§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Sir ROBERT THOMAS
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I am sorry to have to rise at this late hour of the afternoon to deal with such an important Measure as this, but I shall endeavour to be as brief as possible, as there are many Members from the four countries that are anxious to speak. This Bill is the outcome of a very strong desire in Wales that that little country should be created a separate entity. We feel that we are not to-day in that position that a great though little country ought to be: in fact we feel, according to the law of the land, we are no better situated than an English county. We hope before very long that when legislation comes to be considered, Wales may be considered from her own particular point of view. That can only be done by creating her a separate entity.
We started this movement in a very humble way. I had the honour of introducing to this House last year the Secretary for Wales Bill. This met with very little support, particularly from the Government. I think I am not disclosing I any secret in saying that our great fellow countryman the Prime Minister advised us to drop that Bill and go in for a scheme of devolution. The result was that a Committee of the Welsh Parliamentary party was brought into existence. We had as Chairman of that Committee our very able and distinguished countryman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education (Mr. Herbert Lewis). The Committee worked, hard, and as a-result came to the conclusion that the only possible scheme was one based upon the Report of the Speakers' Conference on Devolution, and the Parliamentary Relief Bill of 1921, introduced by the right hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Murray Mac-donald) was backed by two prominent members of the Unionist party, of the Coalition Liberals, the Independent Liberals, and the Labour party. One Unionist and one Coalition Liberal represented Wales and one Unionist and one Coalition Liberal represented Scotland. The Welsh Committee came to the conclusion that this Bill, based as it is upon the Speaker's Conference and the Parliamentary Relief Bill, could really be 930 described as an agreed Bill, and certainly not as a controversial Bill. Moreover, I am pleased to be able to say that a Committee of the Welsh Parliamentary party and a Committee of the Scottish Parliamentary party have met, and both are unanimously agreed upon this Bill as being applicable to both countries, with the exception of the Judiciary in the case of Scotland, and when the turn of Scotland comes they will introduce a Bill in the same terms that I am proposing. We certainly hope to obtain the support of the Government for this practically agreed Measure.
You can divide this Bill into three parts. In the first place, the powers to be granted; secondly, the financial relations between the Imperial Parliament and the Welsh Legislature; and, thirdly, the constitution of the Welsh Legislature. The powers granted are legislative and administrative powers in all matters connected with local government, public health, including housing and national health insurance, liquor licensing, order and good government, including the administration of the police force, prisons and reformatories, the Poor Law, land and agriculture, including land tenure, commons, and enclosures, the game laws, projects for drainage and improvements, and public education in all its forms. Those are the powers granted under the Bill.
Those excluded are the Crown and matters relating thereto, the making of peace or war or matters arising from a state of war; the Navy; the Army; the Air Force; foreign and colonial relations, dignities or titles of honour, treason, felony, alienage; aerial navigation; lighthouses; buoys or beacons; currency; standard of weights and measures; trade marks; designs; merchandise marks; companies, including insurance and banking companies; railways and canals; the regulation of trade; banking and commercial law; industrial legislation and marriage law and divorce.
As regards finance the Bill is based upon the Report of the Committee on financial relations of the Speaker's Conference, presided over by Lord Chalmers. We do not ask for any more money from the Exchequer than is provided for at the present time. All we ask for is executive power in Wales on the basis of the grants we obtain from the Imperial Parliament at the present time. If, after 931 the Welsh Parliament is brought into existence, we go in for luxuries or things which we do not possess now, then the Welsh Parliament will have to find the money. In this Bill we do not ask for any more money than the grants which are given for Welsh services at the present time. All we are asking is that you should set us going in the same manner as you are setting up the Irish Free State. Of course, we expect the Imperial Parliament to find us buildings.
The Bill provides that the Lower Chamber shall consist of two representatives for every Parliamentary constituency in Wales. It will contain 72 Members in all, elected upon the existing Parliamentary franchise. The Upper Chamber shall consist of two representatives to be elected by the council of each county and county borough in Wales and two by the University of Wales. Under this proposal, Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire will receive 44 Members in the Lower Chamber, the 11 remaining counties 26, and the University two. In the Upper Chamber, Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire receive 12, the others 22, and the Universities two. The Bill further provides that the Members of the Upper Chamber shall be elected for six years and that one-third of their number shall retire every second year. I have dealt, very briefly, with the terms of the Bill, and, as time is so short, I will just make one appeal to the House that this Bill may have their approval. May I refer to the case of Ireland? There are those who believe that, if this reasonable Measure of self-government had been granted to Ireland years ago, Ireland today would be one of the strongest branches of the British family instead of being in the state of chaos in which that country unfortunately finds itself. I do hope, now that Wales asks for this moderate form of self-government, that it will not be denied to her. There is no doubt that there are some in Wales to-day who would go as far as the Irish people have gone. There are many who would ask for a Free State system of government in Wales to-day. This Bill asks for nothing of the sort. It simply asks for the management of our domestic affairs, and I hope that, while there is time and while Wales is in the frame of mind to accept this moderate form, the House will grant 932 this to her, and not cause dissatisfaction to a country which at all events can claim to have been loyal throughout the years, and particularly during the War.
§ Mr. HAYDN JONES
I beg to second the Motion.
I do not think it will be denied by any Member of this House that there is a real desire for a scheme of devolution for the Kingdom. I should have preferred if the Government had introduced a scheme of devolution for the whole of the Kingdom, but Wales is ripe for devolution, and, seeing that there is no prospect of the Government introducing a Measure of that kind, the Welsh Members have set themselves the task of framing a Measure, and the Bill introduced to-day is that Measure. I have seen it described in the Press as a gesture and that it is not intended to become law, but that the promoters are only introducing it practically as electioneering tactics. I, for one, am not supporting it on that ground at all. I am supporting it because I believe that Wales is ripe for devolution, that it is better adapted to manage its own affairs than we are here, and that it should be given the powers to manage its own affairs within its own land. The Bill is a very harmless little Measure, too harmless in the opinion of many. It does not go far enough for some of my colleagues, and I will not conceal from the House that some of them believe that the Bill, such as it is, ought not to be passed because it does not go far enough. On the other hand, I appeal to the House to pass this harmless Measure, as a first instalment, at any rate. It can be added to and made more effective if the House thinks fit. All Imperial matters are reserved without doubt to the Imperial Parliament, and purely local matters are delegated to the local legislature. There is one point to which I would call attention. With regard to the local legislature, we set up the bi-cameral system. We do that in order to allay a wrong impression in North Wales which does exist, that if local government were given in the ordinary way, on the basis of population or on the basis of assessable value, two counties in Wales—Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire—would swamp the whole of Wales—that industrial Wales would swamp agricultural Wales. The bi-cameral system is introduced in order to allay that misapprehension. I feel like my hon. Friend who introduced this 933 Measure, that it is one that is long past due and that the House ought to give it a Second Heading and refer it to a Committee in order that it may be improved, if necessary, or perfected in any case. I feel very strongly that Wales needs a Measure of this kind, and, without taking up any more of the short time at the disposal of the House, I will content myself with seconding the Motion.
§ Brigadier-General Sir OWEN THOMAS
I rise to oppose this Bill because I feel, and honestly believe, that the Welsh people do not want or desire it at the present time. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not a member of a political party in this House or outside, but still I believe I represent a very large majority in my own constituency of people who have an idea that this Bill is not required at this time. I think I may venture to say the bulk of the Welsh people are not asking for this Measure. It is not my intention to criticise the Measure in any way. My contention is that it is not required by the Principality. Any Member who likes to compare this Bill with the Home Rule Act passed in 1914 will see that the wording of this Bill is identical with the wording of that Act, but I hope and believe the House will agree with me that Wales and Ireland cannot possibly be compared. I assure the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Second Reading of this Bill that no discourtesy is meant or intended when I say I think they were a trifle over-serious in the eloquent speeches they made. This Measure, to a very great extent, has a humorous side to it.
I should like to draw the attention of hon. Members who are interested in this matter to a very important conference which was held at Shrewsbury on or about the 1st April of this year. This conference was convened on behalf of the Welsh National Parliamentary party, and invitations were sent out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Wales (Mr. Herbert Lewis) and by the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hugh Edwards). They were sent to every county council, borough council, urban district council and rural district council throughout the whole of the Principality. Naturally, self-government for Wales is a very important question there, and one would have expected to see a representative at this conference from every district 934 in Wales. But what happened? There were eight Welsh Members of Parliament, and there were 40 rank and file, and I would guarantee that of those 40 more than half strongly opposed it, and not in ordinary language, but in very strong language. [HON. MEMBERS: "Welsh?"] Well, a very strong, expressive language. It is said with some truth that we in North Wales fear the domination of Glamorganshire, which has a population, I suppose, equal to the whole of the rest of Wales. The Glamorganshire County Council, like other county councils, received an invitation to the conference at Shrewsbury, but the extraordinary feature of the situation is that Glamorganshire never sent a representative there, and, in fact, refused to do so, as I understand, so that the biggest county in Wales was not officially represented. At Shrewsbury this Bill was discussed by various people, among them Mr. Walter Jones, the clerk of the Anglesey County Council, one of our ablest men in Wales, who simply riddled the financial provisions of the Bill, and I see no answer to his criticisms. I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth, who seconded the Motion, if he was present at that conference at Shrewsbury?
§ Mr. HAYDN JONES
I was not present. I did not receive the invitation until the Conference had been held.
§ Sir O. THOMAS
If my hon. Friend was not present, I should like to ask him whether he is aware that the Merionethshire County Council sent one of their ablest councillors to represent them at the Shrewsbury Conference, and in what language he denounced the Bill?
§ Mr. JONES
I understand that the Merionethshire County Council did send a representative. I do not know in what kind of language he spoke, but I do know that at a subsequent meeting of the County Council, at which I was present, the member who had represented the County Council was asked why he expressed his opinion in the terms that he did.
§ Sir O. THOMAS
At any rate he did not support this Bill. Then what about Montgomeryshire? Did they send a representative? No, they actually refused. What about all the county councils in Wales? I should have thought the Mover and Seconder of the Bill would have given us some proof+ 935 that it was required and resolutions in its favour would have been passed by county, borough, and parish councils and political associations. They come here on their own. I should have thought, after their experience at Shrewsbury, they would not have dared to come and take up the time of the House. I am not against devolution. I am very much in favour of it, but not on the lines proposed in this Bill. We have our county councils which have been established in England and Wales for the last 35 years. They have been established on solid ground and I should like to see them get extended powers. They are capable of greater responsibility now. I should like to challenge the Welsh Members who are supporting this Bill to give the House a proof that the people in Wales want it.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
That challenge ought to be replied to. Wales is distinctly Liberal. At the Welsh Liberal Federation at Llandudno 18 months ago a resolution was unanimously passed in favour of Home Rule by representatives from all parts of Wales.
§ Sir O. THOMAS
There is something in that, but I want some proof. The latest thing of all is this Conference at Shrewsbury. Where were the representatives of Wales when they had been invited and urged to be present? I would not go half a mile to hear the Bill discussed. I appeal to the House to save us from our friends in the Principality.
Mr. HUGH EDWARDS
I am sure it must be a revelation to this House to find a Welsh Member speaking so energetically against a Measure which concerns the Welsh people. I should not have been at all surprised if the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) had delivered that speech. It would have been appropriate from his lips, but it is very incongruous on the part of a Welsh representative. [An HON. MEMBER: "We are not all fools!"] For that very reason. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is not a member of any political party. He is a law unto himself. He is the leader of his own party and has his own programme, and he certainly speaks only for himself. His own county council was officially represented at the Shrewsbury conference and the criticisms which were made by its representatives were directed, not against 936 the principle of the Bill, but against some minor provisions. They were all in favour of the principle. I think my hon. Friend is opposed to the principle. He is in favour of devolution, but still he is opposed to this small instalment of devolution in this Bill.
This Bill is based on a two-fold ground. In the first place, it is based on the inalienable right of a responsible and free people to manage its own domestic affairs. Whatever may be the determining principle that decides the question of nationality, whether it be race, or territory, or common language, or community of sentiment and tradition, no one would dare to deny the right of Wales to call herself a nation. Even Scottish Members, whose nationality has never been called into question by Englishmen, would admit that we have all the qualities, with a few more, that make a nation. Perhaps I ought to say a few more virtues. Wales is not a geographical expression. I would impress upon Members that the recognition of a component nationality is not inconsistent with Imperial unity. To be Welsh is not to be anti-English. It is not by the recognition of nationality within the Empire, but by the suppression of it, that the integrity of the Empire is menaced. Loyalty is fostered by liberty. My hon. Friend who moved the Second Heading has pointed out that this House has already given to Ireland the right of self-government—
after a delay of nearly 50 years. It is a sad reflection that for nearly 50 years the Irish Nationalist party, depending upon constitutional means, failed to secure the right of their country to self-government, but when a body arose in Ireland and resorted to physical force, revolution and crime, the two Houses of Parliament gave to Ireland a great measure of self-government. This House has put a premium upon revolution. Wales, one of the most loyal parts of the British Empire, in proportion to its population, gave a higher percentage, of men in the War than any portion of the Empire. We are asking for an extremely small thing, and now we are in danger of losing it. When my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for 937 Anglesey (Sir Owen Thomas) referred to the Shrewsbury Conference he forgot that there was another Shrewsbury Conference.
When the Commission was set up, presided over by the late Speaker, we convened a conference of local authorities in Wales. Every county was represented, every borough, and the urban and rural councils. They felt that this question was so big that it was the duty of the Government to bring in a Bill, and the reason why so many councils were absent from the Shrewsbury Conference was simply and solely because they felt that this ought not to be a Private Member's Bill. If the Government will bring in a Bill we will take it, but we are not prepared to wait for all time. We have brought in this Bill because the Government have not moved in the matter, but we will drop our Bill now if the Home Secretary will give us a guarantee that this Measure of self-government will be conceded to us. This Bill is also brought forward on grounds of utilitarianism. No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that the business of this House has become congested.
He certainly adds to the congestion. The congestion of business under the present system is making the House of Commons, as Mr. Gladstone once said, a subject of ridicule and of offence. Prior to the War I find that 40 per cent, of the Bills passed through this House were of a provincial and parochial character. I remember well on one occasion that there was an important Debate dealing with the finances of India. At a quarter past eight the question came on for discussion whether the purely suburban district of Parley should be incorporated in the borough of Croydon. For the rest of the evening a Debate affecting 300,000,000 people in India was set aside and the House was occupied in discussing whether the district of Purley should be incorporated in Croydon. The thing is absurd. Here is the central assembly of the greatest Empire which the world has ever known reduced to the ignominy of having to discuss these parochial matters. In spite of what the hon. 938 Member has said I assure the House that most of the Welsh Members are in favour of the principle of the Bill, and so are all the Welsh constituencies. This Bill simply seeks to confer upon Wales the right to manage her own affairs, to develop her own national life upon lines in harmony with her own peculiar genius, to set up on Welsh soil a Parliament which should be the emblem of her entity, the visible symbol of her unity, the radiating centre of her distinctive interests and the pledge of her destiny in the comity of nations which compose this Empire.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The eloquence with which the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hugh Edwards) has addressed the House has given me greater reason than I had before for opposing this Bill, because I should be extremely sorry to think that, if this Bill becomes law, the eloquence which has so delighted the House during the last four or five minutes should be transferred to another assembly.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Gentleman has rather interrupted the thread of my argument. Have the promoters of the Bill made any provision whereby Welsh Members should attend to their own business in whatever town in Wales they should sit for?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I was under the impression that it would be a natural sequence to the establishment of a Parliament in Wales that Welsh Members would be removed from this House. If we could have the advantage of parting with some of the Members from Wales who sit in this House, I was wondering whether, on the whole, it would not be better to consent to the passing of this Bill. As we are not to have that advantage, it is vitally necessary, in the interests of this country, that we oppose the Bill. In the first place I would like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Anglesea (Sir O. Thomas) upon the very sensible and eloquent speech he made. I regret that he did not move the rejection of the Bill, for I should then have had the pleasure of seconding the Amendment. I congratulate him upon his courage and public spirit. There appear to have been con- 939 ferences at Shrewsbury. Why on earth did Wales come to Shrewsbury?
§ General Sir IVOR PHILIPPS
Because the railway systems are so bad in Wales that Shrewsbury is the only central place available for meeting.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill said that Wales was no better than an English county. But is it as good?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I see now what the hon. Member means—that the law which applies to an English county applies also to Wales. All right. Let us assume that. Surely if the law which applies to an English county is good enough for England, it is good enough also for Wales? It may not be sufficiently severe for Wales, for people who probably require stronger measures than the English, who are a law-abiding people. The hon. Member for Neath was perfectly right when he said that Ireland had never gained anything by constitutional methods. He said that for 50 years Ireland had endeavoured to get self-government by constitutional methods and the moment she departed from constitutional methods and became violent, then she gained what she wanted. That is quite true—to the shame of England. But because we have been wrong on one occasion, that is no reason why we should be wrong on another occasion. On the contrary we should learn from the mistakes we have made not to commit them again. I am very glad to see that on the Treasury Bench there are seven Members of the Government. We do not often see so many, even on an ordinary day, but fortunately on this particular Friday afternoon, though it is very nearly at the close of the Sitting, we are blessed with their presence and I hope they will note of what has been said by the hon. Member for Neath. As far as I can make out there appear to have been several conferences held at Shrewsbury. I asked the date and one hon. Member told me it was 1919; another said it was 1920 and still another said it was 1921. I am in 940 doubt as to which was the conference referred to.
In order that the right hon. Gentleman may have it properly, the date is June, 1919, when all the county councils were represented and unanimously passed a resolution in favour of the principle of this Bill.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WATTS MORGAN
Yes, and they got sick and tired of the vacillation of hon. Members like the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Then there was another meeting besides the meeting in 1919; and notwithstanding those meetings, which apparently were unanimous, there is a little difference between hon. Members here to-day. One hon. Member seems to think that at least one of the meetings came to the conclusion to support the Bill and another thinks other wise—
§ Sir F. BANBURY
However that may be, I do not pursue the matter further than to say that there are some who certainly do not agree with the Bill. [Interruption.] An hon. Member says the Bill was agreed upon. Well, if there is one thing I dislike in this House it is an agreed Bill. It is generally a bad one.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
It is generally an agreement between certain people who want something which they cannot get in any other way, and who induce other people to surrender something, and then they come to the House and say it is an agreed Bill. The result of its being an agreed Bill is, that when an hon. Member in Committee moves an Amendment—an hon. Member who is not one of the select people who made the Bill an agreed Bill—he is met with the fact that it is an agreed Bill. Agreed where? Outside this House. Between whom has the Bill been agreed?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
A Welsh Parliamentary Committee met a Scottish Parliamentary Committee, and they agreed to something, but to what did they agree? Scotland was bought. The support of Scotland was obtained on the understanding that Wales would support a similar Scottish Bill.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
There was no understanding. I think I can explain what was the object of that joint meeting. It was that if we had not time to pass respective Bills for Scotland and Wales, we should ask the Government to give us two days to discuss the matter and try to arrive at an arrangement whereby we could both introduce the same Bill and we came to a unanimous understanding.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
It is exactly what I said, and in fact it is worse than I thought. They agreed not only to support each other's Bills, but if they could not get each other's Bills through Parliament, they were going, with the joint forces of Wales and Scotland, to say, "We will have two days for a joint Bill." [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I am narrating a fact. That is what they did.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I said nothing about a corrupt bargain.[HON.MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] I shall certainly not withdraw, because I said nothing to withdraw. As to this bargain, where does I England come in? All these Bills seem to leave England out of the question. One of the provisions of the Bill enacts that while Wales is to govern itself, and at the same time send Members here—
§ Sir R. THOMAS rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his consent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The unfortunate tax payer in England will contribute a considerable sum of money to Wales. [An HON. MEMBER: "So will Scotland!"] Yes, but they will get it back from Eng land. The English taxpayer will have to find money which has been found up to the present time in Wales, but will receive nothing back from Wales, and in addition to that—
§ It being Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 19th May.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock till Monday (1st May).