal demands. I feel, therefore, that the Bill deserves support as a positive step forward towards self-government in Wales and an improvement in the government of our country.
In about four or five hours, it will be interesting to see the percentage of Welsh Members of Parliament who support the Bill. I believe that more than two-thirds of them will do so and that the figure may be even higher. It may be that the hon. Member for Wrexham has persuaded his hon. Friends the Members for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and Aberdare (Mr. Evans) to vote for the Bill. Time will tell.
Liberals have always advocated devolution within a federal system. We believe that to be the best way to deal with the problems of government. I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Pembroke and the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) say that they were in favour of a federal system. The day may dawn yet when we have a federal system of government.
418 We Liberals also believe that the Welsh Assembly should be given powers equivalent to those given to the Scottish Assembly. There is no mention in the Bill of proportional representation. It is a great pity that the Government of the day have not acceded to our request, because there is a need to change our electoral system.
It is my intention tonight not to go into detail on specific issues but rather to stress that in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill we are supporting the general principle of devolution and seeing the Bill as a necessary starting point.
However, as I have said so many times, if devolution is to succeed we must have parity between the people of Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. It may be that some of those hon. Members who are not in favour of devolving power to the people of Wales and Scotland believe that we are not capable of running our own affairs. In my view, however, we have the ability and the men and women who can govern Wales from within as well as we are at present doing at Westminster.
As a Welsh Liberal Member of Parliament, I have always maintained that one of my duties is to do what I can to aid the preservation of all that is precious in Welsh life, its culture and its traditions while encouraging investment in our established industries and bringing new industries to areas where there is unemployment so that the community may thrive.
I have lived in Wales all my life, as has my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). Over the past decade or more we have seen local people leaving Mid-Wales, many of them to go to Liverpool, Birmingham and London, never to return. The steps that we are about to make of devolving power to the people of Wales and to bodies already established in Mid-Wales will help to stop young people leaving the area to which we so proudly belong.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
Will the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) tell us just how that will stop the migration of young people? Has not migration 419 some small thing to do with employment and other such factors? If the hon. Member thinks that a Welsh Assembly will wave a magic wand and keep young people rooted where they are, he is sadly wrong. In any case, is not the richness and diversity of life in this country due to the leavening of Celtic with Anglo-Saxon? Do we want to separate the elements that have made this country so rich in its total culture?
§ Mr. Howells
With due respect to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans), perhaps he does not understand our problems in Mid-Wales, because for generations young people have left the area not to return. The Welsh Assembly will have the will to encourage the people of Mid-Wales to stay in the area and may have a plan, perhaps within the concept of the Rural Development Board for Wales, to make sure that we retain the services of young people, and uphold the traditions of our part of the world. I hope that the Government will have the answer when they set up the Welsh Parliament.
I am convinced that the only way that depopulation can be stopped is by devolving power to a Welsh Parliament and by bringing government closer to the people of Wales—a Government who know and understand Welsh problems and need the direct participation and active involvement of the Welsh, and who should enable us to solve our problems and to survive economically and culturally.
I agree entirely with the sentiment expressed by the hon. Member for Wrexham that language is extremely important. I hope that the senators or Assemblymen who will be elected to represent Welsh areas will have an opportunity to discuss matters and to speak in their own language, which is Welsh, once the Assembly has been set up. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance on that tonight.
I strongly doubt whether commuters in the South-East of England have any idea of the problems of the Rhondda Valley. Why should they? What do Midlanders know of the difficulties of North Wales hill farmers? Why should they? With our own Parliament and with Members representing only the Welsh electorate, there will be opportunities to 420 discuss the particular issues of our country that affect us and us alone.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts
Will the hon. Gentleman indicate what the hill farmers of Cardiganshire know about the problems of industrial Cardiff?
§ Mr. Howells
They do not know anything, but once there is a Welsh Parliament it will be much easier for people such as farmers in Mid-Wales to understand the problems of those in Cardiff.
§ Mr. Howells
We shall try to solve them, and perhaps we shall be able to do a better job than is being done in this place. Westminster is overburdened and tends towards inefficiency. It can give little time to matters of vital importance to Wales. When were Welsh affairs last debated in this Chamber? The people of Wales deserve better than that from their elected representatives.
One argument which has been put forward against devolution is that our present system, with the United Kingdom Parliament, is the best in the world and that our method of government is among the most efficient. People ask why we should change it now. But this excellence was achieved only through gradual development over the centuries with a system that adapted itself to what was required. Parliament can no longer cope with the tremendous amount of legislation and discussion that is expected of it. As a result, Welsh problems are continually pushed aside so that Westminster can deal with the bigger national or British issues.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
How can the hon. Gentleman justify saying that Parliament is so heavily engaged when, if the Bill falls, there will be hardly any legislative programme for this Session?
§ Mr. Howells
Let me put the hon. Gentleman's mind at ease. We shall win the vote on Second Reading so that the people of Wales will be able to vote in a referendum for an Assembly. The hon. Gentleman need not worry.
A little over 20 years ago, there were those who said that there was no need for a Welsh Office or a Secretary of State 421 for Wales. Their arguments have been disproved and the Secretary of State's duties have extended to cover a vast amount of Welsh public life since then.
We have been devolving power to the people of Wales for the past 20 years. We have a Welsh Water Authority, the Welsh Development Agency, the Development Board for Rural Wales and other authorities. A Welsh Assembly is a logical development of all this. Will any hon. Member say that we should abolish the role of the Secretary of State for Wales? No—yet 20 years ago people fought hard against such ministerial responsibility. Power vested in the Welsh electorate is needed to deal with the many non-elected bodies that abound.
I believe that in the past three years the Government have taken the right steps in the right direction to try to solve the unemployment problem in Wales, and in the past few months the Development Board for Rural Wales has done a great deal of good in Mid-Wales by giving help to small industries and trying to solve our social problems in many ways.
Provision has been made in the Bill to ensure that the people of Wales will have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they want to take this exciting step towards greater democracy. That disposes immediately of the argument that the Assembly has been foisted upon Wales against the will of the people. Hon. Members who vote against Second Reading will be denying the Welsh people their right to choose. I urge every hon. Member to think seriously in the next two or three hours and not to deny the people of Wales the right to decide for themselves whether they want a Welsh Parliament.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) and many other Conservatives were the loudest in calling for a referendum on this issue, yet they are the very people who will try to kill the Bill?
§ Mr. Howells
The hon. Member for Pembroke and the other opponents of devolution will not kill the Bill. There is no need for the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) to worry. We shall carry the Bill through.
422 Wales can make an important contribution to Britain. We shall still be as much part of Britain as before. We cannot possibly become economically independent, but to play our part to the full we must realise our potential by tackling the problems at source. Only then can we make our proper contribution to Britain, Europe and the world. This can be done only when we have our own Assembly, with its Members elected by the people of Wales, dealing with Welsh affairs.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
I shall not follow up the points made by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) at great length, but I hope that neither he nor anyone else in the House will lead people in Wales to think that if we have an Assembly that body will solve the basic problems that face Wales and the rest of the country.
Earlier this evening we were told that the Welsh Assembly was not even a tier of government. That is how it has been described. It has been said that it is just a movement of functions.
§ Mr. John Morris
I have made the point repeatedly that we are not creating an additional tier of government. I say that for the umpteenth time. I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand simple English. What is claimed as an extra tier of government is already there. One is transferring functions and not creating an additional tier. My hon. Friend must not put words into my mouth.
§ Mr. Evans
The point that I am making is that we have got this Welsh Assembly there, and my right hon. and learned Friend is saying that we are transferring functions which are now performed by this House of Commons. The problems that are facing the people of Wales are those of living standards, of unemployment and of numerous other issues. Those are the issues which are really concerning the people at the moment, and there is not a great expectation that if the Assembly is created it will solve all the problems that concern them.
423 I am sorry that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) has left the Chamber, because, unfortunately, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) did not take up the points he had made. We should not allow this debate to pass without answering the political rubbish that is uttered by the hon. Member for Carmarthen when he keeps talking about the people of Wales being colonials and saying that we are exploited by the English. It needs to be reiterated that we have a Prime Minister who represents a Welsh constituency, and a Deputy Prime Minister who represents a Welsh constituency, and we have a Secretary of State in the Cabinet. We also have a Home Secretary and a Foreign Secretary, who, although they represent English constituencies, come from Wales. Mr. Speaker, who presides over this House, happens to come from Wales, and along the Corridor in the House of Lords we have a Lord Chancellor who went to the same grammar school as I did in Llanelli.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I think that the hon. Member should remind the House that I come from Scotland.
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Member has given a long list of Welsh people holding office in this Chamber and in the other place. In those circumstances, does he accept that, given all those people holding office and still having all the problems of Wales unresolved, we need a systematic change if we are to get an answer to those problems?
§ Mr. Evans
Yes. The hon. Member is making the point that I was able to make. I believe that the problems will be resolved by changing the economic system and not by changing the machinery of government. I shall not become involved in the controversy between my hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham and Pontypool (Mr. Abse). One of them says that it is not a piece of Socialist legislation and the other says 424 that it is very much a piece of Socialist legislation. The point is that these proposals have very little to do with Socialism.
If we are to improve our position in Britain, it is true that we have to work to change the machinery of government. We have also to change our economic system. I was pleased to find that the hon. Member for Carmarthen is reading Socialist literature. I am glad that he is reading Arthur Henderson. On the last occasion he quoted Keir Hardie—an illustrious predecessor of mine who once represented the valley which I now have the honour to represent. No one could say that Keir Hardie or Arthur Henderson was a nationalist. They were Socialists, internationalists. They believed in the brotherhood of man and not in the concept put forward by the nationalist parties, which breeds racism.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes
There are other people in the House who know what Keir Hardie stood for. My study of history suggests that Keir Hardie was fully in support of a Parliament for Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Evans
If my hon. Friend looks at Keir Hardie's writings, he will find that he was basically an internationalist. It may well be that in the development of the Socialist movement in Britain, when the possibility of gaining control over this Chamber was a dim and distant dream, it was felt that Home Rule for Scotland and Wales might be a steppingstone to Socialism throughout the country. But today it is nonsense to suggest that we should cut ourselves off from the English.
§ Mr. Hooson
Should not the hon. Member be congratulating the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) on reaching the nineteenth century, and should he not try to emulate him?
§ Mr. Evans
I do not believe that the hon. Member for Carmarthen has reached the nineteenth century. I believe that he is trying to turn the clock back to 1536. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) may have some agreement, through his party, with the Government at the moment. But the Liberal Party has not accepted Socialist philosophy, so it has not been brought into the twentieth century. We have to 425 address ourselves to the fundamental problems facing us, and this requires Socialist policies.
I hope that no longer on the proceedings on this Bill shall we hear this nonsense from the nationalists about the Welsh being colonial people who are exploited by the wicked English in this House. Many Members of Welsh origin represent English constituencies. There are many Welsh people living happily in London, Birmingham and many other parts of England, just as there are many English people living, happily in Wales. That is why we reject the nationalist philosophy.
It has been said that there are four guiding principles for this Bill and the Scotland Bill—respect for the diversity and distinctive traditions of Scotland and Wales, conservation of the economic and political unity of the United Kingdom, the continuing and unimpaired sovereignty of Parliament, and fairness to the whole of the United Kingdom. If those are the guiding principles, we ought to have drafted different Bills.
There is no need for this Bill to respect the diversity and distinctive traditions of Wales. They are there. They were there before this Bill was talked about, and they will remain long after it is forgotten. The establishment of an elected Assembly as outlined in the Bill will undermine the economic and political unity of these islands. It will undermine and damage the the sovereignty of Parliament. I do not say that those who framed the Bill framed it with that in mind, but I believe that the consequence of this measure, if it goes through and is accepted by the people of Wales, will be to undermine the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom.
The purpose of the Bill has been described as being to strengthen the unity of the people of these islands, but what measure has provoked more Yorkshire nationalism, Lancashire nationalism and Merseyside nationalism as well as Welsh and Scottish nationalism?
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. Evans
We in this House also have our rules and traditions which we must protect.
Although intended to deal with certain alleged injustices, the Bill will create greater injustices and undermine the desire that all the people of these islands should be treated fairly and equally. I believe that we are treated fairly and equally now, and we do not need the provisions of the Bill to ensure that.
§ Mr. Hooson
Surely the hon. Gentleman lacks consistency. A minute ago he was proclaiming his internationalism, yet he is concerned to preserve the sovereignty of this House and of the United Kingdom. How does he reconcile the two? How does he reconcile his internationalism with, for example, his hostility to the Common Market? As we move more into an international sphere, there is a greater demand in places such as Wales, Scotland and Yorkshire that people should have greater control over local matters.
§ Mr. Evans
My objection to the Common Market was that it was an inward-looking organisation. I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that if a British Government or Parliament moved forward to a world association I should support such a measure. What I object to is the re-creation of boundaries. The boundary between Wales and England went in 1536, and it is no step forward for mankind to resurrect Offa's Dyke and try to put customs posts on the Severn Bridge. I recognise the sovereignty of our Parliament because this is our Assembly which we should support, but if the time comes for us to give up our sovereignty to some organisation of united nations, I shall support such a move. I am not inconsistent in what I have said about the purposes of the Bill and the guiding principle which the Government have enunciated.
What is interesting is the reaction of the nationalists to the Bill. The Government's purpose has been to maintain the 427 unity of the people of these islands, rejecting separatist and nationalist theories. I represent a constituency which was supposed to be facing a serious nationalist challenge in 1974. The nationalists made their calculations and said that they would win seats, and one seat they would certainly win was Aberdare. In fact, not only did we hold Aberdare in February with a substantial majority but our majority was greatly increased in October. I should add that my local party has taken a very strong anti-nationalist line.
Again, in the borough elections the nationalists said that they would win the Cynon Valley Borough Council. In the event, we won three seats from the nationalists. The nationalists had got in there in the past, but my party, by taking a firm and convincing line against the nationalists, pushed them out of the borough council, and Labour is now in control in my valley and is much stronger today than it has been for a number of years.
I call in aid what happened in Mid-Glamorgan too. The House will recall that the hon. Member for Carmarthen referred to the Church publication on devolution, but one can see at once how out of date it is. It presents the expectation that Mid-Glamorgan will be won by the nationalists next year. In fact, we had an election this year and, instead of winning, they lost three seats in my constituency.
If there were any opportunity for the nationalists to make advances, that opportunity should have come during the difficult years we have recently experienced.
But instead of advancing they have been retreating. They have gone to pieces in the valleys. The idea that the nationalists are on the march is nonsense. The hon. Member for Carmarthen used to say that in 10 years' time his party would be the largest in Wales. He has changed that a little, because at the last conference of his party he spoke about winning three seats. That was his prediction, but I make a counter-prediction. It is that the nationalists will lose their three seats because of the upsurge in Wales against nationalism.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen spoke of the ark of the people of Wales. 428 Time and again he has said that, but his party received the smallest number of votes at the General Election. He represents a party which contested 36 seats but lost deposits in 27 constituencies. Despite that, the nationalists speak of the ark of the people.
My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench must be concerned about what has happened in the past. When the Scotland and Wales Bill received its Second Reading, it was the nationalist parties who cheered the loudest. Nobody on our side of the House cheered. No one from the other Opposition parties cheered, not even the Liberals. The nationalists cheered because it meant that they would get their Assemblies, but then there was the guillotine motion. We were told of the dangers that would befall Britain if that motion was not passed.
§ Mr. Evans
I do not know the reason for what happened. I am saying that the nationalist Benches cheered because they thought that at long last they had a stepping stone to an independent Scotland and Wales. That is why I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to be careful.
If there was a personal reason for the hon. Lady's tears that night, I am sorry.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)
The circumstance was personal but was perhaps interesting to the cause. It was the death of John McAteer, my agent in Hamilton. He died at the age of 42, having, in our opinion, served his country to the best of his ability. On that occasion I cried for my country because I believe that the gradualist way is the right way. When that motion was beaten, I could see a possibility that the House would not waken to the fact that national movements do not go away.
§ Mr. Evans
I did not know that that was the reason for the hon. Lady's tears. My only point is that it was the nationalists who were happy when the Bill was given a Second Reading and that it was they who were sorry when the guillotine motion was not carried. The nationalist parties of Scotland and Wales are committed to independence. They want to break up the United Kingdom. The Government's purpose in introducing this measure is to strengthen the unity of Britain, and one must draw attention to what happened on previous occasions because those events appeared strange indeed.
I interrupted my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State when he was putting the case for giving the Bill a Second Reading. I believe that the proposal put to the Kilbrandon Commission by the Labour Party in Wales was that there should be a top elected local government tier in Wales that would deal with the nominated bodies. I believe that the proposal was concerned primarily with local government structure. It is regrettable that the Conservative Party went ahead with its plans, because it has made things difficult for the Labour Government to go ahead with their proposals.
I think that we were right to criticise the Conservative Party for the way in which it reorganised the National Health Service, local government and the water industry in Wales, but what we are doing is not tackling the problems that were created then. We are merely adding to them by bringing in what I believe is not an additional tier of government but a transfer of functions from this House to Wales. This is not a move towards a divorce between Wales and England. It is a form of legal separation: some of the functions that have been given to the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office are now to be transferred to Wales.
In Wales we have community councils, 36 district councils, eight county councils, a Welsh Office, numerous ad hoc authorities and a Secretary of State in the Cabinet. We have Parliament meeting here at Westminster. Then we have the European Economic Community with its added bureaucracy. To all this we are to add a Welsh Assembly.
430 In London there are 9 million people. There are more people in Greater London than there are in the whole of Scotland and Wales combined. London has a county council and metropolitan councils. Londoners seem to manage, yet we in Wales have all the extra government that I have mentioned. On top of that we are to create a Welsh Assembly.
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a moment ago that he had visualised the Welsh Assembly or the Welsh elected council in terms of local government. Surely he will accept that the terms of reference of the Crowther Commission—later the Kilbrandon Commission—were to do with the operations of central government in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and other are as and not to do with local government. How could he possibly have interpreted his party's evidence to Kilbrandon in the terms he stated?
§ Mr. Evans
The evidence given by the Labour Party to Kilbrandon was concerned with a top-tier local authority. The term used was "an elected council for Wales". The term "an elected council for Wales" was not used without its having some meaning, because I believe that words have meaning. I believe that those concerned were talking about a council for the whole of Wales with a single unitary authority underneath. However, the Tories came to power and reorganised local government. In the present circumstances, we must think twice about putting local government through another process of change, but that is what will happen under the Bill.
The hon. Member for Cardigan referred to proportional representation. I am pleased that under this Bill the elections will be, as they were to be under the previous Bill, by the simple majority or first-past-the-post system. I understand that there is some agreement between the Government Front Bench and the Liberals that there shall be a free vote. I hope that the idea of proportional representation will be rejected from this side. I have argued this matter before and will not go into it in detail tonight.
I believe that if the system of election to the Assembly were to be by proportional representation it would benefit the 431 Labour Party in Wales, because the vast majority of Labour Members come in at present with an overall majority. That is more than can be said for certain others. Certainly the nationalists do not have an overall majority in any one of their seats.
I do not complain about the fact that there is to be a free vote. There should be free votes on constitutional issues. There should be greater freedom for Members to do what they think is right and not to be lined up on constitutional issues. However, I hope that the system of voting will be the simple majority method.
Many of us have argued that the people should be given the opportunity to decide this whole issue in a referendum. I welcome the concession that has been made by the Government to hold a referendum. We must remember that this was not in the original Bill and that there were those who were fighting so as to prevent the Welsh people from having the right to decide.
I have said before that I believe that the greatest facet of devolution should be to let the people themselves decide. I think that the Government saw the force of argument in the previous debate and accordingly have granted—
§ Mr. Evans
I do not believe that. I believe that the Government have recognised that there is a good case for holding a referendum. Some believe that we must have this Bill so that we can have a referendum, but that is not so. It would be quite possible for the Government to hold a referendum even without this Bill. If we had had a referendum in the early part of last year, the contents of the measure could have been outlined to the people and they could have been told "This is what the Government propose to do. Do you want it or do you not want it?".
When we consider the clause that enshrines the fact that we are to have a referendum, I hope that further consideration will be given to the form of words that will appear on the ballot paper. The form of words can led to a loaded question. The question should be as simple as possible. The debate will take place 432 and there will be those campaigning for the Bill and there will be those who are against it.
Of course, if matters proceed as the Government intend, the measure will be become an Act. It will be enough to ask "Do you want the provisions of the Act to be put into effect—'Yes' or 'No'?". That will be enough. The appendix states:Parliament has decided that there should be a referendum in Wales to consult the electorate on the question whether the Wales Act 1977 should be put into effect. The Act provides that there should be an elected Welsh Assembly and that Wales should remain part of the United Kingdom.That might lead one to suppose that the people will be votiing on whether we are to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Presumably Wales willremain part of the United Kingdomirrespective of whether we get the Bill.
There is argument whether the Bill is strengthening that unity. We must consider this issue again, withdraw the Preamble and put the question straight to the people.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
My hon. Friend has led himself to the question that I wished to put to him. As he knows, I do not share his enthusiasm for the referendum. As he has said, the question may be put in different ways. It should not be loaded as it obviously is now. However, I enter another caveat. If there is to be a referendum, will my hon. Friend wish to ensure that the Welsh Labour Party will not take part in the campaign on the basis that it is a vote of confidence in Mr. James Callaghan and the Labour Party?
§ Mr. Evans
My hon. Friend makes an important point, but I shall not take it up as I have spoken for much longer than I intended.
I have a series of questions that I wish to put to my right hon. Friend the Lord President and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. If my questions cannot be answered tonight, I hope that I shall have definite answers when these matters are considered in Committee. If we have an Assembly, shall we continue to have a Secretary of State for Wales? I believe that the Secretary of State for Wales occupies an important position. At present Scotland and 433 Wales are recognised when Cabinet meetings take place, because there is a representative for Wales and another for Scotland. If many of the functions now performed by the Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland are to be transferred to the Assemblies, it might well be questioned whether they deserve a place in the Cabinet. The 9 million people in London do not have a London Cabinet Minister. Will the Secretary of State for Wales continue to have a seat in the Cabinet?
What is to happen to local government in Wales? The question has not been answered completely. There will be a state of anxiety among those involved in the counties and districts. It is no use hon. Members saying that it is the counties that will go and not the districts, while others say that it is the districts that will go and not the counties. The fact is that they will all go into the melting pot if the Welsh Assembly is to be responsible for local government. It is no use saying that the counties and districts will not be touched. It is no use saying that they will be allowed to continue as they are today if we are to have a Welsh Assembly. That is why I raised the matter on Second Reading of the Scotland and Wales Bill. It is a matter to which we have to address our minds.
There has been an attempt to avoid awkward issues by saying that first we have to have a Welsh Assembly. I hope that there will be clarification when we consider the relevant clauses. What is to happen to those now employed in local government administration? If we go ahead and appoint an Assembly, it will presumably be necessary to make new Civil Service appointments. Presumably the civil servants will not be transferred from the Welsh Office. Presumably the civil servants at the Welsh Office will stay at the Welsh Office. There will have to be new appointments for the Assembly. What is to happen to those at county and district level who could well fit the posts that will be created if the Welsh Assembly is to be set up?
Are there to be any guarantees that the number of Members from Wales in this place will not be reduced? I am with my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) when he says 434 that there should be no argument for reducing the number of Members from Scotland and Wales in this House. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) wants Britain to break up—we all know it. It is no use her interrupting my series of questions.
Again, will Members from Wales in this House be allowed to raise questions about health, education, housing, the social services and the environment? I have an Adjournment motion this week. People in my constituency are deeply concerned about certain decisions on the health services. I have a right to raise the matter on the Floor of the House. Shall I have that right after the Assembly is established? Let us have an authoritative answer. When we talk about what we are giving the people of Wales, we must also say what we are taking away.
§ Mr. Evans
What will happen to the Welsh Grand Committee? There is no mention of that. In the Welsh Grand Committee, we discuss issues of national concern. If the practice in the Assembly is not being used to the greatest advantage, what will happen? Again, what alteration is there to be to Welsh Question Time? What Questions will we be able to ask of the Secretary of State for Wales?
Are we to have a fairly-conducted referendum? I am one of those who believe that the Common Market referendum was not fair. Those who were for it had their say and those against it had their say, but then the majority of the Cabinet issued another edict and sent it through the post to the electorate, thereby giving two "goes" to those who were for continued membership compared with those who were against.
If we are to have a referendum on this issue, let us make it clear from the start that it is going to be fair. Would there be consultation about the question on the ballot paper in order to ensure objectivity? I am glad that we have the terms of the ballot paper in the Bill—we can study them well in advance. I hope that on this issue there will be a consensus in the House that the question should be put fairly and squarely before the people.
435 I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will appreciate the point when I remind him that some Ministers were ardently for membership of the Common Market, others not so ardent, and others against. They were allowed—and it was good for British democracy—the freedom to put their points of view. Will Ministers be allowed the same freedom on this issue? If they have reservations in heart or head about the provisions of the Bill, will they have the freedom that they had on the Common Market issue to say what they think to the people?
There is a greater proportion of public expenditure in Wales compared with England. Will a directly-elected Assembly mean a reduction of public expenditure in Wales? The general belief is that more will be spent, but there will be a block grant and the argument will be, no doubt, that public expenditure should be according to population basis and not what it has been up to now, on a United Kingdom basis, according to need.
While I believe that the Government have attempted truly to fulfil an election manifesto commitment, I do not think that we considered all its implications when it was made. I believe that we can improve the machinery of this House and that there may be an argument for devolving powers from the House. But we must ensure that we do not pass a Bill with built-in obsolescence.
I want to remain united with Scotland and England. That is why I hope that the nationalist challenge in Scotland will be defeated. We must look carefully and closely at what is implied in the Bill. We condemned the Tories because they rushed into legislation on the reorganisation of local government and the National Health Service. It is no good complaining about them if we are to compound the disadvantage by adding to what they have already done.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
The House has agreed that the Bill should be proceeded with until 2 a.m. However, if we have 36-minute contributions from the Back Benches it will be impossible to accommodate hon. Members who have been sitting here all day and are anxious to take part in the debate.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
As I shall be referring to a number of points that were made by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans), I shall not follow him directly except to say that it seems that he wanted answers to many relevant questions.
For my part, I am sorry to say that I find the Bill curiously deceptive and disappointingly devious from beginning to end. The Clause 1 states that the changes proposed in the government of Wales.do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament.Surely this is a matter of opinion and interpretation rather than a matter of fact.
Some of those who are for the Bill want want it unashamedly because they believe that it is a step towards an independent Wales. Others who are in favour of the Bill, such as the Government, regard it as a measure to forestall and neutralise the separatists. Those of us who are against the Bill regard it as a surrender in the direction of separatism. To say that the Bill does not affect the unity of the United Kingdom does not ring true.
This false, negative assurance is carried a stage further in the appendix to the Bill which deals with the content of the referendum ballot paper. The people of Wales are to be told positively in that ballot paper thatthe Act provides … that Wales should remain part of the United Kingdom.That is different from the negative statement in Clause 1. By using the word "should" in that context, the Government are simply putting a legislative cloak over what one might call a dutiful intention which amounts to little more than a slender hope.
We agree with the Government that Wales and Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom, but others do not agree. The others are right to interpret the Bill as a step that furthers their cause. The Government delude themselves when they deny that that is so. Perhaps the crux of the matter is that the 437 Government regard the Bill as being towards the end of the alphabet of devolution. It is only the beginning. It lies somewhere around the gamma mark.
If the Bill is passed, over the next few years there will be a progression from it and amendments to it which will weaken the links between Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. That is the shape of things to come. The Bill represents the beginning of the parting of the ways between Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. We are not dealing with a static situation. Those who have listened to the debate realise only too well that the passage of the Bill will give the biggest fillip to nationalism and separatism that they have had for a long time.
During the Summer Recess I visited Canada and paid particular attention to the situation in Quebec Province which has enjoyed a large measure of self-government under the federal system established towards the end of last century. But that is not enough self-government in the opinion of the Pequists, as the Press now call the Parti Quebequois. The Parti Quebequois Government are to hold a referendum in the next year or so on the issue of independence for the Province.
§ Mr. Roberts
The French Government have pledged their support for whatever line the Pequists decide to follow. Having heard the intervention of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas), I do not have to wonder how long it would be before a similar situation developed in Scotland and Wales if the Bills were passed. What is to prevent a Scottish Assembly holding a referendum on independence for Scotland?
§ Mr. Roberts
What is to prevent a Welsh Assembly similarly holding a referendum on independence and then, as the Quebec Government intend doing, negotiating from a position of strength with the federal Government?
§ Mr. Roy Hughes
I stand for the United Kingdom, and no one could ever contest that. But one must ask the following question: what if it seemed to be the overwhelming desire of the people of Scotland for independence? What 438 would the hon. Gentleman suggest—that the troops be sent there?
§ Mr. Roberts
The question is highly speculative. The Bill might well not pass the referendum test in Scotland. [HON. MEMBERS: "It will not."] I am assured that it will not, but there is a deal of uncertainty. All that I am asking now is this. What is to prevent a Scottish or Welsh Assembly pursuing that course? I hope that the question will be answered by the Lord President in his winding-up speech.
Even before the Bill is on the statute book, the allocation of further powers for the Assembly is under discussion. The power to raise taxes will, of course, be denied until after the referendum, because that is a vote-loser if ever there was one, but the Government have no objection in principle. From the central Government's point of view, it is desirable that the Assembly should have the power to tax, because that is the only way to silence the inevitable incessant clamour for an increase in the block grant.
I thought that in his opening speech the Secretary of State for Wales skated over the financial provisions of the Bill. I should like the Lord President to confirm that the attitude of the Secretary of State and the Government is similar to that expressed yesterday by the Secretary of State for Scotland when he said:if the Assembly wishes to bring forward ideas about marginal tax powers we shall certainly be willing to discuss them with it."—[Official Report, 14th November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 67]Are the Government's views regarding taxation by the Assembly in Wales identical? While the Lord President is clearing up that point, perhaps he will also clear up the allocation of finance on the block grant system as well. Will it be on a four-year basis and on a formula system for Wales? These matters were clearly explained for Scotland. They were not so explained for Wales.
Then there is the power to legislate, already granted to Scotland. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was right when he said that whatever is granted to Scotland cannot long be denied to Wales, even if it is of doubtful benefit.
Under this Bill, Wales is to be governed by orders emanating, from the Secretary of State for Wales or the Assembly. I am sure in my own mind that the frontier 439 between them will be the scene of interminable border raids and skirmishes, with the Secretary of State always on the defensive. I cannot see a directly-elected Assembly, whose power base in the electorate is identical with that of this House, contenting itself with the provisions of the Bill and its 84 commandments.
The Assembly will be an aggressive, power-hungry body with a nationalistic ethos. Of course, in all probability we would have elected Members in the Assembly from all parts of the party political spectrum, but their basic sentiments would be nationalistic and hostile to Westminster. In time that would have an effect on the tone and character of Welsh representation in this House. I think that the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) is missing the point if he does not realise how Welsh representation will change, not only in this House but, suspect, in the European Parliament. Welsh representation there will also have a nationalistic ethos. We do not know how the European Parliament will develop, but we know that some of its promoters have a penchant for federalism and that the Commission would like to work more directly with regional institutions within the member States.
Wales will send four Members to the European Parliament if the European Assembly Elections Bill goes through as it stands. When that Bill is debated, it will be argued that Wales would have more representatives if it were an independent State, like the Irish Republic or Luxembourg. Again, the hon. Member for Merioneth will come to my assistance, because this argument will continue while Wales remains part of the United Kingdom and is not an independent State. This will be driven home through the media by propaganda to the Welsh people, who, will think that they are missing out on something.
My basic contention is that the Bill, taken with the Scotland Bill and the European Assembly Elections Bill, proposes changes that not only affect the unity of the United Kingdom but open up an entirely new political vista or ball game It is a return not just to 1886 and all that, so vividly described by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in his recently-published biography of Joseph Chamberlain—Irish Home Rule, 440 local government and the composition of an Imperial Parliament—but, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) intimated, to the Middle Ages, and to the earlier part of the Middle Ages—to the twelfth century of Giraldus Cambrensis. That is the return that is prognosticated for Wales in the Bill. As far as I know, England has only narrowly escaped the return to the heptarchy of the Dark Ages.
We know that the Government were goaded into the course of action they now pursue through a fear of losing seats in Scotland and Wales. But presuming that they were prompted by the highest motives rather than the highly dubious ones attributed to them, would the political framework proposed be right for the future?
The Bill makes nonsense of representation in this House. The point has been made again and again in the debate that the powers of the Secretary of States for Wales will be reduced, and so will the responsibilities of Welsh Members. We should be more closely involved in the supervision of government in Wales through a Select Committee, not segregated and emasculated as proposed in the Bill.
Implementation of the Bill would be too costly in every sense. It would set up a more complex and cumbersome machinery of government. It is like putting the Irish mail train on the Snowdon railway. It is tailor-made for the Labour Party caucus in South Wales. Welsh problems now and in the foreseeable future are not primarily governmental but economic, and the Bill will do nothing about unemployment. This is only wishful thinking on the part of the hon. Member for Carmarthen. The only thing it will try to do is contain some of the adverse reactions within Wales in the Assembly and keep them away from Westminster. I am very doubtful about the merit and value of that to the people of Wales, in both the long and the short terms.
We in Wales are politically oriented. We look too much to Governments to solve our problems. The Bill will increase our dependence on Government action. I do not believe that that is in the best interests of Wales in the long term.
441 Local Government will be thrown into the melting pot once again under Clause 13. We all know that. The reason for this was put very succinctly by the Association of District Councils, writing on behalf of the Council for the Principality. It said:To avoid over-government, if the Assembly is created local government should be examined with the object of creating multi-purpose authorities in the place of the present county and district councils.Our charge of over-government has finally stuck, and the Government intend to hack down the lower tiers of local government. The fact that the whole edifice of justification for devolution falls in the process does not seem to worry the Government.
I recommend that the Government reread paragraph 83 of the consultative document "Devolution—the English Dimension". It says:A further reorganisation so soon after the last one would be bound to create confusion in the mind of the average elector. Probably he would feel more remote from the affairs of a local government body administering services over a much wider area. This certainly would be the case with regional authorities.What we need in local government is limited reform—the removal of overlapping functions, not the scrapping of the whole system.
Devolution has been rejected as being not good enough for England. I do not think that this Bill is good enough for Wales. If it is forced through Parliament under the guillotine, it will be surely rejected by the people of Wales in the referendum.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
I was amused to hear the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) refer to the fears of a South Walean Labour caucus dominating the Assembly. I have heard similar anxiety expressed in South Wales that people from North Wales will come down from the mountains and take our jobs due to some form of language job reservation.
It is inevitable that those who have listened to the debate have a sense of déjà vu. This is where we came in. We have been here before. It is unlikely that 442 any arguments advanced tonight will be very different from the days and days of argument about the previous Bill last Session.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State began by saying that the Bill was about democracy and that anyone who opposed it was, by definition, anti-democratic. Then he said that, as a result of the Bill, there would be no effect on local government, no effect on the powers of the Secretary of State and no effect on the representation and the powers of this House.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) asked what Questions might be asked in Parliament. I tried to figure out what Questions it would be possible to put to the Secretary of State. An hon. Member might frame a couple of Questions—when will my right hon. and learned Friend next visit Builth Wells? What is my right hon. and learned Friend's programme for Wednesday of next week? But any matter of real interest to the people whom we represent will be covered by the Welsh Assembly.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
There is an even more difficult problem. At present, if a Welsh Member writes, say, to the Secretary of State for Social Services or to the Secretary of State for Education and Science with a general question about the United Kingdom, invariably the hon. Member is fobbed off with a reply saying that the Secretary of State for Wales is reponsible for these matters in Wales and, therefore, that he must answer. I am not sure even whether we shall be able to table Questions on a United Kingdom basis very effectively.
§ Mr. Anderson
Clearly, there will be a small and diminishing area of responsibility for those who remain in this House.
The greater part of this Session is to be devoted to three constitutional measures, and many people think that they are a distraction or an irrelevance for us. It is clear that there is no enthusiasm for this Bill. Certainly there is no enthusiasm among the people for whom it is intended to provide that democratic element to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred. In Scotland there may be movements which I do not comprehend but which may in a referendum lead to the acceptance of 443 something like this Bill, but in Wales there is no such view. Certainly there is not among people in Wales whom I know.
There is no great enthusiasm in Parliament, as evidenced by the vote last February on the guillotine motion. There is no enthusiasm among Labour activists. Members of my own constituency party talk of an irrelevance and a waste of a parliamentary Session. What is more, they say that there is nothing in the Bill for the people whom we claim to represent. Yet there is among many Back Benchers the grudging feeling that, somehow, we must go along with the Bill because there is a commitment in our party manifesto, by whatever tortuous route that commitment was arrived at.
I was interested to hear my right hon. and learned Friend say that we should not be too worried about nomenclature and that the transition from a Welsh Council, which had the overtones of the top tier of local government, to an Assembly did not really matter. I wonder whether a similar view will be taken about the transition from Chief Executive to Prime Minister of Wales, because I have n doubt that there will be a slippage along these same lines. But what is in a name, after all when we have a Prime Minister for Wales?
Another, and perhaps more respectable, argument is that an end to this question must be sought. There will not be a different measure on the general theme of devolution during this Parliament or probably the next, and, even if we are concerned about the road that we have taken to get here a decision has to be taken at some stage.
It is a sad commentary on our decision-making process that, instead of looking at central and local government, we went off with a half-baked local government scheme in 1972, the Labour Government missed several opportunities between 1964 and 1970 and we have tried, improbably, to dovetail this scheme.
§ Mr. Anderson
That is a relevant point. It is a pity that we did not study the whole area of central and local government in an attempt to find a consensus.
There are no great changes in the Bill. Major problems remain, including the likelihood of constitutional conflict between an elected Assembly that is of a different political complexion from the Westminster Government. In any attempt by the Government to take a longer view, they would surely have foreseen such a constitutional conflict and the inevitable momentum along the road of separation. There is a lack of coherence in the proposed structure. There is no precedent for this form of half-way house. There is no stopping-point along the road to separation as there would be in a federal system. The strength of the Liberal's proposal is that it would provide checks. There would be a constitutional court, and that would be very different from the present ill-thought-out system of resolving a constitutional conflict. It involves the Privy Council in Scotland and an odd system involving the Attorney-General in Wales. The Government have hesitated to go along the road of a fully-fledged constitutional court as a check on the Assembly.
The position of Scottish and Welsh parliamentarians at Westminster has not been fully thought through. A new bureaucracy will be established in Cardiff. We are told that it will involve an extra 1,150 civil servants. One party activist in my constituency told me that the only advantage he could see in the Bill was as a job creation scheme for civil servants in Wales.
Let us not forget the rather charming way in which the Government have taken credit for the changes that have been brought about. There have been changes in the referendum—which the Government now say they have favoured all along—and a change by having two Bills instead of one omnibus measure. According to the Secretary of State for Scotland, that is a distinct improvement.
Clearly the Government have not considered the evolutionary process, the improvement of parliamentary scrutiny and the change in the top tier of local Government that would be in conformity with the normal method of constitutional change and advance in this 445 country. On Clause 1 and the alleged lack of effect on the unity of the United Kingdom, this is not a statement of fact but rather a pious aspiration which will be undermined by the growth potential and the fact of development of the Assembly.
In Clause 38, which contains the guidelines for industrial and economic policies, there is an obvious danger that the several areas, the Scottish, Welsh and English areas, will seek to enter into a Dutch auction to attract outside investment into their own areas, and tension will therefore arise because of this danger. We are told in Clause 38 that there will be guidelines. One wonders what their statutory force will be in particular situations.
We are told in Clause 13 that the Assembly willreview the structure of local government.The phrase is "review the structure." It is pregnant with meaning or non-meaning. What does "structure" mean? How can we possibly separate structure from powers? One does not simply draw lines. Structure means powers. The whole concept of local government must be looked at, yet we have this seemingly innocuous word "structure", which suggests simply drawing lines. Powers must inevitably be put under scrutiny in this process.
Will the Secretary of State or Parliament simply throw the whole responsibility to the Assembly and merely rubber stamp some suggestion from the Assembly? Are the government prepared to put up with the uncertainty that will arise at this time? Given the accepted unpopularity of the present local government structure, which is still gelling more satisfactorily now than some had thought a year or two back, have the Government seriously thought, for example, of amending the Local Government Act to clarify the obvious points of conflict on planning between the county councils and the district councils? Would not that be a more profitable line to pursue rather than a root-and-branch reform as is currently suggested?
Indeed, it may well be that if there is to be a series of district councils, perhaps 20 or 30, when one cannot en- 446 visage 20 or 30 separate local education authorities in Wales, we shall find that education, for example, is becoming more remote from the people because a large part of education will swim to the centre away from the counties which currently exercise responsibility in education.
As for the four-year financial programme, it is suggested that there will be wise men, that the criteria for need resources will be looked at and that there will be a formula, as if that formula can somehow take the whole question of the block grant out of politics. That again is surely a pipe dream on the part of the Government.
On specific points on clauses, I turn finally to the referendum. I have pressed for a referendum. A referendum has been obtained. I shall give my reaction to its very shortly, but I am always a fairly sceptical person about Governments as such. Put not your trust in Governments, almost said the old Book. I am particularly concerned that the Government try—I am trying to think of a nice word—to manipulate the referendum in various ways. There is the loaded question that is now proposed.
§ Mr. Anderson
If my hon. Friend concedes my point, I shall concede his.
Secondly, there is the point that this should not be at the time of a General Election and that Ministers should be free. One knows that several Ministers have the most profound doubts about the Bill. It is surely quite wrong that Ministers should be press-ganged into stating views that they do not hold. At the time of the referendum Ministers should be free, as with the EEC precedent, to express their own views.
There is also the point that the two referendums in Scotland and Wales should be held simultaneously to ensure that there is no suggestion that if it is more likely that the referendum in Scotland will show a "Yes" vote we in Wales, on a "me too" basis, will follow meekly in train. The referendum must be seen to be fair.
I concede that the present system is far from satisfactory. I concede the case for decentralisation. It is a case which has been accepted by the Government in 447 a number of specialist areas. We see it in the transport White Paper published this year and in the greater responsibilities given to county councils, which I favour. Similarly, the extra decentralisation in housing which the Department of the Environment has suggested in the housing White Paper is another example. This is an acceptable form of decentralisation.
One fears that the genesis of the Bill has something to do with nationalism. If there were to be a delay in this Bill, whatever may be the situation in Scotland—it is an area I do not know and on which I do not seek to pronounce—it is clear that we could look at the problems of government and of decentralisation in a Welsh and English context, looking at administrative devolution away from any nationalist trappings which, I fear, are bound to be apparent if we go ahead on the present basis.
Having said that, having expressed my profound scepticism of the Bill and my fears about the future, I have to say that my present inclination is nevertheless to vote for the Bill on Second Reading. I say this although I fear that the Government will say al the time of the referendum that Parliament has shown its approval of the Bill—
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate what a devastating indictment of the Bill his speech has been? Does he recognise that he has not uttered a word in its favour? He has dissected it with great skill and demolished practically everything the Secretary of State said. Yet he now says that he intends to vote for it.
§ Mr. Anderson
If the hon. Member will contain his impatience, I hope to give what I think the Continentals call an explanation of vote which has convinced me and may or may not convince him.
I concede that there is a danger of the Government saying that a majority in Parliament on Second Reading has shown that it is in favour of the Bill. I would hope that the sort of speech I have made tonight will show that those who go into the Government Lobby include a group who have the most profound misgivings and who wish to place on record that we are not supporting the Bill per se. My view is that there has to be an end to 448 the spectre of devolution, and the only way properly in which to exercise it is by a referendum.
When, in February of this year, by parliamentary vote, the progress of the Bill was stopped, there began a legend—and the Welsh National Party feeds on legends, as it always has done, being a party bred on folk-lore—that the aspirations of the Welsh people were being thwarted by some backstairs manoeuvrings in Parliament. The best way to kill that is for it to be put to the people of Wales. This Parliament will, in its own way, propose. I am confident that when it comes to the referendum in the autumn, the Welsh people will dispose.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North-West)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) should reach such a poor conclusion after so brilliant a speech—one of the most well-reasoned speeches we have heard today. He intends to crown his speech with a vote against everything he has said.
There was one thing that the hon. Member said with which I do not agree. He described—it is becoming characteristic of this House so to describe it—the 1972 reorganisation of local government as half-baked, disastrous, a great mistake and so on. If the scheme of reorganisation has not proved ideal, I cannot think of a stranger way to put it right than suddenly to set up a new Assembly and say that its first task will be to review the structure and present its findings as its first piece of work to this House, so that it will be incumbent upon us to accept it. Why should we believe that a newly-elected Assembly will come up with something so much better than that which we have done?
I put this to those who so glibly criticise the 1972 reorganisation. If it needs to be restructured in Wales, presumably it needs to be restructured in England too, but we do not hear quite so much about that.
Local government is unpopular. It is easy to criticise it and pretend that there was once a time when local government was popular. It never has been. It has always been subject to criticism. It has always been thought to be too expensive. 449 But one of the reasons why local government in Wales is so expensive is that when the salary structure was organised in 1974 there was a general increase of salaries across the board for local government officials and for teachers. That made local government more expensive.
The newly-constructed local authorities were then told, on no less authority than that of the Welsh Office, to go out on a great expansive programme and build houses. In 1974 they were told that they must do everything they possibly could to expand and then in 1975, after they had taken on extra staff to get on with the expansion, they were told "No, you must cut back."
When we blame local authorities and say that they are not popular, let us at least be honest enough to ask why they are not popular. Sometimes the responsibility will come straight back to our own Government and to the Welsh Office.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes
The hon. Gentleman is displaying a little ignorance of what is happening in English local government. As I understand it, the Secretary of State for the Environment is now as busy as he can be drawing up plans to try to give back to some of our important cities in England powers which they had exercised over generations or, in some cases, over centuries.
§ Mr. Kinnock
While the hon. Gentleman is investigating the activities of the Secretary of State for the Environment, he might refer also to the Green Paper on devolution produced by the same Secretary of State, which says that it would be a totally inappropriate and thoroughly incompetent way to conduct government in England.
§ Mr. Roberts
Yes, I am aware of the statement of the Secretary of State for the Environment that he is thinking in terms of 10 unitary authorities. What would be more convincing, if we were looking at the problems of local authorities, would be to argue that the present authorities are not doing their jobs in terms of education and social services. But everyone who knows anything about local authorities—I give credit to the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) for his knowledge of these matters—knows that one of the most difficult tasks for an authority to undertake is to build up its con- 450 tacts with parents and teachers, to build up its relationship with the aged and the sick, and to develop the social services. These things do not come in a moment.
I should not wish to hazard all the good work which has been done not because of reorganisation but by the people involved in local government over the past five or six years in creating a good relationship in their comprehensive schools, a good relationship with their teachers and a good relationship with the aged and the sick. I should not put all that at hazard unless I was absolutely certain that I could produce something substantially better, and not for a moment should I recommend that this new Assembly will suddenly come up with something better.
It is characteristic of the Welsh nationalists that they show no generosity whatsoever to any of their fellow citizens in Wales. The bulk of the speech of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) amounted to a vicious attack on all those who do not agree with him. He referred to the disestablishment battle just after the last war. He spoke of the Tory Party fighting against disestablishment, but he neglected to say that the Church itself, to a man, fought against it. He went on to say, in that characteristic way of his, that those who were in favour of devolution were for Wales and that those who were against it were against Wales. When will the hon. Member, who admittedly does not believe in the defence of the kingdom and does not believe in the unity of the realm, recognise that there are Welshmen who profoundly disagree with what he stands for but who are nevertheless very good Welshmen and are respected in their own communities?
When the hon. Gentleman talks about Welshmen fighting for freedom, he should remember that they have done so. In the last war they fought for freedom, just as they did in the war before that. [An HON. MEMBER: "And at Agincourt."] They did rather well at Agincourt. They fought for the unity of Great Britain. When the hon. Gentleman sneers at Wales and says that we have no freedom, he should realise that we fought for that freedom and many Welshmen died for it, and that in making his statement he places a bitter wreath on so many hallowed graves.
451 I now come to the question of popular support for this measure. One thing that this proposal has never conjured up is popular support, least of all in the county of Gwent and in areas such as Cardiff. Large areas of the Principality, where the bulk of the population live, have never indicated that they give this measure their popular support.
Why, then, do the Government think that it is urgent that they should introduce the Bill? I suspect that it is because in the 1960s they became a little worried about the by-election results at Rhondda. West and Caerphilly, and they have been hooked on their own expediency.
There is talk of a referendum, but the very people who earlier fought as hard as they could against the concept of a referendum now turn round and say that we must give the Welsh people an opportunity to speak. The Welsh people might have to speak on this matter, but it would be far better if the House spoke, and spoke decisively, for them.
I now come to my last point. It relates to what I believe is the most important issue of the day, and that is the national dimension in this proposal. The Western Mail has always supported the idea of devolution and an Assembly in Wales. The editor of the Western Mail believes —he has not always done so, but he does now—that this proposal will lead to better government for Wales. He believes that administratively it will lead to better government. No doubt he feels that his native Yorkshire would benefit if that great county were to receive a similar Assembly and a similar administrative means of improving its government. Some of those who do not accept the administrative argument are a little sceptical of the fact that it is only in Scotland and Wales that the Government propose Assemblies of this sort.
I believe that the vast majority of the Welsh people will not read the Bill. I believe that the vast majority of them will not study in detail the arguments advanced at any referendum that might occur. However, I believe that the vast majority of Welshmen instinctively know what this proposal is all about. If one is a Welshman, one can see it more easily. It is all about the national dimension. It is all about nationalism. Those who feel it as Plaid Cymru members 452 and their supporters do, who feel the national dimension so acutely and want a separate Government, will vote for devolution in the referendum because they want a separate nation.
The vast majority of Welshmen instinctively will know that that is the essential issue, and if it comes to a referndum, 80 per cent. or 75 per cent. will vote against it and the Government will have wasted their time, our time and everybody else's time.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
I welcome the Government's new Bill. I am glad that they have stuck to their guns. Tribute should be paid in particular to the Lord President for the way in which he has pioneered devolution. We know that he is not a native of Wales, though I appreciate that he has contacts there. At least he has fought elections there. He is, too, a man of the highest possible integrity. He came to the conclusion, representing a Welsh seat, that an elected Assembly would be of the utmost benefit to the people of Wales, and he has stuck to that conclusion. His predecessor was the motivation for my joining the Labour movement. I am sure that if he were present today he would appreciate the wisdom of the legislation that the Government are introducing.
I cannot understand the attitude of some of my colleagues. I have not automatically supported all proposals by this Government. For instance, in the 1966 Parliament I was almost as much of a rebel as my right hon. Friend the Lord President. We dissented from the Government on many issues—on statutory incomes policy, on the document "In Place of Strife", on the Government's policy in Vietnam, over the reform of the House of Lords and so on. So I do not indulge in any sychophantic support of the Government.
Many of our colleagues in Wales had this specific pledge in their election address. They said "A Labour Government will introduce an elected Assembly for Wales." What could be simpler? Having participated in the discussions so many times, I know that this policy arose as a result of the unanimous decision of Welsh Labour Members. We concluded our discussions with only one absentee. The deliberations throughout were presided over by none other than the 453 present Mr. Speaker. What could be better than that?
Then there is the attitude of other sections of the Labour movement in Wales. The Welsh TUC gives this legislation its full support. So does the Labour Party in Wales. After all, the Labour movement is essentially a banding together of ordinary people who arrive at collective decisions. I am sufficiently old-fashioned to believe that those decisions should be heeded.
The vexed question of local government has been mentioned many times in this debate and on previous occasions. I suppose that the former Conservative Government must be given some credit for having had the courage to carry out the reorganisation of local government. However, their reorganisation was a disaster of the first order and highly inflationary into the bargain. In the process many local identities were lost. Many of the towns and cities that had carried out certain functions of local government over the generations and over the centuries lost their powers. That was most regrettable. There is the new qualification in the Bill that a plan must be drawn up to reorganise local government once again.
I am a firm believer in public expenditure but I am anti-bureaucratic. I believe in such things as reducing the pupil-teacher ratio and building new hospitals. I remain of the view that the Conservative local government reorganisation was a bureaucratic extravaganza. I hope that in the plans that will be drawn up we shall seek to reduce local government in Wales to one tier. There has been a great duplication of functions and a waste of important people.
I qualify my remarks by saying, as I intervened in the opening remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, that I hope that the position of local government officers will be seriously considered. I hope that their position will be safeguarded. I hope that it will be made possible for some of them to be transferred to the new Assembly. In that way we could avoid possible redundancies in local government.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
My hon. Friend refers to one of the difficulties that might stem from the Government's proposals to 454 reorganise local government with the creation of an elected council or Assembly. Will those now engaged in local government administration be transferred to the Assembly to maintain the existing local government structure and then be given the task of changing it at a later stage? How can they be transferred from their existing appointments when they have duties to perform for the counties and districts?
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not underestimate the problem that my hon. Friend points out. We know that it has been caused essentially by the premature reorganisation of local government carried out by the previous Conservative Government. However, the difficulties must be overcome. I hope that the creation of an elected Assembly under the Bill will eventually result in the simplification of local government. I am sure that the Government will find some way of accommodating local government officers who may be affected.
The nominated bodies have proliferated over so many years. The posts have been essentially filled by those whom we term Tory placemen. As the Secretary of State has admitted, there is also the bureaucracy of the Welsh Office. I remember a meeting in a Committee Room which was attended by my right hon. and learned Friend and made a great impression upon me at the time. My right hon. and learned Friend said that he had to make a decision about roads. He said that the M4 in South Wales needed to be built but that there were many road schemes in other parts of Wales that deserved a high degree of priority. He pointed out that the decision had been left to him and that he felt that such decisions should be made by elected representatives. I agree with his point of view. Of course, the Conservatives want to retain the present system whereby their placemen have benefited so much over the years.
This discussion has gone on for such a long time. The time for decision is now at hand. This Bill will get my full support because I believe that it is essential in the interests of my constituents and in the interests of Wales as a whole.
§ 11.25 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
I shall be brief, Mr. Speaker—so brief that 455 I advise whoever is next to catch your eye not to go to sleep while I am speaking.
I am a sceptic on the matter of devolution, but my constituents are far from being sceptical. They are, almost to a man, against it. Since I have in this matter pledged myself to respect their wishes, I am extremely popular with them—so popular that evidently Plaid Cymru thinks it useless to fight me at the next General Election and has put no candidate into the field against me.
I shall certainly vote against Second Reading. I believe that devolution in the form proposed by the Government will be bad for Wales. I choose my words carefully. I say "bad for Wales"—I do not mean that it will be a catastrophe for Wales, and certainly not such a catastrophe as the return of a Labour Government at the next General Election with a substantial majority would be. But it would be bad for Wales, and I believe that it would almost certainly be unworkable.
For that reason, even if we pass the Bill through all its stages in this place, I am certain that the people of Wales will reject it in a referendum. In that case, we shall have wasted a further period of months here—wasted our time and the taxpayers' money. I earnestly hope that even if the Second Reading goes through we can still pass an amendment for a referendum to come at an earlier stage.
If, nevertheless, devolution is to come—and I devoutly hope that it will not—it behoves all of us to try to make it work. I do not believe that it can be made to work without some form of proportional representation, and when we come to the relevant part of the Bill I shall be voting for an amendment to that effect.
I feel sure that the schemes proposed in the Bill cannot possibly endure for more than three or four years at the outside. I believe that once we start down the road to devolution there is only one stopping-place short of the complete break-up of the United Kingdom, and that is as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) said, a fully federal United Kingdom. For the time being, however, I believe that there is a very good chance of stopping the present measure of devolution, which is 456 wanted by so few in Wales and by virtually no one in my constituency.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)
No one who has sat through these two days of debate will be able to doubt that there are ethnic differences between the Scots and the Welsh. No Scotsman can hope to emulate the magnificent rhetoric and mellifluous phrases which have resounded in the Chamber today and on other occasions.
I would not normally presume to take part in a debate which is ostensibly about Wales, but, of course, the debate is not just about Wales, any more than the debate yesterday was just about Scotland. The debates on these two Bills and the debate tomorrow are about the future of the United Kingdom.
The tragedy of the debate and of the Government's approach to devolution as a whole is that it is fragmentary. We all know why the Scotland and Wales Bill of the last Session has now been metamorphosed into the Scotland and Wales Bills now before us. It is a response to political pressure; it is one of the Government's changes in the interests of getting devolution through.
The correct response should have been precisely the opposite. It should have been not to fragment the previous legislation but to set it in the wider context of devolution for the whole of the United Kingdom. In that way only could the Government meet the fundamental illogicality of their proposals which has been pointed out in previous debates and in this debate by opponents and supporters of the legislation.
That central illogicality is that if devolution is about democracy—which is why I support it—what is good enough for the Scots and Welsh must be good enough for the English. Any other proposition exposes the well springs of the Government's position. The Government are frightened of nationalism but they are also frightened of democracy—of nationalism in Scotland and Wales and of democracy in England.
What is the Government's answer to that charge? It is to be found in the consultative document "Devolution: the English Dimension". This unfortunate document states baldly thatsuch an Assembly for England could damage the structure of the United Kingdom in ways 457 which the creation of a Scottish Assembly would not.That is the fear. On what is it founded? It is founded on the belief that to have assemblies in all parts of the United Kingdom would amount in practice to a form of federation which would not fit the essential character of the United Kingdom as a union of four national components of different sizes.
The use of the word "national" gives the game away. It again indicates what motivates the Government—the fear of nationalism. If democracy were the objective, there would be no need to think in terms of devolution to England as a unit.
Why not consider legislative devolution to the English regions? The document said that it would mean that the legislative framework for such matters as education, health, housing, local government and land use would be determined largely at regional level. But is not this what is proposed for Scotland? If this is good enough for Scotland, why cannot the English be trusted with the same powers? Indeed, why cannot the Welsh, in this Bill, be entrusted with the powers that are to be accorded the Scots in the Bill to which we gave a Second Reading yesterday? The answer is that nationalist pressure is not yet powerful enough to force it upon the Government.
We have before us an illogical hodgepodge: legislative devolution for Scotland, administrative devolution for Wales and no devolution for England. That is why the Government have no answer to the "West Lothian problem"—the overweening powers of Scottish MPs in the United Kingdom Parliament after devolution and the right that those 71 will possess to vote on English affairs on matters over which, in the case of Scotland, English MPs will have no jurisdiction.
There is only one answer to that problem. It is an answer that has emerged more and more during the debates, and more and more it has come to the fore in speeches from both sides of the House. It is an answer which was easy to dismiss at one time, but as an increasing number of people begin to advocate it or show sympathy for it the Government cannot continue to disregard it. It is the federal 458 solution, or devolution for the whole of the United Kingdom.
That solution would also provide the route to solve what many of us on both sides of the argument have said is another major flaw in the legislation—the failure to accord fund-raising powers to the Assemblies. Since this was pointed out, the Government have produced a White Paper on financing the devolved services. I welcome the effort that they have made. This is not the occasion on which to discuss the White Paper in detail.
I believe that the reason why the Government found it impossible to advocate revenue-raising powers for the Assemblies was that they could not take the mental leap to the concept of devolution for the whole of the United Kingdom, which would have made it far easier to embrace a revenue-based system rather than an expenditure-based system.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Does my hon. Friend mean that there should be subordinate Parliaments in Newcastle, Derby, Leeds, Birmingham and Winchester?
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
Everyone in the Chamber, apart from my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), will have forgotten that he asked me precisely the same question at precisely the same point but in not quite the same speech that I made in the previous debate on Second Reading. The answer remains the same. It is "Yes".
It is clear why advocacy from people such as myself for devolution throughout the United Kingdom has not been heeded by the Government. It is because I possess no divisions. I have made clear that I shall support the Scottish and Welsh Bills because, however imperfect, they represent a foot in the door. Because my support can be assumed, my objections to these Bills can be shrugged off as niggles.
Ministers will say that this is not the case, that it is simply because there is no pressure for devolution in England. Perhaps that is so. But there will be a demand for devolution in England when the English wake up to the lopsided constitutional reform they have been given, when they realise the uneven distribution of powers between the English, Welsh and Scots MPs here after these measures have been passed.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the objections from parts of England such as the North-East and the North-West are precisely because of the relative advantages that these proposals will give to Wales?
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
The chickens will come home to roost exactly because of the realisation in the regions of England of what these measures will mean for the English regions, as my hon. Friend underlines.
I plead with my right hon. Friends to make the process of constitutional change upon which we are embarked logical and fair by starting now, even at this late date, to devise a system of devolution for England as well, to give true meaning to the phrase "the English dimension". If my right hon. Friends persist in fearing democracy as much as nationalism, nationalism will emerge as the only motive for devolution and that in turn could mean that nationalism, first in Scotland and then in Wales, might emerge triumphant and the United Kingdom could break up.
It is to late now to draw back. I have always argued that that could provoke disaster. But though these Bills are necessary for the preservation of unity, I do not believe that they are sufficient for that purpose. We should go forward in better order than in these two Bills. There should be an overall context of devolution for the whole United Kingdom. In fact, I am sure that the logic of constitutional change will impose itself on this Government and Parliament. The process cannot and will not be halted at the boundaries of Scotland and Wales. That is why I shall maintain my support for this measure tonight.
§ 11.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, North)
The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) made a very reasonable case for a general constitutional change in Britain, and other speakers have done the same. But the hon. Gentleman spoilt his case by saying that he would support the Scotland and Wales Bills because they represented a foot in the door. I ask whose foot it is, but I know whose door it is. It the door of those who live in Scotland and Wales, and the foot in that door is the nationalist foot. That 460 door would not have been opened at all but for the supposed and feared success of the nationalists in the last few years.
The hon. Gentleman also said—this is something of which people in Wales and Scotland should take notice—that when the Assemblies in those two countries are set up the English will begin to wake up. He said that the chickens would then come home to roost. Indeed they will. That is the very point that has been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that it is when the English wake up to precisely what has been done to them, their constitution and their House of Commons that the kick-back will come. Who will the smaller nations of Scotland and Wales be to stand up to the fury of the English when they decide to reform the constitution to their way of thinking and their advantage? That is what will happen at the end of the day.
In the past few months there has been a growing anger and growing testiness in Wales over what people see as an attempt to dragoon them, almost at times to bore them, into accepting the proposed expensive, unwanted, bureaucratic Assembly. After all, most of them had hoped and believed that with the demise of the Scotland and Wales Bill we had finally put the matter behind us and that by now we should be addressing ourselves to the matters that really worry them—jobs, the economy, the crime rate, education and so on. Instead of that, here we are again. Instead, the people will have to endure another dose of television programmes on devolution and another dose of pages and pages in their newspapers on this particularly boring, arid and dangerous subject.
Moreover, many of the people do not look forward to having to go through the rigours of a referendum campaign. Some people, including the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), argue that a referendum is essential if we are finally to quell that minority who are for ever demanding self-government for Wales.
§ Mr. Grist
I said "a minority".
Such people as I have just described say that they will hold back their opposition to the Welsh Assembly until the referendum campaign, in the obvious 461 belief that they can hope for a clear "No" vote in the referendum, and that this will finally scotch the nationalists and those who demand the Assembly. That is a most dangerous course, and it is also rather odd when it is propounded by those who have refused to accept the result of the referendum on the EEC, because the people know that they do not respect that result.
That course is dangerous also because those who argue in this way do not seem to understand that many people still hold the decisions of Parliament in high regard. If Parliament has passed this Bill they may feel, and they will certainly be told, that it is quite safe and certainly in order for them, the voters, to approve it.
Finally, to condemn the Bill but to leave opposition to it until a referendum is to deny the rights and duties of hon. Members. Indeed, in certain quarters it might be thought to show a certain lack of courage, a lack of readiness to take decisions and stand by them. Certainly, it is no duty of Members of Parliament knowingly to pass bad laws in the hope that the electorate who sent us here will then show more determination and better judgment in refusing to accept them.
Various claims favouring the proposed Assembly have come from a variety of sources, not least Plaid Cymru and the Communist Party, which have no self-evident wish to perpetuate the unity of the kingdom. There have also been others who see as a reason for supporting the Assembly the suggestion that it will deal with the reform of the structure of local government. Putting aside whether such reform is needed or wise, which at the least is problematic and debateable, I must say that it has nothing to do with whether we should pass the Bill. If the Government want to reform Welsh local government, there is absolutely nothing, other than their own will, to prevent their doing so here and now.
Secondly, even if the Assembly as proposed comes into being, it will still be the Parliament at Westminster that will, as the Secretary of State acknowledged, pass the necessary legislation. It might be argued that all the donkey work would be done by the Assembly and that basically all that we should be called upon to do would be to put into legis- 462 lative form the Assembly's wishes. People would ask how we here at Westminster could stand up against that nationally-elected body, with all the prestige that it would carry. But that would be to turn this place into a rubber stamp. We are told that the House would not be giving up its rights. I suggest that this is a hopeless mish-mash. It shows the sort of conflict that would be bound to arise between the Assembly and this House.
It could easily happen that a Labour-controlled Assembly recommended a particular form of local government to a Tory-controlled House of Commons. That is a perfect example of a conflict that could and would arise. How would hon. Members feel about the constitutional conflict that would then face them?
§ Mr. Kinnock
Is not an even more likely scenario, since we are to have Labour Governments here for a long time to come. that, in the unlikely event of there being an Assembly in Cardiff after the referendum, a Labour Assembly submits to this House a set of expenditure proposals held to be self-evidently necessary to maintain decent, let alone advanced, standards of civilisation and that, because of pressures upon the Government by this Labour-dominated Parliament, a refusal is issued in categoric form not only denying people in general the opportunity to maintain standards but throwing back in their faces the nationally determined decision of a national Assembly of Wales? I suggest that that is a much more likely scenario than a contest over local government but, none the less, one that is destructive of any understanding between this Parliament and the Welsh people.
§ Mr. Grist
I am glad to have winkled out the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). I was afraid that he might have felt that he had puffed himself out on the subject by speaking earlier. I suggest that the scenario that I was painting would he the more likely one to occur should an Assembly be established. In time scale, its first job would be to look at local government; but all along the way conflicts would arise.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman turns to Clause 72 he will 463 find the answer to his question, because it provides thatthe Attorney General may institute, and the Assembly may defend, proceedings for the determination of any question whether anything done or proposed to be done by the Assembly is within its powers.That would occupy every lawyer west of Offa's Dyke.
§ Mr. Grist
And there are many of them west of Offa's Dyke.
If, as a rubber stamp, we were to pass the Assembly's proposals, it would be a mockery of this place, of the post of the Secretary of State for Wales and of Welsh Members of Parliament. Therein lies the biggest hole in the Bill, as in the Scotland Bill. No attempt has been made at any stage—in the Scotland and Wales Bill, in the debates since in the country, in yesterday's debate or as yet in today's debate—to plug that hole: that should the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies come into being there would eventually have to be a major readjustment of the powers and numbers of Welsh and Scottish Members of Parliament.
The Government recognise that in the well-quoted—it is a gold-mine—"Devolution: The English Dimension" White Paper. Paragraph 68, which I quoted last year and see no reason not to quote again, states:The transfer to elected English regional bodiesthe Welsh Assembly is the kind of elected regional body considered in the English White Paperof 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 rôole of Parliament and restrict the scope of the work of its Members.That is the Government speaking in their own publication on devolution about such an elected body in England as they are proposing for Wales. They have never stated in the House the answer to their own objections for England as applied to Wales. I look forward with hope, but not much faith, to hearing something from the Minister this evening.
Clearly the people of Wales do not want their voice weakened at the seat of power in the United Kingdom. 464 Equally clearly it is not the intention of Ministers that such a change should occur. But until Ministers have dealt with this to rehearse the arguments all over again—everyone in the House knows them. But until Ministers have dealt with this point convincingly, both Bills are fatally flawed.
It is no good claiming that even if the Assemblies are established hon. Members elected to this House will still have equal rights and responsibilities as they have today. They would not be equal. Such a situation, being intolerable, would not be tolerated for long.
There can be no doubt that but for temporary and localised nationalist successes this Bill would not have been with us tonight. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) speaking on behalf of both nationalist parties, said last night on the Scottish Bill:My party regards the Bill as the first step along the road to self-government."—[Official Report, 14th November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 113.]There we had it. Of course, there are hon. Members who believe that once the elected Assembly is established it will grow. That is the path along which we are being propelled. The same sort of statements are being made by the three hon. Members representing Plaid Cymru. We are being asked yet again to set off down a dangerous, expensive and unwanted road from which there is no turning back—only further advancement. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) pointed out in supporting the Bill that if an elected body is set up it will grow.
We were warned by Government Ministers, no less, that if we refused to pass the earlier Bill there could be serious consequences for civil peace and the continuation of the United Kingdom that would be frightening to behold. We were told that if the Bill was lost those appalling consequences would follow. There was a notorious advertisement in the Western Mail earlier this year which told us:The need for a directly-elected Welsh Assembly, and the expectation that has been built up over the last 10 years"—who by, I ask—has reached the point whereby any frustration of that aspiration would dangerously threaten social harmony in Wales and relationships in Britain as a whole.465 Whether that was intended as a sober prophecy or a thinly-disguised threat, nothing has happened since the last Bill was lost, and neither will it happen if we have the guts to kill this one as well.
The hon. Member for Swansea, East made an interesting speech tonight. He may remember saying in the debate on the amendment to the last Bill to delete Wales from the measure:Certainly in my constituency it will be not the barricades but the flags that will go up if the amendment is carried."—[Official Report, 18th January 1977; Vol. 924, c. 214.]And so they would tomorrow if we defeated this Bill tonight. Nothing has changed in Swansea, or in any other part of Wales, unless it has been a further hardening of the opposition to the whole concept on a directly-elected assembly. The majority of the Welsh people expect us, as their elected representatives, to do our duty and throw out this dangerously misguided sop to nationalism.
§ 11.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
I confess to a feeling of languor which has little to do with the hour and a great deal to do with the subject. The first time that we talked about it, when we entertained the Scotland and Wales Bill briefly last Session, it had a certain novel interest. It was as interesting as fishing for salmon in the Dovey. The exercise this evening has been about as interesting and productive as fishing for tuna in the Taff. I suspect that we shall have to do rather more of it as the months roll by, ending with a referendum which I certainly hope and confidently believe will crush this nonsense once and for all and, with it, the architects of it and the profiteers from it, the Welsh nationalists.
Whatever happens tonight and tomorrow night, victory will surely be ours. But we shall have some difficulty in explaining to the people of Wales the incredible waste of time and the incredible insensitivity of the Government to what they must surely know—because members of the Government are people who represent seats which are no different in any important respect from ours, in a country beset by the most enormous social and economic difficulties—is the most nominal support among the people for this constitutional 466 change. Indeed, even that has dwindled from the low point of popularity that it enjoyed earlier this year.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is my hon. Friend so certain about the referendum result? Some of us, including my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendeslon), think that the fact that Parliament legitimises something and the fact that the prestige of the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council will be put behind Parliament make the referendum outcome rather less certain than my hon. Friend seems to think.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I am familiar with the tactics of Governments. I spent some time last year trying to expose the Government's rather simplistic tactics—and they are still employing them—in attempting to accomplish as much as possible to give the impression to the people of Wales and Scotland that this legislation would be endowed with the authority and support of Parliament and, consequently, that the people were required to make a gesture of acceptance.
But I have rather more confidence in the discriminating ability of the people of Wales than in the strategic demands of my right hon. and hon. Friends. As a consequence, however much camouflage is conceived in the Lord President's office, however much the Government attempt to present this Bill as a fait accompli, however much it is dignified by the name of an Act and however much the impression is given that majorities like that enjoyed by the Scottish Bill last night convey any kind of general wholehearted sympathy, all that we have to do is to show the Bill in all honesty for what it is, as some sections of the Press have honestly done. I exempt the Western Mail from honesty in respect of the devolutionary cause. It is so hypnotised by it and by its own importance that it cannot be expected to tell the truth very directly. There are honourable and notable exceptions among its journalistic staff, but, unfortunately, they frequently stray from the path of objectivity in this matter, as in one or two others.
But I think that the people of Wales will have conveyed to them very strongly that in all the speeches that we heard 467 last night on Scotland, in all the speeches that we are hearing tonight on Wales, in all the speeches that we shall hear tomorrow and in all the speeches that we shall hear in Committee, there will be the tiniest flake of support falling from the Government's Back Benches. But among others who vote for it there will be no spontaneity of support for it. There will be no easy declaration of support for it. It is only the traditional loyalties of the party system that will convince members of the Labour Party to vote for it.
There is no Government Minister, however genuinely dedicated to the cause of devolution, who can pretend, if he makes any attempt at honesty, that the Bill has the support of most of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
What the Bill can obtain is reluctant and silent support in the Division Lobby, and that fact can be clearly communicated to the people of Wales. Even if it were not, the people's loyalty to their own destiny, their own interests and their own wishes supersedes even their traditional loyalty to the Labour Party and the great respect in which they hold people like my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the Bill in its present form originated in the will of the Welsh Council of Labour as publicly expressed 13 years ago?
§ Mr. Kinnock
I am sure that the will expressed 13 years ago occupies an eminent place in the political consciousness of the Welsh nation. If my hon. Friend believes that, he will believe anything. As my hon. Friend is a Euro-fanatic and is mesmerised by the great opportunities that the Bill offers for self-determination, I do not expect that he will have been substantially influenced by considerations of a 13-year-old policy that was made before we had such sophisticated developments as a proper party conference every year in Wales.
I know that devolution is the policy of the Labour Party in Wales. In my last manifesto I inserted a line—to the eternal condemnation of my constituency party—about meaningful devolution and an Assembly. But anyone who regards the Bill as meaningful devolution, an attempt to convey real power to the people, to 468 safeguard their interests or to advance democracy or an encouragement to vigilant supervision of elected government at any level, is reading the wrong Bill. It has nothing to do with these purposes and everything to do with an attempt to overcome the nationalist upsurge in Scotland and Wales. Indeed, it is only a sliver of respectability in order to assist the passage of the Scottish proposals and to legitimise the Scottish proposals. The excuse of a 13-year-old commitment by the Labour Party in Wales was a useful tool.
It appears that there is a snake rattling on my right. If the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) wishes to intervene, he may do so, but he knows the proper way to do it.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I may have misheard the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), but "snake" is not a parliamentary expression.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I did not use the word "vermin" because of the acrimony which that caused in an earlier political generation. It would have been more precise, biologically, if I had said that an hon. Member was making a sound similar to that which emanates from a rattlesnake. However, perhaps we had better move on with devolution rather than evolution.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) said that the issue had been well ventilated. He is a master of understatement, because the Bill has had holes shot right through it. There can never have been anything in political history which has been better aerated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) quoted Marx and Morrison. I should have preferred him to quote Bevin, who once said: "If you open that Pandora's Box, you will find it full of Trojan horses." That conveys my feelings on devolution precisely.
A major matter of contention has been the parliamentary and national implications of constructing three distinctly different forms of government for England, Scotland and Wales. I think that my hon. Friends accept, as other hon. Members accept, that this has major implications for the whole conduct of the government of the United Kingdom.
I have the deepest affection for my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey. He is well known as one of 469 the finest political handlers in this House. Indeed, he is known in Wales as the Barry John of politics. Among his qualities is the absence of gullibility but certainly the presence of idealism. I give him full credit for that. He showed just how idealistic he is capable of being by saying that the number of Members of Parliament from Scotland and from Wales in the House of Commons should remain the same. He listed several reasons why it should remain the same, including the way that we shall collect revenues continually, the way that we shall make expenditures, even under the proposals in the Bill, and the fact that we have common threads of interest stretching, even after devolution, to the people of England, Scotland and Wales and their representatives. They are all very good reasons, which I entirely accept.
But what should happen in my right hon. Friend's estimation, and in my estimation and, indeed, in the hopes and dreams of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), the Lord President, in the guaranteed integrity and unity of the United Kingdom may well not come to pass. That is not because the Scottish National Party will command a majority and take Scotland away, still less because Plaid Cymru will achieve that eminence in a Welsh Chamber. It will be because the people of England, acknowledging the fact that Wales and Scotland are in perpetual public expenditure deficit with the English taxpayers, and acknowledging the fact that these people and their representatives present a continual impediment to the English and have a status, stature and power that they do not earn through the exercise of responsibility and accountability to the English people, will seek to cast Scotland and Wales adrift.
At this point I could pause for cheers from the SNP and Plaid Cymru. However, perhaps they are much more interested in striving than in arriving. They may be more interested in talking about and agitating for separation than actually achieving that ignoble state. They know, and they must acknowledge, that their preposterous ideas of economic self-dependence, in any degree of economic separation and the consequences that go with it, would mean utter misery for the people of both Scotland and Wales.
470 This matter is not something of which, in the circumstances of continual nationalist assault, the people of England, who have hitherto been tolerant of the public expenditure deficits, can be expected to be perpetually tolerant. By misrepresenting the aspirations of the Scottish and Welsh people, it may be that nationalism will draw down the vengeance of the English people on the heads of the Scottish and Welsh people.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
Does my hon. Friend agree that the disproportionate share of public expenditure that Scotland and Wales enjoy might be due to the social and economic disadvantages that they endure?
§ Mr. Kinnock
Of course. We have had all this out before. My children are reciting it as a nursery rhyme. There is no need for any Welshman or Scotsman to apologise in any sense whatsoever for that deficit. Indeed, it should be bigger because of the needs of those areas. They have been similarly afflicted, for exactly the same reasons as have other areas of Britain, including the North-East and the North-West. Be they demographic or geographic reasons, historical or economic reasons, perhaps political reasons, or reasons of capitalism or bureaucracy, whatever the reasons for that deficit happen to be, they should not be the cause of apology or shame. They should be a source of inspiration and demand.
The problems behind those reasons will not be solved by constitutional tricks. They will be solved by political decisions and economic policies. There is no guarantee in the Wales Bill or the Scotland Bill, or in anything that will come after them, whether in the imagination of my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey or in the hopes of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham, that any one of those problems can be removed or even significantly affected or reduced in either Scotland or Wales.
The possibility is that, out of the very instrument intended to give a greater voice and a greater meaning to democracy in Scotland and Wales, we shall find democracy baffled in the resentments that grow as a consequence of the contests built into this Bill between the peoples of the areas of Britain. If my right hon. Friend has not got it right now, I will say it to him again when we get 471 another opportunity to debate the Bill. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham may not, I realise, be present during considerable parts of the discussion on the Bill. If he will save up his questions for the time when he visits this country, when he has left his other responsibilities, I shall be glad to reply to him. I want to get on with my speech.
I come to the question of federalism. I warned last year, as did others, that the federalist argument would develop as the devolutionary argument went on—but not because there was a spontaneous enthusiasm for federalism. Indeed, the experience of many federalist States is not just that it is an incompetent and wasteful form of government, necessitating the creation of new forms of government such as supreme courts, but that it is no guarantee against separatism. Anyone who has watched developments in Canada, with the Quebec Front, will acknowledge that.
Even the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) and others like him, who may seek a certain kind of refuge from the implications of devolution in trying to spread the devolutionist word and who call for federalism, can find no real refuge there, because we do not bottle up nationalism even by accommodating it in the form of federalism. It cannot be bottled up. It has to be killed by the education of minds and the exposure of its idiocies, not by trying to accommodate it in any general sphere.
If we want a general democratic change, if we want a regional or sub-regional form of government or a national division of government, let us approach it on that basis. Let us not dress it up by words of half-meaning such as "federalism". Let us not, for God's sake, have federalism by default or because we cannot think of a way of accommodating the inconsistencies and paradoxes of a Scottish, Welsh and English system of government within the British system. Let us have a federalist argument by all means, but let us not confuse it with this argument because the two are entirely separate. That is not an academic consideration.
I turn to finance and the block grant. This is a source of strife in two respects. It is obviously a source of strife between the Welsh Assembly and the British Parliament because the purse strings 472 must, and will, remain here. It is also a source of strife because it diminishes our right to have as many Members of Parliament as we now have. This would come at a time when the Welsh voice and Welsh pressure is becoming even more necessary in this House, because of the power of this House to allocate finances to a Welsh Assembly. We shall be diminishing our voice, numerically if in no other way.
Inside Wales, people talk about the way in which culture can flourish. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) spoke of the way in which culture could flourish in Wales in the event of an Assembly. I will tell the hon. Member what will happen in a Welsh Assembly which, even on a rough proportional basis, will be dominated by people representing the English-speaking industrial proletariat of South Wales. The consequences of that will be that the Budget of the Assembly will not account for £12 million spent over any period of time on Welsh road signs—not that I think that that makes a significant contribution to the growth of the Welsh laguage. The Assembly certainly will not commit as much as is now committed to development of the language through the educational system, through books or through support for Welsh libraries. I would regret that. I support the expenditure of every halfpenny given by this Parliament for the development of the Welsh language.
Because, however, of the cramped considerations of the limited finances and the tight priorities of the Welsh Assembly, the Welsh language will come at the bottom of a long list of priorities. There are also considerations of regional and sub-regional interests. Superimposed on the Welsh people will be the contest between the industrial need and the agricultural, rural need. Superimposed on them will be the contest between educational and health needs.
There is not in this Bill, or in any proposed constitution for the Welsh Assembly, a satisfactory means of resolving those needs in a way that will be advantageous and mutually acceptable to the people of Wales or will advance the general national interest. I say to the hon. Member that if he wants to develop the Welsh language and Welsh culture, if he wants to stop the emigration of 473 young people from Wales, he should not look for the answers in this Bill. He will not find them. The answers will be found in economic policy, in political commitment, in political decision, in the use of English money for the development of Wales—if we have to put it in such a nationalistic fashion. They will not be found in a set of principles born out of expendiency, developed in panic and eventually smashed in a referendum.
Next, I take the question of local government reform. This has been dealt with adequately by hon. Members on both sides. Clause 13—the number may be lucky for some—is a brief clause, an insertion to legitimise an argument which has been lost:The Assembly shall review the structure of local government in Wales and shall report its conclusions to the Secretary of State.Plainly, there is no need first to have a devolution Bill in order to sponsor an examination of Welsh local government. If we want local government reform in Wales, I am sure that my hon. Friends and I, resentful as we are of the waste and nonsense of the Tory reform—we have heard all the phrases—could take ourselves upstairs and sit in Committee for a week or so, with a predominantly Welsh Labour majority, and vote ourselves a whole new structure for local government, and the word "devolution" would not even have to be mentioned. Least of all should we need to pass a Bill such as this to occupy the time of the House hour after hour and week after week in this Session as a boring irrelevance for the people of Wales.
If we want local government reform, we can go right out and do it. There is nothing to stop us. There is certainly nothing inspiring in this Bill. There will be competent persons available as Members of the Assembly, people with knowledge of local government. I have among them personal friends, good comrades, people well experienced in local government and with the highest motivation and the strongest Socialist conscience. After they have gone into the question of local government reform, they will send a big thick letter to the Secretary of State, he will bring it back here, and off we shall go upstairs to a Committee to decide on local government reform in proceedings conducted by Welsh Members of Parlia- 474 ment. What nonsense. What a duplication. What a wasteful business. And what destruction of any purpose will be done in that process. A proposal of that kind cannot legitimise this document.
I come now to the referendum. Of course, had it not been for the referendum proposal, accepted by my right hon. Friends, the Bill would have been killed in any case because it would not have been worth keeping alive. The opportunities still present themselves, and those who have a vested interest in the survival of the Bill permitted the opportunity of a referendum when it was demanded. I make no apology for it. I am well aware that we have given a hostage to fortune. But, at the time when we insisted upon the referendum, it was the only course open to us, the only way of inspiring the opposition in the Welsh people and giving them confidence that there was something on which their instinctive reaction against this proposal for devolution could be built.
That was the importance of the referendum proposal. It was a strictly political idea, and behind it, of course, is the idea of giving the people of Wales a final say and—to use words which I have used before—not so much stifling devolution, which we could do in the House quite adequately, but killing it for ever. I believe that to be a direct and real possibility, and people familiar with the political situation in Wales know that it is a direct and real possibility.
I do not take refuge behind the referendum. I want to see it conducted in the fairest possible way. I believe that the Government can make a gesture in that direction—I am sure that they want to conduct it in the fairest possible way—by deleting the preamble to the referendum.
This is not a little procedural trick. It is important. The preamble is precipitate, presumptuous and totally unnecessary. It can only invite unnecessary argument and irrelevant contest. It contributes nothing to the conduct of the referendum and nothing to the conduct of the debate. There is no reason why it should not be struck out.
I ask my right hon. Friends to make a gesture to show their belief in the confidence and trust that the people of Wales are supposed to have in devolution. They must believe that, otherwise they would not be trying to put this irreversible 475 change over the Welsh people. They believe that there is a majority for it.
The Government should make a gesture towards the fair conduct of the referendum by undertaking at the earliest possible time to delete the preamble so that the plain question is asked of the people of Wales. There will he further debates over the question. They might become increasingly important, but the deletion of the preamble is of great significance.
It is sad that we have had to return to this point once again, but I suppose it was inevitable given the kind of impetus behind the Government's commitment to devolution. There are opportunities for the Government, by conducting affairs as clearly as possible, to make that contribution to political and public education in Wales so that when the referendum comes the people will have the plainest possible idea of precisely what are the proposals.
Let no one hide behind the idea that we can have our devolutionary cake and eat our centralist bread, that we can have the powers of devolution that others are said to envy. If anyone does that, he is a fool because he has not read the Bill. Others are said to envy the continued representation of 36 Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Let no one pretend that we can go on having public expenditure inputs and the deficits that we continue, to run without provocation to English people who pay and meet that Bill.
Let us not be subservient or apologetic about those facts. Let us present them to the Welsh people as reasonable voting citizens, and let them make their evaluation, with our voices trying to articulate those beliefs, trying to be in the educational process, trying to convince people of these political things. We shall serve the cause of the unity of the kingdom by doing that on an open basis, by exposing and destroying those who for petty political ends and antediluvian national imposes seek to profiteer out of the economic resentment of the people. If we do that, we shall provide a real service to the conduct of good government in this country. If any refuge is taken, any issues are dodged or any pretence is made that a brick will be put on another brick, that 476 a hospital bed will be provided or that the emigration of youngsters will be stopped by this Bill, the whole proposition and the reputation and trust of the Government could be drowned in the laughter of disbelief of the Welsh people.
§ 12.23 a.m.
§ Mr. Geraint Morgan (Denbigh)
In the observations that I intend to make in this debate, I propose to apply to myself that self-denying ordinance that was called for some time ago and has been observed by some.
I think I can fairly claim that I have always been a keen supporter of administrative devolution in Wales, and I have no objection in principle to regional or even federal assemblies if there is a genuine public demand for them. Nevertheless, I feel that the present Bill is badly misconceived, particularly at the present time. Indeed, the only provision in it that I welcome with any enthusiasm is that contained in Clause 83 which, of course provides for the holding of a consultative referendum, a subject to which I shall return.
It is a sad and inescapable fact that the present Bill is in no way based upon a realistic assessment of the wishes of the Welsh people but is born purely of what has been so aptly described by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) as political expediency and opportunism. I am pleased to borrow the hon. Gentleman's English phrase, although I regret his deep distrust of anyone who speaks the Welsh language.
I would be the last person to blame the present Government alone for errors and mistakes with regard to devolution in Wales. In a moment I shall make a criticism of my own party's past in that respect. Let me first, however, correct one thing that was said by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), who embarked upon a highly inaccurate excursus into Welsh political history. He would not give the Conservative Party credit for anything at all in the field of devolution. Let me say this. The first tentative and modest steps—they were tentative; they were modest, but they were the very first—were taken by a Conservative Government in 1951. Nothing had been done by the Labour Party 477 during its high tide of power between 1945 and 1951. Nothing had been done by the Liberals during their years of office.
Now let me come to the criticism. I think it is a regrettable thing that, having made a good if modest beginning, the Conservative Party during its period of power set its face against the creation of a Welsh Office and a Welsh Secretary of State. I speak with some feeling on the point because I think I was the only one on these Benches for many years who in fact supported the call for a Welsh Secretary of State, and I believe that I was the only Conservative candidate who in the General Elections of 1959 and 1964 said in his election address that he was firmly in favour of such a development.
That there was at the time—I am talking now of the late 1950s and early 1960s—very substantial support for the setting up of a Welsh Office, more or less on the model which had existed in Scotland since 1886, there can be no doubt. The support that existed for a Welsh Office at that time is in marked contrast to the lack of enthusiasm for an Assembly at the present time. There can be no doubt, I think, that the Labour Party gained greatly in the 1966 General Election, when it achieved a peak in Wales in terms of votes and seats which it is never likely to achieve again, because of its action in creating a Welsh Department of State during the short-lived 1964–66 Parliament.
I for one give the Labour Party credit for what it did then, but I am afraid that my judgment on what it did thereafter must be much less favourable. To begin with, of course, the Welsh Office thus created was entrusted with very little real power. Its functions initially were effectively limited to surveillance of roads and local government organisation, and I make no doubt that it was this coyness in providing the infant Welsh Office with any real muscle that was responsible, in part at any rate, for the crushing reversal of fortune for the Labour Party in the Carmarthen constituency between the General Election of 1966 and the historic by-election a few months later, when a majority of almost five figures was wiped out by the victory of the hon. Member for Carmarthen.
478 Of course, it was the panic engendered by that defeat, together with the corresponding one at Hamilton the following year, and by near misses in by-elections in the Rhondda, West and Caerphilly by-elections of 1968, that was responsible for the Crowther—later the Kilbrandon—Commission on the Constitution. Its appointment was clearly a sop to the nationalist movements, and I venture to think that the then Prime Minister, when he brought it into being, never gave much thought to the possibility that he would have to face up to and deal with its report, the presentation of which was then a far distant prospect. As it turned out, of course, he was hoist with his own petard and this Bill's predecessor last year was the result.
In short, just as the Conservatives can fairly be criticised for resisting the creation of a Welsh Office and the Labour Party can be criticised for its initial slowness in transferring functions to it, so must the Government now stand condemned for taking a step which goes far beyond the demands of the Welsh people, so far as they can be fairly ascertained, and for which enthusiasm cannot even be said to be half-hearted.
So far as Wales is concerned, there is one thing of which we can be quite sure. The type of Assembly envisaged by the Bill will please very few people indeed. To those—probably a majority—who are reasonably satisfied with the present system of administration based on London, the whole thing will be a monstrous and costly bureaucratic intrusion. To those who are genuinely in favour of a devolved Assembly—and I concede that they exist in all political parties, including my own—the proposals will not go nearly far enough. I can readily foresee acrimonious squabbles on that score if an Assembly ever comes into being. Therefore, I cannot agree with the observation of the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) that the Bill carries no threat whatsoever to our unitary State.
Both the points of view that I have mentioned were well illustrated by the result of a public opinion poll in Wales just under a year ago, when the ill-fated Scotland and Wales Bill was being introduced. According to the poll, a very substantial minority was opposed 479 to the creation of an Assembly, but most of the same people expressed the view that, if one were to be established, it should enjoy considerably greater powers than those proposed in that Bill—and, we may reasonably infer, in this one.
That apparent paradox was seized upon by some to support the quite untenable argument that a majority in Wales was, after all, in favour of an Assembly, which was, of course, not the case at all. My own view is, and always has been, that there cannot be any permanent half-way house between our present system of administration and a regional or federal Parliament. Once we set out on this road, therefore, we must accept that a regional or federal legislative body will probably be the ultimate result. That should give us cause to pause in Wales.
Quite frankly, the Welsh Office has not as yet been given much chance to prove itself as a Department of State, excellent work though it has done in many spheres. It has not been in existence for much more than a decade, and it has enjoyed powers of any substance for a much shorter time than that. That being so, I think that the Conservative Party's policy of strengthening the Welsh Office—I concede that it is a full-circle turn from its attitude of 15 years ago—now probably best represents the wishes of the Welsh people. Of course, we can never please everyone in this respect. We can never achieve anything approaching unanimity.
I am reminded of the decision of a famous French statesman just over a century ago after the conclusion of the disastrous war with Germany. The new French Assembly was faced with a considerable choice in the form of a future Government. It could continue the republic created during the war, it could recreate the Bonapartist empire, it could restore the senior branch of the Bourbons or it could have the Orleanists back. This leading statesman—I think that his name was Favre—said "I am a monarchist, but I am going to support the republic because it is the form of government that will divide Frenchmen least". When all is said and done, I think that the present system of administration under the Welsh Office is the form of administration that will divide Welshmen least.
480 My last word will be with regard to the proposal for a referendum. I am glad that it appears in the Bill rather than it should not appear at all, but I can see no good reason, particularly after our experience with the Scotland and Wales Bill, why the referendum should not take place before any serious legislative exercise is entered upon. As Welsh Members will be well aware, that point has been made in a recent letter from the Association of County Councils.
At the time of the Second Reading of the Scotland and Wales Bill just under a year ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) expressed the view that an early referendum would be premature and that the public should have the advantage of hearing our discussions in the House before one was held. I did not agree with my hon. Friend then and I agree with him even less now. Perhaps he has changed his mind on the issue himself. I doubt very much whether the average elector pores over copies of Hansard before recording his vote in a referendum. I am sure that there was no exhaustive study of our interminable debates on the European Communities Bill by more than a microscopic minority of those who voted in the Common Market referendum in 1975.
However, assuming that there is anything in this point, surely there was enough discussion in this House at the end of last year and early this year, before the Scotland and Wales Bill finally ran into the sand, for the electorate to derive such guidance as it is minded to take. An early referendum has everything to recommend it. If it rejects the concept of an Assembly, it can be decently buried; if it approves it, the details will be approached in this House in a much more constructive spirit. On the other side of the coin, a long discussion in this House, ending up with a possible—indeed, probable—rejection of the proposals in a referendum, would mean a great waste of legislative time and turn the whole parliamentary process into something of a farce.
I must put one question about the referendum, and I do so because of the Government's past equivocation on this issue. Is it intended that the result of it should be binding? I appreciate that the form of Clause 83 has to be as it is for reasons of constitutional practice—it has to be 481 that which is appropriate for a consultative referendum. But I have in mind that when the Government, at the eleventh hour, about a year ago, agreed to a referendum in relation to the earlier Bill, they indicated that it would be a mandatory one, although they subsequently changed their mind and said that it would be consultative after all. I would like a decisive answer on that point.
I am personally of the view that this is a subject upon which a referendum should be held in any event, and independently of the Bill. With the report of the Kilbrandon Commission and the discussions which have so far taken place in this House, the issue has gone much too far for it satisfactorily to be disposed of in any other way. The message should, of course, go forth from this House that the result of a referendum, it and when it is held, will be absolutely binding. If that is so, it will be one that all Welsh people of good will can, and should, loyally accept.
§ 12.37 a.m.
§ Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)
Over the years, in the early 1960s particularly, I used to feel very annoyed when I discovered that so many of our decisions were being taken by faceless people who had been appointed or selected by some mysterious means to take decisions on spending so much of our money, and that these people were out of reach. They were people we could not get at to influence their decisions in any way.
I was therefore particularly glad when I found the Welsh Council of Labour coming round to the view that we had to do something about it and that it put into concrete form its ideas of an elected council for Wales. There has been discussion today of the terminology, but whether it be called "Council" or "Assembly" I do not care; it is the body at the end of the day that matters.
I feel that we have now come to the very sensible conclusion that we ought also to assist the Secretary of State. It used to disturb me that so many decisions were being taken in the Welsh Office by very worthy people, very able civil servants, but by the wrong people, because I could never believe that the 482 Secretary of State, even with two assistants, could afford sufficient time to scrutinise those decisions sufficiently thoroughly—and certainly we in this place do not scrutinise them sufficiently thoroughly. So I give a warm welcome to the proposals in the Bill in order to advance the cause of democracy, if for nothing else.
Some people want more, some believe that the Bill goes too far. I believe that the formula is just about right. I cannot understand what all the hysteria is about. The Bill is such a modest measure. Why it has created such a furore, I cannot understand.
I have two minor criticisms. The first is on the question of finance. It is a pity that we have not succeeded in finding a formula whereby the Assembly could raise a fraction of its own finance. I think that we shall have to set our minds to that and eventually come round to it. Some people want the Assembly to be able to raise its own finance on the ground that this would make it more responsible, and there is some validity in that argument. The Assembly would be down-graded if it had to go through its life without the possibility of raising finance. It would be the only body without that means. After all, we allow community councils to raise finance through the rates.
The other weakness involves having to wait for local government reform. I have argued for this for a long time. We should be putting our minds to producing some measure of local government reform at the same time. Nevertheless, I recognise that there is some merit in asking the Assembly to consider this issue. The fears that have been generated in the Chamber today are ill founded. Those who generate the fear know that the eventual reform will be decided in this building but that we shall take the advice of the Assembly.
I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) when he said that the opponents of Welsh devolution are often opponents of the present local government structure in Wales. They are afraid of any more changes because they hated the last change. They are anxious about what we may produce. We should assure them that we intend to do something about local government.
483 There is a preoccupation among hon. Members about their own position and power. They are jealous of losing some of their powers. Hon. Members have asked what they will do after devolution. They asked whether they would be able to raise certain Questions in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) mentioned his Adjournment debate on the closure of a hospital in his constituency. Surely, if we had an Assembly it would not be necessary to raise that subject here. The issues might be argued more sensibly in the Assembly.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) said that we should pass the Bill and leave the final decision to a referendum. Many hon. Members support that view because they argue that the people should decide. They are honest in that view, but it ill becomes the hon. Member for Pembroke to try to prevent the people from deciding by opposing the Bill. I do not like the idea of a referendum, but those who argue for a referendum are inconsistent if they do not urge that the Bill should be passed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) talked about undermining the sovereignty of Parliament and the loss of powers for hon. Members. That is an interesting argument, particularly since it comes from an hon. Member who, in another argument about the loss of sovereignty, accepted it happily. I can understand someone who supports the EEC but I cannot understand someone who supports that concept arguing about the loss of sovereignty in this context. Surely my hon. Friend can accept that a little sovereignty should go to a Welsh Assembly.
My hon. Friend also complained about the cost of an Assembly. Who does he think pays for that paraphernalia in Europe? Democracy is not cheap; it has to be paid for. If my hon. Friend wants to save money, let us abolish local government. We could save a lot of money there.
Most organisations have their Welsh dimensions. All the trade unions, the CBI and even the Tory Party have their Welsh dimensions. If they can have it, we should recognise the need for a Welsh 484 dimension in a democratically-elected body that takes decisions for us.
§ Mr. Roderick
If the West Midlands wants it, let it ask for it. It has not asked. The people of Wales have been shouting for this for some time. I wish the Bill God-speed.
§ 12.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I do not wish to trouble the House with the general arguments so eloquently advanced from both sides of the House up to the time when we strangled the last devolution Bill. Two new points have emerged, however.
There is the interesting Government proposal for regional offices of the National Enterprise Board in the North-East and the North-West. That was a crude and obvious form of bribery of those two regions. Its aim was to reconcile them to devolution in Scotland.
Where does that process end? My constituency is not far from Wales. It has been much affected by regional policies perpetrated by successive Governments. What happens when this puffed-up county council succeeds in getting more State aid than, for instance, Shropshire? Will that mean Shropshire Members coming to this House and asking for regional office of the NEB to be located at Telford? Will they be claiming that the Welsh Assembly, because it claims to have extra special powers, is being bought off by being given a better deal than Shropshire?
I do not doubt that that will come about. I do not doubt either that the inherent instability and the inherent potential for conflict which all of us have noted so often in the whole devolution mechanism will occur with Wales, and that the time will come when the Welsh Assembly has a row with the Westminster Parliament.
Then it will be said that, there is a mechanism in Clause 72 by which these matters can be judicially decided. But no doubt some subtle politician will suggest that the matter can be resolved by giving the Welsh a good slice of taxpayers' money. It may be that Shropshire will say that, if Wales can be given that 485 money, Shropshire should be given at least a lesser slice. A regional office of the NEB will then be set up in Telford. Wolverhampton will then complain that regional policies are disadvantageous to it. Another regional office will be set up there. Birmingham will complain, and it will get a regional office. So it will go throughout the country. We shall see one more extension of State activity, one more distortion, one more attempt to suggest that all the country's problems can be solved by yet more State intervention, interference and subsidy and by the politicisation of our society and economy.
I regard all this as a disturbing, corrupting influence which has occurred simply because we have abandoned the proposition that we should rule the whole United Kingdom and should not attempt to buy off and placate particular sectional interests or regions.
My second point is on an even more disturbing matter. It concerns the way in which hon. Members from all quarters of the House seem now to regard the referendum as a useful mechanism for getting themselves individually off the hook. It does not seem to be fashionable now for a politician to say "It is my job to make up my mind." It does not seem to be fashionable for a politician to say "It is my job to crystallise public opinion, to put forward a point of view and allow the people to decide at a General Election." It seems now that it is fashionable to say "I hate this Bill. I loathe every part of it, but I shall vote for it in the knowledge that the matter will be decided at a referendum." That is the greatest irresponsibility.
Here I must respectfully disagree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Morgan), who asked whether the referendum would be mandatory. I suppose he meant that it should be binding upon Members of Parliament. It neither can be nor should be. Indeed, I would say to those who are continuing to fight the decision in the 1975 Common Market referendum that they are doing exactly what they should. They are carrying out their constitutional duty.
Of course, an hon. Member should give way to the weight of arguments. We all find ourselves to be wrong, even on 486 great issues, and are convinced by argument. But we are not convinced by brute force of numbers, which is what the referendum mechanism tries to do. It says to us not "You were wrong on the arguments. You gave too much weight to a particular point" but "You are in a minority and, therefore, you must be wrong" It is the total abdication of parliamentary responsibility, the total abdication of our unique and important position as representatives and not as delegates.
Therefore, I hope that Labour Members will cease to deny themselves the unique dignity given to them as they were elected to this House, and that they will no longer say that their responsibility can in some way be evaded because there may be referendums after the passage of this Bill or the Scotland Bill. It is our responsibility, our duty, to take a risk, to put our judgment before the people. It is not enough simply to say "I leave it to the people, and so long as enough people take a view about this we shall throw the matter to them."
It is said by many on the Opposition Benches that the whole constitutional mechanism of the referendum has been enhanced by the 1975 referendum campaign. I cannot believe it. I voted for our staying in Europe, and I campaigned for that in what I can only describe as the most anti-Common Market constituency on the Tory side. I was amazed at the number of people who said—I cannot in this House use their exact words—that they did not understand the issues but that if the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) was in favour of coming out they were in favour of staying in. That is an amusing argument, but it hardly indicates that the great issues had been carefully considered. It is hardly the sort of argument that should have overwhelming force upon the mind of an hon. Member who is elected as a representative and not as a delegate. Is it the sort of argument that should be deciding great issues?
Therefore, I hope that it will no longer be said on the Opposition Benches that the referendum has been enhanced and has become the great new constitutional mechanism to get us off the hook whenever we are in trouble. I hope that 487 tonight, and more importantly tomorrow, there will be no more talk about leaving it to the referendum.
§ 12.55 a.m.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Cannock)
My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick), who is no longer in his place, described the Bill as a moderate measure. I should describe it as a pitiable measure.
It is amazing that this House should have wasted so much of its time last Session and is proposing to waste its time this Session considering this piece of legislation. Indeed, it is not only amazing but in some sense tragic when we consider the real problems in Wales: the problems in the steel industry at Port Talbot, Shotton, and even Ebbw Vale, the problem of unemployment and the problem of depopulation in North Wales. These issues are not tackled in the Bill. It makes no contribution to those issues. The Bill is a time waster for this House and a money waster for the country. It merely seeks to build up another stratum of bureaucracy covering Wales—an additional glorified county council. For the people of Wales, it will cost more money and it will achieve nothing.
The Bill is a sort of tit-bit to Plaid Cymru. That does not mean that it is a tit-bit to Welsh nationalism. Plaid Cymru has nothing to do with the real nationalistic spirit in Wales. There is a genuine nationalism in Wales, but it has nothing to do with any political party.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) suggested that this measure would ultimately open the door to devolution for Britain as a whole. I suggest that no one can seriously believe that it will lead to regional government. If we ever see this pitiable proposal in operation in Wales and in Scotland, I feel sure that other parts of the country will not want to follow suit.
I do not share the fears expressed by some of my hon. Friends that this measure will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. This glorified Welsh county council will not contribute to the break-up of the United Kingdom. It is not something that other areas will envy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) said, this proposal can only 488 create problems for the people of Wales and of Scotland.
I am aware—it has been made clear to me in a great deal of correspondence from Wales in recent weeks—that the Government have a manifesto commitment to this proposal. Many of us who have for many years fought to make Governments accountable to their manifesto commitments find ourselves in a great deal of difficulty in this sort of situation. Of course it is true that we have moved on somewhat, and there is now a commitment from the Government that they will place weight on the result of the referendum. Some of us feel that the referendum is being held at the wrong time. The time for a decision by the people should be before the Bill becomes an Act.
Nevertheless, in spite of a late referendum, the difficulties that have been referred to and the shilly-shallying about the questions in or the methods of the referendum, I believe that the people of Wales haye too much good sense to be deceived by any preamble or shilly-shallying of this sort. Therefore, it is quite wrong of us at this stage to try to prevent the Welsh people from being allowed to make a decision. I believe that they will make that decision, and that will be the end of political nationalism in Wales. I believe that when these proposals are put to the people of Wales they will say that they want nothing of them.
§ 1.1 a.m.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
This is the third full-scale debate on the Government's proposals for Wales within a year. In each of the first two debates, the Government's proposals were subjected to the most severe criticisms from all parts of the House. Yet in presenting the measure once again, they have made no fundamental change in the proposals. Not surprisingly, therefore, the Bill has been subjected once more to similar criticism, and we have had the same failure to deal with the substance of such criticism.
The reason for this is that the Government are lacking in the one central requirement for constitutional legislation to be successful. They are lacking the fundamental requirement of clarity of purpose. The proposals before the House tonight have all the hallmarks of lacking the 489 clarity of purpose that they should have. They have, instead, a fundamental confusion of purpose in the Government's mind.
We are seeing tonight a juggling of two purported purposes. On the one hand, the Government present the Bill as a sort of modest administrative reform—a method of improving the government of Wales. On the other hand, it is a sort of gradual admission that really the Bill is a political response to nationalism. Therefore, by pretending that it is a method of improving the government of Wales on the one hand and recognising it as a political response to nationalism on the other, the measure carries conviction as a reflection of neither.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
The hon. Gentleman has charged the Government with lack of clarity and qualification. What qualification has he for winding up a major debate on Welsh affairs? Is not a Welshman capable of doing the job?
§ Mr. Brittan
The right hon. Gentleman is a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament. He purports or pretends to be a believer in the unity of the United Kingdom. If he really thinks that by making remarks of that kind he is furthering the United Kingdom, he is unworthy of the high office he has held. It is disgraceful.
Even more damaging than the fundamental ambiguity between the Government's claim that this is a measure of administrative reform and that it is a political response to nationalism is that the Government have failed to think through the effects of their proposals on the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom as a whole and that they have failed to provide viable solutions to the problems posed by the effects of their proposals on the government of the United Kingdom as a whole. It is the uneasy ambivalence of purpose combined with the lack of constitutional foresight which vitiates these proposals.
Despite the intervention to which we were subjected by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), the Government at least have the honesty to admit that there are consequences for the United Kingdom as a whole in proposals of this kind. They have published a 490 Green Paper on the English dimension of their devolution proposals, they have invited suggestions for ways of dealing with the English dimension of those proposals and they are continuing their consultations. But they have not come to a conclusion. They have presented this Bill and yesterday's Bill to the House without working out, even after a year of further deliberation, how to deal with the English dimension.
All that the Government have said is that they will propose to create subdivisions of the National Enterprise Board for the North-East and the North-West. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said, these are blatant sops in an attempt to allay the fears which have been expressed in the North-East and North-West of England about the consequences of these proposals and cannot be presented as a serious attempt to work out a proper solution to the implications of these proposals which, they admit, exist for the United Kingdom as a whole.
Quite apart from the specific English dimension to which I have referred, quite apart from leaving the future of England high and dry after the enactment of the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill, what are the consequences for the present system of government of the United Kingdom?
One of the main points to have come across again and again in this debate from Welsh Members—largely from Welsh Labour Members, who must be presumed to know about these matters—is that, if this Bill is got through, there will be less work for them to deal with in terms of matters which affect their constituencies most and that in whole areas of education, health and housing they will no longer be able to ask Questions of Ministers in this House dealing with the administration of those matters. In the words of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), their rôole will be impoverished. They will be politically enfeebled. In terms of their rôole in this House, nothing will be the same for them again.
In addition, and quite apart from the diminution of the rôole of Welsh Members in looking after the affairs of their constituents—because those affairs will be looked after to a great extent by the Welsh Assembly—there is the factor which was referred to yesterday as the "West Lothian 491 question." It is a point which arises in the case of Wales just as much as it does in Scotland. It will not be tolerable for any length of time for Welsh and Scottish Members to have a key decision-making power on matters affecting English education, health and housing. Not only has this point not been answered by the Government. They have not even attempted to answer it.
The reason why the Government have not even attempted to answer it is perhaps that the best expression of it is to be found in the Government's own document, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) pointed out. In "Devolution: The English Dimension", there is a reference to the effect of the creation of English regional bodies, which is exactly parallel to the creation of the Welsh Assembly. The Government's own document says, in paragraph 68:The transfer to English elected regional bodies of powers at present exercised by Ministers … would have far-reaching constitutional implications. In particular it could directly reduce their ability to maintain national policies on devolved subjects, limit the role of Parliament and restrict the scope of the work of its Members.These are all points of criticism that have been made, and they are to be found succinctly in the Government's own White Paper.
It is not surprising that we who are concerned about the future and unity of the United Kingdom should say that. if legislation such as this is enacted, the position of Welsh Members will become so anomalous that pressure to reduce their numbers is likely to become irresistible. We are not advocating that, but if legislation is introduced with such constitutional defects we cannot blind ourselves to the consequence of those defects on the pressure for a reduction in the number of Welsh Members. We would not welcome that, but we cannot ignore its likelihood.
Many argue that the chief protagonist for Wales in getting a fair share of resources is the Secretary of State for Wales, who can argue with his colleagues in the Cabinet. Yet we heard earlier this year from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas), a former Secretary of State for Wales, that if the Bill is enacted the 492 powers of the Secretary of State will be so reduced that he will not have sufficient powers left to justify a seat in the Cabinet. If that happens, the Welsh people will lose far more than they can hope to gain from the creation of an Assembly.
Even if there is no clarity of purpose in the Government's intentions, and even if the consequences of their intentions for the government of the United Kingdom as a whole are not thought out, a sympathetic hearing would be given to the Bill if it improved the government of Wales or provided a new, sound administrative structure for Wales. But the nature of the proposals has been scrutinised in the debate—by Labour Members as much as by Conservative Members—and the Bill has been found to be riddled with defects.
This proposed form of government incorporates some of the worst defects of the local government system, including the committee system at its most extreme, a concentration of power into cliques or caucuses without the need for minority parties to be represented on the key executive committee, the right of powers to be delegated to sub-committees or even subcommittee chairmen and the ability for matters to be decided behind closed doors by party bosses.
Reference has frequently been made to expenditure, including the capital cost of £4 million, the running costs of £3 million for the Assembly and £9.5 million for the civil servants, £1¼ million for the referendum and the initial elections and another £1¼ million for the removal of staff to Cardiff.
The cost has to be taken seriously into account, but it is also worth asking why such costs are involved in this so-called reform of government. Once again the Government have provided the answer, this time in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill. It says:The Bill will involve increases in accommodation and staff costs.Why? The next sentence tells us thatThese arise partly from entirely new activities, partly from loss of economies of scale in support services and partly from divisions of responsibility between Westminster and the new devolved administration.Those are precisely the points to which objection has been taken again and again. 493 Yet the Secretary of State for Wales objected most strongly today when it was suggested that what was being created was an extra tier of government. He deeply resented, as he did last year, the suggestion that the creation of an Assembly with an Executive involved in it could possibly be described as a tier of government. He told the House, in his most disarming manner, that he already had the powers and that someone had to have them, and therefore, that there was no extra tier of government.
However, with great respect to the Secretary of State, it seems to me that there is a fallacy in the logic there. If one has a bundle of powers and one keeps some and hands over half or two-thirds of them to another body—the Assembly—it seems to me that one has created an extra tier of government in that Assembly. That is the correct analysis of what is being done, because, although the totality of powers may be the same, the division of them means the creation of an extra tier of government as clearly as night follows day.
Reference has been made to local government reform. I think it is fair to say that the Secretary of State, even when leaning back happily, if he had heard everything that had been said, would have had an uncomfortable time, because there were few supporters of what is proposed concerning local government powers and the Assembly.
As the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) pointed out, if one is dissatisfied with local government in Wales there is really no need to create an Assembly to put it right. It is perfectly possible for legislation in this House to do that. Indeed, not only is it possible; it is essential in any event. Therefore, why ask the Assembly to look at the reform of local government in the first place, particularly when, as has been pointed out by many hon. Members, the whole trend of the creation of an Assembly of this kind is sure to lead to more power being sought by the Assembly from the counties and the lower tiers of local government?
If that is the case, and if the assembly will seek to take over more and more powers from local government, it is absurd to ask that same Assembly to consider the question of the reform of local 494 government, because that Assembly is the least desirable body to undertake that task. It is one of the interested parties. How could it possibly consider the question objectively when it is itself seeking to enlarge its own powers?
Therefore, as an administrative reform, the Wales Bill and the structure created by it are really non-starters. It is not surprising that that should be so, because if one looks at it from the point of view of administrative reform one can appreciate that Wales is really an illogical unit for which to create a regional government in that sense. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), if one is concerned simply with administrative reform and the creation of a regional government system, one would have to extend it to England as well. That, for one reason or another, is not done in this Bill, and it is not done in the Scotland Bill.
One asks, therefore, whether the Bill can really be justified in terms of the response to nationalism. It may well be that there is a case for saying that nationalism has reached a point at which one cannot ignore it and that the sensible thing to do is to try to build up some sort of compromise solution that will come to terms with the extent which nationalism has already reached and create an Assembly that will prevent its going further.
In order to do that, however, it is essential that the structure that one creates as a compromise with nationalism should be a stable one. The objections that have been made to this aspect of the Bill again and again during the debate have been that the structure created is not a stable one, that it will raise expectations that cannot be fulfilled by this sort of system and that it will lead inexorably to conflict between the devolved Government of Wales and the Government of the United Kingdom as a whole.
It is a Government that is being created in Wales, in spite of the choice of curious titles such as "Chief Executive." What is to happen if there are parties in control in London different from those in control in Cardiff? The Cardiff Assembly has the task of passing secondary legislation, which it is bound to do to implement policies created by the primary legislation of this House, with 495 which it may profoundly disagree. How can that be a stable solution? Every time that Cardiff seeks to do something with which London disagrees, immediately the nationalist claim will go up that it is London that is standing in the way of the legitimate aspirations of the people of Wales.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of finance and the block grant and the annual haggling that will take place over it. That will be different from the negotiations that take place over the rate support grant. Government on the one hand and local authorities on the other may disagree about the rate support grant. They may haggle and negotiate, but there is not a single body standing up against the Government at Westminster purporting to speak for a nation. It is that national element which enters into the annual debate and the annual negotiations that will provide a ready recipe for nationalist claims and advances every time there is a conflict on finance and other matters.
There are other, smaller, aspects of the Bill which encourage conflict. The fact that there are nine Acts of Parliament which confer powers that are currently exercisable in London is sure to lead to conflict, as is the fact that there are powers of intervention on the part of this Parliament which are expressed in such vague terms that they might have been deliberately made to engender conflict.
We are told that if the Welsh Assembly does something which would, or might, affect a reserved matter, this Parliament has the right to intervene. Could there be a more vague description of the circumstances in which this critical act of intervention, this vital power, can be exercised? It would be difficult to think of a way more likely to lead to conflict.
What about pay policy? We are told that the Welsh Assembly has to have regard to it, not that it has to follow it—again a timid front, enclosing the possibility of dissent, conflict and disagreement. It is not surprising that the Bill has been welcomed by the Welsh nationalists as an opportunity for them to be given a stage, a first step from which they might advance to their real goal, to their ultimate aim of an independent Wales.
We on the Conservative Benches believe that it would be a tragedy for the future 496 of the United Kingdom if we were to enact a piece of legislation which provided that stage, and not only the stage but the levers and the opportunities for those who wish to foment conflict to do so. That is an anxiety that has been expressed throughout the House. Yet, in spite of the conflicts that the Bill will engender, in spite of the cumbersome administrative structure that it will create, in spite of the failure to deal with the grave constitutional consequences for the Government of the United Kingdom, we have latterly today been told "Never mind all the criticisms that have been made. We must still pass the Bill, because the people of Wales will be furious if the Bill is not passed because they will not have a referendum." That was a point made by, for example, the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson).
This House ought not to be blackmailed by argument of that kind into voting for a Bill in which it does not believe and which has been punctured with holes during today's debate. It is one thing to say that we shall consider the Bill and, if we are persuaded of its merits, give it a Second Reading, take it through Committee and pass it on Third Reading, but we shall nevertheless, as a long-stop, give the people of Wales the opportunity to reject it if we, though exercising our judgment, have misjudged their wishes. It is quite another thing to say that we should pass a Bill that we do not believe in at all. That would be the negation of all that parliamentary government has ever meant. It is not worthy to say that that is what should be done, that we should pass a Bill in which we have no belief whatever in order that the people of Wales may have the opportunity to vote it down.
It is an extraordinary course that we are invited to take, that one should say to the people of Wales "I voted for the Bill not because I believed in it, which I do not, but because I wanted you to have the chance to vote it down." Will any Member's electorate have a scrap of respect for that distortion of the parliamentary function?
I warn hon. Members on the Government side of what will happen. They have mentioned this fear themselves, and it is a real fear. In campaigning for the referendum, the Government will say 497 "The House of Commons has passed the Bill. Surely, the people of Wales should recognise that the Government have secured a majority in the House. The Bill has been considered with all the procedures and protections, in many days in Committee and so on, and now the people of Wales are presented with something which Parliament has considered and approved."
Do the hon. Member for Swansea, East and those who think like him believe that the Lord President, in campaigning for the referendum, will be so scrupulous as to say at referendum meetings "It is true that the Bill was passed by the House of Commons, but I must in all honesty and candour tell you that quite a number of Members said that they voted in favour of it in order to persuade you to vote against it"? It is a preposterous idea which will not be reflected in reality, and to allow oneself to be persuaded, dragooned or bullied by such specious arguments into voting for a Bill in which one does not believe is a negation of the task with which Parliament is charged.
The Bill is at best an irrelevance. Far more probably, it is a dangerous diversion of effort and energy. At its very worst, however, what it will do is to set up a costly administrative monstrosity pulling Wales away from England, setting Welshman against Welshman, and having an incalculably damaging and divisive impact on the whole of our constitutional arrangements. For that reason, I call on my right hon. and hon. Friends to join in defeating the Bill on Second Reading.
§ 1.29 a.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
Towards the end of his speech, the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) made some references to the referendum and the clauses in the Bill dealing with it as well as to the constitutional implications which have been a feature of our discussions. I shall begin by referring to that aspect of the matter, since it has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and others, but I shall seek also to deal with many of the other matters which the hon. Gentleman raised, including the 498 question—I agree with him that it is a pertinent question, the so-called "West Lothian question "—which goes to the root of many of the anxieties felt by hon. Members on both sides, and I hope also to deal with the so-called awkward aspects of that question.
Let me refer first to the referendum. I agree that any proposition for a referendum raises serious questions for the House of Commons. I can understand the view of hon. Members who say that all referendums are an infringement of the paramount responsibility of the House of Commons itself. I think that that is a perfectly reputable and sustainable view for hon. Members to take. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) put that case most forcefully and formidably, and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) also put it a few minutes ago.
I have considerable sympathy with that view, although as far as I know I have agreed to three referendums being proposed to be incorporated in measures to be passed through this House. Because of the European Communities Act and the manner in which we were taken into the Common Market, I think that the only way of dealing with the question at that time, in 1975, was to have a referendum, although I think that it had many disagreeable aspects, including the result of the referendum itself. But we had to take that into account also.
I agree with those who say that in relation to this Bill there are some difficulties with the referendum. On the other hand, many hon. Members have argued strongly that it is only by having a referendum that we can establish for sure that there is a strong desire in Scotland or Wales for the establishment of such Assemblies as we propose in these Bills.
I believe that if we carry the proposals for referendums any further, and certainly if we were to apply them in the general circumstances of industrial troubles, as was suggested on high authority a few weeks or months ago, it would be disastrous for the constitution of this country. However, I regard it as necessary to accept the proposition of a referendum to deal with these constitutional changes.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty that if we are 499 to have a referendum at all it must be fair. That means that it must be accepted as fair not only by those who propose it but by all sections. I do not mean that there could be a referendum about a referendum to see in advance whether everybody thinks that it is fair. I do not think that my hon. Friend was suggesting that last refinement, although he might consider it as a possible amendment later in the Bill, or possibly as a condition of his support for us in the Lobby. I am not suggesting any special further addition to him in that respect, but it might be that such a complicated condition will occur to his ingenious mind.
Of course, we shall consider the representations that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty and others have made about the form of the questions, because, as I said when we had the earlier debate about the form of the referendum, we must seek to ensure that it is fair. I hope that even those who do not like referendums will join in agreeing that we should try to get general acceptance that the questions that are put have the general support of the House as being fairly and honestly put.
I give the guarantee that we shall consider this carefully. I do not give a guarantee to my hon. Friend that we shall change the question in the way that he has suggested, because there might be others who, once the proposition is put, will say that our question has been put more fairly than that proposed by my hon. Friend. I promise that I shall accept the importance of what he has said, and I hope that when we come to that clause we shall have a sensible discussion and reach common agreement.
§ Mr. Anderson
My right hon. Friend has responded sympathetically as to the wording of the question. He will recall that points were made also in respect of the fairness of having the two referendums held simultaneously in Wales and Scotland and not having them coincide with a General Election. Can he give any assurance on that?
§ Mr. Foot
We shall have to look at all those questions, but I quite agree with my hon. Friend—I have not examined this or discussed it with my colleagues—on the question of the timing of such a referendum. On a first sight of the ques- 500 tion put by my hon. Friend, I believe that it would be wrong to hold the referendum at the time of a General Election, and it would not secure what I said was the kind of condition which I believe to be the right one for the presentation of a referendum of this nature—that is, that there should be a general understanding in the House of Commons; I do not say that that means everybody, because one can seldom get everybody to agree—that the questions are fairly put. I believe that that is a proper way in which such a matter can be approached.
I hope that the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby will not think that I am in any sense denigrating his knowledge of Welsh matters by turning to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) first, particularly on questions of local government. I fully understand the sure touch of the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby on Welsh affairs and on all other aspects, but on local government, especially when we get to such an extreme part of the Principality as Pembrokeshire, I hope he will think that his colleague is a better expert than himself.
Some of us were startled by the declaration on local government affairs by the hon. Member for Pembroke. We thought that he had fought most valiantly for his constituency. We thought that he had protested against the local government reform introduced by his right hon. and hon. Friends. We thought that he had raised his voice on every available occasion to speak for his constituency in every assembly where anyone would listen to him. Not at all. It will be very interesting for the constituents of the hon. Member for Pembroke to know not merely that he has abandoned the fight now but that he never fought before, apparently. Perhaps he will tell us—or rather, tell his constituents, because they are even more interested than I am—why he changed his mind. I do not see why anybody should pay any attention to his views on local government affairs. I say this all the more strongly because the hon. Gentleman sought to reprimand us on these matters.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not know anything about my constituency, so I know that he will not understand that, whatever my constituents' views about local government, however much they may 501 dislike government from Carmarthen, they dislike far more the prospect of government being taken even further away to Cardiff, and they loathe the idea of an Assembly and demand that I should fight it all the way.
§ Mr. Foot
That will be a very much better fight than the fight the hon. Gentleman put up on the other matter. He has not really answered the question I put. I was dealing with the local government question. The hon. Gentleman said that it was a matter of some importance. He gave us the impression that he supported the proposals that were pushed through by his right hon. and hon. Friends on the matter, and yet we had thought that Pembroke was very hostile to the whole proposition. I can well understand that Pembroke should have been hostile, because the whole of the rest of Wales was hostile to the proposition as well. The local government reform, so-called, devised by Conservative Members, was an almighty botch.
Not only that, but it was an almighty botch forced down the throats of Welsh Members of the House of Commons—I am sorry to have to say it; I do not say it in any racialist sense—by a predominantly English House of Commons. It is an interesting application of the principle of devolution. I might even enlist a little support from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty on this matter, and that is one of my constant aims in life. I know my hon. Friend's constituents almost as well as my constituents, and I know that they, too, are bitterly opposed to the whole of local government reform, but if we had had a Welsh Assembly in being those concerned would never have succeeded in forcing it down our throats, would they? It may be that my hon. Friend is coming along. It may be that he will now vote for us on the referendum.
In my opinion, we shall not have the best form of local government reform if we do not get the Assembly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I shall say why. The failure to secure the proper form of local government before was not primarily due to the predominant English majority, although that played a large part in it. The fact is that in Wales we had devised—my right hon. Friend the 502 Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) was Secretary of State for Wales when it was done—a good form of local government reform, one that included the establishment of an elected council for Wales, or an elected Assembly. In fact, we can use either term. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) used both of those methods in his election address to make doubly sure that there would be no misapprehension about that for which he was arguing. He used the terms "elected council" and "elected Assembly", and I agree that he included a comprehensive statement in his election address.
§ Mr. Kinnock
My right hon. Friend is accurate in his suggestion that my constituents want to get rid of the awful virus of local government reform that has been forced upon us, but will he explain to them why it is necessary, if they are to get rid of the virus, to contract bronchial pneumonia, get cerebral contusions, break both legs and break a couple of arms? Why is it necessary to do that to accomplish the end of ridding their bodies of the virus?
§ Mr. Foot
If my hon. Friend were as knowledgeable about politics as he seems to be about medical matters, he would be able to appreciate that there is a much swifter way of dealing with the matter. The swiftest way to establish local government in Wales and to ensure that it really meets the needs of the people in Wales is to have it surveyed by those who will implement it.
I return to the matters to which I promised to return and to some of the central questions that aroused anxiety. I do not want to try to dodge them. Important though the West Lothian question is—
§ Mr. Abse
Why does not my right hon. Friend address himself to the question that is really being put to him despite the levity which it is being dealt with? Why does he not address himself 503 to the problem? If we are to have reform of local government in Wales, why should not the preliminary work be done by an independent commission and not by an Assembly, which will undoubtedly wish to devour our existing local authorities?
§ Mr. Foot
I have every good reason. Nothing could be more absurd than to think that the proper reform of local government is something to be undertaken by some so-called objective, independent body. Nothing is more in the proper purview of politicians and political animals to try to solve than the question of the proper form of local government. For my hon. Friend now to come forward and say that we should solve it by having an independent body which recommends us to do this and that is surely to go in quite the wrong direction.
I want now to get on to the question which has been put by many hon. Members. It is said to be the most difficult question of all arising in any form of devolution, whether applied to Scotland or to Wales, although the application to Wales is different and, in a sense, less severe or fierce, because there the legislative authority is not passed to the Assembly. But I acknowledge to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that some of the same questions arise in the case of Wales as well.
The suggestion is that if we have a proposition whereby Members have different capacities to vote, different things on which they can vote and different categories into which they are divided, the effect will be not merely damaging to Wales or Scotland but even more damaging to the House of Commons as a whole.
My first answer is not a complete answer, but it is proper to make it. I do offer it primarily not to my right hon. and hon. Friends but to right hon. and hon. Members opposite, because they have been pressing this matter so strongly. I urge them to read the book "Inside Right" by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), who deals specifically with this question in it. He says:The objection that Scottish MPs would have a vote on, say, housing and education in England while English MPs (and also Scottish MPs) will have no control over those subjects in Scotland"—the same applies in some degree to Wales— 504seems legalistic. Whatever happens in England will have great influence on what is done in Scotland, since great disparities between England and the rest would not be tolerated in the devolved areas. It is not therefore unreasonable that the Scots should be allowed some influence on decisions made for England. That surely would not be too high a price to pay for the maintenance of the Union.The right hon. Gentleman goes on to elaborate the question. He does not quote Burke on the matter, but the implication is that one can have too much logic and too little sense, and he argues that one can perfectly apply the operation to disregarding the West Lothian question and that that would not have the injurious consequences that it is sometimes claimed.
I have always insisted that we cannot solve the problem by an in-and-out arrangement. I believe that it stands to reason that we should not have two standards or categories of Members. I do not believe that we can have an in-and-out arrangement of that kind, with Members entitled to vote on some things and not on others, with some line drawn between the two and no one knowing exactly how it is to be drawn, because I believe that at times of great national or international crises, when the maintenance of a Government or whatever it may be depends on the vital support of one or two votes, we could not rest such a situation securely on an in-and-out solution. Indeed, it is no solution.
That is what was discovered in the Irish Home Rule Bills at the end of the last century and later. Originally such a proposal was included, but it had to be abandoned and it was not reintroduced in the later Home Rule Bills introduced by the Liberal Government.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) indicated to us that, when this matter was raised in 1971 in relation to the Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), then Leader of the Labour Party in Opposition, suggested the establishment of an in-and-out arrangement of some kind in order to deal with the problem. But, again, I do not think that that is a proper way to deal with it.
We have a situation already in the House in which hon. Members are not all equally interested in every issue. Despite the vast mass assembled here tonight, 505 obviously they are not all necessarily very interested even in devolution, but they vote on it.
The House of Commons has solved many problems in the past. It has solved the problem of Northern Ireland in the past—[HON. MEMBERS: "In the past."]—and hon. Members for Northern Ireland did not object on that occasion. The House has solved similar problems, and it can solve this one too.
To say that, because the problem cannot be solved, it is therefore impossible to have any form of devolution that will work, is an absurdity, and the House should not be prepared to accept it.
§ Mr. Foot
My hon. Friend has hardly been in for the debate, and I shall not give way to him.
Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Pembroke and the right hon. Member for Down, South, said that the only way to solve this problem which we have been debating for so long is by way of the federalist solution. The argument is that if we are to move towards any form of successful devolution our proposals are not satisfactory. Hon. Members say that this is mainly because of the inability to apply the in-and-out arrangement for voting. They say that, therefore, the only way is to carry out the full federalist solution. That has been the view of Liberal Members. It has also been one of the matters, if I may divulge such secrets, upon which we have had discussions in recent months. I have held, and still hold, the view, despite the weighty evidence from the right hon. Member for Down, South, that resort to the federal solution is much worse than the disease.
§ Mr. Powell
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, for the avoidance of doubt, for allowing me to say that I 506 regard the federal solution merely as a theoretical structure which solves the conundrum posed by the proposal for legislative devolution inside a unitary State. In practical terms, it is a reductio ad absurdum. Nothing that I have said shows that I think it is at all practicable or desirable for the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Foot
When the right hon. Member read to me a statement of a proposal for movement towards a federal solution, he did not say that it was just a "theatrical conundrum". When I heard him then, I thought that it was a great stroke of policy. Now it has diminished to smaller proportions.
In my opinion—and I say it to members of the Liberal Party in the most persuasive terms I can—it would be wrong for the House to think that we can solve this problem by resort to the federalist solution. If we did that, we should then have to introduce all the apparatus of a Bill of Rights and of a judiciary which governs the whole operation. We should undermine the supremacy of this House, which, I believe, is the most important precious possession of the British people.[HON. MEMBERS: "What is your answer?"] My answer is that in this Bill there is no impairment of the supremacy of Parliament. There is no impairment of the House of Commons or of its authority.
All that has been provided for in the Bill. Whatever other deficiencies it may have, that is its supreme merit. That is why I say that what we propose in it. even if it is not perfect, is very much better than the solution suggested earlier by the Liberals, although they accept many of our arguments. I do not say that they are converted to our point of view, but I think that they accept some of our arguments and I hope that the House will do the same.
If we were to think that there was some escape from this problem by going after the false federalist god, we would be on a course that would destroy the authority of the House of Commons. We on the Government side are determined to repudiate any such course.
§ Mr. Brittan
Will the right hon. Gentleman agree with this summary of what he is saying? It is that the Government think that only a federal solution would provide the theoretical answer to 507 the problem that is posed. They do not believe in a federal solution, and, therefore, they have no answer to the problem. None the less, they are putting an answer to the House although it is a fundamental objection to their proposals.
§ Mr. Foot
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is a very late corner to these matters. His right hon. and hon. Friends were saying that they were in favour of devolution the week before last, and even last night.
I am in favour of the form of devolution which we are proposing in these Bills. I fully understand that in shaping such a measure the House of Commons must play the fullest part. Of course we should look at it with care. That is why some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty, whose assistance I was happy to have at that time, immediately, on publication of the Kilbrandon Report, sat down—this was way back in the summer of 1973—to examine these matters in detail.
It is not just a question of having thrown into the manifesto a few bright words which enabled some of my hon. Friends to attach their names to it in
§ that General Election. We went into great detail on the matter and we came forward with proposals for Wales before any proposals were made for Scotland, and that is not the first time that Wales had led other parts of the country.
§ I ask the House to look at what we are proposing, not on the ground that is being suggested that we brought it forward in order to yield to pressure from any quarter. We examined all these matters in detail after the Kilbrandon Report produced its suggestions for alterations in the constitution.
The more that the House looks at what we are proposing and the more it looks at the alternatives, the more it will see that what the Labour Party worked out in such considerable detail four and five years ago will be of great service not only to the people of Wales but to the maintenance of the unity of the United Kingdom, which is the central strap in the policy for devolution that we propose.
§ Question put, That the Bill be read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 295, Noes 264.511
|Division No. 8]||AYES||[2.0 p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank||Cartwright, John||English, Michael|
|Anderson, Donald||Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Ennals, Rt Hon David|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Clemitson, Ivor||Evans,Gwynfor (Carmarthen)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)|
|Ashley, Jack||Coleman, Donald||Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)|
|Ashton, Joe||Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Faulds, Andrew|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Concannon, J. D.||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.|
|Atkinson, Norman||Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Corbett, Robin||Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)|
|Bain, Mrs. Margaret||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Flannery, Martin|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Bates, Alf||Crawford, Douglas||Ford, Ben|
|Bean, R. E.||Crawshaw, Richard||Forrester, John|
|Belth, A. J.||Cronin, John||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Cryer, Bob||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Garrett, John (Norwich S)|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Davidson, Arthur||George, Bruce|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Gilbert, Dr John|
|Boardman, H.||Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Ginsburg, David|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Golding, John|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Gould, Bryan|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Deakins, Eric||Gourlay, Harry|
|Bradley, Tom||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Graham, Ted|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Grant, John (Islington C)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Grimond, Rt Hon J.|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Dempsey, James||Grocott, Bruce|
|Buchan, Norman||Doig, Peter||Hardy, Peter|
|Buchanan, Richard||Dormand, J. D.||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Hart, Rt Hon Judith|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Duffy, A. E. P.||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Dunn, James A.||Hatton, Frank|
|Campbell, Ian||Dunnett, Jack||Hayman, Mrs Helene|
|Canavan, Dennis||Eadie, Alex||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Cant, R. B.||Edge, Geoff||Henderson, Douglas|
|Carmichael, Neil||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Hooson, Emlyn|
|Carter, Ray||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Horam, John|
|Carler-Jones, Lewis||Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)|
|Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Mitchell, Austin||Spearing, Nigel|
|Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Molloy, William||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Huckfield, Les||Moonman, Eric||Stallard, A. W.|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Moyle, Roland||Stoddart, David|
|Hunter, Adam||Mudd, David||Stott, Roger|
|Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Strang, Gavin|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Janner, Greville||Newens, Stanley||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Noble, Mike||Swain, Thomas|
|Jeger, Mrs Lena||Oakes, Gordon||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Ogden, Eric||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|John, Brynmor||O'Halloran, Michael||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Orbach, Maurice||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Thompson, George|
|Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Padley, Walter||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Palmer, Arthur||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Pardoe, John||Tierney, Sydney|
|Judd, Frank||Park, George||Tinn, James|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Parry, Robert||Tomlinson, John|
|Kelley, Richard||Pavitt, Laurie||Tomney, Frank|
|Kerr, Russell||Pendry, Tom||Urwin, T. W.|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Penhaligon, David||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Lambie, David||Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Lamborn, Harry||Price, William (Rugby)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Radice, Giles||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Lee, John||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Ward, Michael|
|Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Richardson, Miss Jo||Watkins, David|
|Lever, Rt Hon Harold||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Watkinson, John|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Watt, Hamish|
|Loyden, Eddie||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Weetch, Ken|
|Luard, Evan||Robinson, Geoffrey||Weitzman, David|
|Lyon, Alexander (York)||Roderick, Caerwyn||Wellbeloved, James|
|Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Welsh, Andrew|
|McCartney, Hugh||Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|MacCormick, Iain||Rooker, J. W.||White, James (Pollok)|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Roper, John||Whitehead, Phillip|
|McElhone, Frank||Rose, Paul B.||Whitlock, William|
|MacFarquhar, Roderick||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Mackintosh, John P.||Rowlands, Ted||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Maclennan, Robert||Ryman, John||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Sandelson, Neville||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|McNamara, Kevin||Sedgemore, Brian||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Madden, Max||Selby, Harry||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Magee, Bryan||Sever, J.||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Mahon, Simon||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Mallalieu, J. P W.||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Marks, Kenneth||Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Woodall, Alec|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Woof, Robert|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Sillars, James||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Silverman, Julius||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Meacher, Michael||Skinner, Dennis|
|Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Small, William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mikardo, Ian||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Mr. James Hamilton.|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Snape, Peter|
|Abse, Leo||Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Adley, Robert||Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Clark, William (Croydon S)|
|Altken, Jonathan||Bradford, Rev Robert||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Alison, Michael||Braine, Sir Bernard||Clegg, Walter|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Brittan, Leon||Cockroft, John|
|Arnold, Tom||Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Brooke, Peter||Cope, John|
|Awdry, Daniel||Brotherton, Michael||Cormack, Patrick|
|Baker, Kenneth||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Costain, A. P.|
|Banks, Robert||Bryan, Sir Paul||Critchley, Julian|
|Bell, Ronald||Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Crouch, David|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Buck, Antony||Crowder, F. P.|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Budgen, Nick||Cunningham, G. (Islington S)|
|Benyon, W.||Bulmer, Esmond||Dalyell, Tam|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Burden, F. A.||Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutslord)|
|Biffen, John||Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Dean, Paul (N Somerset)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Carlisle, Mark||Dodsworth, Geoffrey|
|Blaker, Peter||Carson, John||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Body, Richard||Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Drayson, Burnaby|
|Boscawen, Ron Robert||Channon, Paul||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Bottomley, Peter||Churchill, W. S.||Dunlop, John|
|Durant, Tony||Kimball, Marcus||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Dykes, Hugh||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Knight, Mrs Jill||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Elliott, Sir William||Knox, David||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Emery, Peter||Lamond, James||Rhodes James, R.|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Lamont, Norman||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Eyre, Reginald||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Farr, John||Lawrence, Ivan||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Fell, Anthony||Lawson, Nigel||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Lloyd, Ian||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Loveridge, John||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Forman, Nigel||Luce, Richard||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Scott, Nicholas|
|Fox, Marcus||McCrindle, Robert||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Macfarlane, Neil||Shepherd, Colin|
|Fry, Peter||MacGregor, John||Shersby, Michael|
|Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)||Silvester, Fred|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Sims, Roger|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Madel, David||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Marten, Neil||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Mates, Michael||Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Mather, Carol||Speed, Keith|
|Goodhew, Victor||Maude, Angus||Spence, John|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Gorst, John||Mawby, Ray||Sproat, Iain|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Stainton, Keith|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Mayhew, Patrick||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Stanley, John|
|Gray, Hamish||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Grieve, Percy||Mills, Peter||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Griffiths, Eldon||Miscampbell, Norman||Stokes, John|
|Grist, Ian||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Grylls, Michael||Moate, Roger||Tapsell, Peter|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Molyneaux, James||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Monro, Hector||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Montgomery, Fergus||Tebbit, Norman|
|Hannam, John||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Morgan, Geraint||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Hawkins, Paul||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Trotter, Neville|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Heseltine, Michael||Neave, Airey||Vaughan, Dr Gerald|
|Hicks, Robert||Neubert, Michael||Viggers, Peter|
|Higgins, Terrence L.||Newton, Tony||Wakeham, John|
|Hodgson, Robin||Nott, John||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Holland, Philip||Onslow, Cranley||Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)|
|Hordern, Peter||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Wall, Patrick|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Page, John (Harrow West)||Walters, Dennis|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Page, Richard (Workington)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Paisley, Rev Ian||Wells, John|
|Hurd, Douglas||Pattie, Geoffrey||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Percival, Ian||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Peyton, Rt Hon John||Winterton, Nicholas|
|James, David||Phipps, Dr Colin||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd)||Pink, R. Bonner||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Jessel, Toby||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Younger, Hon George|
|Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Jopling, Michael||Prior, Rt Hon James||Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and|
|Joseph, Rt Hon. Sir Keith||Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Mr. Michael Roberts.|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Raison, Timothy|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Rathbone, Tim|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Stoddart.]
§ Committee this day.