§ Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Could you explain to the Committee why you thought in your wisdom that it would be right not to select any amendments to Clause 1? You will recall that there were a number of amendments to Clause 1 of the Scotland Bill. A number of amendments to Clause 1 of this Bill are similar to those that were selected on that occasion. The amendments in the names of myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends are identical. Could you possibly consider whether you could and should select them?
§ The Chairman
I thank the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) for raising that point of order. Perhaps I can clear the matter up by saying that what is appropriate at one time is not necessarily appropriate at another. On the other hand, I must confine myself to the general principle that no particular explanation need be given for non-selection. That is entirely in the hands of the Chair. What I can say in addition is that if any right hon. and hon. Members desire to discuss any matter which appears upon the Amendment Paper relating to Clause 1 they will have the opportunity to debate it on the motion, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Of course we accept that the selection of amendments is entirely in the hands of the Chair, but I believe that the House generally assumes that the Chair will be consistent. Consistency is not always a virtue. Sometimes there can be 468 reasons for politicians changing their minds, even if they are in the Chair. However, exactly the same constitutional point arose on the Scotland Bill and the amendments were selected. The same point arises on the Wales Bill and the amendments are not selected. Naturally we feel puzzled.
It may be out of order to press you. Mr Murton, to state your reasons for selection on the Scotland Bill and non-selection on this Bill but it is only right and fair to the Committee that I should point out that if similar circumstances arise again we shall at least be equally puzzled.
§ The Chairman
I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) will not be too puzzled. Although there is a similarity between this Bill and another which was discussed recently, this is a separate Bill. I hope that the Committee will bear with me. I reserve to myself the right not to give an explanation for non-selection. The Committee will be able to discuss any matter which is relevant, on the motion, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. It certainly is perplexing that serious amendments have not been called to Clause 1, which is the foundation stone on which the whole edifice stands. I appreciate that we can expect no explanation, but it appeared inevitable that on St. David's Day there would be a considerable number of leeks. It is abundantly clear that some leak must have come to the Chair that the Government no longer believe in Clause 1 and that they accept the verdict of the House that the Bill does not do what it claims to do—namely, retain the unity of the United Kingdom.
Without appearing to be importunate, I suggest that it would be wrong if the impression existed either in the House or in the Principality that the Government can manipulate the Chair so that amendments are not called. The Government have funked the issue in that respect. Even if I am mistaken, undoubtedly that implication will be believed in many quarters.
With great respect, Mr. Murton, I invite you to explain to the Committee on this occasion—as the Chair often does—how this has come about and how on this 469 important clause amendments have suddenly vanished.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. As I understand the position the Government will not be moving that Clause 1 be accepted. I understand that there is no need to have a long discussion on amendments but that we should have a brief discussion on the clause as a whole.
I wish to raise another matter which is perhaps more important. I notice that you have not selected amendments to Clause 13. A number of hon. Members have received a communication from the Association of County Councils which states:I am writing on behalf of the Association and the Welsh Counties Committee to express the strongest support for the amendment to Clause 13 of the Bill which you and your colleagues have tabled and which is designed to ensure that the Welsh Assembly shall not review the structure of local government in Wales…the county councils in Wales are unanimous in their opposition to Clause 13.I hope that we shall have the opportunity to debate that clause and the amendments to it. I understood that you might be selecting the amendments, Mr. Murton.
§ The Chairman
I can give the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) that assurance. I have not yet proceeded that far because Clauses 11 to 14 come up for discussion on the third day, to finish by 7 o'clock on that day. There is plenty to discuss in the first two days.
I can give the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) one assurance. I hope that he will not think that I allow myself to be influenced by the Government in my decisions. I was in no way influenced. I made the decision myself and by that decision I must stand.
Since it is St. David's Day, I remind the Committee that St. David became archbishop because his voice was louder than those of the other bishops present and he was the only one who could make himself heard. I am not asking to be an archbishop but perhaps the Committee will allow me to exercise my own discretion in this matter.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. I understand that your selection of amendments to future clauses is provisional. 470 May we have your assurance that you will consider with sympathy the point raised about Clause 13 which deals with the relationship between the Assembly and the county councils? This is a matter of considerable importance and should be debated if possible.
§ Mr. Abse
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I find myself, as do my hon. Friends the Members for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) and Aberdare (Mr. Evans), in strange company as a result of having tabled Amendment No. 14. Two amendments have clearly become telescoped, as will be seen by the names appended to Amendment No. 14. My hon. Friends and I are seeking by Amendment No. 14 to reduce the figure of £32,750 per Assemblyman. Appended to the amendment are the names of those, however, who deploy the same argument but for different reasons which have led to different consequential amendments. They are seeking by way of proportional representation to increase that figure.
Considerable confusion is likely to arise because for our part the amendment has the specific goal of reduction whereas the other signatories seek an increase. In order that the position should be clear, may we have the opportunity of discussing the issues that are raised in Amendment No. 15 and Amendment No. 12 when Amendment No. 14 is discussed? May we be told that, should the need arise, we can have separate votes on Amendments Nos. 12 and 15? This difficulty has clearly arisen because of the curious telescoping of amendments which means that the various signatories to one amendment have totally different objectives.
§ The Chairman
I hope that the hon. Member for Pontypool will permit me to get this clear. Two amendments with identical wording were placed on the Order Paper, one being put down some days before the other. The reason that the names of all those who support the hon. Member for Pontypool did not appear was that only six names are chosen. All this can come out in the debate. I shall call the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) and I shall call the hon. Member for Pontypool. Each will be able to put his different point of view 471 on the amendment. I can tell the hon. Member, because this will resolve the problem, that I shall be prepared to allow a separate Division on Amendment No. 12, which would meet the hon. Gentleman's point, should the Business Motion allow.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
In order still further to remove any doubt, may I say that in the absence of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) I, if I succeed in catching your eye, Mr. Murton shall be moving the main amendment of that group which will be Amendment No. 8. I can assure the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) that Amendment No. 14 is incidental to the cause I shall be putting over, and I shall not trespass on his preserves.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. It will not have escaped your notice that the figure of St. David stands outside the portal of this place from the Central Lobby. I noticed as I came in that he was wearing a frown. I am not sure whether that was because of your non-selection of amendments to Clause 1 or because I was not wearing a daffodil. Do I understand from what you have said about Clause 1, which refers to the entire provisions of the Bill, that we shall be in order if we discuss any part of the Bill in our debate on Clause 1?
§ The Chairman
It is no wonder that St. David is frowning. The hon. Gentleman will be at liberty to discuss any point in the Bill which is germane to Clause 1, but to Clause 1 only. There will be an opportunity to discuss other clauses at a later stage.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Is it appropriate to ask, through you, the whereabouts of the Secretary of State for Wales on this important date?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Alec Jones)
I intervene only briefly and I trust for the convenience of the Committee. I had assumed that, this being St. David's Day, it would be a day of good will among all Welshmen and from all Welshmen to 472 other hon. Members. I hope to be proved right later.
Since the Government did not seek to reinstate Clause 1 of the Scotland Bill we shall not be seeking to retain Clause 1 of this Bill.
§ Mr. Pym
I can assure the Under-Secretary that for all of us on the Opposition Benches, as no doubt for the whole Committee, this is a day of good will. But it starts with a breathtaking admission from the Government. It is a devastating admission. Clause 1 is the whole of Part I of the Bill. It declares that the provisions of the Billdo not affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it".The Government are now no longer prepared to uphold that that is so. That is a welcome admission and we regard it as a wise move for them to have made. Like the rest of us, they know what would have happened had they not made it. That does not alter the fact that this is a remarkable opening to discussion of the Bill.
Today is St. David's Day and I have an idea that St. David is on the side of those of us who oppose the Bill. That remains to be seen. I hope it is so, however, because I am certain that the Bill is as unnecessary as it is unwanted by the people of Wales. The fact remains, after what happened over the Scotland and Wales Bill that the Government have seen fit to bring it back. All the evidence we have seems to suggest that the people of Wales have adhered pretty firmly to the view they have taken all along, which is that they are overwhelmingly against a measure of this kind. The latest opinion polls I have seen indicate that over half the people of Wales still want no change in the present system. Those polls have indicated that fewer than 5 per cent. want the Government's proposals as they are outlined in the Bill. That may or may not be true, but that is the indication for what it is worth. Speaking to hon. Members from all Welsh constituencies, however, seems to confirm that view.
A recent leader in the South Wales Echo stated,We have consistently regarded it as undesired and undesirable473 and that seems to sum up what many people have said about it.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
For the guidance of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) I should explain that it has been the bitter experience of some of us to find that the Government will be willing during the course of this debate to listen only to the opinions of one newspaper—the Western Mail. On this historic day and this historic occasion that must be a notable matter of history. If the right hon. Member could find some way of quoting the Western Mail, that would be music to the Government Front Bench. My right hon. Friends do not like the views of the Liverpool Daily Post, the South Wales Echo, the Swansea Evening Post or the South Wales Argus, which are unanimously critical of the devolution proposals.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Padley (Ogmore)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) gave a long list of capitalist newspapers. Socialists should take no notice of any of them.
§ Mr. Pym
I am grateful for the advice of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and I am glad that I started by quoting the South Wales Echo, a newspaper I have known all my life. I see that it is running a series of articles about divisions within the Labour Party in Wales on this issue. It seems that the Labour Party has a sizeable problem on its hands in Wales because the Government insist on forging ahead with this Bill.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that neither the New Statesman nor Tribune is keen on the Bill either?
§ Mr. Pym
Yes, and, as I said, we have St. David on our side. But, apart from anything else, I think that it will be a very expensive exercise if it is put into effect. It will cost more than £6 millon to set up the Assembly and more than £12 million a year to run it. Its essential effect will be to weaken the voice of the Secretary of State in Wales and, above all, the voices of the 36 Members of Parliament representing Wales in the United Kingdom.
474 I think it incredible that, after so many years of governing England and Wales on essentially the same basis, we should suddenly be asked to make such a dramatic change. On the Scotland Bill, I argued that after 270 years without an Assembly in Scotland it seemed unreasonable to forge ahead with a scheme that the House of Commons did not really like, and that more time should be taken so that any change made should be the right one. In the case of Wales, the history is infinitely longer.
The last time that Wales had an Assembly of its own was in 1536—which is 442 years ago. That is no reason why the Welsh should not have an Assembly again if that is what they want, but it is no answer for the Government to say that they must have a measure of devolution on this basis, forcing it through under a guillotine. They cannot justify that.
Clause 1, which the Government say that they will not insist upon, is directly related to the consequences of the Bill for the unity of the United Kingdom. The fact that the Government are not now to press it means that they have accepted that the Bill does affect the unity of the United Kingdom. That is an essential point to make. I want to raise first the effects that the Bill will have upon Parliament and the issue, which we discussed so much on the Scotland Bill, of Welsh Members voting on English business. The question on the Scotland Bill known as the West Lothian question also applies to the Wales Bill. It is different in degree, but the same in principle.
After the Assembly is established, Members of Parliament representing Welsh constituencies will be voting on Executive orders and Executive actions in the devolved areas for England and Northern Ireland, but not for Wales. The combined votes of Members representing Welsh and Scottish constituencies could very well alter decisions on those orders and actions. These are not simply administrative matters. They are not just matters of detail. Neither the introduction of comprehensive schools, for example, nor the end of the sale of council houses required legislation, and the same is true of the abolition of National Health Service charges and pay beds. All that was done under orders, so these are not minor matters.
475 The Committee also has to take into account that in at least half the General Elections since the war the party that emerged in a majority in England was different from the party that emerged with a majority in the United Kingdom as a whole, so this issue of how Welsh Members are to vote is very important.
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler (The Wrekin)
Before the right hon. Gentleman confuses the Committee further, I remind him that the question of comprehensive education in England and Wales was dealt with by circular, which was not subject to resolution of the House, although it might have been debated, until there was an Act or Parliament. What he has said about comprehensive education is monumentally irrelevant to the Bill.
§ Mr. Pym
I do not think that it is. Certainly such a matter can be and usually is introduced by subordinate legislation. In that case, it was done by directive, but I do not think that it was so in the case of the National Health Service charges or pay beds. I took other examples.
There is no easy way of introducing a convention of non-voting or non-participation by Welsh or any other Members even if that were thought to be a desirable solution. For example, there are very great difficulties in deciding which business is Welsh only and which is other business. I believe that Members representing Welsh constituencies wish to remain United Kingdom Members as part of the United Kingdom Parliament. Almost any vote in this House on Government policy may affect Wales, at least to the extent that that policy is embodied in legislation. That is the first important impact that the Bill will have on the rest of the United Kingdom.
Also under the Bill we are creating a new parliamentary requirement—that is to say, a requirement for separate Welsh legislation. Whenever legislation is passed affecting England and Wales, it will obviously have to reflect the requirement to make separate arrangements for Wales. How is that to be done? Is the best way to achieve it to enact separate legislation for Wales? That may well be the clearest way. If so, I realise that there would be added pressure on parliamentary time. But that would be a consequence of the Bill.
476 But even if it were decided not to introduce separate legislation for Wales as against England, there would need to be much greater and most careful scrutiny of any joint legislation to ensure that it took full account of the new circumstances in Wales. I remind the Committee of what the Royal Commission said on this subject in paragraph 903, discussing the implications of this kind of devolution. It said:As in legislative devolution the implications for the centre would depend very much on whether devolution were to be extended to all or only selected regions of the United Kingdom. If the latter, there would be little reduction in the demands on Parliamentary time. Indeed the task of Parliament would be made more difficult, since Bills would have to be drafted in one way to apply to regions which had devolved powers and in another way to those which did not.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to be fair-minded, so he will also recall that the Royal Commission was extremely critical of the amount of secondary legislation going through the House without debate, vote, scrutiny or consideration at all. Surely that is a very strong argument in favour of the kind of Assembly that we are proposing for Wales.
§ Mr. Pym
That is a fair point. But what I am considering now is the impact that a change of this kind—that is to say, switching responsibility for subordinate legislation for Wales—will have on the actions of the House of Commons. I shall return to the subject later.
I want now to come to the question of the representation of Wales in the House of Commons. With a scheme of executive devolution of the kind recommended here, the Royal Commission took the view that the question of a reduction in the number of Members did not arise since Parliament would continue to legislate. Nevertheless, Welsh Members are going to have a changed role and therefore questions about the representation of Wales are bound to go on being raised in just the same way as they were over Northern Ireland.
We know what these figures are. The average electorate in Wales is about 57,000 and in England about 66,000—a difference of 9,000. That has always been accepted without question. The Conservative Opposition are in favour, and always have been, of retaining 36 477 Members for Wales—the existing number—and we have never proposed any kind of devolution or any other arrangement which could lead to a call for a change in that representation. But what the Committee must be aware of is that if dissatisfaction arises over the role that those Members will play in English matters there may well be demands for a reduction in numbers, just as in the early 1960s that complaint was made about Northern Ireland.
This leads me to the role of Members of Parliament here. If the Bill is enacted they will have three different roles for Wales: first, where the Assembly is responsible for executive actions but not the legislation requiring and leading to that action; secondly, where the Secretary of State for Wales has responsibility, as he does now; thirdly, where any Minister and the Government as a whole are responsible for the whole United Kingdom.
The House will then have five different ways in which to carry out its United Kingdom responsibilities: first, in Wales, with the three separate responsibilities that I have just described, but sometimes with only legislative responsibility and sometimes with full responsibility; in Scotland, where we shall sometimes have legislative but not executive responsibility, and sometimes no responsibility at all; in Northern Ireland, where there is direct rule, at any rate for the time being; in England, where we have full and sole responsibility; and, finally, for the United Kingdom as a whole.
All these points relate to the effect that this little green pamphlet called the Wales Bill will have on the House. They are very significant effects.
I turn to the division of powers. In the White Paper "Devolution within the United Kingdom: Some Alternatives for Discussion", published in 1974, a document that I find a gold mine of unanswered questions posed to the Government by the Government, we find in paragraph 56 the following questions:(i)… in practice, can one draw a distinction between major policy making (which would be the responsibility of central Government) and subordinate policy making and administration (which would be the responsibility of intermediate level governments)?478(j) … would the United Kingdom Government in practice be able to enforce its broad policies on a politically hostile intermediate level government?We have no answers to those questions yet.
There is a difficulty about dividing policy making from administration, as I said earlier. Many major policy decisions can be made under existing legislation. They include, for example, the alteration of the character of the education service and the health services. The Royal Commission raised this matter in paragraph 828, when talking about the definition of the devolved functions. It said:the distinction between policy making and administration is not a precise one…there is no obvious point at which policy making ends and administration begins. Legislation gives effect to a policy decision. Statutory instruments and directives can be seen as administrative devices concerned with implementing that decision. But they can equally be classified as supplementary policy documents.There are two ways in which this dilemma could be contemplated with a view to an attempted solution. One is that all the powers conferred by any Act of Parliament on a Minister including subordinate legislation, could be devolved to the Assembly. Secondly, the Minister could retain power of subordinate legislation. The Government have chosen the former way. I do not think that it is altogether satisfactory. I believe that it will lead in its own way to an essentially unstable kind of Assembly, because as I read the Bill the Government will be unable to change the Assembly's powers from year to year.
For example, if a United Kingdom Government on election find themselves faced with an Assembly of a different political colour, will they not be tempted in any legislation they enact to spell out their policy in far more detail than they might otherwise? Could not the Assembly find that powers in housing, for example, in which it could at one time exercise discretion, must in certain circumstances be exercised in a manner specified by the House of Commons? Suppose an Assembly in Wales did not wish to sell council houses and Parliament here decided that it would be required to sell council houses. Would not that be a source of conflict between the House and any Assembly in Wales?
479 4.15 p.m.
Next we come to the effect on Government and in particular on the Secretary of State for Wales. Incidentally, we are very sorry that the Secretary of State is not able to be here today, I am sure for good reasons. If the Bill is ever enacted, the Secretary of State will be able to speak less strongly for Wales in the Cabinet. He will no longer be responsible for the administration of a large body of legislation and he will be unable to draw on his normal direct administrative experience in advising the Cabinet. He will be left with a residue of powers rather than being able to co-ordinate the whole of Government activity in Wales. He is bound to speak for Wales with a weaker voice than he did before. That will be to the disadvantage of Wales, which is one of the reasons why the people of Wales are very unlikely to support the Bill.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Is it not also a fact that a Conservative Government in England would be under considerable pressure from the Opposition in Wales to frustrate the Assembly? Herein is a great recipe for conflict, as we saw in the Scotland Bill.
§ Mr. Pym
That is right. It is exactly the kind of situation I was trying to describe. It would be unhelpful. Indeed, it would tend to be disruptive of government and to make for bad government. It is one of the conflicts I have been trying to anticipate. We do not need to put the Bill into effect to know what will happen.
The White Paper, which I quoted recently in connection with Scotland, foreshadowed that the Secretary of State for Wales might disappear. He would certainly have more limited powers, because he would not have a strong Department behind him, as that Department would have handed over a great deal of its responsibility. Therefore, the position of the principal representative of Wales in the United Kingdom will be weakened, which is a very bad thing.
Next we come to what is an almost ludricrous concept. I have called it United Kingdom-Welsh relations. One has only to state it to appreciate how bizarre it is. It arises after 400 or 500 years of working absolutely harmoniously together in government. Such a concept 480 seems fantastic. But not to raise it at this stage, when we are debating the unity of the United Kingdom, would be a sin of omission.
Dispute and tension are almost unavoidable in the relationship between the Assembly and the United Kingdom Government. There will be argument and controversy over the guidelines that the Bill requires to be established to direct the Assembly in its relations with the Welsh Development Agency, for example. This will happen particularly if there are two different parties in control at Cardiff and Wesminster.
The next matter is that of the override powers. Here the argument is very similar to the argument on the Scotland Bill. Under Clause 35 the Secretary of State will be able to recommend that an action of the Assembly legitimately taken and properly carried through should be set aside if itwould or might affect a reserved matter, whether directly or indirectly".That provision is very wide and could be used on almost any pretext. Each time it is used it could be open to the accusation that it was being used politically. I am sure that the provision will give rise to a great deal of controversy.
The same applies to the override powers on international obligations. It is difficult to understand why, without any reference to Parliament, the Secretary of State may overrule the Assembly on the ground that its actions may conflict with such obligations. These are matters of fact and law. Therefore, they are justiciable and could and should be referred to the courts.
It is difficult to visualise almost any matter arising in this House and affecting England that does not also directly or indirectly affect Wales. I have the utmost difficulty in thinking of any issue that does not cross that dividing line. There will be as many problems, although of a slightly different kind, over Wales as over Scotland.
Then there are the financial aspects. The allocation of the block budget, whether it is done annually or whether the four-yearly proposal is carried through, will be a source of controversy. In 1975–76 Wales received about 5.4 per cent. of public expenditure when the population of Wales was about 4.9 per cent. of the population of the United 481 Kingdom. That excess—if that is the right word—is based upon the needs of Wales. It is not done on a population basis. It is based upon the needs of Wales on a regional basis. Wales needs it. No one challenged it or questioned it. Everyone throughout the United Kingdom accepted that position absolutely.
I cannot escape the thought that it is absolute moonshine for the House of Commons to imagine that once we have a devolved Assembly such as is proposed for Wales and we start to work out a block budget, figures will not emerge indicating the scale of the difference between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, and with the best will in the world, they will increase the degree of controversy. People are all human, and they will say "If that is going to Wales and so much is going to Scotland, why cannot we have more in this part of England?"
It is in that sense that I think this whole concept will lead to a sense of division within the United Kingdom, rather than designing what I believe ought to happen—some improvement in the government of this country, the whole of the United Kingdom and each constituent part, so that the feeling of unity is emphasised. Surely the people of this country, in whichever part of the United Kingdom they live, are longing for a greater sense of national unity in the difficult days in which we are living.
It seems very much as though what is proposed in the Bill is bound to lead to a sense of a greater degree of controversy and jealousy, and, to some extent, envy. People are only human. They will feel that about these financial arrangements I am afraid that that will happen.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
Unless I have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman in the past, I have heard him say in this Chamber that he favours some form of devolution. Yet the whole tenor of his remarks today seems to suggest that for Wales, at any rate, no devolution of any power to the people of Wales, who compose a national community, will ever be possible. Is that his view? Is it the view of the Conservative Party, or has the right hon. Gentleman's party a policy that means devolving to the Welsh people some power over their own affairs?
§ Mr. Pym
The hon. Gentleman is quite right when he says that I have used those 482 words. I have used them principally in relation to Scotland. On the question of Wales, we have never thought that an Executive should be set up there. That is not proposed under the Bill. We have thought that the administrative devolution that Wales ought to have could and should be extended, and that the way in which the House of Commons considers and scrutinises Welsh business of the Government of the United Kingdom could be greatly extended and improved in many respects, and could take place in Wales. That is the expression of opinion that we have given on Wales. This is not the occasion for me to expound in detail on that because what we are doing is considering the Bill. But those are the policy conclusions that my right hon. Friends and I have reached on this subject.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
On the question of the block grant allocation, the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly said that the policy so far in the House of Commons, under successive Governments, has been that the needs of Wales and Scotland are greater and, therefore, they have received a larger financial allocation. But is there not a danger now, a danger that we must now realise, that when the block grant is calculated it could well be calculated on a population basis and not on a needs basis, because the needs of Wales would be determined by the Assembly?
§ Mr. Pym
The hon. Gentleman is emphasising the point that I was trying to make. That is that because the disparity in the allocation of public money between the different parts of the United Kingdom would come into sharper focus, the people who are getting less than their fair share of what is available, as it seems to them, will start raising their voices and asking to have a fair deal, and those voices will be heard and must be expressed through hon. Members of the House of Commons representing those parts of the United Kingdom, wherever they are, which are disadvantaged by this proposal. Therefore, the tendency to which the hon. Gentleman refers is exactly the kind of tendency to which I am referring, and I think that it will be a pity.
In other words, what the hon. Gentleman and I are saying is that the arrangements as they now stand result in Wales getting a better deal than she is likely 483 to get if the Bill were ever to be put into operation, quite apart from the additional expense of the Assembly.
I agree, also, that it is very important indeed that the people of Wales understand what the Bill will mean.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I cannot follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument. He and his party were surely using the same argument when opposing the introduction of a Secretary of State for Wales, saying that Wales would be disadvantaged by it. He is now pointing to the enormous advantage that followed from it. Is he not being entirely inconsistent?
§ Mr. Pym
As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the Conservative Party appointed the first Minister for Wales. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] All right—it was before the Labour Party and the Liberal Party thought about it. I accept that it may be only a question of degree, and perhaps the views expressed then were not correct, but there was no question of any devolution or division between Wales and England. It was a question whether Wales would be better represented by a separate Minister in the Cabinet, and it was decided, by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), that Wales should be represented by a separate Minister. So it has been ever since, and so it is.
I have probably detained the Committee for long enough. However, the point is that it is necessary for the Committee to appreciate the depth and the profundity of what is at stake in the Bill. The mere fact that the Government, in their wisdom, are not now prepared to try to retain in the Bill the whole of Part I. concerning the effect upon the United Kingdom, indicates that they themselves appreciate that something major is at stake in what they are proposing for Wales.
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I do not believe and never have believed that devolution of this kind was appropriate for Wales. We have never thought that a separate Assembly was appropriate, nor that the people of Wales have wanted it, and we have been quite forthright about that. Therefore, we shall oppose the Bill. We think that it would be much 484 better and far more to the interests of the people of Wales to extend the devolution that already exists and to improve—my goodness, there is scope for it—the way in which the House of Commons and Parliament in general scrutinise the Government's decisions over Wales.
I hope that in the fullness of time, somehow or other, the Bill does not reach the statute book. If it does reach the statute book, I predict that the people of Wales will say that they do not want it.
It is an extraordinary comment on the amount of time that we are about to spend on this issue when one considers all the arguments that we shall have in order to lead to that ultimate conclusion. However, we are placed in that position, and I have, in this the first speech on the Committee stage of the Bill, outlined what I think are the most important issues—though there are plenty of others—that will lead to the greatest potential danger for Wales. I hone that eventually the Bill will not become an Act.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)
I rise to welcome, briefly, the Government's action in seeking to delete this clause. It has been said that the clause, in any case, was meant to be an expression of opinion and a form of declaration, but it has, nevertheless, been a declaration which has been subject to very serious challenge indeed.
I believe that the House of Commons will accept that it is an important principle of legislation that a Bill should contain points of law and not expressions of opinion. The clause was not only a mere statement of opinion but a statement which has undoubtedly led to much controversy. It is the very point which has led to divisions of opinion among many Welsh people on the merits of the Bill itself and, as we have just heard, to the deep concern among Welsh people about the position of the Welsh Office.
In this brief intervention, I therefore express the hope that the spirit of good will, about which we have just heard, and the spirit of understanding shown by the Government in connection with this clause and this matter, will be followed outside the House of Commons, so that when the debates on the referendum come they will be conducted at a high level and will be based upon principles and not upon personalities.
485 For that reason, I welcome the fact that the Government are seeking to withdraw the clause.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Sir David Renton
Although I was given the name David, I cannot claim to have been named after St. David of Wales. So far as I know, I was named after my Scottish grandfather. But I always feel happier on St. David's Day, and today is no exception—despite the anxious start that you gave us, Mr. Murton, with your non-selection of the amendments to Clause 1. Now that we know that the Government are not asking the House to approve the clause, I would congratulate you on your telepathic insight into their intentions.
The welcome fact that the clause is not to remain part of the Bill—I am sure that the House will agree with the Government—must not blind us to certain considerations. Those are first, when we need less government, devolution will give us more; second, when we need simplicity of administration in our highly complex society, devolution will make government in Wales more complex; third, when we need to strive for economy in public expenditure, devolution will cost more.
To start with, devolution will cost another £15½ million and another 1,300 civil servants. We know that the Cardiff Exchange is being adapted and furnished in anticipation of it.
§ Mr. Abse
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and anyone else will not continue to use the figure of 1,200 or 1,300 civil servants. From his membership of the Kilbrandon Commission he will appreciate that that Commission constantly said that if an Assembly were set up, it would in the end require its own Civil Service. The figure that the Government have presented is based on sharing, but sharing will not come. The people of Wales should know that the price for this Bill is at least 2,000 civil servants, who will be paid for from the funds allocated for Wales.
§ Sir D. Renton
I am grateful to the hon. Member, but I was about to add that those figures which the Government have given are only the starting figures. As he has rightly said, and as my colleagues on the Kilbrandon Commission 486 pointed out, there will necessarily be an elaboration of the arrangements with which the Government start.
The Commission was split four ways in its recommendations about Wales. Speaking for myself and two other members of the Commission I can say that we did not want executive devolution of any kind. We wanted simply a consultative Assembly where the affairs of Wales could be discussed in Wales. We wanted the Secretary of State's powers to remain, but his responsibility to be extended, so that he was in a truer sense Secretary of State for Wales. I hope that in our considering the Bill the Secretary of State will be a true Secretary of State and that we do not suffer the experience that we had on the Scotland Bill, when the Minister of State, however manfully, had to do the work of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I see the Minister of State, Scottish Office, sitting here today.
§ Sir D. Renton
I beg his pardon. I regard him so much as a member of the Scottish Bar, whose learning we so appreciated on the Scotland Bill, that I gave him the wrong office. I regret that mistake. At any rate, if he imagines that he can fill the place of the Secretary of State for Wales, who is a Queen's Counsel, which means that he is learned and competent in the law of England, we shall have to disabuse the honourable Gentleman.
We must also not blind ourselves by assuming that the dropping of Clause 1 means that, at a time when we need national unity, the Bill will not lead to a division of the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) has deployed the general circumstances which arise on Clause 1, its being omitted and its relevance to the rest of the Bill so fully that I can now be fairly brief. However, I should like to emphasise one or two of his points.
There is no doubt but that the statement in Clause 1 that the Bill would not affect the supreme authority of Parliament is simply not true. We shall have 487 to be very careful in particular about subordinate legislation. The will of Parliament and the policy of the Government of the United Kingdom could within Wales be so easily frustrated by the refusal of a Welsh Assembly to pass the delegated legislation which that policy and the legislation of Parliament which supports it would require. That is a glaring example of the kind of conflict which could easily arise between this House and the Welsh Assembly.
The position of the nominated bodies also gives rise to concern. They have been nominated under Acts of Parliament and others may be established in future. They will be answerable, to the extent that the Bill requires, to the Welsh Assembly, but in reality they will be dependent not upon the Assembly but upon this House for their funds, especially for capital expenditure. That is another glaring example of potential conflict. The Assembly may in effect direct those various public corporations in Wales to do this or that, but will not be able to provide them with the funds to carry out the responsibilities that it feels they should exercise. This House will have to do so. Unless this House and the Assembly are to be of absolutely one mind—that is something that we cannot assume—there again we have the seeds of conflict.
As has been said, it was Henry VIII, the son of the first Henry Tudor, a Welshman, who brought Wales and England together in 1536. Those Welsh Tudor kings and Queen Elizabeth I were brilliant people. They exercised in the sixteenth century a tremendous influence upon the life of England, and its effects have been lasting. In this Parliament today the Welsh have never had it so good. I have said this before—in a debate a year ago. The Prime Minister represents a Welsh constituency. The same applies to the Leader of the House. The Lord Chancellor and Mr. Speaker are two highly respected Welshmen. Another respected Welshman is the Home Secretary of England.
The Welsh have never had it so good since the days of the Tudors. What are the Welsh politicians doing? Instead of maintaining their influence within the United Kingdom as a whole, they are trying partially to peel away the Welsh Pro- 488 vince from the United Kingdom. I do not think that that is any service to Wales. It is not a good way of celebrating St. David's Day. Surely, it is a failure of these eminent Welshmen that they should be doing that instead of doing all they can to strengthen Wales within the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Hooson
The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) has grossly exaggerated the effect of the Bill. So has the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), in what was virtually a Second Reading speech. The clause that we are discussing is complete surplusage to the Bill, and that is the sole reason why it should not stand part of the Bill. The first sentence reads:The following provisions of this Act make changes in the government of Wales as part of the United Kingdom.Of course, it is part of the United Kingdom; otherwise, we could not be legislating for it. It then says:They do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it.That is absolutely right. We are concerned, as we were on the Scotland Bill, with setting up a subordinate body.
The right hon. Gentleman for Cambridgeshire showed a lack of acquaintance with the thoughts of saints when he suggested that St. David would be opposed to the Bill. He also showed a monumental ignorance of Welsh history. There has never been a body to represent Wales, elected or otherwise. Wales was run in the sixteenth century by the Council for Wales and the Marches, which was run from Ludlow. It was Bishop Lee of Worcester, the most notorious chairman of that council, who boasted that in three or four years he had hanged 4,000 Welshmen.
The right hon. Gentleman suggests that this Bill, of all Bills, is calculated to break up the unity of the United Kingdom. I must tell him that that is absolute nonsense. The criticism that can be made of it is that it is not a very effective Bill. That is a different matter. But the whole ground on which the right hon. Gentleman attacked it was misconceived. It reminded me of the debate in the House, at which I was present, about a Secretary of State for Wales. It was suggested by the Conservative Party that a Secretary of 489 State for Wales would have nothing like the same influence in the Cabinet as would a Minister for Welsh Affairs. It was suggested that the Conservative Home Secretary—I think, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who was also Minister for Welsh Affairs—would have had much more power to influence matters on behalf of Wales because he was a more powerful Minister, acting within the Cabinet and influencing the Cabinet to the benefit of Wales far more than could a mere Secretary of State for Wales.
I do not recollect hearing the right hon. Gentleman speak on that occasion. The right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) did not agree with it, but the approach of the Conservative Party was that there would be no benefit to Wales from a Secretary of State. The exaggerated criticism that I have heard today from the right hon. Gentleman has brought back to me echoes of the exaggerated criticism made then. The Secretary of State for Wales is now exalted into an almighty position, and it would be terrible for Wales today—this is the argument—if his power and influence were in any way to be undermined.
§ Mr. Hooson
With great respect, the right hon. Gentleman will find that at the time the argument was used that it would be another step in the direction of devolution, that the next thing wanted would be greater powers of devolution, and so on.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ If we create another body in Wales, there will be the same kind of conflict, somewhat enlarged, as there is between county councils and the central Government. It is exactly the same kind of conflict. For example, this is so in the case of a Conservative Greater London Council and a Labour Government in the House of Commons, or the other way round. The real problem is whether the right machinery is provided in the Bill for the resolution of the disputes which will undoubtedly arise. That is the kind 490 of criticism that I can understand. But the wholehearted attack on the Bill today was absolutely unjustified.
§ I have been extremely critical of many aspects of the Bill, but for most of us the issue is this. For centuries Wales has not had a body which could really speak up for it. Whatever the drawbacks of the Bill, ultimately those of us who will vote for it on Third Reading will ask whether it is better for Wales to start and have a directly elected body which can speak for it, a body which Wales has never had over the hundreds of years of its history, though many have yearned for it. They will ask whether it is better to have that, with its defects, than not to have it.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
It is a happy coincidence that the Bill should start its Committee stage on St. David's Day. We have heard a good deal of history already. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) claimed that if St. David were alive today he would virtually be sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. I am bound to say that I find that one of the more bizarre notions, because if St. David were here he would not recognise one Englishman. In fact, when he was here he was busy seeking to preserve the Christian Church against the depredations of the ancestors of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches.
Having said that, there are three brief points that I wish to make. I first want to refer to the assertion of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire that Wales does not want the Bill. As I have said before, no one knows that. The House of Commons has decided that once the Bill is law, the people of Wales are to be given the opportunity to decide. Then we shall know, but at this moment we do not know.
It is quite wrong to say so firmly that the people of Wales do not want the Bill because there is available evidence contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman has said. We know that the Labour Party in Wales is officially in favour of the Bill and very strongly in favour of it. We know the views of some of my hon. Friends—those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), in particular, who represents a seat in Gwent, where I understand they have a Society of St. George. I wish them well. 491 They are perfectly entitled to have such a society. In my constituency there is a Society of St. Patrick. I do not think that that makes Gwent a part of England, nevertheless.
There is the party in favour of it. The Wales Trades Union Congress is in favour of the Bill. It represents its members throughout the Principality. The Welsh Churches are almost universally in favour of a measure of devolution. They may criticise parts of the Bill, but they are in favour of it. The county council in my own area of Gwynedd is broadly in favour of the Bill.
Although one cannot say for certain what will happen if a referendum is held, we know that a substantial body of thoughtful opinion believes in a measure of practical devolution, whatever may be said by any hon. Member in the debate. I should not like to predict the result of a referendum, but I am satisfied that there are many people who believe not only in the Bill but in a substantial measure of devolution of one kind or another.
Second, I come to the question of secondary legislation. There was a great deal in what the right hon. Gentleman said on this score, but I recall something said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales some two years ago when we debated the White Paper in the Welsh Grand Committee. My right hon. and learned Friend told us that during the first two years of his tenure of office he had signed over 1,000 orders without any debate whatever in the House. That is a substantial argument in favour of another body with time to scrutinise such orders, since they all affect the lives of the people of Wales.
The same is true of nominated bodies. One of the arguments in favour of setting up the Crowther/Kilbrandon Commission in the first place was that people in Wales were sick to death of nominated bodies whose actions affected their daily lives but which were not accountable to any elected persons. At that time, my hon. Friends agreed. They were not in contention. They thought it necessary to do something about it.
Third—the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) has already touched on this—the right hon. 492 Member for Cambridgeshire failed to distinguish sharply enough between the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill. There is a substantial difference between the two. For Scotland, there is to be a legislative Assembly, taking Scotland a good way along the road towards Home Rule. The proposals for Wales are markedly less in almost every way.
§ Mr. Pym
I did not go into the differences in depth, since I thought that it would be out of order to do so, but I made the point that there is to be no separate Executive in Wales as there is to be in Scotland. Although the Welsh Assembly will not have power to pass Acts, it will have legislative powers and a legislative role separate from the House of Commons. I made that point, too, although I did not go into the matter at length.
We must recognise that, although there is not such a strong form of devolution for Wales, there is a considerable degree of devolution, including a legislative role.
§ Mr. Hughes
I agree that there is an important measure of devolution, but it is not to be compared with what is provided in the Scotland Bill.
§ Mr. Hughes
The formulation of policy and the introduction of major legislation will take place in the Scottish Assembly, but the same will not apply in Wales. Major policy for Wales will continue to be decided at Westminster. Major legislation will continue to go through the House of Commons. The Budget will be decided in the House of Commons.
I think that I can say without fear of contradiction that while major policy continues to be decided here, while major legislation in respect of Wales continues to go through the House of Commons, and the Budget is decided here, it will be quite wrong to talk about reducing the number of Welsh Members of Parliament.
Fourth, the right hon. Gentleman and others make far too much of the possibility of confrontation between Parliament and the Assembly in the event of a change of Government. The only example that we have in these islands is Stormont, and one hesitates to refer to it, but the fact is that for 50 years there 493 was very little inter-governmental confrontation. When I had the privilege of serving as Minister of Agriculture, the Stormont Minister for Agriculture came over to see me nearly every month. He was a Conservative and Unionist—and that had been the experience throughout 50 years. There was a good deal of argument, but there was far more cooperation, and I think that the same would be true in the present case.
We have had some experience of these things in the past. Perhaps one of the best examples is the controversy following the Balfour Education Act, when the Welsh county councils, led by David Lloyd George and others at the time, confronted the Government on the implementation of that measure. But there was no great abiding trouble. There was no revolution. There was none of the great row which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends seem to envisage. I believe that things will work perfectly well.
The right hon and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) spoke of the Welshmen now occupying senior positions in the State. We are very proud of them. They are there because they are the best men for the job. The fact that they are there proves beyond a peradventure that the Welsh can run a modest little Assembly of this kind and provide the men for the job, despite all that is said by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool. The Welsh can provide the leaders and Members of an Assembly of this kind, as they have provided leaders in the British Parliament and in local government throughout the years.
Finally, I come to the comparison which the right hon. Gentleman drew between the allocation of resources per capita in Wales and the allocation in England. I must say that I find this somewhat distasteful. It is impossible to make a comparison on allocation of resources between a country of 2½ million and a country of nearly 50 million.
If one were to compare the allocation of resources in Wales with the allocation of resources in England, for example, north of a line just below Newcastle, one would be nearer the mark. It would be a fairer comparison. I do not regard a comparison between England and Wales as any fairer than a comparison of allo- 494 cation of resources between the South of England and the North of England. Indeed, I am sure that if anyone started to make any such comparison my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) would be on his feet at once. I cannot accept that the suggested comparison holds water.
§ Mr. Pym
I absolutely accepted, as everyone does, that there is a different allocation. All I was saying was that it seemed to me that the Bill would throw the disparity into focus. I believe that that would be a pity. It is one of the consequences of the Bill which I find undesirable, precisely because it would focus attention on something which nobody at present bothers about, because everyone accepts it as fair.
§ Mr. Hughes
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman approaches the matter with the utmost good will but, for the reasons which I have given, I regard the effort to compare as odious.
I believe that with a measure of good will from this House, among all parties, the Assembly proposed for Wales should work. It is not perfect in all respects—I can find plenty of room for criticism—but, given the opportunity, it will, I believe, go a long way towards satisfying national aspirations in Wales. My fear is that if we do nothing we shall find ourselves having to give a great deal more later on.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) makes a valid point when he says that the proposed Assembly could work. I am sure that no one doubts that. Nor is there any doubt, so far as I am aware, of the ability of those who may be elected to it to carry on effectively the work which will be conferred upon that Assembly. That is not in question, either.
The question is whether this is a wise and proper course to take at this time, and whether it is desired by a formidable majority of the Welsh people—or even by the majority of the Welsh people. Those arc the questions to which the right hon. Gentleman should address himself, not the question whether it is wise to have an Assembly to take over nominated bodies, for example. If he is forced to such an argument to sustain 495 his support for an Assembly of this nature, I think that that reveals that the Assembly is not likely to be a very important body.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
I merely referred briefly to a point which was emphasised in the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution.
§ Sir R. Gower
Be that as it may—I understand how the right hon. Gentleman puts it now—the important question is not the one to which he addressed himself. The right hon. Gentleman speaks as though there is some tremendous difference in kind between Wales and parts of England. The truth is entirely to the contrary. Families are divided by geography. Some families live in Cheshire and some in Flintshire, and it is merely an accident of birth that some live on one side or the other of an imaginary border. One sees how slender is the difference between so many parts of the United Kingdom.
Similarly, in parts of South Wales there are many people living in Gwent—whence comes the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse)—whose ancestors were heavily drawn from the West of England. They came there at the time of the growth of industry in the industrial part of Wales, and again it is purely an accident of birth that one cousin lives on the Bristol side and another cousin, or several cousins, live on the Glamorgan side or the Gwent side, so intertwined is life in these islands today.
One has to consider all the implications of dividing the country up in some way. The right hon. Member for Anglesey said he was quite sure that this was a modest Bill. I accept that on paper it appears to be modest. But many of us have fears that this is a very thin edge of a very large wedge.
The right hon. Gentleman was at some pains to distinguish between this Bill and the Scotland Bill. I believe that the present Government merely took the view "The row has been louder in Scotland. There is a separate system of law which does not obtain in Wales. Scotland has had a Secretary of State for longer. Therefore, there is a case for giving Scotland a bit more."
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)
The hon. Gentleman spoke of a border existing in the imagination. Does he extend that argument to the Scottish border or was he applying it only to the Welsh border? If so, is he seriously telling this House that people imagine themselves as Welsh as opposed to being English?
§ Sir R. Gower
I did not apply my argument to Scotland at all because the geographical setting is somewhat different. The very nature of geography has perhaps tended to make a bigger separation. But even the hon. Lady will be aware that numerous people have moved into various parts of Scotland who are certainly not of Scottish ancestry and vice versa.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)
The hon. Gentleman should add that many Angles have settled in the central lowlands of Scotland and probably form a bigger part of the population than those from the Highlands.
§ Sir R. Gower
The hon. Gentleman has made a pertinent observation with which one cannot disagree.
I take a rather different view from that of my right hon. and hon. Friends. In some ways I regret the departure of this wording from the Bill. I accept that the Government were quite honest when framing this clause and really believed that the proposals did not affect the unity of the United Kingdom in any way at all. They probably felt that there was a need to give confidence to the people of the United Kingdom and, therefore, put in some wording to lessen the anxieties of those who feared the break-up of the United Kingdom.
§ Sir David Renton
Does my hon. Friend agree that in doing so the Government broke one of the basic rules of drafting? That is, that when introducing Acts of Parliament one does not make expressions of opinion. One is entitled to make an expression of intention of purpose, but the words contained in the Bill are merely an expression of opinion.
§ Sir R. Gower
I tend to agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, but the wording certainly suggests that when this 497 clause was framed the Government included an explanatory statement that the following provisions in the Act would make changes to the government of Wales as part of the United Kingdom. But they then added these comforting words in order to remove all anxieties. They included the assertive statement:They do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it.I wish that were the case. But for the reasons stated by my right hon. and hon. Friends I think that to some degree the provisions in the Bill will affect the unity of the United Kingdom.
What is more, they provide the sort of framework from which might emerge events that would much more seriously affect the unity of the United Kingdom. That is the danger, not the actual wording of the Bill, defective as it is.
§ Sir R. Gower
That, too. Nevertheless, if we could have this Bill and the changes embodied in it and we could say with certainty "It will be so far and no further", some of us might be willing to consider it in that light.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
From time to time in the past the hon. Gentleman has described himself as a federalist. How does he reconcile that with the comments that he has just made?
§ Sir R. Gower
In my submission, by setting up a federal system we would have a far greater chance of remaining as a stable system. Unfortunately, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is not present. He could explain this better than I can.
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that if one set up a federal system—this is something which the Government might consider—it would not embody connotations of differences of nationality which the proposed system of devolution embodies. We would have the same system for the whole of the United Kingdom and not merely for Scotland and Wales. That would constitute an important and vital difference.
§ Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)
Can the hon. Gentleman clarify 498 whether what he is saying is the official or unofficial policy of the Conservative Party in view of its lack of commitment on devolution?
§ Sir R. Gower
It is no one's policy except my own. I hope that I am entitled to speak as a Back Bencher. While I largely share some of the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), I dissent from him on his apparent pleasure at the disappearance of these words from the clause. I would rather that some words remained in the clause stating that nothing in the Bill shall affect the unity of the United Kingdom. I would rather that the provisions of the Bill were consistent with those words. Unfortunately, that is perhaps not possible. Perhaps I am asking for far too much.
But we are entitled to have serious anxieties, despite claims that this is a lesser measure. Many of the views expressed by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) obtain here, too. The fact that to some degree hon. Members for Welsh constituencies will be looking at many problems in a different light means that it will not be possible for them to speak with confidence in matters which are devolved.
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Gentleman represents an area in this House. Although it will also be represented in the Assembly, if the representatives of that area respond to the pressures in that area they can speak with every confidence.
§ Sir R. Gower
It is not right. It is not even accurate. A situation may arise where an hon. Member for an area sitting in this Parliament may be of a different party from the person sitting in the Assembly. It is likely that there will be two or three Assembly representatives. There is a good chance that one of them will belong to a different party from the Westminster representative. To that extent the representative at Westminster may not share the views or sentiments, or have the same opinions, as some of the persons in the Assembly.
I think that is a fair point to make. I believe that in certain respects it will 499 be possible that the position of Westminster Members will be affected. The fact that the Government are now agreeing to the omission of this clause indicates to me that they unfortunately apprehend that the wording is not accurate. They accept the fact that these changes will to some degree affect the unity of the United Kingdom. Perhaps that is why they are omitting these words. Whatever is said and done in the debates that follow, I hope that we shall accept the principle that if there is an Assembly it will be one that can be reconciled with the existence of the United Kingdom. Whatever the defects of the United Kingdom, it has been something of great importance to the kind and quality of life that we have enjoyed in these islands. We should not lightly cast this away.
§ Mr. Abse
I do not share the view expressed by many people that this clause is, in fact, simply declaratory. Rarely do I agree with what is said by the Leader of the House and the Minister of State in this debate, but if there is one thing with which I do agree it is their constant insistence that this clause is very important.
As I indicated in my less-than courteous intervention in my representations earlier, I regard this clause as the foundation stone upon which the whole edifice stands. That was the view of the Government also, and they fought long and hard to preserve this important clause in the Bill.
The Government put the view that, far from affecting the unity of the United Kingdom, this Bill would strengthen it. The Committee should remember when we are debating this clause that two essential arguments have been presented by the Government to explain why they thought that this was the case, and why they believed that they could with confidence put this clause in to underline and demonstrate that the Bill would preserve the unity of the United Kingdom.
Broadly speaking, they put two theses forward to justify it. The first I shall call the "blackmail thesis". The Government said, not explicitly but implicitly, that there would be rivers of blood if we did not have the Bill. The Taff would be red with blood, the barricades would be erected in Splott, and the pro-devolutionists of Gwent would storm down the valleys of Monmouthshire, even as their 500 Chartist forefathers did, to seize Newport. They argue that these were the consequences to the unity of the United Kingdom if the Bill did not go through. No doubt the Army would be out at Stow Hill and we would find Sketty and Cyncoed in revolt. The Union Jacks would be hauled down from the Swansea civic centre and the Cardiff city hall. That was the blackmail argument that was presented to the House to justify putting the Bill through—that if we did not the whole of Wales would be in revolution.
But, of course, the collapse of the Bill in the last Session and the yielding of the Government to our demand for a referendum—both done against the wishes of the rabid pro-devolutionists and the nationalists, who never supported the referendum until they rather belatedly suggested that they should join in—did not bring a ripple to the Ebbw. No blood flowed. All that flowed was a little more ink in the editorials of the Western Mail and a little more paint which was poured out by the nationalist fellow travellers on to the signposts of the Principality. This was the only response to the collapse of the Bill in the last Session, and the fact that we insisted on a referendum.
This means that Wales, by its overwhelming indifference, showed that it was concerned only with relevant problems that challenged the Principality—unemployment and the consequences of the third industrial revolution. It mocked all those who had hoped to compel Wales into submission by presenting all these nightmarish fantasies and the Government now know it.
The bluff has been called, and the demand that in order to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom we must placate a blackmailing and fanatical minority can no longer be respectably presented again by the Government. This was the first reason why the Government said that we had to have this clause and this Bill. Now they are somewhat muted. Such diffidence, We all know how fluent Ministers usually are, but their defence has collapsed because the good sense of Wales has demonstrated that it would not yield to the notion that it could be provoked into action when, on both sides of the Committee, so many hon. Mem- 501 bers from Welsh constituencies had insisted that the Bill would disadvantage Wales and bring no benefits.
The second argument to justify the Bill and to prop up this ringing, bold clause, was the Government's claim that there would be genuine and considerable devolution of power to Wales of such a kind that it would satisfy the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), who has a distressing habit of attacking many of us on this side of the House and then disappearing—
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) had to leave the House to chair a most important meeting. He apologises for his absence.
§ Mr. Abse
That may be so, but it happens with great frequency. It would be better, when a debate is so obviously rigged to coincide with St. David's Day in the hope that there will be some resonance of a chauvinist view coming out of Wales, for my right hon. Friend, and the Secretary of State, who is also absent, to be present. If there are reasons for the Secretary of State's absence, they should be heard.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Barry Jones)
My right hon. and learned Friend has been at No. 10 Downing Street today to listen to the Wales TUC.
§ Sir A. Meyer
Unfortunately, I have to leave the debate in 10 minutes in order to take part in a television broadcast with the Secretary of State on this very subject.
§ Mr. Abse
I regret these absences. I recognise the responsibilities of the Secretary of State but I think that there are occasions—and this is one, particularly as the debate was arranged so long ahead—when he would have been wiser and would have shown greater respect for the Committee had he been present.
I return to the second thesis that the Government are putting forward. They say that a massive hand-over is being given to Wales. Let us look at the language of the 502 White Paper. It is always good to go back to it. There was no suggestion that this is a little Bill of no importance, and no suggestion that only little powers were involved or that it would be an exaggeration for anyone to say that what was proposed was a fundamental constitutional change. On the contrary, the White Paper said:a massive handover was intended to be given to the Assembly.In my opinion, this is what is being given.
The White Paper, expressing the view that the Government believe is embodied in the Bill, talked of:very substantial policy-making and executive powers.and:wide responsibility for democratic oversight.The Secretary of State went round Wales telling people that what was being given was a revolution constitutionally, which would meet, according to the White Paper:the aspirations of the great majority of the people of Wales.The right hon. Member for Anglesey no longer talks about the Bill's meeting the aspirations of the great majority. He diffidently and cautiously suggests that perhaps he might hope for a little majority. He says that no one knows. His confidence has evaporated. The political maturity of Wales, the most politically mature part of the United Kingdom, has been expressing its opinion and has subverted the confidence of the right hon. Gentleman and the Government Front Bench. They know that they are meeting not with enthusiasm, but with great and well-founded antagonism.
It was because, they believed and said, a great change was taking place, which was absolutely necessary, and because these great changes were satisfying the aspirations of the majority of people in Wales, that the United Kingdom would be preserved.
The blackmail theory has gone. No one now says that if we do not have devolution there will be blood flowing in Wales. Not even the Leader of the House would give warnings on that score. Also gone is the belief that they were satisfying the great majority of the people of 503 Wales and that this was a fundamental change.
I shall tell the Committee why the Government suddenly argue as they do. They know that the more they argue the aspirations are being satisfied and the United Kingdom being preserved by a massive hand-over, the more likely it is that the House of Commons will demand, in the face of such changes, that it must be satisfied that at least 40 per cent. of the electorate would want such an irrevocable change.
There has been an orchestration coming from feeds from the Welsh Office and, doubtless, other Government quarters, echoed in the Western Mail and The Guardian today. These journals are suggesting, in almost the same language, that the changes are slight and that there is not the same reason for anyone to get as concerned about this Bill as the House of Commons did about the Scotland Bill The reason for this orchestration is that just as, originally, the Government wanted to play up the changes, they are now desperately anxious to play them down. The more they tell us what they originally told us, the more the House of Commons will insist that, in order to bring about these changes, there should be an unequivocal vote in a referendum with the overwhelming majority which the Government claim was in existence. The Government are totally in retreat and they are beginning on this St. David's Day in their customary—on the issue of devolution—shambles.
Once we begin to examine what will happen if the Bill goes through, we realise how the role of every hon. Member representing a Welsh constituency is bound to be demeaned. Let no one say that I am exaggerating. When listening to the conflict between the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and others on this issue, I applied my mind to the consequences for me and my work and I am sure that every other hon. Member was doing the same. We are all engaged in constituency matters. Each will have in the forefront of his mind particular issues that are affecting and impinging on his constituency.
I could give the Committee a catalogue of such issues—as could every other hon. 504 Member representing a Welsh constituency. I am engaged in trying to persuade the Secretary of State to put greater pressure on the Welsh Development Agency because I want capital for the extension of a factory in my constituency which is suffering from considerable unemployment.
I am engaged in trying to push forward certain bypasses because my local authority and constituents believe that the road system must be more streamlined in order to meet the problems of unemployment and to attract industry. I am also engaged in trying to wheedle more money to get a comprehensive school built and a fully implemented comprehensive education system in my valley.
All hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies could tell the Committee of similar issues. I shall be utterly impotent in these matters once the Bill is passed. I shall not be able to make effective representations to the Welsh Development Agency because it will be under the domination and control of the Welsh Assembly.
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler
Will my hon. Friend tell the Committee whether he thinks the Bill is about the better government of Wales and the rights of the Welsh people or about the rights of the Welsh Members at present sitting in this Chamber? It seems that the two issues are separate.
§ Mr. Abse
The hon. Gentleman may have little confidence in his personal competence in being able to exercise leverage upon a Government. I am confident that in my constituency there is a belief, which is being expressed in the opinions coming from Wales, that Welsh people elect hon. Members and expect them to exercise leverage in this House. They do not want untried and untested Assemblymen who will be a totally unknown factor and will not be experienced in dealing with the Government or be able to mobilise, as hon. Members can, pressure upon the Government.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
Does the hon. Gentleman realise the illogicality that he will, however, be able to decide on exactly those issues in the constituency of his hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler)?
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Abse
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) has anticipated the point that I was about to make. He has raised a valid point. If my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) thinks that these matters are so trivial, I remind him that I represent a new town, the responsibility for which I share with the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Stradling Thomas). The future of that town and its administration will go to the Assembly. In that new town is more than a third of my electorate.
There are consequences. My hon. Friend may say "Bravo" about responsibility for the new town going to the Assembly. He may say "What an indolent life you will now be able to lead". The absurdity is that, if the Assembly came into existence I should be able to intervene in all the debates on issues affecting every new town except my own. I shall be able to debate all the issues affecting every new town in England. For how long will the Members representing those towns put up with that? Why should they put up with it? Why should I and other hon. Members be able to participate in the decision-making process affecting every constituency in England while the Members representing English constituencies will, like myself he debarred from participating in so much of the decision-making within the Principality?
§ Mr. Wigley
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the new town of Cwmbran will have representatives who will be able to bring pressure to bear in the appropriate place? Although the hon. Gentleman may not be doing that personally, the town of Cwmbran will have adequate or excellent representation that will bring to bear the necessary pressure.
§ Mr. Abse
I doubt whether that argument will commend itself to my constituents in Cwmbran, who know how much hostility has been aroused within neighbouring authorities because it is suggested that an excess of capital has gone into the new town. We at Westminster can take a more detached view than can be taken locally. Whereas we can get the Secretary of State for Wales to take an overall view of such issues and to be unsullied by local pressures, there will be local bargaining in the Assembly. I 506 accept that that bargaining can take place in this place, but it will be inevitable and overwhelming in the Assembly.
It is clear that the view will be taken in the Assembly that the new town will suck up too many resources, even though that is justified and central policy in the past has said that that was right. It would be a disaster if Cwmbran New Town had to depend upon Assemblymen for its development. I shall not pursue that issue, but it highlights the difficulties that are arising and adds to the arguments advanced by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), who stressed that because legislative power is not in itself being handed over with the handing over of all this policy making, the giving of executive power to the Principality is bound to lead to enormous tensions between the Assembly and ourselves.
In my judgment there is bound to be a conflict between the Assembly and the House. In many respects the conflict could be greater than the conflict between Scotland and England. I shall explain why. The reason is that the ambiguity will be greater. To be able to distinguish between executive action and legislative action, to be able to distinguish between a broad legislative outline and the application of detailed policy, is bound to mean that a large area will be ambiguous. In Scotland the conflict that may arise will be overt and clear. There may be conflict between the legislation that this place wants and the legislation that is passed in Scotland. However, in dealing with Wales we have such a grey area that it is inevitable that every question could be argued and disputed when there appears to be a policy need or an administrative need. Conflict would arise because in the crude outline of legislative policy the details would be left to the Assembly.
Is it not clear that there is bound to be dispute? Above and beyond having an Assembly we shall have, if Wales remains true to its loyalties as it has done for the past 40 years or 50 years, a Labour Assembly and the unfortunate possibility that one day there will be a Conservative Government at Westminster. There will be then the obvious conflicts and the day-to-day conflicts. They will be in addition to the annual conflict that may arise when there is dispute about the block grant. There will be a constant war. 507 The war will mean that the Assembly will quickly come to the conclusion that the Royal Commission is said to have come to—namely, that the Assembly should have a swollen Civil Service of its own, not a shared one with Whitehall. Such an Assembly would cost Wales a high price financially.
On the Government's figures, which I do not accept, each Assemblyman would cost Wales £37,500 a year by way of salary and supporting services. I tell myself that of course the Government did not have the insouciance today to do what they did before—namely, to claim that in terms of the clause that was being proposed the unity of the United Kingdom would not be affected. I believe that the people of Wales want to retain the unity of the United Kingdom. Above everything else, I believe that the Labour movement of Wales wants to retain the unity of the United Kingdom. Above everything else, I believe that the Labour movement in Wales wants to retain the unity of the Labour movement of Britain. It does not want to see a State come into existence in which it finds that, when faced with the issue of the distribution of resources of Britain it is judged not according to its needs but as an ethnic group, may be a spurious ethnic group, or according to some bizarre geography.
In debating the clause we are debating a fundamental principle. The Bill will subvert the influence of Wales at Westminster. It is a Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Davies), bringing with him great experience from the Welsh Office—
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
Did I hear the hon. Gentleman rightly when he referred to a spurious ethnic group? Was that meant to be a description of Wales, of a nation that has existed from at least the time of St. David, in the sixth century, and whose tradition has most remarkably survived? If it is meant to be a description of Wales, I am sure that it will be greatly resented by the Welsh people.
§ Mr. Abse
In Pontypool we are well aware, as we are in the whole of Gwent and in the city of my birth—Cardiff—of how many streams come into the identity of Wales. I need no lectures from the hon. Gentleman on the Welshness of Pontypool. The hon. Gentleman has only to consider our rugby team. He will 508 realise that we know how to express our Welshness in the front line of the Wales pack. We know in this place how to express our Welshness. That is not by retreating to the parish pump and becoming ancient Britons, but by the affirmation that we are to be modern Britons. That sense of Welshness is felt particularly keenly in Gwent.
I referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower and the experience that he brings from the Welsh Office, where he did so much good work. He has said that the inevitable consequence will be that the role of the Welsh Office will be diminished.
The junior Ministers who are here today should not believe that there will be three Ministers representing Wales when the time comes—if ever it does—that we have a Welsh Assembly. I am not surprised that there are rumours—I know not whether they are true—that perhaps they may not share the enthusiasm of the Secretary of State for devolution. It was as a result of the initiative of the Labour Party that Wales was able to have a clear voice in the Cabinet. That was a great triumph but I doubt whether it will continue in the long run.
The Welsh Labour movement will understand that in the interstices of the political argument that we have heard today from the Opposition there is a clear admonition to Wales that there would be a severe reduction in the number of Members who would represent Wales if the Welsh Assembly were to come into being at some time in the future.
My conclusion, as the Committee may well have gathered, that this is a bad Bill, and that in particular it is bad for Wales.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas (Hendon, South)
I start by congratulating the Secretary of State for Wales. As he has absented himself, on this St. David's Day, from the first important debate in the Committee stage of the Bill, and incurred nothing but mild and tolerant criticism from the House, it appears to me to be a matte: worthy of congratulation.
Things have changed since the days when I was Secretary of State for Wales. If, in a similar situation, my junior Minister had put forward as an excuse that I was at 10 Downing Street meeting the Wales Trades Union Congress, 509 and that later I was to take part in a television programme, I think that the Opposition at that time would have almost slaughtered me. I therefore congratulate the Secretary of State on having an Opposition who are very tolerant and gentlemanly, and a little more civilised than the Opposition of my day.
I regret that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) is not here at present—he is probably appearing on television—because he referred to me in his speech and I want to say one or two things about what happened in the past. Just over 25 years ago, when I first came to this House as the Member for Conway, we had as a part of our programme the appointment of a Minister for Welsh Affairs. That was criticised very much at the time by our opponents, but nevertheless the appointment was widely acclaimed in Wales.
When I made a speech from the Government Benches shortly after the appointment, I likened it to the door being left ajar for further devolution, because I believe that it was the beginning of devolution in Wales of an administrative nature. I believed that in the course of time, should our experience show that it was necessary, vie could move towards a body such as an Assembly.
My mind was never closed, and as time went on and the first Secretary of State for Wales was appointed, I was never opposed to that idea, although I was critical of the fact that it was very little improvement on the previous position, as the Secretary of State's powers related only to local government, transport and housing as far as I remember. It was really just an additional title, and the former Minister for Wales, who then dealt with housing and local government throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, would probably have had greater authority in the Cabinet. But since then greater powers have been devolved to the Welsh Office, and my experience in the three and a half years that I had there was that it served Wales well. One thought, therefore, in terms of evolution towards greater administrative devolution for the benefit of Wales.
I looked at the idea of a Parliament or an Assembly for Wales in the hope 510 that I would find something which would be of benefit to Wales and which would provide more industry and reduce unemployment, as well as improving the social services, and so on. When the proposals were first advocated, I was particularly concerned with the matter which goes to the very kernel of Clause 1, namely, how it would affect the unity of the United Kingdom.
I could not agree more with the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and other hon. Members who have said that they are satisfied that the Bill, if it goes through, will undoubtedly affect the unity of the United Kingdom. I say so—I have mentioned this before—because I have no doubt at all that if the Bill is passed and the referendum allows the Assembly to come into being, it will be a source of considerable conflict not only between the Assembly and the Government, or the Assembly, the Welsh Office and the Government, but also between the Assembly and the local authorities in Wales.
I have no doubt at all that the Secretary of State for Wales will be emasculated in his functions. I have no doubt at all that the Members of Parliament will have sterile responsibilities, and that the demand for a reduction in the number of Members from Wales will be not only inevitable but ultimately irresistible. I have no doubt at all that the Assembly, if it comes into being, will be a source of irritation and conflict and will ultimately be disastrous for Wales.
It is for that reason that I express my view, as I have in the past, that it is not in the interests of Wales that the Assembly should come into effect. At the time when I had responsibility, I put forward what I considered to he the proper policy, namely, further devolution of an administrative nature through the Welsh Office.
I am obliged to you, Mr. Murton, for letting me make a short contribution and to say that I wholly support what has been so excellently said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). I think that his argument is irrefutable and that this House should give no support to the Bill.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
I shall be dealing later in my speech with some of the points made by the right hon. and learned 511 Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas). Several hon. Members have already made reference to the fact that the debate is being held on St. David's Day. I think that St. David would not have boasted about his Welshness. I believe that he had strong Irish connections, which is fair enough, because St. Patrick had Welsh connections. This is typical of the Church, is it not, with its belief in the brotherhood of man? But it is unfortunate that on the day when we are celebrating our patron saint we should be debating the Wales Bill, which is trying to separate one group of brothers from another.
I am delighted with the good will of the Government Front Bench, in the sense that the clause is to be permitted to go out of the Bill. That is a very good start. I can nominate some other clauses—not a short list, either—on which I hope the Government will take similar action.
We had a debate on a similar Bill for Scotland. Amendments were made to that Bill, which improved it. There is an argument whether this Bill can be improved, but it has already been improved. The people of Wales are to decide what is to happen to it. It is important that we put before the people of Wales a Bill which is not full of bristling inadequacies.
It could be argued that the people of Wales will accept the proposal. I do not know when the referendum will be. Since this is St. David's Day, perhaps we can have an early announcement that the, referendum will be held on St. David's Day next year. Let the people of Wales decide on that day whether they want the Bill.
It has been argued that the Government have changed the rules. They included a clause in the Bill and now they want it removed. I hope that we shall not experience the situation that we experienced on the Scotland Bill when, whenever an amendment was successful, the Government were accused of changing the rules as they went along. We are in Committee. It is the time for discussing the Bill clause by clause and considering amendments. It is the height of impudence for the nationalists to criticise us because we changed the Scotland Bill with the 40 per cent. rule. No less than 512 64 amendments to this Bill are connected with Plaid Cymru Members. Apparently those three Members have the right to change the Bill but if anyone else attempts it they are accused of changing the rules.
§ Mr. Wigley
The majority of these amendments are connected and will be taken together. They will not take up a large proportion of the time.
§ Mr. Evans
I know that some of the amendments are consequential upon each other. That does not alter the wrath that we get from Plaid Cymru Members when we seek to move an amendment.
Tonight we shall discuss an amendment that is similar to one that was moved during the consideration of the Scotland Bill. The Committee on the Scotland Bill decided that it did not want Clause 1. The Government have taken note of the will of that Committee. They are now not going to move Clause 1 of this Bill. That is legitimate. However, when any hon. Members from any quarter moved amendments to the Scotland Bill they were accused of changing the rules.
We shall shortly discuss an amendment dealing with proportional representation. The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) wants to change the rules on how we vote for an Assembly. He says that he has that right but that no one else has. I hope that his party does not have a majority in the Assembly.
§ Mr. Wigley
In the last debate that we had on proportional representation the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) argued that the rules could not be changed. He said that he wanted to retain the status quo. Now he is only too willing to change and fiddle the rules.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Member for Caernarvon completely misinterprets my remarks. I said that it would be wrong to have the first-past-the-post system for this Assembly and a different system for other elections. The hon. Member should not mislead the Committee about what I said. I was opposed to PR but I did not deny the right of hon. Members to persuade the Committee to accept that system.
I welcome the fact that the Government are not to include Clause 1 in the Bill. This is the wrong time to embark on this measure and to change the machinery of government. This is a time 513 when we do not have a majority, when we are in the run up to the election, and when we have not formulated the correct proposals to change the procedures. The Government have made concessions. Originally they included proposals for Scotland and Wales in one Bill. That was wrong, and we defeated that proposal on the guillotine motion. Now the Bills are separate.
These are major constitutional issues. We should not say that the Bill does not affect the unity of the United Kingdom because we are not sure of its effect. No one can put his hand on his heart and say that the Bill will have no effect. We are leaping into the dark.
We made a demand for a referendum so that the people of Wales could decide. There was tremendous opposition to that proposal. Some people said that there was an overwhelming demand for an Assembly in Wales. We said that we must put it to the test by way of a referendum. Some of us argued that the referendum should be held before the Bill was considered, so that the benefits and disadvantages of such an Assembly could be put to the people. We could then have put forward the Bill in the House. The Government could then have said that there was a majority in Wales which wanted the Bill and that therefore they would proceed with it. We cannot be certain whether the people of Wales want the Bill. That is as much as we can say. Some of us feel that there is great opposition to these proposals. The issue is now to be decided in a referendum.
I find the Bill extremely divisive. It is divisive among parliamentary colleagues, and there is no unanimous feeling about it in the Labour and trade union movements. We are only at the beginning. Wales has a population of fewer than 3 million. Scotland's population is 5½ million. There are fewer people in Wales and Scotland than in London. There are 9 million people in London, but in Wales we have an enormous number of community bodies. We have 30 district councils, eight county councils, the Welsh Office, and a Secretary of State in the Cabinet, and now we are to inject a Welsh Assembly in Cardiff into the system.
I believe in an increasing role for government but I do not believe in over- 514 government. It could be said that we shall be over-governed if we impose an Assembly on to the present structure.
§ Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, North)
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) may remember the splended discussion document "Devolution: The English Dimension." It gives the lie to the argument that is often made by Ministers and others that we are not to have an extra layer of government. The document, dealing with regional government in England, states thatTo sum up, the case for change is seen to lie in: —… providing a layer of government to deal with such matters as may be better dealt with at a level intermediate between central and local government as they now exist.The Government have enumerated this sort of body as a layer of government.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Evans
There is the semantic argument about what is a tier of government, but the Assembly is a new form of administration and it represents an extra part of government. Industry that comes to Wales or is already there will have to deal with an additional body, and that is not good.
But what is to happen to local government? Earlier I said that if the Assembly proposals go through it will lead to the scrapping of local government in Wales. That brought forth loud protestations. Local government would not be touched, we were told. I realise the difficulty. The previous Conservative Government proceeded with the reorganisation of local government before the Kilbrandon Commission presented its conclusions. Unfortunately, the Conservative Party rushed ahead with its local government proposals. If it had waited to see the Commission's recommendations, proposals could have been presented that would have made sense.
The Welsh Office realises that local government has been reorganised. It does not want it to get around that it may be reorganised again and that there will be an upheaval. So the White Paper says that local government will not be affected.
§ Mr. Evans
I cannot do that research for the hon. Member. He will have to do it for himself. I was not a Member of the House at that time. I believe that Labour Members opposed the proposals that were put forward by the Conservatives. The hon. Member should address that question to one of my colleagues. He was not in the House at the time. He had been thrown out by the people of Carmarthen, and I had lost my seat in England. He should not ask me what was happening here when neither of us were Members.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Does the hon. Member not consider that the Assembly would in any event be a most unsuitable body to examine the framework of local government since it might have an incentive to reduce local government powers in order to gain powers for itself?
§ Mr. Evans
If the hon. Member had been patient, he would have heard me make a similar point.
The problem is that the Conservatives went ahead with local government reorganisation. The present Government, in presenting their proposals, have tried to leave local government to one side. The evidence given by the Labour Party to the Kilbrandon Commission dealt with what was virtually a top-tier local authority which would cover the whole of Wales and would have beneath it a unitary authority. I would have agreed with that because it would have made sense, but it does not make sense to maintain the existent structure of local government and impose an Assembly on top of it. Having imposed that Assembly, the worst possible approach would be to ask it for recommendations on how local government should be reorganised.
The association representing the county councils in Wales has said that the eight counties want the Committee to delete Clause 13 because it bestows on the Assembly a function that it should not have.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
Would the hon. Member be in favour of devolving power to the people of Wales if the Government did away with one tier of local government?
§ Mr. Evans
I believe in devolution, but I do not accept these proposals. There is no obligation on hon. Members to 516 accept proposals just because they are put forward. I do not believe that the proposals in the Bill will prove to be accetable in Wales or will deal with the problems that they seek to deal with. The Bill leaves more questions unanswered than it answers. That is why I welcome the fact that the people of Wales will be given the opportunity to decide what to do with the Bill.
The basic weakness in the Government's approach is that the proposals for devolution should have applied to the whole of Britain. There is a case for regionalism for dealing with the nominated bodies. There is also a case for electing rather than nominating representatives, and it is better for that to be done throughout the whole of the United Kingdom rather than just for Scotland and Wales in isolation. That is why I do not accept these proposals and why I shall be campaigning for a "No" vote in Wales.
The Bill will endanger the existing number of Members of Parliament representing Wales. There are 36 of us here and we can express the points of view of our constituents. That representation will suffer if we do anything to diminish the number of Welsh Members of Parliament. Further, that would introduce disunity into the relationship that exists between Wales and the rest of Britain.
If the Assembly is created, what will be the future function of the Welsh Office? If functions now exercised by the Welsh Office are to be transferred to the Assembly, will functions that are exercised by other Government Departments then be transferred to the Welsh Office?
What guarantee do we have that the Secretary of State for Wales will have a seat in the Cabinet after the Assembly is established? I can imagine that a future Prime Minister might feel that since Wales and Scotland had their own Assemblies he should reduce the number of Cabinet posts, and the two respective Secretaries of State would be left out. That, too, would lead to disunity.
What is to be the role of Members of Parliament when the Assembly is established? There has been much discussion about the so-called West Lothian question. Basically it means that Scotland—and in this case Welsh—Members can raise matters that relate to England but 517 be denied the opportunity of dealing with their own constituencies. Further, Scottish and Welsh Members would have the privilege of dealing with English matters, but English Members would be unable to deal with Scottish and Welsh matters. Perhaps in our debates on the Wales Bill we should refer to this as the West Glamorgan question. West Glamorgan has anxieties about its future, as have those hon. Members, who represent it.
I do not think that there are any sinister motives behind the presentation of the Bill, but I do not think that those who have formulated it have sufficiently taken into account the changes that have taken place through the reorganisation of local government. We are creating in the Assembly a Frankenstein monster which will gather its own momentum and could well have a separate existence from the House of Commons. We are dealing, in the Bill, with a chemistry of conflict and confrontation; we are dealing with the biology of breakup and possibly breakdown in Wales' relations with the rest of the United Kingdom; we are dealing with the physics of friction and protestation which will arise if the Bill becomes law; we are discussing the science of separatism.
I know that the intention is to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom, but we should not ignore the fact that the people who have been wholeheartedly behind both the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill from the beginning are the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales. They have been enthusiastic for these Bills, yet they cannot call themselves "devolutionists" because they do not believe in the unity of Britain. Their whole purpose is to destroy that unity
I have deep anxieties about the Bill, but I am pleased that the Government are prepared to take into account the views of the Committee, and I am delighted that the Government do not intend that Clause 1 shall be retained and that we shall soon be moving on to Clause 2.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
I think that I can enlighten the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) a little further on the matter of local government, which is dealt with in Clause 13. Surely he must realise that Clause 13, which gives power to the Assembly to reform the structure of local 518 government in Wales, was a very late entrant into the Bill. I suggest to him that it was put in by the Government because of the criticism that there would be over-government, too many tiers of government, if the Assembly was installed on top of the existing set-up.
I do not think that the Committee has realised fully the monumental admission of original error on the part of the Government in that they have no intention now of pressing Clause 1. They are wise not to do so, for obvious reasons. It was voted out of the Scotland Bill, and what is not good enough for Scotland is certainly not good enough for Wales, especially on St. David's Day. The case made against the inclusion of Clause 1 in the Scotland Bill is equally valid in the case of Wales, and it is as well to put that on record.
The most damaging legalistic point was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) in the debate on Clause 1, as it then was, of the Scotland Bill—the same clause as we are now discussing. He said, and has repeated the point again today, thatIt is an important and long-established principle of legislation that a Bill should contain law and not expressions of opinion or propaganda. Expressions of opinion, whether right or wrong, good or bad, controversial or agreed, have for years been considered irrelevant to legislation."—[Official Report, 22nd November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 1337.]There is no doubt in the Committee's mind that this clause contains such an expression of opinion where it states that the provisions of the Bill.do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom".The historical coup de grace, as it were, had already been delivered to the clause a little earlier in that same debate by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) when he referred to the fact that a similar clause had been used in the 1912–14 Government of Ireland Act. He pointed out that itwas exploded before that Act could ever be put into effiect".—[Official Report, 22nd November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 1333.]6.15 p.m.
If the Government propose to drop Clause 1 from this Bill, it has an important repercussion on the very last part of the Bill, namely, the form of ballot paper to be used in the referendum. The negative 519 theme of Clause 1 is transformed into a positive theme there in the form of the ballot paper, and the people of Wales are to be told:The Act provides that…Wales should remain part of the United Kingdom.If it is a matter of opinion whether the provisions of the Bill do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom as stated in Clause 1, it is similarly a matter of opinion whether the Bill provides that Wales should remain part of the United Kingdom.
The Bill is, to my mind, a stepping-stone in the other direction—towards the independence or separatism that we have heard so much about, as some amendments put down by Plaid Cymru Members clearly suggest. If the Government are withdrawing Clause 1, they are in honour bound to remove the words on the ballot paper which are based on that clause. I am glad that the change has been made in the Scotland Bill by a Government amendment, and I hope that we can have an assurance before the end of this debate that a similar change will be made in the Wales Bill. If that change is not made, I think that the people of Wales will be grossly deceived.
I mention the matter now because it is doubtful whether we shall be able to discuss the form of the ballot paper at the end of the Bill on the eighth Allotted Day. Incidentally, I must say that the people of Wales would be horrified and appalled if they realised how scanty and cursory our discussions of the Bill are to be. Some key clauses and schedules will hardly be touched upon. I therefore hope that the Chair will be very generous in its interpretation of the rules of order so that we may make cross-references from amendments under discussion to other parts of the Bill affected.
§ The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. The hon. Gentleman appears to be trying to get an assurance that the Chair will divert or depart from normal practice. If an amendment is not before the Committee, obviously it will be out of order to discuss it.
§ Mr. Roberts
We were given certain assurances earlier, Sir Myer, with particular reference to this clause.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Let us be clear on the matter. I was present when the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) raised a whole string of points of order, but what the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) is suggesting now is that, when we come to a group of amendments, hon. Members should be able to discuss amendments not included in that group. If I am wrong in my interpretation, I apologise to him, but I thought he was trying to get an assurance that he would be allowed to refer to amendments not included in a particular group before the Committee at the time.
§ Mr. Roberts
I think I expressed the hope that the Chair would be generous in its interpretation of the rules of order so that we might make cross-references from the amendments under discussion to other parts of the Bill affected by those amendments.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
I think that the hon. Gentleman and I are in agreement as to what he wants from the Chair, but I could not give such an assurance at this stage. It will all depend on how deeply an hon. Member would go into the matter of cross-references.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
I am in a generous mood at the beginning. I do not know what I shall be like in half an hour's time.
§ Mr. Roberts
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) began the debate with a major speech on the Bill as a whole. He was entitled to do that because the provisions of the Bill are the subject of the clause.
I wish to look at the Bill briefly from the standpoint of the government of Wales, which is also referred to in the clause. I look at it as one who lives under that government and who has constituents living under it. I know very few who relish the prospect of the Bill's provisions coming into effect, and those few are clearly misguided as to a number of facts.
As we have said time and time again, there will be interminable conflict between the Welsh Assembly and Westminster over money, powers and functions. If 521 the Government think that through the Bill they will finally divert Welsh criticism from Westminster to Cardiff, they are very wrong. That transference of criticism may be short-lived. If the Government think that conflict will be creative, the answer is "Yes" in the sense that it will stimulate nationalism and "No" in the sense that it will not remove the grievances or improve the lot of our people.
Reference has been made to the resources allocated to Wales. I think that the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) said that: he found the subject distasteful. Distasteful or not, I think that the matter of the allocation of resources is vital. I have here a Written Answer given to me on 17th November on how resources are allocated to England, Scotland and Wales. Whereas identifiable public expenditure per head in 1974–75 was £543 in England, it was £583 in Wales. A year later it was £686 in England and £776 in Wales. The provisional figures for 1976–77 are £754 in England and £875 in Wales, a difference of £121. The difference is growing. We have been doing better and better in terms of per capita expenditure under the present system.
Let me add one more set of figures, those for Scotland, which has done best of all. I give only the figure for 1976–77, which was £948.
I ask myself this key question: shall we do better than that under an Assembly? I am sure that in the long run the answer is "No". Perhaps in the first year or so we shall appear to do better, but it will not be for long, because when greater demands are made on the Treasury we shall be asked "Why don't you raise your own resources through your own taxation?"
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is another possible interpretation of the figures he has just given? He says that Wales and Scotland receive more from the public purse. Is not that because Wales has more unemployment, and more poverty and because the social services there demand more? Are not those facts the consequence of misgovernment, and is not that an argument that there is more misgovernment in Wales than in England?
§ Mr. Roberts
When we receive more per head than England, I cannot regard that as misgovernment or lack of generosity by the Government of the United Kingdom as a whole. The hon. Gentleman can provide his own interpretation, but let us also be absolutely clear that the expenditure is not totally raised in Wales. I am certain that we could not raise it through our own taxation.
That is where the hon. Gentleman's party fails. It must say honestly to the people of Wales "We could have independence, we could have a separate Wales, but it would mean that Government expenditure per head would be considerably lower than it is now."
As so many hon. Members have said, one of the consequences of the Bill is that the power of Wales at Westminster and the role of the Secretary of State for Wales will decline. As a result of this legislation, the Secretary of State will have a weaker voice in the Cabinet.
Incidentally, we are glad to see the Secretary of State now on the Government Front Bench. We understand that he has been to No. 10 today. I hope that he had a strong voice there. One thing is sure: that his voice will be weaker in the Cabinet. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that he has not been to No. 10? We were told earlier that he had been there. We also understand that he took part in a television programme. It may interest him to know that I turned down an offer to appear in the same programme.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)
May I correct the impression that, I gather, the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) gave the House? I took no part in any television arrangement of any shape or form.
§ Mr. Roberts
The Secretary of State has still not explained his absence from this important debate. He owes the Committee rather more explanation than he has given.
§ Mr. John Morris
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall be here a great deal of the time within the period allocated to the Bill. The fact that I am not here at every possible moment is not unusual in the proceedings on any Bill, especially in view of the approach that the Government are adopting towards 523 the clause, which the hon. Gentleman knows.
§ Mr. Roberts
I still do not think that the Secretary of State has fully satisfied the Committee on this matter. But I leave it to his conscience and to the knowledge of the Committee.
§ Mr. Morris
Will the hon. Gentleman contain himself? He has been away and has now returned to the Chamber. He must not behave as he used to behave.
There are a whole host of things going on, a whole host of committees and other meetings that I must attend. But I give the assurance that I shall be here for the overwhelming part of the time that it is necessary for me to be here, and if I ame not here, another Minister from the Welsh Office will always be present.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am prepared to withdraw the statement that the Secretary of State had taken part in a television programme towards 6 o'clock. But we were firmly told by the Under-Secretary that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had been at No. 10 earlier today. That was brought forward as an excuse for his absence.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Roberts
I go on to say—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."]—that, if the Bill is passed, the Secretary of State will no longer be directly responsible for the administration of a large body of legislation. In fact, he will exercise, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire said, a residue of powers. I doubt whether the Secretary of State will be able to co-ordinate the whole of Government activity in Wales. As a result, the cohesion of policy and government in Wales will be affected. After all, economic policy is often affected by decisions on planning, housing, transport and so on.
Indeed, in their White Paper in 1974 the Government admitted that the Secretary of State for Wales would disappear, at least in his present form. Indeed, he has—during the earlier part of this debate. 524 We are glad that he has returned in his present form—although he tends to remind me of the schoolmaster in "The Deserted Village" whose pupils had learnedto trace the day's disasters in his morning face.The White Paper said that even if the Secretary of State were retained, he would have more limited powers.
The Secretary of State will himself be involved in endless wrangles with the Assembly over powers and functions and their exercise. When he is not doing that, he will be trying to keep the Assembly and the county councils apart in a bitter dogfight that has already begun even before the Assembly has been created.
We have talked of over-government and the relationship between the Assembly and local government. This matter will be debated when we come to Clause 13—I hope. This is St. David's Day. St. David was, indeed, a man of peace. It is ironic that the Government should be introducing the Committee stage of this contentious Bill on our saint's day. It is a Bill that will bring bitterness and divisiveness to Wales and possibly unwarranted fear to many people in the Principality.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
The clause states that the Bill will not affect the unity of the United Kingdom. That would be true only if Wales were really a nation, but it is not a nation. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) spoke about the beginning of Welsh nationhood in the Middle Ages. In fact, nationhood did not exist in those days. Tribal warfare and feudalism existed, but it is very significant that nationhood in this country and, indeed, in the world did not really start until Tudor times, when a Welsh dynasty took over England, just as a Scottish dynasty took over England as well.
Therefore, let us look at the criteria of nationhood, because it is the chief reason given for separatism or devolution rather than regionalism. One criterion would be that Wales has been an independent State for centuries. It has not been so It has not really existed on its own ever, any more than Northumbria or Mercia have existed on their own. Though there may be reasons for having separate regions for Mercia and Northumbria, they 525 do not mean devolution of the kind contained in the Bill. There has been no separate existence for Wales.
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Member has said that there has not been any such thing as Welsh nationhood. He is surely confused between the terms "nationhood" and "statehood". There has not been an existing Welsh State as there was a separate Scottish State prior to the Act of Union of 1707, but that does not mean in any way that there has not been an existing nationhood and in fact, a nationhood that has been recognised in many aspects of life other than the constitutional aspect, in, for example, sport and other activities.
§ Mr. Atkins
I have referred to one criterion which is a very important criterion in a list of criteria on what nationhood is. The other criterion that is frequently mentioned is language. Language on its own is not sufficient. In Switzerland, for example, there are many languages but a very strong nation.
To the great majority of people living in Wales Welsh is a foreign language. The introduction of road signs in Welsh, for example, in many parts of Wales is not only expensive but causes confusion to the great majority of motorists. Despite all the money spent on the Welsh language, it is not surprising that it continues to decline. That is because it is a weak language compared with the most important and the strongest language in the world—English. Welsh does not have an earthly chance in competition with English—which has become the language of the world.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
Does the hon. Member agree that the Secretary of State for Wales is doing his utmost to try to save the language of which we are so proud in Wales? Does he disagree with me when I say that what the present Government are doing is trying to save the Welsh language?
§ Mr. Atkins
Yes, I disagree. I feel that education in general in Wales will suffer, as it has in the past, by the preference given to Welsh-speaking teachers. As a teacher, I have suffered having to go to England, being English-speaking—although I was born in Wales, as were my parents—because preference is given to 526 Welsh-speaking teachers despite the fact that they may be inferior teachers.
Hon. Members talk about the unity of the United Kingdom. We may well have increasing disunity in South Wales because of the bigotry and arrogance of some of the demands of Plaid Cymru and people who have already established themselves in leading positions in Wales and have been doing so for years.
When I was still a grammar school boy in Barry, it used to be said that there was a foreign language department in University College, Cardiff—not the Welsh language, let it be said—at which, if one happened to be a strong Welsh nationalist, there was no difficulty about getting a first-class honours degree, whatever the examination paper was like. That was said at Barry County School. Some of my schoolmates were advised about that.
Nevertheless, there have been jobs for the boys in many of the establishments in Wales if those boys happened to be Welsh nationalists. That is why Plaid Cymru is so articulate and so well represented in the public discussions that take place in South Wales.
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Member has mentioned Plaid Cymru and teaching jobs in South Wales. He will be aware that Plaid Cymru has never controlled, unfortunately, and does not control any education authority in South Wales. There have been stories about certain appointments in South Wales, but what the hon. Member cannot do is to lay anything contained in them at the door of Plaid Cymru.
§ Mr. Atkins
One does not have to be a member of an education authority in order to favour one's own party. I remember that in South Wales, and particularly in Glamorgan, it was a disadvantage to be a Labour teacher because of the hierarchy in the education authority. It it possible to control a hierarchy without doing so through a party, but that is a most undemocratic and insidious way of forwarding one's own interests.
But there are other criteria. There is ethnology. The Celts—their language is the basis of Welsh—were closely related to the Anglo-Saxons. But neither the Celts nor the Anglo-Saxons were the original inhabitants of Wales. Basically, they were a Mediterranean people. The Celts conquered the original people—
§ Mr. Padley
I am sorry that I was not here when my hon. Friend began, but he has referred to the Celts. I am a Celt from the Cotswolds, but I represent Fforddygyfraith and Nantyffyllon. As an old international Socialist in the tradition of Keir Hardie and James Maxton, I shall defend the cultural inheritance of my constituents while rejecting the separatism of Plaid Cymru.
§ Mr. Atkins
By all means let my hon. Friend defend the culture of his compatriots, even if it happens to be an English culture—as the South Wales culture obviously is. My hon. Friend was brought up in the tradition of Shakespeare and Chaucer, and not that of some Welsh poet of whom neither of us can quote a word.
§ Mr. Padley
I am an adopted Welshman. My wife is Scottish, but she was brought up in Wales and was taught to speak the Welsh language. I became an adopted Welshman nearly 30 years ago. But, whatever can be said about the Welsh valleys, theirs is not an English culture. It might be called a universal culture based on the values of a humane philosophy, but there is a distinction. I am proud, as a Celt from the Cotswolds, to challenge this view.
§ Mr. Atkins
I am not an adopted Welshman. I was born and bred in Wales, as were my father and mother. But their fathers and mothers came from Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset, as did so many South Waleans. Those who came from the Midlands and from Ireland were accepted by the Socialists of South Wales, who believe in internationalism. "Workers of the world unite" was the sort of thing on which I was brought up in South Wales—not "Workers of South Wales unite against the workers of England".
My grandparents came to South Wales and were welcomed there when the Cornish tin mines were petering out and agriculture in the South-West of England was in great depression. They as much as the inhabitants of Wales built up the industry and the culture of South Wales, particularly its Socialism. They regard themselves as part of the whole community and not a narrow, bigoted and arrogant one on their own.
528 There is regionalism in South Wales, however, but it is based not on nationhood but on economic development and communications. For instance, Bristol used to be regarded as the commercial capital of South Wales and Liverpool the commercial capital of North Wales. Although I was born a Welshman and lived most of my life in Wales, I did not get to North Wales until I became the Member of Parliament for Preston, North.
It is very difficult to get to North Wales if one lives in South Wales, and vice versa. I have always felt a stronger regional feeling with Bristol, which I knew, than I did with North Wales. When I was a boy, there was frequently stronger feeling against some North Waleans than there was against some Englishmen.
Like other people from Wales, I will cheer the Welsh rugby team, but the kind of feeling that goes into cheering Welsh teams is not national. When Swansea plays Cardiff at rugger, there is a similar feeling and expression. When one's own local team is not in the contest, one takes sides with the team which is nearest. Since Preston North End fell into the Third Division, for choice of First Division teams we cheer Manchester United or Liverpool. So one cannot relate nationhood to the team that one supports.
There is room for regionalism in Wales, although, having studied the subject, I believe that South Wales feels more sense of identity with South-West England and North Wales with Merseyside than North Wales does with South Wales. Nevertheless, for sentimental reasons Wales could be considered a region. But that has nothing to do with nationhood. In fact, the imposition of a "phoney'" feeling of nationhood on people who resent it in South Wales will bring more disunity than unity.
For instance, although I am glad that there is to be a referendum, I am confident that it will show a majority against devolution. The feeling in South Wales against the extreme nationalism of a minority is causing a counteraction. Sooner or later, people will regard Welsh nationalism, so-called, for what it is really worth. I think that this minority feeling is the development only of a protest vote against the two major parties. 529 It is significant that the Liberal Party has not done so well in the Celtic fringe since the development of nationalism as it has done in England.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Atkins
I am sorry, Sir Myer, I had sat down only because I thought that the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) wanted to intervene at that point.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
I see. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the guillotine falls at 11 o'clock.
§ Mr. Atkins
I apologise. Sir Myer, but I had a number of interventions which required the courtesy of replies. I have been taken away somewhat from my theme.
The attitude of the Wales TUC and the Welsh Labour Party, which has been mentioned, in a recent development based, I believe, on electoral considerations. Both major parties brought this situation on themselves by bargaining for the floating, possibly nationalist, vote. The Conservatives started it—at least, they took the first important step forward in 1970—and we followed. Then the Tories pulled out.
We get hung up on this matter, and it is time that we restored a little sanity. The feeling that I knew in the Wales TUC and the South Wales Labour Party, which is essentially the Welsh Labour Party anyway, was one of internationalism, of a welcome to all nations and all people. There was not bigotry or arrogance but a feeling for one's community, based on social compassion and justice, not on national bigotry.
The Welsh lobby, after all, goes throughout the political spectrum, from the extreme Left to the extreme Right. As a Socialist, I am concerned that that great community spirit should not be destroyed. I fear that it will be destroyed in the controversies which will follow the passing of the Bill if it leads to a referendum and to a loss in the referendum for the anti-devolutionist movement. However, I am confident that that will not be so.
All the same, it needs to be said that we should drop this "phoney" talk about nationalism and turn our attention to the problems that matter and affect South 530 Wales and Scotland. I refer to the problems of unemployment and poverty, lack of justice, illness and all the other social problems that need to be dealt with. It is a pity that we have to waste time, but I hope that we shall learn the lesson from this debate before the Bill is concluded.
§ Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)
I shall speak fairly briefly. It is appropriate that I should follow the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) because I, like him, am yet another expatriate galloping back into the fold, drawn to my native land by the tremendous attractions of this most interesting Committee.
One of the points made by the hon Member for Preston, North is that he is here representing an English constituency and that he is a Socialist but, as he says, an international Socialist. That is a point which has constantly been made in the Committee, not only by those who participate but by those who take an interest in our proceedings, even if they have not spoken in them. Let me explain what I mean. We saw very recently in the Chamber the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy), who comes from South Wales. I come from Cardiff and represent an English constituency. We even have a Cotswold Celt who has gone the other way. We have someone from Preston. We hope that at some time we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Member for no less a constituency than City of London and Westminster, South (Mr Brooke), who happens to have two parents in another place, both of whom have taken Welsh titles. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) was in his first incarnation in this place the Member for Newport, and he comes from a Monmouthshire family.
Within the United Kingdom there is ample scope for hon. Members from whichever part they come to represent other parts of it. It is a very healthy thing.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
Does the hon. Member share my experience that the Englishmen whom I represent have none of the national prejudices and small-mindedness which might be found in certain parts of Wales?
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
Coming from Cardiff. I could not agree with that. The hon. Member spoke earlier about "jobs 531 for the boys" in Wales. Having contested elections in other areas, as I have done, my experience is that those things go on everywhere. It might be that the Welsh are a little better at it than other people, but it is in no sense exclusive to any part of Wales or to South Wales in particular.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
Does the hon. Member agree that if an Englishman now living in Wales wished to stand for the Welsh Assembly he would have the right to stand and be elected by the Welsh people to represent an area in Wales?
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
With due respect, I think that it would be a very optimistic Englishman who went across the border to stand for the Welsh Assembly with the thought that he might get elected.
§ Mr. Padley rose—
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
I am not giving way at the moment. I am afraid that the Anglo-Celts or the Cotswold Celts are even more excitable than the genuine variety who represent most of Wales.
Our Parliament is one Parliament. The hon. Member for Preston, North and I are saying that it is the universality of the United Kingdom and the freedom of movement to and fro which is very much at stake through the shrinking that might take place as a result of this sort of Bill. Many of us on both sides of the Committee are frightened that that may happen if the Bill is passed and eventually—I do not believe that it will—becomes law. That is what we are anxious to protect.
A number of hon. Members on both sides have referred to the legislation being clearly unwanted. The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) is one of the very few Labour Members to speak in support of it. We have had some active Liberal interventions and quite a few from Plaid Cymru. But had the Secretary of State been here throughout our proceedings he would not exactly have been overcome by the support that he has been receiving from the Benches behind him.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey claimed that all sorts of people supported the measure, from his own party, the 532 Church and so on. The point was made by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee at the time of the referendum argument: why should we waste time here now when there is to be a referendum after this measure, and there could so easily have been a referendum before? I agree with the hon. Member for Preston, North on that.
Hon. Members from the Welsh nationalist party have been less than forthcoming on the referendum question and less than anxious to face the people before the Bill went through.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
As the hon. Member has virtually invited me to intervene at this point, I should say that we have always advocated a referendum on all constitutional changes in Wales. As far back as from the 1960s we have been supporters of a referendum on our own policy for national status. Any constitutional changes in Wales must take place with—to use the famous phrase—the full-hearted consent of the Welsh people.
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
If I have said anything to draw the hon. Member from the Welsh nationalist party to make it clear that he wishes to go to the Welsh people, and this has always been the wish of his party. We are pleased to hear it. Many of us have not much noticed it before.
§ Mr. Abse
It is not surprising that the hon. Member had never heard of it before, because the catalyst which brought about the referendum, as the hon. Member will recall, was a reasoned amendment in my name and the names of 150 Members of all sides of the House of Commons except those representing Plaid Cymru, who gave no support to the idea of a referendum.
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Pontypool. I was hoping to be called to follow him so that I could compliment him on his speech, which was one of the best that I have heard for a long time. His speech was appreciated by myself and many of my hon. Friends and Labour Members.
We realise the role that the hon. Member and others who have supported him have played. It is because of that role played by the hon. Member and others that the Bill starts as a shambles, to quote the very words that I believe he used when 533 dealing with the; commencement of the Bill and the admitted and acknowledged falling of the Clause 1—a falling by consent, which, in view of what has gone by with regard to the Scotland Bill, shows the state to which we have come.
While I have claimed my expatriate status, may I say that I think that such is my status, so fresh, that I knew every place mentioned by the hon. Member for Pontypool from Sketty to Cyncoed or the Gower, or whatever it was, as well as Newport, which I contested in the General Elections of 1964 and 1966.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey dealt with the question of confrontation by playing down the Welsh Assembly, which suddenly assumed a small and inferior status. The hon. Member for Pontypool has dealt with that.
Then the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the example of Stormont. The answer crept in in a completely different context when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) was dealing with the behaviour of the Opposition and referred to the absence of the Secretary of State. My right hon. and learned Friend said "See how nice we are about such things, and how quiet we are" and then went on to make a point similar to the one that I am about to make.
Let us consider what would have happened if our roles had been reversed. I shall deal with the question of Stormont in a moment, but if a Conservative Secretary of State for Wales had been talking to the Welsh CBI in Downing Street one can imagine the reaction from the Opposition Benches.
It is claimed—I hope it is true—that we are reasonable and pleasant people, but what will happen if the proposals now before us eventually go through? I do not wish to be derogatory, and I say this with due respect to the Unionist Members now in the House of Commons and the gentlemen of their party in Northern Ireland, but one recalls the difference between what happened at the time when they had comparatively great authority as Unionist gentlemen and events since 1969, when Stormont was dissolved and there was a great change.
There is an analogy here. If the Con- 534 servatives were to have power in Wales, as we have in the county councils now, it is pretty clear what the reaction would be on such matters as comprehensive education. Even such magnificent people as we are—at least, I hope that we are—would tend to resist the authority of the central Government and have Conservative County Councils.
One recalls also the Clay Cross affair and the resistance of Labour-controlled local authorities throughout the country to the Housing Finance Act. Again, reversing our positions, one begins to get a reasonably firm answer to the argument presented by the right hon. Member for Anglesey.
There is another point which should be made. We have heard about the nature of Wales, but the discussion has been somewhat academic regarding its national identity and status and no one has spoken directly about whether there is a genuine national cohesion. If the Welsh are asked to orient themselves upon Cardiff, they will be asked to do something which most of them have never done. I agree here with the implication of what was said by the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins). With the greatest respect to those who come from Cardiff or represent Cardiff constituencies, it must be said that Cardiff is not the Welshest of places. As most of us know, the Cardiff accent is a Cardiff accent. I could drop into it pretty quickly myself, and it is quite different from the Welsh accent.
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that at 10 minutes past four this afternoon we were informed that the Government were prepared to withdraw this clause? Why is he still rattling on?
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
To tell the truth, I am rather enjoying myself, although the interventions by hon. Members on both sides have considerably prolonged my brief speech. If only hon. Members would resist the temptation to interrupt me, we might get along more quickly. One might say that I am having a bit of practice for later stages.
I was about to say that there is no national cohesion in Wales. There were references earlier to newspapers, and they gave a good indication. We heard of the Argus and the Echo in South 535 Wales, and then the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock)—I think it was he—went straight up to the Liverpool Daily Post. Thus, the point is made.
North Wales is oriented one way. There is then central Wales, whose problems of rural depopulation and so forth are far more akin to those of the English rural counties adjacent to it. Then there is the South Wales conurbation, with its very pleasant capital city which will, as it were, be the centre for the Assembly, if it comes, but which none the less is a town towards which most of the rest of the Welsh nation do not orient themselves.
I have mentioned in passing the affinity of central Wales for the rural areas on the other side of the border. I endorse here what various of my hon. Friends have said about Wales doing very nicely now. It so happens that in rural Herefordshire, an English rural area adjacent to the border, people are concerned to see the vast benefits now going to Wales because of its automatic development area status.
The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) talked about his motorways and about getting money for ring roads. I cannot get my county council even to adopt a lane. I am not in the same league with the hon. Gentleman because I do not have the sacred status which hon. Members from Wales enjoy—that is, their easy access to money even in present circumstances, let alone under the Assembly system, which is not wanted anyway.
I mention now a local problem for my area which mirrors or exemplifies much that has already been said. Water and inland drainage in the English border areas adjacent to Wales will come under the control of the Welsh National Water Development Authority, under the Secretary of State, and under the Assembly. Its various functions will therefore be divided among the Assembly, the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture, so that there will be three different governing bodies for that important sector of operations which engulf those on either side of the boundaries settled under the Water Act 1973. Thus, an English area will look for a material part of its living standards—namely, water supply and land drainage—largely to an Assembly in which it will 536 have no voice, for that Assembly, if it is any good, will have a fairly dominant influence there.
Finally, I turn to the position of the House of Commons itself. The hon. Member for Pontypool spoke of the demeaning of the role of the Member of Parliament. I shall be interested to know, and I imagine that some of my hon. Friends will be interested to know, what the Plaid Cymru Members will do if our role here will be so magnificent with regard to Welsh affairs as they seem to indicate by their interventions. For which Parliament or Assembly will they opt when the time comes? Will they seize the opportunity to go back home as it were, where they see power lying? I suspect that they will. I suspect that they will endeavour to control the Assembly at some time or other, depending on the tide of national politics and fortune to gather protest votes.
In my view, there is opportunity for adequate control in the House of Commons and it could be used for Welsh affairs. If I may add a word without trespassing on the next debate, a bit of proportional representation here and there would produce a much more effective body. In other words, a few more Welsh Conservative Members in this place would give it a far better opportunity to control affairs. If it is said that the House of Commons is inadequate, the answer does not lie in going for a Welsh Assembly. It lies rather in making a few changes, which, with due respect, are badly needed in this place as well.
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler
Throughout the debate, with its host of speeches thus far, I am the first, I think, after my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) to defend the Bill, and I think it sad that it should be left to an Englishman—and, what is worse, an Englishman from the Welsh Marches where one would expect the maximum hostility, and, worse still, a laryngitic Englishman—to offer that defence. I can claim also to be a Celtic Englishman, so I hope that that will be taken as a qualification in my favour.
I am provoked to speak by the speech of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), which I thought was semi-hysterical. If I had not known the content of the Bill, I should have assumed that he was describing a Bill for the 537 independence of Wales. That was certainly the implication of his speech, and I shall deal in detail with the arguments that he adduced.
However, before coming to that, I must allude to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). I do not join the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) in thinking that it was a fine speech. It was magnificently delivered, if I may say so, but it consisted of three parts, the first being a personal attack upon my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and upon my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey. I had hoped that we could manage to debate this question as a matter of principle, without indulging in personalities, which does no credit to the House of Commons or to individual Members.
§ Mr. Abse
Since he is indulging in a personal attack upon me, perhaps my hon. Friend will identify with greater clarity the basis of his charge. I commented quite diffidently on the absence of the Secretary of State for Wales on such an important occasion. Does my hon. Friend regard that as a personal attack? Is not the presence of the Secretary of State something owed to a Committee of the House on such an occasion?
Next, I commented on the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) delivered a speech in which he named and attacked me and then, as has been his habit, left the Chamber. Was my comment on that a personal attack?
§ Mr. Fowler
My right hon. Friend subsequently returned to the Chamber. If my hon. Friend ever achieves that seniority in politics which I suspect he thinks—and some may think—his due, he may discover that senior persons in politics cannot always be present in the Chamber throughout a debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."] I repeat that I deplore the degradation of our debate on this crucial issue to the level of scurrilous personal attacks, whoever makes them, whether it be my hon. Friend or others.
§ Mr. Fowler
If such attacks are made, I think it right and proper that other hon. Members should comment upon them.
538 The second part of my hon. Friend's speech was an attack upon the phantas-magorical creations of his own fertile imagination. Some of them were exceedingly amusing. He constructed a series of arguments that were advanced only by himself and he destroyed them. That does not help the course of this debate at all.
The third part of my hon. Friend's speech consisted of the remarkable argument that what is wrong with the Bill is not that it lessens the democratic rights of the people of Wales or that it provides an inadequate democratic check upon the activities of executive officers in Wales. The argument was that it might lessen the existing power of certain Welsh Members of Parliament. That was the burden of my hon. Friend's argument. It is not an argument that impresses me.
My hon. Friend said that I represent the new town of Cwmbran. I want to be able to represent the needs of Cwmbran in the House of Commons. My hon. Friend will recollect that an argument frequently adduced from the Labour Benches is that the more, we can transfer the assets of, and the responsibility for, the new towns to local authorities, the better, and that the quicker we reduce the power of development corporations for any particular new town and hand over the assets for which they are responsible to the locally elected councils, the better it will be. Those are the arguments frequently adduced from the Labour Benches.
When, however, we have a Bill which transfers responsibility for these new towns to a democratically elected Assembly in Wales—presumably, on the figure, Cwmbran will have its own Member—my hon. Friend says "No, because I cannot question the Secretary of State in this Chamber." That is not an argument which has any relevance at all to the argument for Welsh devolution.
§ Mr. Grist
The hon. Gentleman is an expert on constitutions. Can he tell the Committee of any constitution in which various groups of members have differing powers? Would he say that such a situation would represent a stable constitution? Can he cite any parliamentary constitution in which that would occur?
§ Mr. Fowler
Yes, the constitution which obtained in the United Kingdom 539 since 1921 with regard to the creation of the Stormont Assembly. That is the easy answer to the question.
Whatever the difficulties that arose, oddly enough, with regard to most legislation, Stormont did not get out of line with the House of Commons. Strangely enough, whether the majority in the House at the time was Conservative or Labour, Stormont stayed in line. It is remarkable how similar are the social provisions which existed before direct rule in Northern Ireland to those which we have on this island. Whatever the special problems that have arisen in the Northern Ireland context, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's argument was a very powerful one.
§ I want to turn to the main burden—
§ Mr. Kinnock rose—
§ Mr. Kinnock
I intervene only because my hon. Friend is not the first hon. Member to have used the analogy of Stormont. If it is the case that there was such unanimity of legislative provision, why was it necessary for the people of Ulster to develop and use a civil rights movement the like of which has not been seen and which never existed in this country? Was not that a product of the kind of devolution that we had in Northern Ireland? Would my hon. Friend be proud of that as a precedent for what is being proposed?
§ Mr. Fowler
That is a most remarkable irrelevancy from my hon. Friend, for whom I have the highest respect. Had he made such an intervention on the Scotland Bill, I could well understand what he was saying. He has made it on the wrong Bill. We are talking here of executive devolution, not legislative devolution.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Fowler
I was asked a specific question about a constitution in which there are Members with two different sets of powers. There was a simple answer 540 and I gave it. I shall not be diverted further into the considerations of the problems of Stormont.
§ Mr. Fowler
I turn to the arguments of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire. The right hon. Gentleman told us that it was quite monstrous to consider devolving responsibility for subordinate legislation to an Assembly in Wales and that we must retain the right in the House of Commons to debate orders made by the Secretary of State. That is a quite remarkable situation.
Can any right hon. or hon. Member on the Opposition Front Bench tell me how many orders made by the Secretary of State for Wales have been debated in this Chamber in this Session of Parliament?
§ Mr. Fowler
The answer is "None at all". The Secretary of State for Wales makes far more orders than any other Secretary of State—
§ Mr. Fowler
My hon. Friend says the Secretary of State for the Environment. That may conceivably be true. But do not let us argue the toss. The Secretary of State for Wales is nearly at the top of the list. I think that my hon. Friend and I would agree on that.
Yet we debated none of the orders made by the Secretary of State for Wales, although the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire believes that it is a constitutional necessity and a constitutional imperative that we retain the right to debate such orders in this Chamber.
I believe that it is a constitutional imperative that we begin to debate secondary legislation of a sort which can have a profound impact on the lives of the individual. Here we have a proposal for a forum in which it can be debated, a forum which is not congested with legislation and other matters, as this Chamber is.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
Will the hon. Gentleman address himself to the problem which defeated the Kilbrandon Commission and has so far defeated the Government also? They have given no explanation whatever as to why we should not discuss the question of debating orders in the House. Those orders are prepared by the Government who initiated the legislation. It is part of a continuing process. Under the proposed scheme, however, a different Assembly will produce the secondary legislation orders although it may totally disagree with the Act under which they are made. How is that source of conflict to be resolved?
§ Mr. Fowler
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. In the first place, he says that the orders are prepared by the Government who prepared the legislation. Has the hon. Gentleman never heard of changes of Government? Does he not know of continuing legislation? His right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire suggested that orders were laid with regard to comprehensive education. Has not the right hon. Gentleman heard of the 1944 Education Act? That would be the Act under which any orders with regard to education are likely to be laid.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) and I were not present at that time. That Act was introduced not by a Conservative Government but by a national Coalition Government. It is quite nonsensical to suggest that orders are laid in the House by the Government who prepared the primary legislation.
It is equally nonsensical to suggest that in the Welsh Assembly orders will be laid which contradict the primary legislation, because they will be drafted in terms of that primary legislation. If those orders are not within the terms of the primary legislation, they are ultra vires. Therefore, the problem described by the hon. Gentleman simply does not arise.
I return to the speech of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire. He objected to the principle that secondary legislation affecting Wales should be considered by the Welsh Assembly. He and his colleagues, if in Government, would have a simple remedy, because it is the Government who lay primary legislation before us who create the necessity for 542 subordinate legislation. Subordinate legislation is not something that exists as of divine right. It is something that exists by the terms of primary legislation.
One of the great elements of flexibility in the Bill is that it will be within the power of future Governments of the United Kingdom and future Houses of Commons to determine the scope and possible volume of subordinate legislation affecting Wales. It could be none, or it could be very wide indeed. If we adopted the practice of producing what some people would call "framework" legislation, we would be allowing a wide measure of choice in terms of subordinate legislation to the Welsh Assembly.
I turn to the control of executive acts. One would have thought from listening to the speech of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire that we in the House of Commons were constantly questioning and scrutinising the executive acts of the Secretary of State and forcing him to change his mind. I challenge the right hon. Member to produce one good example of a debate in the House which has forced the Secretary of State for Wales to change his mind on a decision taken by the exercise of power conferred on him by an Act of Parliament. I challenge him in the knowledge that there is not one such case.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire suggested that this was a power that we must retain. Is it not better that the power should be exercised by an Assembly which has the time to examine executive acts before they are taken and where it is possible to get the view of more than one person, expressed in the cut and thrust of debate, on the right action for a given situation? This is an extension of democracy. I found it profoundly disturbing that the whole tenor of the right hon. Gentleman's argument was essentially anti-democratic.
We have heard it suggested that there will be constant wrangles about the level of financial support for the Welsh Assembly. Quoting again from the speech of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, I believe he said that the real danger was not that the level of support for Wales, measured by needs, is higher than that for parts of England, but that devolution would focus attention on that fact. In other words, it is all very well for us here to show a bias 543 in favour of Scotland or Wales or other more remote parts of the United Kingdom, in terms of the distribution of resources, as long as the great constituency outside does not realise that that is what we are doing.
§ Mr. Fowler
I think that it is right and proper to get that fact out into the open. We should adopt the principle that in our democratic society our constituents should know exactly what we are doing with their money. If that means a certain type of dispute because the South-East does not like supporting other parts of the country, it is to our advantage that people realise this fact and take the arguments on board. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) said "rubbish", but I must tell him that he will not win the argument for Socialism in the South-East until that argument is clearly stated. We certainly shall not win it by continuing to hide it.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I am all in favour of exposing the league tables and showing the distribution figures. All I am saying is that if Wales and Scotland are entirely integrated within the United Kingdom, they can fairly claim a disproportionate distribution on the basis of need. It is when a new situation and a new demarcation arises that there is a much stronger argument against a larger share of resources for my constituency, which simply cannot live without them. That is the issue that arises on the response to different allocations. I hope that my hon. Friend will take account of the political effect of that in terms of Labour representation in the House, because he has talked about winning the case for Socialism.
§ Mr. Fowler
My hon. Friend's argument turns entirely on the claim that the Bill produces a less-than-united United Kingdom. If we were talking about the Scotland Bill. I might begin to understand that argument. However, in respect of this Bill, which merely confers executive and secondary legislative powers on a directly elected Assembly in Wales, the argument is incomprehensible. There is nothing in this Bill which in any way derogates from the unity of the United Kingdom.
544 The argument has been put forward that it does not matter that there are so many nominated bodies in Wales. It has been said that we do not need an Assembly to take over the powers of those bodies. That is totally anti-democratic. We have too many nominated bodies in the United Kingdom as a whole, and I detest them. They give Ministers too much power, or, at least, Ministers think that they have power in their hands. In reality, Ministers are presented with a list of the good, the true and the faithful, and the list is handed down from Government to Government, or, at least, from under-Government to under-Government, because the list is transmitted by the Civil Service. When these people are appointed, they are no longer responsible to this democratically elected Assembly.
In Wales we have more than 50 nominated bodies, and it is high time that we had a democratically elected Assembly, responsible to the people, to take over the functions of such bodies.
I listened very carefully to the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) as he discussed the concept of nationhood. His speech was absolutely fascinating but irrelevant. I am not concerned with the theoretical question of whether Wales is a nation. The differences between North and South Wales, the differences of degree of Welshness and the culture of individuals, are not relevant. I am concerned that here we have a part of the United Kingdom which in many ways has its own history and culture, and many of its inhabitants have another language. But, above all, it is a geographical entity, even if one cannot travel from north to south without going through Shrewsbury.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
I have an honours degree in geography and have done special studies on the regions, but I have yet to find a single geography textbook which regards Wales as an entity. I should like my hon. Friend to list major phases in Welsh culture that are alien to English culture.
§ Mr. Fowler
The last time I was at Cardiff Arms Park, I felt as if I were in a totally alien environment. If I, as an Englishman, drive into Wales and go into a shop or a pub, I have not the slightest doubt that I am in another part of the 545 United Kingdom. I put that very carefully. I do not say that I am in another country, but I am quite sure that I am in another part of the United Kingdom which has certain unifying features.
I believe that in the interests of good government we have to look at the possibility of interposing a democratic tier between the House of Commons and Whitehall and local authorities. In industry, it is a crude rule of thumb that one man should not be controlling more than about seven. There are eight counties in Wales, and it seems right to have a democratically elected Assembly to debate, for example, what should be the precise division of the rate support grant among those counties.
We debate the formula of the grant. It gets more complex and incomprehensible each year and is totally inequitable between a large number of authorities. Indeed, we cannot even predict its effect on individual authorities. Is that good government? Let us get away from that situation and get some functions down to a manageable level where they will be subject to democratic control and scrutiny.
That is what the Bill is about. It is not about Welsh independence, as the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire seemed to think.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)
I am not a Welshman and I have never lived in Wales. I am a representative of the Marches on the England side of the border and wish to make a short intervention on that basis. It would be wrong to say that devolution is top of the pops in Hereford or the Marches generally, but there is a gut feeling that something is not right.
For more than 1,000 years, the Marches were a battle ground between tribes on the Welsh and English sides of the border and we have an enormous number of castles and relics that bear witness to the battles that raged for so long. An early attempt to resolve the conflict was Offa's Dyke, but that did not work very well, and the singular lack of development of the villages in the border country between Wales and England in my area shows that no great love was lost between the Welsh side of the border and the English side.
546 However, since the end of direct conflict in 1536, in the reign of Henry VIII, there has been a steady rapprochement. I do not think that hon. Members in other parts of the country understand the intensity of feeling that exists on either side of the border. In the past 450 years, we have increased understanding, and no longer will a man get thumped in Hereford on a Saturday night if he says he is Welsh. There is tolerance.
We have a fine relationship with our Welsh friends. One of the most successful social clubs in Hereford is the Hereford Welsh Social Club. The greatest conflict nowadays occurs when Hereford United football team plays Newport County—with more or less success.
As we have established such a level of understanding and unity, hon. Members will understand why we are wary about a Bill that seeks to re-establish differences. In our part of the world, we put a high value on the unity of the United Kingdom. When I first read the Bill, the quotation about the Queen in Act III of Hamlet came immediately to mind:The lady doth protest too much, methinks.It seems that the inclusion in the Bill of the words:They do not affect the unity of the United Kingdomcauses just that fear—that the opposite result will prevail. I have heard nothing in the debate to persuade me otherwise.
In his powerful opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Pym) drew the attention of the House to what might happen if the majority party in the Assembly were of the same political colour as the Opposition in this House. He explored some of the problems that would arise. There is another possibility. The Assembly might fall into the hands of men who are not men of good will. There are those in Wales who are bent on splitting Wales from the United Kingdom, and bent on a separate path.
As far as I can see, the Welsh nationalists feed on dissension and people's un-happiness. They were described earlier as seeking the dissenting and unhappy votes. We have seen in Scotland how the nationalist vote can develop into something bigger than itself and go beyond 547 what people expect of it. It is not impossible that the Assembly could accidentally end up with a substantial number of nationalist members. I hope that it would be accidental and would last for only a short period, but if the Assembly is comprised of men who are not necessarily men of good will towards the unity of the United Kingdom, they may well manoeuvre the Assembly into a path of confrontation with this House. The seeds of the disunity that worries me so much are contained in the reserve powers in Clause 35.
It would be a legitimate tactic for Members of the Assembly to try to force the Secretary of State or this House to annul or override instruments of Wales. The Assembly Members could then turn to the people of Wales and say "This is what comes of being part of the United Kingdom" and demand a greater nationalist presence, increased powers for Wales and a Welsh voice within the framework of Europe or in some other context.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) tried to minimise this possibility and to show that fears were groundless by referring to the happy co-operation between Stormont and this House when the two bodies had Governments of different natures. However, the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) laid that ghost nicely when he said in an intervention that Stormont was not a happy or stable institution. If it had done what the hon. Member for Anglesey was talking about, we would still have Stormont and we would not have the troubles that we are experiencing in Northern Ireland. These are the sort of pitfalls lying ahead of us.
I am glad that the Government have recognised the nonsense of Clause 1. I have no wish to see an Assembly for Wales. I do not want to see differences between the two sides of the border—differences that have been broken down so carefully and patiently over many years—re-established, with visible differences being seen from the Marches in the supply of resources for Wales. The Bill sets in train a process of separation to the detriment of the unity of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Kinnock
In one respect I disagree with the hon. Member for Hereford 548 (Mr. Shepherd), because I have been thumped in Hereford on a Saturday night. It was after the Ebbw Vale youth team, for which I was playing, had defeated the Hereford youth team by about 21 to 7. That was in 1960 or thereabouts. I still bear the scars. I confess to having made a contribution to the tension that existed that evening. I hope that what the hon. Gentleman says is absolutely true for myself and fellow countrymen.
I owe the Committee an apology because for part of the proceedings I was absent, together with the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones)—the Under-Secretary of State for Wales—and the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas). We were doing our best to try to transpose the argument from the Chamber to television. One day when democracy and technology come together we shall not be faced with that necessity. I am sure that when that day comes the Chamber will be full and everybody will be able to make his contribution without the necessity of nipping off to the television studios. I look forward to that day.
Today one is left with the feeling—I am sure that it afflicts you, Sir Myer, more than it does me—which the French call déjà vu and which the English also call déjà vu because they cannot think of a suitable word in their own language. The only Welsh that I can think of is unwaith eto Cymry annwyl—once again dear Wales. I am sure that we shall hear that many times during the course of our proceedings. Our proceedings would be lightened if we were to sing it on occasions, but certainly not tonight, Sir Myer, and certainly not while you are in the Chair.
The arguments that we have heard from both sides of the Chamber have been similar to those that were rehearsed during the Scotland and Wales Bill, and to some extent when we debated the ill-fated first clause of the Scotland Bill. The great difference is that whereas, during the passage of the Scotland Bill, we heard the Government insisting that the first clause was crucial, and that it was the only means of assuaging fears and assuring opinion in Scotland and Wales that there was no possibility of a division or fracture of the unity of the United Kingdom, we now have, instead 549 of an hour's contribution, which was very welcome, from my hon. Friend the Minister of State, a meek speech of commendable brevity—it did not last for four minutes—from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to explain that the Government did not intend to pursue Clause 1, so that hon. Members could sidle off and the Committee could move on to the first round of new clauses.
That was not really good enough. The proposal in Clause 1, even though my right hon. and hon. Friends now disown it as if it were from the wrong side of the devolutionary blanket, is absolutely central to the whole conception of devolution as the Government have presented it. The proposition that my right hon. Friend the Lord President has made repeatedly in a more articulate fashion than many other right hon. Members is that it is the means of binding the unity of the United Kingdom. He has said that the devolution Bills are the wax and string that will wrap this Emerald Isle forever, and ensure that there are no surreptitious—
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Kinnock
My hon. Friend asks whether I am talking about Ireland. In fact, most of the analogies used by my right hon. Friend relate to Ireland and the Irish experience. They have to do with Ireland more than they have to do with contemporary British experience, whether in Scotland or in Wales. Some of the fears that he has communicated to us have a great deal more to do with the debates surrounding the consideration of Irish Home Rule than with the reality of the present needs of the people of Scotland and Wales.
My right hon. Friend has been articulate in his insistence that this form of devolution is the means of ensuring the continued existence of the United Kingdom. It is my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) who has hit the nail on the head or, to put it more properly in the case of devolution, hit the nail right: on the thumb. My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey—I admire him intensely, he is a very close friend of mine and I think of him as the von Clausewitz of the low profile 550 —is a man who is able to make the most poisonous and uproarious proposition sound and feel like honey on the tongue. He is a master of that. I give him full credit for it. I wish that he were in the Chamber to hear that tribute. I know that he would glow with pleasure. It was my right hon. Friend who said in his concluding sentence that if we do nothing we may have to do more.
There is the essential proposition, too, of the Government's devolution proposals. I welcome the return of my right hon. Friend. His ears must have been burning with pleasure when I was giving him the most fulsome praise that I could offer. He will know that it was genuine and fulsome.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I frequently have to give my right hon. Friend the doubt of the benefit. As a consequence, I am sure that it is reciprocated.
My right hon. Friend defined the central purpose and motivation behind the Government's proposals. I shall endeavour to repeat his words, and I hope that he will correct me if I am wrong. He said that if we do nothing we may have to do more. That was the strategy behind the whole proposal, as it was orginally—it has now been disowned—to guarantee the idea of unity and offer reassurance. The proposal is that we can have disunity by unity. The proposal is that the best way to stand up to the nationalists is to lie down in front of them. That characterises devolution.
If we were promoting devolution as it has been conceived by my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey, and as it was orginally conceived by the Labour Party in Wales and endorsed after subsequent consideration by representatives of the Labour Party at conferences and in the House, "devolution" meaning an executive council that would replace the unelected wedge, for which I have no more affection than has any of my right hon. and hon. Friends, who have the advantage over me of experience in appointing unrepresentative or unelected people, different considerations would apply. However, that is not what we have before us. We do not have that elected executive council. We do not have that 551 replacement of the unelected tier. In fact, we have a demarcation. We do not have a mere diversity of government, a constitutional change that is modest, dispassionate and objective. We have a panicky sop to nationalism. That is the nature of the Bill. That was the nature of the Scotland Bill, as it was the nature of the Bill's predecessor, the Scotland Wales Bill.
It is significant that the guarantee of unity has gone. I wish that that owed more to intellectual honesty and a confession of the weakness of the Bill than to the majority that we managed to command to defeat that guarantee when considering the Scotland Bill. I put it to my right hon. Friends that that is the consequence, given the way in which the Government have assented to the demise of Clause 1.
When we discuss the form of question in the referendum we shall also erase the ridiculous and unsupportable proposition—I say that it is a highly pejorative proposition—that it contains, namely,The Act provides that there should be an elected Welsh Assembly and that Wales should remain part of the United Kingdom.The fact is that with the removal of the clause the Bill does not provide for that eventuality. However, we shall have a much more honest situation from henceforth than we have had hitherto, when the Bill proposed that by some means we could offer not only a solution or guarantee but provide for the unity of the United Kingdom.
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)
My hon. Friend need not worry himself unduly on that score. If he reads the Order Paper he will see that the Government have tabled an amendment to amend the referendum question on the lines of the Scotland Bill. As he was urging that the Government should make changes, and the Government have listened, he should be a little more charitable.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Indeed—in victory, magnanimity always—I am very gratified by what my hon. Friend has said. I must confess to my ignorance in not having seen the amendment. I am very grateful to him and I only hope that in the course of the Bill, and the development of many other policies, my right hon. and hon. Friends will continue to be 552 as responsive to my well-argued and intelligent contest of some of their propositions. I hope that we shall go on to greater things.
If we are getting rid of this central proposition, with what does it leave us? Given that there is no guarantee in law that Wales will remain part of the United Kingdom, we really have to put ourselves in a much clearer position in considering the problems that devolution will provoke
Much time has been spent today, as previously, in considering the prospect of devolution in Wales bringing about an encouragement of nationalism and sponsoring a demand from the people of Wales to peel themselves—I think that was the phrase used—from the United Kingdom. Frankly, I think that the probability of that is remote. There may, indeed, be a flirtation with nationalism, which will hypnotise the nationalists as much as it unnerves the other parties. It may encourage the nationalists to think that there is a real, spontaneous and developing demand for independence in Wales. If they believe that, they are even more stupid than I have always taken them to be, which is saying something.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
Does my hon. Friend agree with me that, with great respect to Plaid Cymru, all they have done is to flirt with nationalism?
§ Mr. Kinnock
I agree with my right hon. Friend that few of them have ever been really serious about it. To some extent the party has purged or at least disowned those who were most serious about it, particularly Saunders Lewis and those who have sought to provide a genuine nationalist answer. What we have seen is nationalism used as a vehicle by populists who wish only to mobilise the resentments which are inevitable in a two-party system.
Nevertheless, if we have devolution, it may be that through the further mobilisation of resentments and of material jealousies, the nationalists will be able, especially in a time of economic difficulties, to secure additional votes and support. That may be the case. If so, it will still never amount to a demand from the people of Wales to split themselves off, because the people of Wales realise—I hope, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. 553 Fowler), that it will be a matter of public debate—that they rely for a substantial part of their sustenance, economic and social, on the willingness of people in other parts of the United Kingdom to pay their taxes.
I repeat—I have always said this—that there is no cause for shame in Wales. It is a historic, economic, demographic and geographical fact that we are, relatively speaking, an expensive country to run, and we need and deserve compensations for the disadvantages that we have. Consequently, I cannot see the Welsh people surrendering that, even for the sake of massaging some kind of jingoistic ego, as the Welsh nationalists would have us believe.
But a much more serious consequence of devolution and a much more serious prospect of division arise from this. It was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin and other hon. Friends who view the prospect of a national elected Assembly, sharing out the rate support grant according to Welsh priorities, with great favour and with enthusiasm. They see devolution, in the words of the 1975 White Paper, as bringing some of the spending decisions nearer home. I think that that was the cosy phrase of whoever wrote the White Paper, although expect that the Government, as with the first clause of the Bill, would seek to disown that person, just as they have disowned the clause.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I wondered if it was my hon. Friend. With ill advice and ill timing, and an unusual lack of judgment on the part of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my hon. Friend was disowned. I think that that decision was entirely unsupportable. He should still be on the Government Front Bench, joining with my other hon. Friend, the Minister of State, as a double-barrelled partnership, a positive double-barrelled howitzer, for devolution. Our debates would have been greatly enlivened. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin is willing to do it unpaid. That must be good news for the taxpayer.
My hon. Friend, as I was saying, favours the prospect of the Welsh Assembly bringing some spending decisions nearer home and responding to clear popular demand in Scotland and Wales 554 for devolution. I am not talking about 1536. This was in the White Paper in 1975. It was apparently put in by my hon. Friend and it has subsequently been supported by others of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) said, Wales is not an entity. It is a nation of sharply differing although mutually friendly communities—the North and the South the English, the Welsh; the rural, the industrial; those with problems of depopulation and isolation, and those with problems of industrial decay and depression. They all have massive financial and social needs. They are all, to a greater or lesser extent, deprived, whether they live in Tiger Bay in Cardiff or in Cefn Gwlad, in the middle of Anglesey. Wherever they live, their need might be for a bus more than once a day, or for a school which is up to modern standards, and universally in Wales there is the need for a hospital.
I contend that the best means of using resources, the best means of seeking to satisfy needs on the basis of local representation, supported by Members of Parliament, and the best means of satisfying the demands of those communities, is not by instituting a cockpit in Cardiff which will simply formalise and highlight the divisions of the communities in Wales, but by acting on the basis of need, as we currently do it, on the basis of strength of argument, as we currently do it, and on the basis of calculation of how the interests of an area can be maximised. That is how it should be done, rather than on the basis of how votes in an Assembly can be mobilised to serve some parochial or sub-regional interest. I think that the latter is a very dangerous prospect. We shall see the people of Wales colliding.
Just as I treasure the advantageous unity of the United Kingdom, I treasure the advantageous amicability of the different communities of Wales, with their different needs. There is nothing in the Welsh character, any more than in the character of any other nation, that insulates it or inoculates it against the kind of poison that is created when people realise that the only way to secure their parochial interest is in the depression, separation or destruction of the parochial interests of other parts.
555 I will tell this House who the losers will be, in that context. The losers will be the Welsh language. Incontrovertibly, the Welsh language will lose as a consequence. Incontrovertibly, the losers will be the rural areas, with their particular needs. The losers will be those who gain their living from tourism. When the allocation of moneys is simply a matter of the disposition of political powers in a national Assembly, when the major interest of that Assembly is in serving the interests of the communities which can return it and give it most power, and when it does not even have to care a toss, regardless of the needs of areas from which it draws no sustenance, we shall see divisions in Wales which are a much more terrifying prospect than that put before us of an unlikely division of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Wigley
Why does the hon. Gentleman believe that it is less likely that an Assemblyman in Cardiff would respond to the needs of rural areas, or tourist areas, or Welsh speaking requirements, than would Westminster and Whitehall together?
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Kinnock
For the simple reason that in Westminster and Whitehall we are conscious of a national need and we are able to serve the general Welsh purpose in a way that Assemblymen, with the best will in the world, would not be able to serve that interest and that need. If the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) looks at the scale of contributions to the national Eisteddfod and examines the debates of local authorities when the proposition to make a contribution is before them he will see the division of attitudes towards the fostering of Welsh culture in this its greatest institution. The hon. Member knows that. He lived and worked in Merthyr Tydfil. He knows where the division is. He knows that the Assembly will not be saddled by past colonial guilt, as is Westminster, but will be free only to achieve the minimum need of its constituents publicly and directly. The prospect of any national Assembly using its limited block grant for the development of rural communities and culture is more remote than the prospect of getting the Treasury to spend money and direct finance.
556 The argument for more resources after devolution is a Welsh argument. The argument for more resources now is a British argument. It is an argument from all those, whether industrial or rural, who require additional educational expenditure or higher priority for health. The sheer pressure, purpose and strength of this argument is increased because of its unity rather than being divided up.
I am against devolution not because I am anti-Welsh, as the more paranoid of Welsh nationalists would say, but because I am pro-Welsh. Indeed, I am more pro-Welsh than those who gamble the whole economic and social future of Wales and the harmony of Welsh communities on getting a temporary transitory appeasement of a nationalist upsurge which in reality does not exist. I am more pro-Welsh than those who gamble with the economy agony in Wales. That is a political expression of the constitutional bag of tricks—this Bill.
It is a good thing that the false prospectus of guaranteed unity has been removed. It is a good thing that that idiotic sentence has been taken out of the ballot question. What we still have to do in this Bill is to further expose the inconsistencies. There is still much left in it that is provocative, that will mean disunity and a collision of all the institutions and communities in Wales. This justifies strong and insistent objection, protest and opposition.
§ Mr. Grist
It is always a joy to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). We seem to have followed each other in the last four years, and it is becoming rather tedious.
I can think of better debates to have on St. David's Day. We could have reverted to the old practice of debating housing conditions, jobs and schools. Those are the subjects that really affect our constituents and that we used to debate on this day.
This debate is extremely useful because, although the Government may not have wished it, it has allowed the Committee to lay down what it feels about the Bill and to lay down the ground plan for the Committee stage. Clearly the Bill is as disliked as it ever was. Only two hon. Members have sought to speak in its favour. Neither of them really spoke to the Bill itself. The hon. Member for 557 The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) gave a masterly exposé of an academic outlook but he did not bother to look too closely at the wording. He seemed to be speaking from first principles rather than applying his mind to the question.
Then we had the idealistic contribution from the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes). What neither he nor the hon. Member for The Wrekin did was to talk about the better government of Wales. This Bill is not about the better government of Wales. Had the Government proceeded as the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) wished and set up a Welsh Council, there might have been some sense in it.
Increasingly, people are becoming aware that this Assembly has nothing to do with better government; it is an answer to nationalist pressures. As people have become increasingly aware of that, so they have become strengthened against the proposition. Three or four years ago opinion polls showed a clear majority in favour of an all-Wales authority; today they show the reverse. That is because people know that this Bill and the proposed Assembly are answering a demand fostered through nationalist pressure and caused by the political fear of the Labour Party. All the more honour to those who are prepared to stand up and fight.
Others are prepared to support the Bill for a variety of motives. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) gave the game away when he spoke. He said that he simply wanted Wales to have a national elected body. He was not particularly concerned about the Assembly that is proposed in the Bill; he wanted a national body. The nationalist parties take the same view. In that respect this Bill and the Assembly do and will affect the unity of the United Kingdom. In one way or another the Bill is bound to be contentious and to create conflict. A good 50 per cent. of its supporters do not see this as the end of the line. They want to use it as a vehicle to create greater disunity. The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) nods. He is an honest man. How can anyone pretend that this does not affect the unity of the United Kingdom? I am glad to see that the Government accept that view.
558 Many questions were raised about the role of Members of Parliament and how they will be affected in the House of Commons. The hon. Member for The Wrekin did not seem to take the point made by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) on this issue. Nor did he take the point that I made in my intervention, when I said that there was not a country in the world which had numerous Members in its Parliament who had different powers. We shall have a Parliament here with Members from Scotland with one set of powers, Members from Wales with a different set of powers, and possibly Members from Ulster with a third set of powers. All of them will have powers that are different from each other and different from the powers of English Members. That is as plain as a pikestaff.
We also have the Government's own word from the White Paper "Devolution: The English Dimension" which all Ministers should read again and again. That document contains a description of what will happen to the Secretary of State. This has been adduced in the course of the debate today and in all our previous debates. It has been said that the Secretary of State will be weakened, that he will not have the administrative know-how even when exercising legislative power, and that his political clout, both in party and government, will diminish sadly. It will be an odd ambition to seek to be Secretary of State in the future. He will be abused and ignored by Parliament and abused by representatives of the Assembly every time he goes to Wales.
The White Paper says thatIf regional authorities were able to deter- mine the allocation of resources to particular programmes within their regions—that is what is proposed for Wales—this would fundamentally affect the ability of Ministers to account separately and collectively to Parliament for the policies, standards and priorities of the services they administerSo the Government know what is going to happen, because they have written it into their own White Paper. They have said that the rights and powers of Members of Parliament will be affected. That aspect was quoted extensively in the debate on Second Reading. No doubt the Minister of State remembers it and will answer the point precisely.
The White Paper points out that block funds would make the Government task 559 of economic management more difficult. This is the form of financing proposed for the Assembly. The White Paper says thatThe composition of expenditure is important because different types of expenditure have different effects on important economic aggregates such as the balance of payments, the public sector borrowing requirement and unemployment as well as different effects on the various sectors of the economySo the Government know that in setting up the block grant system for the Assemblies they will lose certain controls over the economic management of the country. If they cannot control the way in which block grants are used in Scotland and Wales, presumably any corrective actions which need to be taken will be taken in England, because that will be the only place where the Government can act directly.
With Celtic Members here at Westminster able to vote on and interfere in English Members' affairs, and with the English Members finding that they will have to pay to correct possible economic mismanagement in Scotland and Wales, the fury of English Members will know no bounds. That will affect the unity of the United Kingdom, and it is bound to promote ill feeling.
I keep reverting to the Secretary of State's touchstones for devolution. One of the White Papers that we had in 1974—we have had so many that I have lost count of them—was introduced by the Secretary of State for Wales at a Press conference. He laid down four principles by which devolution should be judged. They are excellent principles. They are worth remembering. Whatever amendment we look at and whichever clause we examine, we should apply these four touchstones to see whether what we are discussing measures up.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the taking of powers from a central body should meet a genuine need. He added that they should be based on widespread public support. I do not know how we are to know in advance what support there is. We know it if we are in contact with our constituents and if we move around Wales and read the newspapers. Apart from opinion polls and local election results, one knows where public support exists, but it will be argued that we should wait for the end of the programme when thousands 560 of pounds will have been wasted on a fruitless exercise in conducting the referendum before we decide what we all already know.
The third touchstone was that any changes should be clear and a definite improvement. Clear? That will make progress on the Bill pretty sticky, because clarity is not a charge that can be laid against many of its clauses. The reference to a definite improvement raises other problems. Some people are very keen on change, but if they have to prove that the change is a definite improvement they will be hard put to it to get through the Bill in the time allocated.
The fourth touchstone—this point affects the clause—is that the proposals must be designed to provide a stable constitutional framework for the future. We have it on the admission of the Liberal Party, the nationalists and numerous other factions in the House that they have no intention of this Assembly being a stable constitutional framework. They merely want it as a platform to further their aims of federalism or independence. Therefore, the proposals fail on the Secretary of State's fourth principle.
The Government have produced an unworkable Bill, which is designed to fail in the medium term, let alone the long term. In failing it is bound to affect the unity of the United Kingdom. I agree with the hon. Member for Bedwellty that the Bill will not lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, because at the end of the day I do not believe that the nationalists will win. The Bill will, however, produce strains and stresses in what has so far been a happy and long United Kingdom.
I think the Government have probably not given in to force majeure. I would like to think that they have been convinced by the arguments on the Scotland Bill and have seen that they have got it wrong. But we are not involved here in some sort of academic test or constitutional trial. This is not something that we can try out and, if it does not work, bring it back and have another go. I got the impression from the speech of the hon. Member for The Wrekin that his academic side was triumphing over what should have been his political nous. But the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) gave the game 561 away during the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill. He is another academic. He saidThis is an experiment in regional or national democracy within a multi-national State. If it does not work it will be bad for all of us."—[Official Report, 22nd November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 1423.]He can say that again.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Perhaps the most important point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) in a cogent speech was his insistence on the instability of the arrangement proposed by the Government. Those who suggest that we should support this measure because it is the only measure of devolution before us are putting the Committee in a real dilemma, because no one can seriously look at the constitutional structure proposed in the Bill and say with any degree of confidence that it will remain by and large as it is in 10 or 15 years' time.
The proposals are inherently unstable. Perhaps the reason for that is the whole genesis of the Bill. There was clearly in the late 1960s and early 1970s some feeling of alienation and disaffection in Wales and Scotland. I believe that both major political parties over-reacted to it. There are real signs now that the degree of disaffection, which was particularly manifested by increasing support for the nationalist parties, is, certainly in Wales, largely past. We are in danger of taking an irreversible decision because of a transient mood.
This whole progress is an indictment of the way in which we make our political decisions. If we had taken the constitutional decision properly, we should surely have sat down and looked at the whole structure of local and central Government from the start rather than having gone ahead on local government alone in 1972. One can look at the earlier White Papers of my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and of Mr. Speaker, who was at the time Secretary of State for Wales, which tinkered in various ways with the Welsh problems but which could have been largely accepted by the people of Wales. But there has been no attempt seriously to consider what is needed in the Welsh context. Instead, we have to rush many steps at a time towards this inherently unstable structure. I therefore fully 562 accept what the hon. Member for Cardiff, North said.
I intervene with some reluctance now because I had hoped first to learn the views of the Welsh nationalist party on the clause. Do the nationalists support the exclusion of the clause because they accept that the Bill will lead to further disunity in the United Kingdom? Surely that is precisely what they want. They want to use the Bill and any Assembly that would result from it to that end.
We all know that we are speaking in a somewhat academic way because the chances of this structure being approved in a referendum are pretty remote. Let us accept that fact for the moment. Do not the Welsh nationalists agree that, since they want disunity and separation, they are supporters of the concept of the Bill because they see it as a vehicle for promoting their separatist views?
§ Mr. Wigley
I intervene with pleasure. I have not attempted to speak in the debate because of the pressure of time, and I know that hon. Members want to move amendments. However, since the Committee seems to want another Second Reading debate, let us have it. We made our position clear on Second Reading. We want full self-government for Wales. We have doubts as to whether the Bill brings us in that direction, but it fills a vacuum and will replace a tier of government that is centralised and bureaucratic. To that extent we welcome it.
§ Mr. Anderson
As I said, the Welsh nationalists support the Bill because it promotes the disunity of the United Kingdom and will lead to independence, or "Commonwealth status" or whatever is the current orthodoxy of the Welsh nationalist party. The nationalists accept the tacit admission of the Government in withdrawing Clause 1 that the Bill will not promote the unity of the United Kingdom.
Clause 1 simply states:The following provisions of this Act make changes in the government of Wales as part of the United Kingdom. They do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom".The Government inserted that provision in good faith when they drafted the Bill, and now they have chosen to withdraw it. Is that not a tacit admission that the Bill will promote disunity? 563 Surely, if the argument, when the Government first put forward the Bill, that it would promote the unity of the United Kingdom was valid then, it is valid now. What, therefore, is the justification now of withdrawing the clause other than a tacit admission that, having heard all the cogent arguments in Committee, the Government accept that the Bill does not promote unity? Indeed, it was at best a pious aspiration, and the Government should either have omitted it from the start or had a much more lengthy preamble in the form of a normal constitution setting out what is affected by the Bill.
Does the Bill affect the cohesion of the United Kingdom? That is a matter of judgment. If we were to take the view that there were in Wales irresisible pressures in favour of some form of devolution, of some form of Assembly, it would be unwise and foolish in the extreme to stand Canute-like against them. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Anelesey said, in such circumstances there would be a respectable argument for moving some paces to meet the demand in the expectation that one would ward off some greater explosion of popular demand at some stage in the future.
The history of the relationship between this country and Ireland is instanced as an unwillingness on the part of this Parliament to divine the pressures at work in Ireland at that time which led to such suffering in the Emerald Isle.
§ Mr. Padley
A lot of history is being brought into this debate. The greatest Government since parliamentary democracy was established was the Attlee Government. They carried out all their promises except one—that was for a Scottish Parliament for Scottish affairs. There are 14 people now sitting on the Benches opposite who would not be there today if what had been promised had been given. I hope that my hon. Friend will remember that. The Labour Party's programme "Let Us Face the Future" included the phrase "Scottish Parliament for Scottish Affairs". It was more moderate about Wales.
§ Mr. Anderson
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) may be better sighted than I am, but I 564 cannot see 14 Members sitting on those Benches as he pointed out.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Will my hon. Friend also take into account that in the 1920s there were simultaneous promises by the Labour Party of self-government for Scotland and the universal prohibition of alcoholic liquor? We do not hear the latter promise being revived with relish. Had the promise of self-government for Scotland been implemented, not only would the 11 SNP Members not be here but there might not be 60 other hon. Members, of whom 41 are Labour. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether he thinks that the House of Commons and Great Britain as a whole would have been better off or worse off if those Members had not been elected to the House?
§ Mr. Padley
We are getting in a tangle here. Prohibition was never in the manifesto of the Labour Party.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. We were conducting a very nice debate appropriate to St. David's Day—peaceful. Now it is getting a bit rowdy. We have heard all sorts of irrelevancies, including the results of rugby football matches.
§ Mr. Anderson
At least the Attlee Government had the good sense not to suggest any measures like this Bill for Wales.
Where are the irresistible pressures that have forced us along this road? It is difficult for those who know Wales to find where are the pressures that influenced my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) at the time he drafted the White Paper. Those of us who know Wales well do not consider these pressures to be strong.
I concede that there are pressures, but might they not have been met by alternative arrangements? I shall not go over the suggestions previously put to the Government for alterations in the way we do things in this Parliament, for alterations in the local government structure, and so on. All such suggestions have been rejected out of hand. Alternative arrangements have not even been seriously considered by the Government. It is true that alternative arrangements which would have resulted in no real danger to the unity of the United Kingdom might well have built up pressures which in the end 565 would have taken us further along the road, but we need not have gone so far and so fast, ignoring the possibilities of organic change in our institutions.
We see, for example, the changing views on local government. In the White Papers of the late 1960s the concept of the Assembly was as the top tier of local government. In a strange metamorphosis, by 1973–74 that had been transformed into an alternative government.
Will the new structures promote unity or conflict? I believe that false expectations will be raised by the creation of the Assembly. This, form of constitutional tinkering and self-government has more to do with a romantic nineteenth-century concept than with twentieth-century views based more fundamentally on economic changes within our society, the Utopian idea that one can change matters by creating constitutional structures.
Further reasons for suggesting that the new structure will lead to conflict include the fact that there will frequently be different parties in control at Westminster and Cardiff, so that what are now differences between the parties will be put on a different stage and will be differences between nations, with all the hostility and animosity that will thereby be created.
§ Mr. Anderson
Because if there is one party in power in Cardiff and another party in power in Westminster, the former will feel constrained to say "It is those English who are not giving us the hospitals, the roads and so on that we so desperately need in Wales".
There are also basic tendencies of human nature to take into account. I think, for example, of empire-building, the willingness of the Assembly always to seek to increase its powers. There is no real constitutional brake on its doing so, as there would be in any federal structure.
I have already made the point about instability. There will be an alternative Government in Cardiff whose whole aim will be to promote that little-Welshness, that provincialism that we find all too often in Welsh society today. That is the attitude of "the men from the BBC".
§ Mr. Anderson
There are people who are unwilling to lift their heads above their own valleys and who have a degree of national introspection which is an unfortunate feature of the Welsh character. Such people will have a new platform and will seek in every way to find matters which differentiate Wales from England.
I recall an experience I had when serving on the Estimates Committee in the late 1960s. We were questioning civil servants from the Welsh Office on the Welsh roads programme and were told that special features entered into decisions on road building in Wales. We were told that the Welsh Office took account of special Welsh characteristics. That sounded very interesting, so we decided to probe a little. The civil servants put to us that special Welsh characteristics were developmental needs. Because they were Welsh civil servants, they felt the need always to find something, however strained, that differentiated us from English conditions. I think that there will be further pressure in that direction. It is a rather unhealthy tendency, a laager concept which is a part of our Welsh characteristics.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has said that until the Bills appeared on the horizon he had not considered himself to be an English Member. That is the converse of the point I am making, that barriers will be built that were not apparent before. Other hon. Members, like my hon. Friend, will consider themselves English Members in a narrower sense, fighting for their own interests as against the Welsh Members. I think that that is a fair summary of the point my hon. Friend has eloquently made.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
To underline what my hon. Friend is saying, I should tell him that I have a Welsh uncle, a Scottish uncle and a wife who is of Irish extraction. It is difficult to talk of being strictly English in the context of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Anderson
Like many of us, my hon. Friend is cosmopolitan, and a very successful mix, if I may say so with respect.
§ Mr. Anderson
I would indeed, but my hon. Friend's wife might have views about that.
If we conclude that there is no irresistible demand in Wales which would ensure that we should have to react in this way, if we think that the pressures are not great, if we recognise that attempts to meet the situation in a more organic way, by adaptation of existing institutions, have not been seriously considered by the Government, and if we also accept that conflict will be promoted by the Bill, setting Welshmen against Englishmen, for the reasons that have been given, it is hardly surprising that the Government have seen fit, belatedly, to withdraw the clause.
Those of my hon. Friends, who like myself, are very sceptical about the devolution proposals, welcome this withdrawal. We arc thankful that the Government now accept that it was a wholly insupportable proposition that the Bill would have no effect on the unity of the United Kingdom. Clearly, it would have an effect.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts
The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) raised the very important question about whether the proposals affected the unity of the United Kingdom. He very reasonably came to the conclusion that it was indeed a matter of judgment.
We have heard today the other point of view put by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who has asserted that there is nothing in these proposals that could affect the unity of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) put this point with great vigour. He asked what there is in the proposals that could be construed as a danger to the unity of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin is supported in his argument by the leading article in today's edition of the Western Mail. I quote:We have never accepted the slippery slope theories of the more rabid anti-devolutionists.I think that when the Western Mail, in those extreme terms, speaks of its opponents as being rabid, it is time for the people of Wales to ask themselves whether the Western Mail reflects the 568 genuinely held views of the majority of the Welsh people.
I believe that we must analyse the argument and ask who are the "we" who do not accept the slippery-slope argument. It is the people who write the editorials of the Western Mail. One is a rara avis because he is one of the few who believe that devolution is all about administrative efficiency. The editor of the Western Mail stands almost alone in that he believes that it has nothing to do with nationalism or a sop to nationalism. He actually believes this, as the editor of our national daily, and he does not appreciate that this is all about the sop to the nationalists. If he has not actually written the articles himself, we have to look at those who are his supporters, known supporters of Plaid Cymru, and known supporters over a very long period, of devolution.
I want very briefly to put to the Committee the view that there are in Wales very many people who have put forward the view, backing their judgment, that these proposals will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Today we have had the view of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). We also heard the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas). I believe that their judgment coincides with the deeply held views of the majority of the people in Wales and of that tiny minority, Plaid Cymru. Plaid Cymru never uses the slippery-slope argument—but that argument is precisely the same as the "one step only" argument. Members of Plaid Cymru have always argued that a Welsh Assembly is for them one step only towards total separation. So they believe, as I believe, that it is a slippery slope.
§ Mr. Hooson
Does it matter what Plaid Cymru thinks? We should consider the proposals on their merits. Surely one of the great factors is that Lord Crowther and Lord Kilbrandon, who followed him, were two of the most distinguished economists and jurists in this country in their turn, and they came to this conclusion 569 with the object of achieving administrative efficiency.
§ Mr. Roberts
I always take Plaid Cymru's views seriously, because the minority whom it represents, although small, is an important element in Wales. It is moving towards separation. I believe that it represents 10 to 12 per cent. of the electorate in Wales.
There are all sorts of arguments in answer to the question of the hon. Member for The Wrekin—what is there in the Bill which will lead to disunity?—but the basic one is contained in the first words of Clause 2:There shall be a Welsh Assembly.The moment an Assembly is established, it will serve as a focus for those who desire the disunity of the Welsh nation, so that gradually the people of Wales will move away from the people of the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Anderson
Surely the important point is that if this were simply to do with administrative efficiency a similar structure would be proposed for the English regions.
§ Mr. Roberts
Indeed, the editor of the Western Mail would have his great hope fulfilled—an Assembly for Yorkshire.
The moment that there is a Welsh Assembly, we are moving towards a separate Welsh nation. That is why Plaid Cymru naturally supports it. The history of our nation shows the Welsh people that we have been on this road before. What defeated Lloyd George's proposals for Home Rule or an Assembly was the deep instincts of the Welsh people, particularly in South Wales, who realised that they meant separation from the United Kingdom.
During the referendum we can argue about every aspect of democracy and administrative efficiency, but at the end of the day the Welsh people will see the matter in the simple terms that this is a step towards breaking up the United Kingdom—and they will reject it decisively.
§ Mr. Heffer
As I come from the capital of North Wales, it might be worth my saying a few words. Probably we have as many Welsh people in Liverpool as 570 does any part of the United Kingdom. In fact, the Welsh influence there has been tremendous. Only now are the old Welsh churches beginning to lose their congregations because the Welsh are now of the second and third generations.
Therefore, the speaking of Welsh is no longer as common as it was 50 years ago. But the influence of the Welsh in Liverpool is tremendous. Nobody who comes from my part of the world would deny it. It is as well to say a few words about this because whatever happens in Wales affects Merseyside and what happens in Merseyside affects Wales.
If we are thinking of a natural regional, geographical set-up, the wisest thing to do would be to establish a regional Assembly to cover the North Wales coast and Merseyside, because economically the two areas are integrated. It is interesting that in Shotton and on the North Wales coast there is no enthusiasm for devolution. I often go across and speak at meetings of the Labour Party and at trade union meetings and so on, along the coast, and I can assure the Committee that I have never met any enthusiasm, because the people there feel that their natural affinity is with the area across the Dee—the Wirral and Merseyside.
This is the frightening thing about the whole concept. I remember the discussions that took place in the Labour Party on the question of a Welsh Assembly. The original concept was that the Assembly should be a sort of top tier of local government. That was the whole idea. It has now got out of balance, because of the upsurge of the nationalist movement in Scotland and to a much lesser extent in Wales. These Bills are in front of us because of the reaction to the growth of nationalism.
Let me make it absolutely clear that believe passionately that the Welsh have a right to develop and maintain their own culture and language. I have said in the House before that I used to work with a Welsh joiner at my trade, and he had great difficulty because he thought in Welsh and had to translate his thoughts into English. As a result of working with the joiner I went to extra-mural evening classes at the University of Liverpool to study the history of Wales and to put my toe in the water of the Welsh 571 language. I am afraid that I am not bright enough to have mastered it.
I recognise and understand that if I were Welsh I should want to ensure that my people's culture was maintained and developed against all-corners. That is one thing. One's cultural heritage is worth preserving and must be preserved, just as the English cultural heritage is worth preserving. My family come from East Anglia. We are Cambridge people. Mine is a very old English family.
Incidentally, looking back into my family's history, I discovered that one of my family was a poacher. I am not very proud of him, because he got into some difficulty with another poacher and unfortunately they shot a gamekeeper. There is a poem about it. In order to get out of the difficulty he turned King's evidence. So I am not very proud of this individual who, somewhere along the line, was part of my family.
As I say, there was a poem about that event. Believe it or not, it was drawn to my attention by a Scottish colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew-shire. West (Mr. Buchan), because he is so interested in poetry from whatever part of the United Kingdom it comes. The point that I am making is that we all have our historical background, our traditions, our culture, our music, and so on and we have to maintain them. But the great thing about the United Kingdom is that we have so interchanged that we have the best from each other. That has been our great strength. We have learnt from each other. We have given each other great things.
I am always proud that the Eisteddfod was once held in my city of Liverpool. I think that that was marvellous. I wish that we could have it again. In fact, I have made tentative inquiries to find out whether we could. Of course, that occasion was a long time ago, hut I am proud that we had the Eisteddfod in Liverpool, and I believe it to have been well worth while. I am concerned to preserve those vital parts of our national life which that event represents.
I am not sure what will be the outcome if the Welsh Assembly is established. I regard the Scottish prospect as far more dangerous, but even a Welsh Assembly will open a crack in the door. It will 572 have been slightly opened towards the ultimate slippery slope.
I do not know what the Western Mail has written. I suppose that I am a rabid anti-devolutionist, according to the Western Mail, but, whether it likes it or not, it is my belief that once we have the Assembly established the argument will begin.
§ Mr. Hooson
The hon. Gentleman is putting his argument very moderately, and I am following him with interest. Does he appreciate that over the centuries, as a deliberate act of State, there were enormous attacks on Welsh cultural and social life? There was a deliberate attempt by acts of State to kill the very culture to which he refers. In this century and at the end of the last, we began to try to restore the balance. The whole point of a Welsh Assembly is that after many centuries Wales will have a body which can speak in its name, without ever breaking up the United Kingdom or anything of the kind.
§ Mr. Heffer
I do not for a moment suggest that the English have been perfect towards the Welsh. Nevertheless, it is interesting to recall that some of the greatest Kings in our history were Welsh. Let us remember that the Tudor dynasty went on for some time and, quite frankly, seemed to be doing rather well. From the historical point of view, the Tudors seemed to make quite a good job of running the whole of England and Wales.
As for the Scots—because of these arguments we have all been re-reading our history—it is interesting to note that they spent far more time fighting one another than they did fighting the English. They were very vicious about it, too. They were not particularly gentlemanly in the way they treated one another.
As one looks back into our history one sees a good deal of old imperialist attitudes, but in the great Empire which we used to control, who were the colonialists? Who were the people running the colonies? Many of them were Scots and Welsh, in addition to the English. We all played our part in events of which I am not particularly proud.
But I am talking now about present reality, and I come back to the point that I was about to make. Paragraph 573 298 of "Our Changing Democracy" states:Any change in the machinery of democratic government must bring new problems in its wake. The Scottish and Welsh Assemblies will no doubt have teething troubles, and there will be a financial price to pay.The first point concerns the words "problems in its wake". What will those problems be? If I were a Welsh Assemblyman or a Scottish Assemblyman and we were discussing the financial provisions, I would argue most strongly that it was "that lot at Westminster" who were holding back what we ought to be getting. The whole argument then becomes one between Westminster and the Assembly. No Welsh Member of Parliament or Scottish Member of Parliament dare get up in the House of Commons and say "They are wrong". If they did they would immediately place themselves in jeopardy. I am talking not only about local authorities but about the country as a whole.
I do not want to see the unity of the United Kingdom broken up. I do not even want to see a step towards such a break-up for the very good reason that it seems to me that we should go beyond the concept of narrow nationalism. To my mind that is the important point.
Of course people, should maintain their culture, traditions and history and be proud of them, but let us recognise that in the United Kingdom we have got to a stage where we are totally and completely mixed up.
I mentioned to one of my hon. Friends that I had an uncle named Morris. Another was named Aitken. That says precisely where they both came from. Another member of the family was named Connelly. That indicates where he came from.
Are we going to withdraw into our little fortresses and put up false barriers? That is the danger. I know that my hon. Friends do not want that. That is not their objective. That is not what they want to do. But that could well be the outcome, and it is for that reason that I have never been happy about these devolution proposals. I am not happy about this Bill either.
It is not quite as bad as the Scotland Bill. I would suggest that there is less enthusiasm among the people of Wales for this Bill than there is among the people of Scotland for the Scotland Bill. 574 I believe that we shall be taking a very grave step if we go along this road. I think we shall go along this road although I trust and hope that we shall not.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
I have listened with interest to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides debating a clause which was withdrawn nearly five hours ago. I shall be brief. But on this historical occasion it would be wrong of me as a Welshman not to say a few words.
I feel it an honour, on St. David's Day, to speak in this Committee and to say that the Welsh people are in need of their own Parliament in Wales. My colleagues and I in the Liberal Party over the last 50 years have been strong advocates of devolving powers to Scotland, Wales and the other regions of England.
I have said on many occasions that if devolution is to succeed in Britain we must have parity between the people of Scotland, Wales and England. In my view it is a great pity that we do not have proposals before us to devolve power to the regions of England, or at least to England. But we must accept the proposals that are in front of us.
By devolving power to a Welsh Parliament we shall bring government closer to the people of Wales. The Government will know and understand Welsh problems and there will be direct participation and active involvement of the Welsh people that will enable us to solve our problems and survive economically and culturally. Once we have our own Welsh Parliament in Cardiff, Wales will be able to make an important contribution to Britain.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
Will the hon. Member explain the connotation? He talked about "our own Welsh Parliament". He did not say "Assembly".
§ Mr. Howells
I know that the hon. Member is not in favour of devolving power to Wales. I am willing to accept that once we have our own Parliament it is up to the people of Wales to decide the future for ourselves.
I believe that we shall be just as much a part of Britain as we were before. We cannot possibly become economically independent, but to play our part fully we must recognise our potential by tackling the problems at source—in 575 Wales. Only then can we make a proper contribution to Britain, Europe and the world. This can only be done with our own Parliament and a full complement of Members elected by the Welsh people through a system of proportional representation.
What is needed is action and not words. The Welsh people have waited 50 or even 100 years for a Welsh Parliament. They deserve a Parliament of their own. Whatever side of the Committee we sit, let us give every encouragement to this devolution of power to the people. Being a staunch devolutionist I believe strongly in the principle of devolving power. We have a glorious opportunity. Let us not miss it. Let the people of Wales govern themselves from now on.
§ Mr. Fred Evans
I suppose that it might be a piece of political philosophy worth considering to say:Trust your enemies, but have some regard for what your friends say.The Leader of Plaid Cymru turned so many somersaults when the White Paper first appeared that it was little short of a dazzling display. Since then we have seen things move and move again. I accept the argument that has been put forward here tonight that things are organic and do not remain stagnant. They grow and decay. It is in this that the inherent danger to the United Kingdom lies.
The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) may make whatever protests he likes, but we have heard him say here and announce elsewhere that the aim of Plaid Cymru is a separate, independent Wales. I have heard no disclaimers tonight from other members of his party in the House of Commons and certainly none from his followers in the country. His philosophy is summed up by a lady who was once in this House, Mrs. Margo McDonald, who said:We shall eat the crumbs until we can bake our own cakeThat is what will happen to this organic development. We shall see increasing demands for powers to be given to the Assembly and an insistence on parity with the legislative functions that are apparently to be given to the Scottish Assembly.
576 The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) spoke about the proportions of gross national product distributed to Wales and England. The figure for Wales does not look much when it is set out in raw round percentage figures, but in terms of money values it is considerable.
The right hon. Member stopped short at this point because he thought that he was going out of order. I should have liked him to apply that differential to the general economy. He pointed out the dangers of an attitude developing among English people who would be claiming their proportionate share of GNP. How much would this differential militate against the use of regional incentives? How much would it lead to the clinging of industry to the coffin belt between the Midlands and the South-West? What greater impoverishment of the general economic structures would it bring about?
I find myself full of fears on this aspect. I yield to no one in my pride in being Welsh—going back for as many generations as any hon. Member—but as someone who has had the privilege of studying linguistics I know that all languages are precious and they all enshrine cultures. They are part of the world heritage that we pass on, but that is different from having the ambition, willy-nilly, to assume political domination that we see in two parts of our country.
The hon. Member for Caernarvon said that he hoped that there would not be too much bitterness in the referendum debate and that the Welsh people would be able to work together afterwards. I am pessimistic. I see great bitterness coming out of this conflict of opinion in Wales and Plaid Cymru, the party that, for years has been castigating everything English as something to be sniggered or sneered at, or treated with contempt, will reap the reward of having sown the seeds of bitterness.
The Welsh people must have these dangers pointed out to them. The irrelevancy of the Bill as a constitutional measure was seen by many of us early on. We wanted to see the then Leader of the House about it, but he dismissed us. We then demanded a referendum. That was dismissed, but we forced the issue and succeeded. Even before that we wanted two Bills instead of one. To 577 all intents and purposes that concession had to be given. We had a Speaker's Conference on the issue. We demanded that no constitutional issue of magnitude should be the subject of anything but a free vote in the House of Commons, in which every hon. Member could show what stake he had in his country. Most imperative of all, we demanded that there be a free vote and that the guillotine should never be used as a method of stifling an hon. Member's conscience.
All those demands were refused. However, there are many fights yet to come. Some of them will be dour. The Government will not come through unscathed, any more than they came through the Scottish exercise unscathed. Assuming that it is the will of Parliament that there is to be a referendum on the question whether we should have an Assembly, I feel sure of the view that the Welsh people will express. If some Ministers do not know their constituencies well enough to know the feelings of their constituents. I shall tell them. I can do so because there has been fair consultation along the line. The issue is becoming clearer and clearer to the Welsh people.
I feel sure that the Welsh people will not be prepared to sacrifice centuries of unity. It may be that there has been occasional unease, but I do not know where unity has not met with such moments. However happy the marriage may be, there are one or two crises to be borne by one or other of the partners. The feeling that the Welsh people are to be used as an instrument to break up a well tried and inherited system will weigh very heavily.
The Welsh people should bear in mind some of the nice, easy phrases that have been used. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, it will mean paying the piper. In this instance the piper will demand more than £12 million per year as well as the original cost of the Assembly. Whether the Welsh people will consider that the tune that the piper produces is worth listening to afterwards is a moot point.
I accept that even 10 per cent. in a voting population is a significant element. Even if the figure is 10.7 per cent., 15 per cent. or 20 per cent.—the percentages are rather different according to the different platforms—those who incur the 578 odium of leading the Welsh people to an attack on the unity of the country must bear the consequences.
Although those who would give that lead have many members of the establishment, many of the crachach in Wales and in the Labour Party, supporting them, they will live to regret bitterly the day that they put their feet on that road. Knowing of the culture of Wales, nothing of its eagerness to express itself is reflected in this exercise. What they will have to bear on their consciences is that, to my knowledge, for years and years the sniggers, the sneers and the active hatreds of all things English have been generated in Wales—
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Evans
It is not rubbish. Glamorgan County Council recently had to withdraw from a school a book which carried in it a picture of the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) in a drawing room setting, with a linguistic instruction. At the back of the book there was a list of the heroes of Wales, and the right hon. Gentleman figured in the list. There is the tendency to elevate anything and everything into a stick to beat one's opponents, whether it is footballers or anything else. This is plain for all to see.
I hope that those who have chosen to put their feet on this road, if this is to be the destiny of Wales, will see where they are leading us. It is all very well to laugh. It is all very well to say "I shall be quite happy with Wales, even if it is a peasant country". I have met people who have said that. As long as they are the people who will wield power over the peasants, that seems to be enough for them. I can only say that if the Welsh people are to be led down this road they must resist it with all the force at their command.
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) and with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) about the harm that a narrow little nationalism can do and continues to do in this century, not only in this country but in all other countries of the world. It is fuelled on emotion and is largely devoid of any Intellectual reasoning.
579 We have heard from one hon. Member after another representing Welsh constituencies, with all their inborn eloquence and passion, how much harm the Bill will do to the Welsh people. I believe that it will do harm to the English people as well. That aspect of it has not been given much attention. But, representing as I do, people in the South-West of England, and coming from the South-West of England, I can say that all the problems of Wales are shared by the people of the South-West.
The people of the South-West of England have great affinities with the people of Wales. Some parts of our area share the same ethnic background. We certainly have the difficult communications. We certainly have the low wages. We certainly have the difficulty of attracting industries. Unfortunately and sadly, our level of unemployment is a good deal higher even than that in Wales, yet we have in our region almost exactly the same population—2,750,000. In the South-West we have 116,000 unemployed today. In Wales the total figure at the latest count was 91,000.
The people of the South-West of England share and understand the problems of the people of Wales. We have our little local nationalism. I am a Cornishman and I can vouch for that. We have our little local cultures. We can look across to the shores of Wales from our homes and realise that we share with the people of Wales many of their problems, hopes and aspirations. We have at the present time no resentment, or very little resentment, of the fact that the Welsh people get considerable advantages in the way of aid and assistance from the United Kingdom as a whole.
We do question some of the dispersal of industry that goes to South Wales and not to the South-West. We do question some of the improvements to roads and communications that go to South Wales and not to the South-West.
But those are not burning issues. We understand that the people of South \Vales have had great poverty and many problems in the past. We accept that. However, if through the Bill the people of Wales are to have greater powers through their Assembly to obtain more of the share of the economic growth of the United Kingdom as a whole, and if they 580 seek greater gains for themselves, we in the South-West will feel deep resentment. This will do grave harm to the social fabric of the South-West and to the unity of the United Kingdom.
It will also do harm to the balance of parliamentary representation. The Welsh equivalent of the West Lothian question affects us as much as it affects Scottish Members. If the 36 Welsh Members, mostly Labour, representing 2,750,000 people were to vote on a problem which we in the South-West experienced, being largely represented by the Conservatives, with 27 Members and also representing 2,750,000 when we could do no such thing in their part of the country, that would add fuel to the flames of social discord in the United Kingdom.
We have deep problems in the United Kingdom. They are far deeper than many of us foresaw a few years ago. We have deep and lasting problems which require the efforts and energies of all the people in these islands. Anyone from outside would think us mad to try to create at present foolish divisions amongst ourselves for the sake of trying to relieve the pressures of petty nationalism in some corners of the United Kingdom. We should not be made to push ahead any measure that would disrupt our unity. Right hon. and hon. Members should continue to oppose the Bill at every stage and try and throw it out at Third Reading.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
We have already had a long debate on Clause 1. I was interested in the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans), who talked about organic development. I would rather say that there is nothing constant but change. Of course the Assembly will change over the years. In the immediate years ahead it is likely that it will be controlled by the Labour Party. It is a little mysterious that any hon. Member, particularly anyone who represents Welsh Labour constituencies, should oppose these proposals.
§ Mr. Fred Evans rose—
§ Mr. Hughes
Far be it from me to do that. The clause says that the Bill will make no change; in the government of the United Kingdom and that it does not affect its essential unity. Neither does it affect the supreme authority of Parliament. I certainly agree with that. I cannot understand what this argument is all about.
The Conservatives will always oppose any extension of democracy in Wales. They always have done over the years. That is why the people of Wales have rejected the Tories so overwhelmingly over such a long period.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) talked about the proposals being a nineteenth-century concept. I appreciate that my hon. Friend was not in the House in 1972 and 1973, but I can tell him that those of us who were here spent a lot of time on those proposals, meeting almost every day. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are now opposing these proposals were party to what was agreed at that time. They even went as far as to put a specific promise in their personal election addresses. All that the Labour movement in Wales is asking them to do is to honour the promises which, presumably, they made sincerely to their electors and to Wales as a whole.
These decisions and proposals have been endorsed by the Labour Party and the TUC both in Wales and nationally. There may be a feeling that the proposals are not all that popular, but if Keir Hardie had advocated at the beginning of this century only those things that were popular, our movement would not have got this far and there would not have been so many of us on these benches or so many good careers ahead of certain of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The proposals are essentially practical in character, and they do not affect the essential unity of the United Kingdom. Circumstances in Wales do not compare with those in Scotland. In Scotland the argument about the effect on unity is strengthened, but that does not apply to Wales. The function of the Welsh Assembly will be only executive in character. One of the reasons for pro- 582 posals of this sort is the growth in the number of nominated bodies. One can name any sort of nominated body, and we in Wales have got it. It is time that these bodies were made democratically accountable.
We know that the Tories will oppose these proposals. Many of the Conservative Party's nominees serve on these bodies. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said that the proposals do not have the support of the people of Wales. I can assure him that neither did the people of Wales support his Government's local government re-organisation proposals which have cost the ratepayers and taxpayers so dearly. Local government has been an absolute disaster. For that reason, I welcome the proposal in the Bill that one of the elected Assembly's first jobs will be to look into local government with a view to drawing up proposals much better suited to the needs of Wales and preferably based on a one-tier system.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Grist
Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that the Assembly will only be able to produce a report or recommendations. The legislation will still lie with the House of Commons. We in the House will still discuss it, and Ministers will still have to produce proposals. All these things can be done now without an Assembly.
§ Mr. Hughes
That only goes to indicate the minimal powers that the Assembly will have. But the representatives in the Assembly will be from the grass roots in Wales. I am sure that they can be relied upon to draw up perfectly sensible proposals. It will ultimately be up to the House of Commons to decide whether to accept, reject or amend them.
§ Mr. Kinnock
If the House were to reject such proposals, what does my hon. Friend think would be the consequences in terms of the attitude of the people towards this place, democracy and the Assembly? Does not he acknowledge that it is still perfectly feasible for the House to make changes to those local government provisions which he and I dislike equally without having to go through the wasteful procedures of creating an Assembly? It appears sometimes that the whole justification for creating an Assembly is that it will rescue local 583 government in Wales from the mess in which the Tories left it.
§ Mr. Hughes
I cannot believe that the present Government would reject outright proposals from the Welsh Assembly. No doubt they might amend parts of them, but I am sure that the Assembly would be capable of drawing up proposals for local government which, by and large, would be acceptable not only in Wales but to the Government.
Then there is the question of the Welsh Office, and we have heard a good deal of emphasis on the situation of the Secretary of State. It is worth remembering that the Welsh Office is in Cardiff. That is where the Welsh civil servants are. There is only a skeleton staff in London. The idea is that the civil servants in Cardiff should be accountable to an elected Assembly there, because we know that Parliament here has not the time to scrutinise these minute functions. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has freely admitted that he is taking decisions from day to day which, honourably, he believes should really be made by elected representatives.
Many of the speeches about Clause 1 and the proposals contained in the Bill have been exaggerated out of all proportion. I have always supported the essential unity of the United Kingdom, and I believe that the basis of these proposals is sensible. We know that the proposals have been thoroughly gone into, particularly by the Labour Party and by the Royal Commission. What more exhaustive investigation can we have? It is my feeling that Clause 1 and the proposals contained in the Bill as a whole should be supported by every Member on this side of the Committee.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
The debate has been very wide ranging. We little thought that in the course of the evening we would hear about prohibition in the Labour Party's programme of 1922 and poaching among the ancestors of the hon. Member from Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer).
We welcomed the brief speech by the Under-Secretary of State at the beginning of the proceedings. Many Welsh people would have welcomed on this St. David's Day a much longer speech by a Welsh Minister, more closely related to the matters that immediately concern the Welsh 584 people, the great social and economic problems that confront us and have not been debated in a proper Welsh debate in the House of Commons for more than 15 months. A Government who neglect their duties in this place cannot advance as adequate justification for legislation of this kind the fact that they have failed to provide time for proper debate.
The significant fact about the debate is that the clause, included by the Government at the outset and regarded as important, has now been dropped. That is not because the Government have suddenly had wiser thoughts about what has been described by both Labour and Liberal supporters of devolution as no more than a pious expression of hope or window dressing but because, as a consequence of what happened on the Scotland Bill, the Government have had to accept that the House of Commons does not believe the statement in the clause to be true. I must make it clear that we want the clause out.
§ Sir A. Meyer
Does my hon. Friend share my astonishment at the manner in which the Committee became aware that the clause had been dropped? As far as I am aware, there was no announcement by the Goverment. The information was dragged out of them as a result of a series of points of order.
§ Mr. Edwards
No. We had a one-minute speech by the Under-Secretary, who rose to make an announcement that had been leaked over the past two or three days in private conversations with hon. Members.
The debate has made it absolutely clear why the clause had to go, despite the fact that on the Scotland Bill, as the Committee was reminded by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), the Government fought long and hard for its retention. The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) pointed out that they regarded it then as critical and crucial to their legislation, as central to the whole concept of devolution as they presented it.
During the consideration of the Scotland Bill the nationalists suggested that our hostility to the clause and our vote against it represented a statement of hostility to the Union. They know perfectly well that it does nothing of the kind. We are against the clause because it is 585 a lie. It reverses the truth, and we do not believe that it is the business of the House of Commons to pass legislation that does that.
The point is made for us by a series of nationalist amendments to Clause 10 that we shall debate tomorrow. Plaid Cymru Members declare the Bill to be inadequate as it stands and seek to extend it by giving the Assembly legislative and economic powers.
The whole scheme advanced by the Government is a catalyst for conflict and disruption, conflict with central Government and with local government. It is interesting that, although the Government seek to argue otherwise, there is agreement on this point between those who want devolution carried to its extremes and those of us who seek to maintain the fundamental unity of the kingdom. Nationalists and Conservatives at least agree that the structure created by the Bill cannot endure.
Despite the fact that the Western Mail in an article referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts), says that there is no case for thinking that we are advancing down the slippery slope and that the slippery-slope argument is unsound, there is no clearer statement of the slippery-slope argument than that in a recent book by John Osmond, "Creative Conflict—The Politics of Welsh Devolution."
John Osmond is a journalist working in Wales for the Western Mail. He has become an advocate of nationalism. He looks to a de-centralist, confederalist solution—I think that I summarise his case fairly—which is curiously ill defined but is to be based on local community. He aims at something that he describes as a British union, which he compares with attempts to create a Nordic union. His objective is not far removed from the Commonwealth status referred to by Plaid Cymru.
Mr. Osmond welcomes the Bill not as a solution, not as a structure of government that will or can endure, but as a source of conflict. He positively luxuriates in the kind of creative conflict that he believes the Bill will create. He values the Bill only as an instrument to take us 586 down the slippery slope to something entirely different. In his book, which I recommend to hon. Members for our debates, he very clearly identifies the various sources of conflict. After describing the political compromises within the Labour Party that produced the Bill, he describes it as a fundamentally unstable system. The missing legislative function is identified as the first stress area, an obvious focus for the Assembly's ambition and one already being pressed by amendment to the Bill.
Mr. Osmond then turns to the point to which I referred during the proceedings on the Scotland and Wales Bill—that is, the obvious impossibility of separating the primary and secondary legislative functions. This matter was referred to at length by the hon. Member for ale Wrekin (Mr. Fowler), who attacked my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) for his speech and sought to argue, referring to that speech, that it was absurd to suggest that there was anything fundamentally dangerous about the Bill because, after all, there was no legislative function in it. But the hon. Member entirely failed to address himself seriously to the possibility envisaged by the Kilbrandon Commission that an Assembly will simply fail to carry out the general policies produced for it in primary legislation in this place, and will fail to fill in the necessary details or will do so in a deliberately contradictory way.
The Royal Commission had this to say at paragraph 860 of its report:If, for example, regional assemblies were required to make regulations to give effect to some policy laid down in the statute, there would need to be some means of ensuring that suitable regulations were made. However unlikely it may be, the possibility would at least exist that a particular assembly which was opposed to that policy might either fail to make the regulations or make them in terms which were deliberately unsuited for the purpose.After referring to local government, the report said:It is possible that regional governments with greater weight, and perhaps strong national or regional feeling behind them, would not always be so amenable. Some measure of disagreement, forcibly expressed and at times acted upon, could be expected. The central government would, however, need to be in a position to secure the implementation of its policy and to step in if a region either exceeded the limits of its devolved powers or failed to exercise them.587 In paragraph 863, the report went on to say:It must be recognised, however, that there would be strong political resistance to the use of any of these powers of coercion "—powers that had been described in the preceding paragraphs.
Thus, the Kilbrandon Commission at any rate recognised that fundamental difficulty. Although the Assembly has been described frequently tonight as a purely executive body, it is more than that. It has to fulfil a vital part of the legislative function. Interestingly enough, in the book that I have mentioned there is a quotation from a paragraph said to have been written by Lord Glenamara, as he now is—Ted Short as he then was. I shall not quote it in full, but I may refer to it when we return to the question of legislation.
He is quoted as saying, on page 155 of this book:The line between primary and secondary legislation has often in the past been a matter of convenience (related, for example, to considerations of Parliamentary time). In the 'devolved' situation, it would have much greater importance. This might someimes be an additional complication in the management of the Westminster legislative programme. It is possible also that Parliament might choose actually to draw primary legislation more tightly, rather than more loosely, in order to constrain the options of the Welsh Assembly (which might have a different political majority).John Osmond notes:After listing these 'limitations', Short offered a very revealing comment. He wrote, ' I have no proposals for countering these limitations'".That is the reality of the situation. There is a potential source of conflict between the two parts of the legislative function which simply has not been resolved. One has only to think of an example like housing finance, where legislation might be passed in this House which simply would not and could not be implemented through secondary legislation elsewhere.
Mr. Osmond lists next as a potential source of conflict—I think rightly—the hybrid Committee solution. That Committee structure is complicated and is made possible because there is no primary legislative power. He says:The instability created by the absence of primary legislative powers, together with the instability inherent in the separation of primary 588 and secondary legislation for Wales (both described at above) would in themselves produce instability in the committee structure.He points out that that Committee structure would inevitably move towards a Cabinet system, and I think that he is right.
Mr. Osmond then turns to the fourth area for conflict, arising from the role of the Secretary of State, the economic aspirations of the Assembly and the profound arguments which would inevitably go on over the scale of the finance provided. The Civil Service and Westminster override provisions are then identified as a further source of conflict.
He concludes his chapter by telling his readers that it has been intended to demonstrate that it was littered with opportunities for either Assembly or Westminster to promote confrontation. That confrontation he welcomes as something essentially creative, which will lead either to a federal solution or—as he regards it, more desirably—a confederal one.
Believing that the present constitutional provision is inherently unstable in any case, he welcomes the fact that the Government's responseis guaranteed to create even more constitutional instability".He positively glories in the fact that the block grant system is, as he describes it, "a recipe for conflict".
§ Mr. Roy Hughes
Is the hon. Gentleman replying to the Government's proposals as contained in the clause and the speeches made in the debate, or is he replying to the Western Mail?
§ Mr. Edwards
I am trying to summarise the sources of conflict and the fundamental reasons why, as the House of Commons and the people of Wales should understand, the Government have withdrawn this clause. The clause is fundamental to our understanding of the Bill. If we do not understand why the House of Commons would not accept it in the Scotland Bill and why the Government realised that the Committee would not accept it in this Bill, we shall not understand the legislation at all. I quote widely from this interesting book so that the Committee and the people of Wales may understand what the proponents of devolution are about.
It is surely important that, right at the start, when we debate Clause 1 we should 589 all understand that we are not being asked to produce a stable constitutional settlement. Instead, we are being asked quite deliberately by people who believe in it to stimulate conflict in the vague and ill-defined hope that what eventually emerges may be better than we have at present.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) said that the Bill as it stands, if it did not go any further, might be acceptable. I say that a Bill that is so charged with conflict cannot be acceptable as it stands. In setting out the causes of conflict referred to by Mr. Osmond I have omitted two others that are equally important. The first has been dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, when he referred to the position of Welsh Members of Parliament and their influence on the Government of England. It has become known as the West Lothian question.
The fact that the Government have proferred no solution is a clear indication that there is no way of avoiding the conflict that this question will create with English Members and the English people. Nor can any change in the present arrangements be anything but damaging to the Welsh people.
Hon. Members should not imagine that because Welsh Members will have a legislative role in this place in regard to Wales the problem will not arise in the same way as it does in the case of Scotland. I suggest that in this place the fate of Governments is decided not simply by a legislative programme but by a whole series of debates on Supply Days, on motions tabled by the Government, on orders and questions. Indeed, the present Government are showing skilfully how they can survive by submerging their legislative programme altogether. Even on this Bill the Government are having to withdraw Clause 1, which is not a very clear sign of their total domination of the House of Commons.
As the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) told the House on 29th November:…legislation and the right and necessity to legislate must spring out of involvement with and, indeed, responsibility for the subjects to which the legislation relates. The notion of reponsibility for administration totally divorced from responsibility for legislation is a chimera. The two hang together."—[Official Report, 29th November 1977; Vol. 940, c. 330.]590 But Welsh Members will have no responsibility for administration in Wales, on a huge range of subjects in their own constituencies—only in England—and their contribution to the legislative process will be divorced from the experience of administration in their own constituencies.
The final area of conflict to which I wish to refer is that with local government. There is an oversight, supervisory and appellate role of government which is being transferred to the Assembly. Later, if the guillotine allows us, we shall want to explain the incredible potential for conflict which will arise as one committee seeks to supervise the work of another committee—quite different from the present arrangements—or as one committee deals with appeals against the decisions of other committees.
I have said enough to show that the grounds for conflict and disruption are as great in the Wales Bill as they are in the Scotland Bill. Indeed, because of the division of the legislative function and the extraordinary committee structure, they are in some ways greater. Of course, in the case of Scotland it could be argued throughout that there might be an even greater cause for disunity and disruption because the demand of the Scottish people was such that if it were denied it would be an even greater cause of conflict than any contained in the Bill.
That argument cannot conceivably be advanced in the case of Wales, because not even supporters of the Bill now put forward the proposition that there is a strong public demand for it. The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) was eloquent in his moderation when he referred to public opinion on this issue. He could not make more than the most tentative claims.
Some members of the Committee have been suffering from the remarkable delusion that the Bill is less important than the Scotland Bill, and that its consequences are potentially less damaging for the United Kingdom. I do not share that view. There is an inevitable connection between what happens in one part of the kingdom and what happens in another. A small fracture appearing in the body of the State weakens the whole. It will lengthen and spread until the State as we know it falls apart.
591 That is the objective of the nationalists. That is what they propose to use the Assemblies for. The John Osmonds of this world, having created the pressure for the Bill, hope that that will, in fact, be the consequence.
§ Mr. Hooson rose—
§ Mr. Edwards
I am coming to a close. We have had a long debate.
No doubt the Minister will reply that he acknowledges no such objective. He is the tool of those with greater determination and clearer vision than he possesses. His Bill is a cause of conflict, and, as I see it, not creative but destructive conflict. What the nationalists regard as this small step is a step into the unknown, but inevitably and unchallengeably it cannot be a single step. If we take it, it will be the first of many, and it will lead to a wholly different constitutional settlement.
§ Mr. John Smith
About six and a half hours ago, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales announced—in a speech which, apparently, the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) did not hear—that it was the Government's intention not to recommend that this clause should stand part of the Bill.
My hon. Friend's was not a long speech. It was admirably crisp and brief. If I may say so, he set a precedent which did not find general acceptance throughout most of the Committee, but I do not wish to be anything but as brief and succinct as was my hon. Friend. In essence, we have had a Second Reading debate today, and I hope that it will not be the practice of some hon. Members, especially those who have spoken today, to suggest that a vicious guillotine imposed by the Government has prevented the Committee from reaching other clauses before 11 o'clock. If the Government were to devise a guillotine generous enough to accommodate the instincts which the Committee has shown today, that guillotine would have to last for several years, let alone several months.
It has been said that the clause is inaccurate. The Government do not accept that. We believe that the Bill is consistent with the unity of the United Kingdom and nothing in it impairs the legis- 592 lative supremacy of Parliament. That is my view. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said that the clause was unnecessary, being declaratory in effect and, as he put it, surplusage. In our view, it was a useful declaratory clause.
The words that I used on the Scotland Bill, in recommending the corresponding clause to the Committee, were that it was a useful declaratory clause to appear at this point. However, the Committee on the Scotland Bill did not accept that advice, and we felt that in the present circumstances it might assist the Committee and speed up the debate if the Government made their position clear at the outset.
Unfortunately, that laudable ambition has not been realised, but I shall not take up more of the time available, since there are other matters with which hon. Members would like to deal. I end by saying that we do not recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Question put and negatived.
§ Clause 1 disagreed to.