|Put a cross (X) in the appropriate box Rhowch groes X yn y blwch cymwys|
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now come to what I regard as a rather cheerful Amendment. Many of your Lordships on the other side of the House have persisted in regarding my noble friends and I as being killjoys who were determined to destroy what they regarded (mistakenly, in my view) as the beautiful debutante on the stage of the Wales Bill. This is as good an opportunity as any to tell your Lordships that if in spite of our advice and in spite of the defects which we have tried to bring to public notice that exist in this Bill, the Welsh people feel that they want the sort of Welsh Assembly that eventually emerges from both Houses of Parliament, then good luck to them! It is their choice, it is their future and it is their government. All we can do is to seek to see that the alternative presented to them is the most agreeable that we can devise, that the choice is put to them 1740 fairly and that they can make the decision themselves.
§ Therefore, if the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, will forgive me, this is something of a birthday party for the Welsh if in fact they are going to take this opportunity. The Bill which is before us will be a milestone in Welsh history. I do not think that it will be, but it might be; and to have such a milestone upon which so much passionate feeling has been expended in defence, and indeed promotion, of the Welsh identity, of which almost the principal feature is the Welsh language—to have that enshrined in an Act of Parliament totally expressed in English seems to me an act of Anglo-Saxon insensitivity of the first order.
I am sure that the noble and learned Lord is going to tell me that what I am suggesting to your Lordships is superfluous: he has already said so, and this is the disadvantage of speaking at Third Reading, after Report, after Committee, after Second Reading and indeed after many conversations concerning earlier legislation. But the fact is that, even if it is superflous, and the ballot paper eventually emerges with the Welsh tongue elegantly inscribed upon it, as I suggest to your Lordships it now is in our Amendment, I do not think that is in any way at all superfluous. I think this is a great occasion. For the most part, we have to play it down because we are trying to achieve through a Parliamentary process something that will improve the Wales Bill and the Welsh Assembly. But, on this occasion, let us enter into the spirit of the thing—and that is Welsh.
§ I was greatly afeared—because, as I have told your Lordships before, I am not a Welsh speaker—that what I put on the Marshalled List might not be good Welsh, but your Lordships will recall' that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts at Report stage, said that it would be possible for us to get together with the Welsh Office. That has been done and in the process my advisers have been complimented on the work they did; but none the less their work has been improved upon and we gladly accept the assistance that has come our way. There was an inadvertent misprint which I noticed in the word ddarpariaethau yesterday and that has been put right. As I understand it, therefore, what we have here now is correct Welsh.1741
§ I was also afeared that it might be thought inappropriate or a dangerous precedent to introduce into the Statute Book of England a language that was not English; but of course this is not the Statute Book of England but the Statute Book of the United Kingdom and the language we are now introducing is the language of, among others, the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, who can protect us from any misconceptions of language. Moreover, I am advised by the Table that there is no force in such an objection. Therefore, I can only see a myopic and churlish reluctance to enter into the excitement of the beginning of a new phase of history as the only conceivable motive for rejecting this Amendment. If we do divide, it will give me the greatest pleasure, but I do not think we shall, because the noble and learned Lord must surely see the reason and the force of these arguments. I beg to move.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I was so moved by the tremendous eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and his wish to make this gracious gesture to the Welsh language and the Welsh people that I thought he might have exerted himself to do it in Welsh and to read out the Welsh, as did his Royal Highness Prince Charles in Caernarvon a long time ago. However, I forgive him for not having reached that summit of excellence. The noble Lord has anticipated what I am about to say, which is that the ballot paper which will be used will, of course, be bilingual and the only question at issue between us is whether the Welsh language version should be inserted in the Bill or whether it should be produced under the existing authority of Section 2(1) of the Welsh Language Act. That empowers bilingual documents to be produced and is an Act, the use of which is familiar, frequent and well-known in Wales. There would be an anticipation that it would be used also on this occasion.
If I might remind your Lordships who were the enthusiastic architects of the EEC referendum ballot paper, the Welsh language did not appear in the Statute so far as that was concerned, but the EEC referendum ballot paper was produced in a Welsh version under the authority of the Welsh Language Act of 1967. The matter 1742 was put in a nutshell by my noble friend Lady Gaitskell during a debate on the Committee stage when she said at column 1559 of the Official Report, on 23rd June:If the Minister will put everything into this Bill which is nice but not necessary, it will be twice as long as it is already".That is a very profound and true observation. If I may say so, this has been a most agreeable final curtain to draw upon the Report stage of the Bill. I say to noble Lords in Welsh, Diolch yn fawr, but I venture to submit the Amendment is really unnecessary, charming though this discussion on the Amendment has been.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, —and the noble and learned Lord is always quoting arguments in aid from other stages—would have had force on Amendment No. 1 on the first day of Committee stage, but on the last Amendment of the last day of the last stage of this Bill, we are not in danger of doubling its length. We are only in danger of gilding what the noble and learned Lord sees as a lily and what I see as something else. It may be superfluous, but it is not ungracious.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. We have now reached the end of the odyssey of the passage of the Wales Bill through your Lordships' House, and it is my privilege to move that the Bill do now pass. The Bill has gone through the most searching and careful scrutiny in your Lordships' House, and we have had some very good debates. The respective teams, in strength on each side of the Chamber, have worked hard upon the Bill and applied themselves with great conscientiousness to what has often been a very technical matter.
It is the case that the Government's proposals for Wales have certain novel features, and they contain differences from the proposals for Scotland of an intriguing character. But I believe that, as the process of consideration of the Bill has gone on, there has been increasing, if not complete, understanding of what the Government have had in mind in regard to the provisions of the Bill. In preparing it, the Government aimed at devising a scheme 1743 of devolution which would meet the particular needs, as we saw them, of the Welsh people.
In Wales, there has been no widespread demand for a legislative Assembly, and the deep concern has been, first, that the activities of Ministers and of nominated bodies should be submitted to closer democratic scrutiny than the existing system allows; and, secondly, that it should be left to the people of Wales and their representatives to determine the priorities of development in the fields which concern the Welsh people alone. The scheme of executive devolution which the Government have put before your Lordships is specifically designed to meet those particular needs.
There are, of course, those who say that the Government should have gone further, and others who argue that the scheme goes too far, which suggests to me that we have got it about right. We have sought to adopt a balanced but positive approach in the Bill, and we believe that our proposals, when they are implemented, will bring satisfaction and benefits to the people of Wales. No Bill achieves perfection, and a number of Amendments which have been put down have usefully drawn attention to certain imperfections which existed in the Bill, and the Government have readily accepted a number of constructive suggestions which have been made by noble Lords. Indeed, we have shown, I submit, a degree of flexibility in accepting some Amendments which, although not entirely to our taste, have given rise to deep feelings in the House which we have recognised.
On the other hand, I am bound to say that certain other Amendments which the House has accepted have shown what we believe to be less than complete appreciation of the structure and the principles of the Bill, and have introduced elements of inconsistency, infelicity and, indeed, un-workability, which the Government, even in the most generous mood that I am now displaying, cannot readily accept. I do not want to go into detail at this stage, but the points that I have in mind will clearly call for careful consideration in another place. But, by and large, the structure of the Bill, although it has been dented in places, remains pretty well intact.
1744 The Government, as I have indicated, recognise and appreciate the conscientious, relatively calm and undogmatic way in which noble Lords have applied themselves to a constitutional exercise of great importance and no little complexity. It is, of course, in the minds of all of us that, before finality is reached, the people of Wales will have the last word and make their own pronouncement on our labours, and we shall await their verdict with keen anticipation.
Finally, my Lords, may I stress once again that what has been uppermost in the Government's mind throughout their travails on this, and on the Scotland Bill, has been the need to preserve and, indeed, enhance the unity of the United Kingdom. The Government believe that measures of devolution arc not only necessary but inevitable, if that unity is to be preserved. We have sought to forestall the charge of too little and too late, and we have acted now for what we believe will be the future benefit of all our peoples. My Lords, beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass. —(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord has most eloquently put it, our work is nearly done. He referred to it as an odyssey. I must say that I consider it more an operation. We, after all, were thinking of this Bill, at the outset of its so far short career, as though it were Mrs. Worthington's daughter presented untimely for the stage, and we were doing our best by plastic surgery, though not, please notice—and the noble and learned Lord, by saying that the Bill is dented but largely intact, has conceded this point—by amputation.
We have given in the process to the elected representatives of the people of the United Kingdom, and particularly to the elected representatives of the people of Wales, their first opportunity to discuss some 30 aspects, all discussion of which has so far been denied them by the arrangements made in another place. As examples, we have the relationship between the Assembly and the Welsh Development Agency, the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Land 1745 Authority for Wales; and, indeed, the exclusion of Members of Parliament themselves from membership of the Assembly. That is a matter to which they will wish to pay close attention, and I hope that this opportunity is taken.
We have also sought to alter the Bill in a number of important ways which we hope will he accepted by another place. In doing this, we have been guided throughout by a desire to protect the interests of the Welsh people and of the United Kingdom. May I give noble Lords instances of this. We have provided that only residents in Wales may rule over the population of Wales. We have provided that local government, whatever its defects, shall not immediately be torn up by the roots as a result of investigation by what most of us see as entirely the wrong body to do the job. We have provided that the executive committee, which will hold all the reins of power, shall not become a closed shop for the discussion of plans and the disposal of resources behind closed doors. We have provided that the proceedings of the Assembly shall be published abroad for all Welshmen to be able to read them, and that their meetings shall be held in public so that all Welshmen may be allowed to attend them. We have provided that the salaries of Assemblymen shall be determined by the Secretary of State with the agreement of Parliament rather than by themselves, in the hope that they will then escape from the penurious dilemma which besieges Members of another place year after year.
It has been a hard and difficult task that we have undertaken in working on this Bill, and I wish that we might have had more help with it. In particular, I was a little surprised by the rapid diminution of contributions in debate by the Liberal Party. Once the temporary, cross-Floor alliance on proportional representation dissolved itself, the Liberal Party tabled only one Amendment throughout the proceedings on the Bill that I recall, on safety in sports grounds—not, I should have thought, the most important aspect of the Bill before us. During the Report stage, the Liberal Party spoke but twice, abstained twice and voted with us once; otherwise they followed mute behind the Government through the Division Lobbies. I should have thought 1746 that for a great Party—the noble Lord opposite is speaking in such a loud voice that I can hear him saying that he thinks this is a good thing to do. It may so appear to him, but for the Welsh to find that this great Party has no view and does not wish to influence the opinions of any other Member of the House except by following its Government leaders is a great abrogation of authority and leadership.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, the noble Lord may be in doubt as to my answer, in which case let me tell him that it is not a very excellent leadership. What Her Majesty's Government propose to do is, after all, to place an extra level of government, or whatever you care to call it, upon the shoulders of the Welsh people—to interpose an extra round of negotiation between the electors of Wales and the financial resources of the United Kingdom, and in so doing to say that they are bringing them closer to the centre. In truth, they are pushing them, ever so politely and guilefully, a few miles further out into the Irish Sea, and all the time growing red in the face with the exertion of accusing us, the Tory Party, of insulting the Welsh people: "Don't you trust the Welsh people?" they keep asking us. Of course we trust the Welsh people, but we are an Opposition Party and we have been in opposition, perhaps, for too many years. The one thing that we have learned in opposition is that what you cannot trust is government—in any shape and in any place—and that includes a brand new government set up in Cardiff at great expense.
It is against that threat that we seek to put the Welsh people on guard. That is what noble Lords opposite cannot abide to be told as they try to heave us over Saint David's Head—that it is we, and not they, who have the true interests of Wales at heart. We are prepared to suffer their endless accusations, in Parliament and in the Press, in the knowledge that if we do not stand up for the Welsh people nobody else will do so. Reference to the Division lists and to the list of speakers in these debates will produce significant silences and absences from Welsh noble 1747 Lords opposite who have expressed, by saying nothing, more clearly than I can in speech what they think about the future for Wales.
We have spent nine days of Parliamentary time upon this Bill. I believe that it will turn out to be a nine day wonder—to be apprehended with astonishment, examined with curiosity and forgotten with relief. Perhaps the Welsh would describe that differently—perhaps like R. Williams Parry in his poem to the Fox, Y Llwynog. They will say that it is:Megis Seren Wib" —like a shooting star, a sudden light, that as suddenly fails and can portend good fortune or ill. But let me and let my Party not be misunderstood as to this. If the Welsh freely decide in a referendum that they wish to take this new yoke upon their backs, if they freely decide that it is worth the price to be paid—that the extra 11,500 civil servants and the extra £12.5 million on the United Kingdom Exchequer are inevitable and additional burdens that they ought to carry—if that is their judgment, far be it from us to gainsay them. Once the Assembly is there, unwise as we think they would be to accept it, then the English people and the United Kingdom Parliament must do everything in their power to strengthen the bonds of friendship, patriotism and loyalty which have for so long united us.
To the Welsh, this should come as no surprise. We are, after all, the Party that first appointed a Minister for Welsh Affairs; we are, after all, the Party who first appointed a full-time Minister of State for Wales; we are, after all, the Party who first introduced the Welsh Grand Committee in another place; and we are, after all, the Party who have transferred responsibility for primary and secondary education and the urban programme to the Secretary of State for Wales and away from Westminster. It is in this sort of way—by strengthening, in democratic terms, the Welsh Council—and perhaps by the creation of a Welsh Select Committee in another place, that Wales should be given a steadily clearer identity, with assistance.
Finally, before the cries of noble Lords opposite become too blatantly Welsh for us to resist a reply, may I thank my noble friends not only for their tireless assistance 1748 in the Division Lobbies late at night but also for sitting through the gentler passages of my own delivery, which may well be described, although I hope they will not be, as the calm before the yawn. I trust that they will have the gratification that I have. I believe that thanks are due not only from me but eventually also from the Welsh people for what my noble friends have done in this House. With those thanks, there is no phrase with which to end a speech like this. I cannot do it in Welsh. However, it is not, "Goodbye" to the Wales Bill, because it will come back to us. It is, "Au revoir".
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, I sat through that—I do not know how! It reminded me of when I was a boy at the Methodist chapel in Cardigan. At great moments, when the preacher had got the hwyl and the roof and the rafters were doing a swirl with the oratorical Welsh arpeggios, they would say:Y mae duw yn agosai"—God is present. I thought that the destiny of mankind depended upon the magnificent work of the noble Lord, Lord Elton! I must pay a tribute to the noble Lord, It was absolutely magnificent, boyo!A thymelwynt tachwedd yn siglo'r ty".The winds of November were shaking the roof of the Chamber.
To cut out all the joking, may I pay a tribute to the hard work—sincere work, in many cases—which has been done by the Party opposite. In truth, the Bill has been improved. But let us respect the fact that there are not so many Welshmen on this side of the Chamber as there are Scotsmen and Anglo-Saxons on that side. Those of us who have worked upon the Bill have enjoyed listening to the speeches and will nobly, and without any political venom, pay tribute to the constructive Amendments put into the Bill by the Opposition.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
My Lords, it is with great diffidence that I find myself in a position where such hwyl has been aroused by an Englishman on one side and a Welshman on the other side, and I am here to produce some little damping of that hwyl. When I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in that 1749 wonderful speech in which he was almost singing at the end, I felt like Harry Secombe who, when an Englishman spoke something like that—and especially a Conservative Englishman—said he thought that at last the Conservative landlords were marching towards Wales once again.
One of the most significant things that I remember in this debate occurred when the question of Welsh history was raised and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was sitting on the Front Bench. When the distinguished Conservative Peer, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned Welsh history, a glint came into th1e eyes of the noble and learned Lord. Of course, that glint indicated that he was not always quite so courteous and harmonious in his addresses outside the House as he has been in this House, and I thought that was the opportunity for the Welsh history to come forth, but the noble and learned Lord merely passed it by and saidIf the noble Lord wishes to know something about Welsh history, I will help him".I may be biased in making these observations and appearing to be supporting the Liberal Party from the rather stupid and absurd attacks that have been made upon it by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I apologise for using such adjectives on this happy occasion. Like many Welshmen in this place, I may be prejudiced when listening to these arguments and to the Conservative Amendments. My grandfather was thrown out of his farm in Wales because the Conservative landlord found out that he had voted Liberal, but in fact that Conservative landlord did my grandfather and his family quite a lot of good. As a young farmer trying to tear a living out of the land of Carmarthenshire he moved by cart—we have a special type of cart in Wales called a gambo—and the family took their pathetic little belongings from this little farm and crossed the rivers into Cardiganshire. But like all Welshrnen, we never foster or remember grievances and my grandfather said," This Conservative landlord did me a good turn because the farm which I was able to get in Cardiganshire was far better land than I was messing about with in Carmarthenshire."
Well, ladies and gentlemen—
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
My Lords, I suppose it was inevitable that I should address your Lordships in the way that no doubt I shall be addressing countless hundreds of people who will come to listen to the Liberal speakers who will be going round the Welsh countryside and even the English countryside; but nevertheless I apologise for referring to noble Lords in those terms, so rashly and indiscreetly.
I should like to thank those noble Lords on both sides of this House (if I may be serious for a moment) who have helped to attach to this Bill the important concept of elections using a form of proportional representation. There was a large majority in favour of proportional representation, and I should like to make a special plea from your Lordships' House to those in the other place who will soon be considering your Lordships' Amendments to this Bill. I ask them to consider carefully the special position of Wales and the Welsh Assembly in relation to the proposals to introduce PR in the context of a Welsh Assembly.
The Welsh Assembly is totally different from the proposed Assembly in Scotland and, of course, from the Parliament of Westminster. And it is essential to distinguish sharply the differences between the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill. The Wales Bill can only deal with a limited number of Welsh domestic matters in a limited way. Indeed, if I may return to the words of one of the most eminent Welshmen of this century, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, in the early stages of the debate on this Bill he said—and I quote his exact words—"This rather modest Bill …". If I may therefore presume to paraphrase, without distorting the meaning of other elegant passages in his speech, he pointed out that this Bill produced no major upheaval; there was no cause for alarm, suspicion or fear—or even for the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I beg your Lordships' pardon—that was not included in the noble and learned Lord's speech. The Bill preserved the unity of the United Kingdom and ensured that special heed would in future be paid to the welfare of the people of Wales by the first elected Assembly Wales has ever had.
My Lords, my speech has become somewhat confused as a result of the hwyl, but 1751 there is one merit that this Bill has above all others, in spite of its imperfections. It gives the people of Wales the greatest opportunity they have had for centuries of having an elected body to speak for them. Of course, there will be difficulties to be overcome in making a constitutional change of this kind, but it is far better for Wales that this Bill be passed than not to have a Bill at all. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, I should like to urge upon your Lordships that it is the elected representatives of the Welsh Assembly rather than the Ministers of the Crown at Westminster who best know the needs of the people of Wales in those domestic fields which this Bill covers. I commend this Bill to your Lordships.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Lord MORRIS of BORTH-Y-GEST
My Lords, the occasion of the passing of this Bill is one on which in your Lordships' House, with all the civilities and the wit than can mark your Lordships' highly civilised debates, it is fitting to pause just for a moment to consider what we are doing and what we have done in the recent stages of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, complimented me very much by referring to something that I had previously said. I still think it was right that we should regard this measure as indeed a modest one, with very limited and restricted application.
The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has reminded us—and I think he did us a great service in so doing—that the Welsh Assembly will not possess any legislative powers in any real sense of the term. In Wales we have had a Welsh Office only in the last few years, I think since 1964. Only in the last few years have we had a Secretary of State. At first the Minister of State looking after the affairs of Wales was generally the Home Secretary—and the Home Secretaries, as I have acknowledged before, contributed materially to the well-being of Wales. I am thinking particularly of the late Lord Kilmuir, and of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. They rendered invaluable service.
But the machinery of government in recent years has become ever more complicated and far-reaching. In recent years 1752 there has been a process of administrative devolution and under this Bill decision-making, instead of piling up on the desk of the Secretary of State, can be brought closer to the people most affected by the decisions.
On a Second Reading debate in your Lordships' House your Lordships can give general expressions of opinion as to whether a Bill is to be commended or not. Of course, we did not have a vote in your Lordships' House on the Second Reading, but we heard the speeches of many noble Lords. Some were in favour of the Bill; some were against it, but felt that as it had received the approbation of another place, the elected Chamber in our Constitution, the Bill ought not to be opposed, but as much as possible should be done to improve its content. But I did note that many noble Lords expressed the view that the measure might endanger the unity of the United Kingdom. I am sure it was absolutely right for noble Lords who felt that to give expression to that view. It is something that your Lordships have to have in mind. I can only express my own personal view, which is that the fears expressed by those noble Lords are groundless. I am sure that the over whelming mass of the Welsh people would not wish to loosen the ties which hind us together within and for the great benefit of the United Kingdom and of its constituent parts.
Since Second Reading we have had Committee stage and Report stage, and I am left with two major impressions. The first is of great admiration for those who over months and years must have been concerned in drafting this Bill. It was a mammoth task going through the Statute Book and deciding what to put in the Bill. The other impression with which I am left is of the great skill shown in your Lordships' House, on the one side by the Ministers of the Crown and on the other side by very many noble Lords who spent a great deal of labour, who devoted their skill to examining the interstices of legislation and then bringing forth proposals for your Lordships' consideration. I have intense admiration for those on both sides of the House. I think the noble Lord, Lord Elton, as he has been leading for the Opposition side, and many other noble Lords, deserve your Lordships' gratitude for what they have done. In the nature of things, it was not possible 1753 for most of us to go into the particular detail that was involved in almost every one of the Amendments. There were some Amendments which concerned the question as to whether the newly created Assembly should be left to decide various questions which an Assembly might be expected itself to decide, or whether they should be mostly settled in advance.
At first some of your Lordships thought that from the Opposition side a certain mistrust of the Welsh people was being shown. But, happily, that can now go out of our consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, most definitely and most generously has assured us that there is in no sense any mistrust of those who are likely to be Members of the Welsh Assembly. Of course, I accept all that the noble Lord has said, and all your Lordships will also do so. But we did have a good many excursions into the Division Lobby. I wondered once or twice why, but I think the explanation must have been that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, had concern for our health and thought that from time to time we ought to wander into the Division Lobbies and so have a little exercise.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, on the Second Reading expressed himself, I think, quite firmly in favour of the principle of this Bill. May I remind your Lordships of what he said:The avowed aim of this Bill is to bring control of the Government of Wales more closely into the hands of the Welsh nation, and in this we have no quarrel with the Government whatever. We are absolutely at one with them. We believe in a louder and more effective Welsh voice in deciding how Wales should be run".—[Official Report, 23/5/78; col. 840.]They are very splendid words, and I think we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for expressing himself so clearly. He went on in his speech to pay tribute to the distinct and separate nation with a distinct, separate, proud and very long national tradition. But then at the end of his speech he said:This Bill creates an Assembly ill-suited to express the aspirations, or direct the affairsof what he calleda proud, loyal and talented nation".—[col. 846.]I was sorry that the noble Lord rather slipped away at the end of his speech from the great sentiment which I am sure he meant to express in favour of the principle of this Bill.
1754 As I sit down, may I repeat that I for my part have no fear that the unity of the United Kingdom will be in any way imperilled if this Bill becomes an Act and if later the Welsh people decide that they would like to put it into operation. I have spoken as a Welshman and one who is very proud to acknowledge that he is a Welshman. But I have never found, and never will, that my concern for the honour and dignity of Wales, and the preservation of her traditions and separate culture, forms any bar, any let or hindrance, to my unqualified admiration of the sterling qualities of the English, the Scots and the Irish. Many of our problems are the same problems. My Lords, let nothing be said and let nothing be done which will disturb the mutual understanding upon which the unity of the United Kingdom so firmly rests and from which so many benefits flow for all our people.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord RAGLAN
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, will not be surprised that I do not agree with him. I should like to say a very great deal more about this Bill; I should like to make several more Second Reading speeches on the subject. In one sense, I think I could say that I have welcomed both this Bill and the Scotland Bill, but only because they have made us think and talk about the rise of Scottish and Welsh nationalism and ponder why it has manifested itself. It is a great pity, I believe, that it has taken a whole Royal Commission and two Bills to make us even start to talk about it, and I do not believe that, even if this Bill is defeated on the referendum, it will be nearly the last that we will hear of Welsh nationalism or the last talk there will be of devolution. It still happens that there are people whom I meet and talk to about Welsh nationalism who act as though they feel they ought to make some obeisance to it, but at the same time rather wish that it was not there, although they cannot say why. It seems to me that there is something of this uncertain approach in the very use of the word "devolution".
The Government having been persuaded that it was desirable to provide national Parliaments for Scotland and Wales, someone looked around for a rationalisation for what was happening: "Devolution", that is what we shall call it; we 1755 know that everyone is in favour of that". Indeed, supporters of these proposals have got a lot of mileage out of that word. But when one examines the proposals—I am not saying that in the circumstances the Government could have done much better than they have—one can see that they do not provide what most people mean by "devolution". I agree that one might fairly claim with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, and my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, that the Bill would bring Government closer to the people. However, whether that is desirable depends on what kind of government is being brought closer. The Bill sets up a body which would be so placed that it could and would practice the maximum interference and hindrance to local authorities. As local authorities are already complaining that the central Government—far away though it is supposed to be—interferes too much already anyway, one must say that the Bill would bring the wrong kind of Government closer and that its effect would be anti-devolutionary.
I have noticed that the London Welsh have been fairly vocal in support of the Bill—and the Guidford Welsh too! They are being sentimental and for that I forgive them—I think. I had a noble friend, who is now dead, but who 10 years ago brought a Bill to set up some kind of Welsh Parliament. I used to pull his leg because although he was so ardent about it all, he lived contentedly in W.8. I would not mind expatriates who indulge in flights of fancy, except that some people who are not familiar with Wales might believe them.
I heard the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, on the first day of the Committee stage refer to Wales as "a little community". I think that he must have been tutoring a nice lady who came to stay with us the other day from Oxford—90 miles distant—who declared that she was so looking forward to coming to Wales as she had always wanted to go to Portmeirion. It was with difficulty that I persuaded her that it would be as near for her to go to London; that actually it would be quicker for her to go to Penzance; and, when all was said and done, did she realise that Cardff is as close to Wrexham as Bath is to Bedford?
1756 Wales may be many things but it is not a little community. There is a multiplicity of communities stretched miles from each other divided by hills and rivers. They have different cultures and traditions and different social and economic foci often outside the Border itself. Neither is Wales a locality any more than one could say, for instance, that Gloucester and Chester can, by any stretch of the imagination be called local to each other.
Now, if one were to look around for any one thing upon which the inhabitants of Wales were agreed, it is that North and South do not agree on much. Indeed, the disparity between them is a kind of standing joke. I think that the inhabitants of North and South Wales are trying to tell us something if only we had ears to hear; that is, that North and South have, in reality, little community of interest. They are trying to tell us that the reality of their separation is different from the myth of their unity. So there is a second reason why the Bill would be counter-devolutionary in practice. Not only would power be taken away from the local authorities which, after all, are the government which is nearest to the people, but behind the Bill is the idea that communities which in history and by tradition and by the plain facts of distance and topography are apart in culture and outlook, should be pulled together into an artificial whole.
We are being asked to accept either what I would call the "London Welsh concept"—that is, that this disparate land is already one community which needs this Bill to give political expression to a unity which already exists—or we are being asked to accept the nationalist concept that the Bill is necessary to bring unity to people who in theory ought to be unified. Perhaps we are being asked to accept both, I do not know; but those two hypotheses exist uneasily side by side. They are mutually contradictory; they are equally mistaken, and both, if put into practice through the Bill, would have the effect of reducing local autonomy.
The first theory that Wales is a unified country does not conform to the facts and the second—if I hunt around for something nice to say about it—does not belong to true politics but to the realm of romantic antiquarianism. Of all the 1757 curious and irrelevant things upon which to base a political creed, the nationalist case is, I think, the most wonderful. They take a fictitious line on a map—that is how my noble friend Lord Energlyn so aptly described it—which was marked out by some 16th century administrators. They populate one side of the area with medieval heroes. They call the people on one side of it a different race and declare that history intended that land to be a self-governing nation. If this nationalism were just romance, perhaps it would not matter. But, unfortunately, we must not forget that this nationalism does not differ in essence or in sentiment from the beliefs which have caused the most terrible wars during the last century or more, during the time in which this creed has been fashionable. It turns brother against brother. It breeds hatred and venom, and it encourages intolerance of those who would live and let live.
We should not be led astray by the word "devolution" when used in association with the Bill. Whatever my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor avows is the purpose of the Bill, its effect would not be to increase but to decrease local control of affairs and to strengthen Welsh nationalism and we would all suffer a great deal of harm if it ever became law.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.