§ '(1) If it appears to the Secretary of State—
- (a) that a Bill passed by the Assembly contains any provision which would or might affect a reserved matter, whether directly or indirectly; and
- (b) that the enactment of that provision would not be in the public interest;
§ (2) For the purposes of this section a reserved matter is one which—
- (a) concerns Wales (whether or not it also concerns any other part of the United Kingdom); but
- (b) is not within the legislative competence of the Welsh Assembly.
§ (3) If a Bill is laid before Parliament under subsection (1) of this section and either—
- (a) within a period of twenty-eight days beginning with the day on which it is so laid, each House of Parliament resolves that the Bill shall not be submitted to Her Majesty in Council; or
- (b) the House of Commons so resolves within that period and confirms its resolution under section 72 of this Act;
§ (4) Where, in pursuance of this section, a Bill is not to be submitted to Her Majesty in Council for approval, nothing in section 19 of this Act shall be taken to require the question whether the Bill or any of its provisions is within the legislative competence of the Assembly to be referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.'.
§ We may also take Amendment No. 108.
§ 4.15 p.m.
As so many references were made yesterday to the constitutional policies of Plaid Cymru, I think that I should lay our cards on the table and declare exactly where we stand. We have never tried to hide our policies.
Wales is a nation. That is where we begin. We think that the loyalty of our people, as Welsh people, is owed in the first place to the nation—in other words, the nation precedes the State. The State should be subordinate to the nation. The State should serve the nation. As a result of the actions of the State, the nation should be stronger and healthier in every way. We therefore demand a Welsh State.
We have always sought to make it plain that our constitutional aim is full national status for Wales. We want to see our nation a member of a confederal partnership of free and equal nations, in no way subordinate one to the other in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, but freely associated inside this partnership. I think that that is a very civilised aim for the nations of these islands. Certainly the fight for Wales is on, and the struggle is for the life of a nation.
§ Sir A. Meyer
When the hon. Gentleman uses the word "confederal", is he making a distinction between confederal and federal? Is he thereby implying a looser relationship between the constituent elements than would be involved in a federal relationship?
Certainly there is a very basic distinction between the two. A 684 confederal status allows a nation international status. A nation enjoying a confederal status would take its place in the life of the world. We want to join the world. We want to take our place in international institutions, from Europe across to the United Nations. We want to be in charge of all our affairs, but we want to do this in partnership with our neighbours.
We have never, as it happens, used the word independence to describe our policies as a party. Some of our members may have done so, but we make a difference between independence and what we seek, which is national freedom, because all nations are interdependent. No nation should seek to be absolutely sovereign. We are all members one of another, and we think that nations should be prepared to sink their sovereignty in an international body.
The word sovereignty is a difficult one, of course, and it is one that we avoid. We regard absolute sovereignty as one of the evils of the world today. Many nations have set their eyes on what they call absolute sovereignty. We prefer to speak of freedom.
As for the United Nations, there are nearly 40 nations in the United Nations which are smaller in size than Wales. They are free nations, and we think that we should have the same rights as they enjoy.
We have a duty to make our contribution to world order and to European civilisation. As a matter of fact, I do not think there is any such thing as a European civilisation apart from the life of the nations of Europe. Their national traditions compose European civilisation. Our first duty as Welsh people is to de-defend our corner of Europe, our corner of European civilisation.
Our belief is that a day is coming when the people of Wales will demand this full national freedom so that they can live their lives in their own way and be fully themselves as members of a Welsh 685 national community, making their own decisions and taking their own actions, as they see fit, to defend and to develop their great national heritage, and making the contribution that they can to European civilisation and to world order.
More than that, I believe that the tide is going our way. Other people will deny that, but I think that the movement among thoughtful people in democratic countries is towards decentralisation, towards smaller units, and towards the disintegration of the huge blocs that we have in the world. I think that they are a danger to the world.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
The Scottish National Party says that it stands for independence, and my question is related to defining where the hon. Gentleman's party stands on the question of independence. He is saying that his party wants Wales to be separate from England, but he also talks of being interdependent. France and Germany, although interdependent today, are separate independent nations. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that Plaid Cymru is committed not to devolution, which we are discussing today, but to Wales becoming a geographical, political and economic entity which is separate from the rest of Britain?
§ The Chairman
Before the hon. Gentleman replies, I must draw the attention of the Committee to the amendment which is being discussed. I think we are getting rather wide and rather international. I ask the hon. Member for Carmarthen to proceed with his amendment.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
I should have liked to reply to the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) and could certainly have given a full reply to his question. However, to come nearer to the amendment, Plaid Cymru has always taken the revolutionary approach. It has in the past supported—and will again—any measure that improves the government of Wales, brings greater justice to the people of Wales, or strengthen the national traditions of Wales. We have fought general elections on questions such as what we call a Tennessee Valley Authority for Wales—in other words, a development authority. We put that in the forefront of our election programme, because we thought it was the best possible thing to do for Wales in the very near future.
686 That is our attitude towards the measure now before the Committee. Although it is insufficient, we think that it will mean a considerable improvement in the way in which Wales is governed. Obviously, it falls very far short of what we think is necessary. But it has merit.
In particular, we think that the measure will be a considerable advance in democracy in Wales. We believe that it will democratise what is already a bureaucratic tier of Government. But we think that its merits would be considerably greater if it included the power to legislate. I am talking of primary legislation and not merely the administration of Westminster legislation.
We see no good reason why Wales should not have parity with Scotland in this regard. In our amendment we have confined ourselves entirely to those areas which the Government have seen fit to propose legislative powers in respect of the Scottish Assembly. These are set out in Amendment No. 108.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Why does the hon. Gentleman think that he has not got parity with Scotland, and in what particular respects would he like parity with Scotland?
§ Mr. Evans
I am speaking now about the powers of legislation. The Scottish Assembly will have the power of primary legislation but the Welsh Assembly will be an executive Assembly. We believe that it should be executive and legislative and have parity with Scotland in that respect.
We believe that Wales should have greater powers than are given even to Scotland, but in our amendments we seek only those powers that the Government have agreed upon for Scotland.
I should like to deal with the principle of this matter. I agree with the Minister of State, Privy Council Office—I am sorry that he is not present—who said when he led the Government team with such distinction during discussion on the Scotland Bill:Our view is"—I take it the hon. Gentleman was speaking for the Government—that devolution to be meaningful must be both executive and legislative and that if we are to ask people to serve in a Scottish Assembly it must have considerable power 687 over those affairs which affect Scotland primarily and directly".—[Official Report, 10th January 1978; Vol. 941, c. 1502–3.]With that statement of what I think is Government policy we entirely agree.
This view has been taken in recent years by the Labour Party and the unions in Wales. It was a view that was also taken in the past. If there were time I should like to review past Labour policy in this regard, but there is no time for that. But I would point out that major Labour leaders in England—leaders of the Labour Party—have said time and again in the last two generations that Wales should have her own Parliament. That formed part of Labour Party policy from the beginning of the century right up to 1945. Of course, it was Liberal Party policy well before that.
The demand for legislative power for Wales, and the promise of it to Wales, have a long and venerable history. Those who drafted the constitutional policy of Wales on behalf of the Labour Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s wished to see an Assembly with legislative powers.
Yesterday the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) referred extensively to the fine book by John Osmond who among other things in his book called "Creative Conflict—The Politics of Welsh Devolution" collected evidence about what happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s inside the Labour Party in Wales.
He said that the matter came to a head in 1969 when the evidence was being prepared for the Kilbrandon Commission. London bitterly opposed the Welsh Labour proposals for a legislative Assembly and threatened to insist on an indirectly elected Assembly. In the event, London seems to have forced a compromise and in return for dropping power of legislation a directly elected Assembly was agreed to.
But Wales was not to have the powers of effective action that a legislature would give. However, that was not the end of the matter, because the Wales TUC and unions such as the NUM and Transport and General Workers Union continued to insist on legislative powers. I think that they were right and wise to do so.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The policy-forming conferences and convocations of my union—the Transport and General Workers Union—are conducted on a national basis and even more frequently on a regional basis. At no time anywhere in Britain has any conference of the Transport and General Workers Union—representing the rank and file membership—passed a resolution in favour of devolution and certainly not with regard to legislative devolution for either Scotland or Wales.
§ Mr. Evans
The Transport and General Workers Union in Wales has come out in favour of this just as the NUM in Wales has done. As well as speaking for the unions, the people concerned also speak in the TUC. In addition to the Wales TUC, the British TUC discussed this matter and eventually agreed to the policy which the Government arrived at.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Since the hon. Gentleman is so much in favour of breaking down the accumulations of power and giving individuals, families and communities as much power over their own destinies as possible, would he not acknowledge that when making a decision of this kind it is the will of the rank and file, as represented by their votes and activities, which might take precedence over the way in which monolithic votes can be cast?
§ Mr. Evans
I am talking of what has happened inside the Labour Party. We know about the influence of block votes at Labour Party conferences. I was not arguing in favour of that; I was merely stating the facts as I believe them to be.
I believe that it was right for the unions and the TUC to ask for legislative powers, because in almost every area that one can think of—areas such as the economy, employment, infrastructure, housing, health, education and cultural matters—Wales lags behind England.
It was right, therefore, to ask that powers be given to Wales to deal with these things. The giving of such powers would have an additional advantage because they would give the people of Wales as a community more confidence that they could at last do things for themselves. It would also give them the chance of making a new start.
It is my belief that had Wales had these legislative powers generations ago 689 we could have avoided most of the havoc of the terrible 1920s and 1930s. Such havoc did not occur in other countries which had control of their own affairs, although those other countries were very much poorer than Wales in natural resources.
Recently The Observer newspaper reviewed a book on the slump. I believe it was called "The Slump". The review began with these words:Britain had the best of all possible slumps. It was a slump to be proud of. It made people richer.Those words describe a slump in which Wales saw one-third of her people out of work and a slump which forced half a million of her people—out of a population of only 2½ million—to emigrate.
It is no wonder that the Wales TUC wanted legislative powers to deal with these matters. But once again, compromise was arrived at—quid pro quo for the unions and more economic power for the Assembly. That was agreed at a specially convened Labour Party conference in Wales in July 1974.
But on the very day on which that conference was being held, leaders of the Scottish Executive came out against the creation of any kind of Assembly for Scotland. Up to that time the Labour Party in Wales had discussed the matter for at least 12 years. But at that time the Scottish Executive came out against it. It was galling irony from the Welsh standpoint that London, which had forced the Welsh Labour Party to withdraw its demand for a legislature, now forced the Labour Party in Scotland to accept a legislature and, when the Welsh protested, they were told that they had voluntarily accepted an Assembly which lacked legislative powers.
Why this major difference made between Wales and Scotland? It is not because a legislature is good for Scotland but not good for Wales. London Governments have not considered what is good for Wales as a nation. The difference of treatment was caused by the difference between the strengths of the two national parties, and the Labour Party in Wales was induced to accept an unjustified discrimination against Wales and a discrimination between two nations which have the same kinds of problems and background. 690 In May 1976 the Labour Party's Welsh Conference, attended by Welsh Labour Members of Parliament, came out overwhelmingly for an elected Assembly and, incidentally, against a referendum, and this decision was reaffirmed by the 1977 conference. Despite the enormous growth of the powers of the State, the enormous growth of bureaucracy and the enormous growth of centralism, the Welsh were to be denied the power to make their own policy decisions, and the party which had for so long promised Wales a Parliament again failed the country.
When forced to justify this decision—this difference of treatment between the two nations—a phoney reason was produced. It was said that that was necessary because the Scots, unlike the Welsh, had their own separate legal system. However, the relevance of the legal system to law-making powers has never been demonstrated, and it is obviously irrelevant in matters such as health, education, employment, infrastructure, and so on. What relevance the legal system has to dealing with these problems I cannot understand.
The irrelevance of the argument can be seen by looking at any federal country in the world. Switzerland, of course, is an impressive example. In Switzerland, a country with a population of about the size of Scotland's, there are 22 cantons and 25 canton governments. Each one of those 25 canton governments has powers far in excess of the powers which this Government now propose to give Scotland. For the Swiss, his Government is not the central Government; it is the canton government.
§ Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, North)
The hon. Member has often evinced his admiration for Switzerland. Would he emulate that country in taking a neutral line in world affairs?
§ Mr. Evans
A few powers are reserved to the central Government in Switzerland such as defence, foreign affairs and a measure of overall economic planning. They seem to do pretty well. Unemployment in Switzerland is almost nonexistent, and the thorough-going decentralisation of Switzerland stands in striking contrast to British centralism. Yet, despite this extensive cantonal legislative power, Switzerland has a legal 691 system which is common to all the cantons. So obviously the existence of a separate legal system has no relevance to the power to legislate.
§ Mr. Evans
I do not approve of that. However, there are faults in all countries, of course. One feature in Switzerland which can be commended is the fact that power has been decentralised to such an extent that people can take part in decision making even at local level, in the communes, quite apart from the cantons.
But the Labour Party and the union framers of policy in Wales had no doubt in the initial stages about the kind of Assembly which was best for Wales. It was to be a law-making Assembly and not just one with executive powers. But they were overriden by London not on the grounds of what was best for Wales but apparently on a calculation of how much power had to be yielded to hold back the growth of nationalism.
The Conservative Party is at one with the Government on this, and that should give the Government reason to pause. The Conservative Party feels that Wales should not only have no legislative powers but that the people of Wales should have no power at all over their national affairs. I sometimes suspect that many Conservatives would not feel a qualm if the old and splendid culture of Wales disappeared without trace. We are fighting for an ancient way of life and an ancient and rich culture and tradition. It is a great fight.
On 10th January, referring to the Scotland Bill, the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said:The greatest defect remains the Bill's effect upon England and the House of Commons. "—[Official Report, 10th January 1978; Vol. 94!. c. 1492.]That is traditionally the Conservative attitude, which thinks from the English point of view, and it is hard to make a distinction between England and Britain or between the English way of life and the British way of life. If I challenged Conservative Members to tell me the dif- 692 ferences between the English way of life and the British way of life, they would be hard put to give me an answer. The English or British way of life is not under threat, but our way of life is. We are a very old nation, and we are determined to live as a nation.
Perhaps I may be allowed to quote a few words of Welsh—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—Gwyr a aeth gatraeth oedd ffraeth eu llu Glasfedd eu hancwyn a gwenwyn fu.
§ The Chairman
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member. I know that he would like to continue, but it is against the rules of the House.
§ Mr. Kinnock
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I used a Welsh phrase yesterday, even though Welsh is not my mother tongue. There have been many occasions on which hon. Members have done the same. I am sure that all that the hon. Member was doing was quoting a stanza. If he had done it in French, it is highly unlikely that Conservative Members would have protested, and, if it had been a Latin tag, they would have applauded it.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies
On a further point of order, Mr. Murton. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) should not mislead the House into believing that he and his hon. Friends are the only people who are safeguarding the culture of the Principality. I remind him of the action taken recently by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. A Government grant assured that the new pavilion for the National Eisteddfod meant that its future was guaranteed. That is a matter which the hon. Member should recognise.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
Reverting to the original point of order, Mr. Murton. Although I disagree with almost all that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) has said so far. may I support the plea of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) that the hon. Member be allowed to make one short quotation in Welsh, so long as he translates it and so long as he makes it clear to the Committee which of the two strands of the Welsh language he is using?
§ The Chairman
I think that the Chairman had better make his position clear. I have a second native tongue of my own, which I can speak very well. But I do not know whether the hon. Member for Carmarthen intended to quote one short line or stanza or whether his Welsh quotation was likely to go on for a long time. I have no wish to be intolerant or unduly obdurate in this matter. The Committee knows the rules. I shall allow the hon. Member to make his quotation, provided it is only a matter of a few words, and it would be helpful if it were translated, too. However, I do not wish this to be taken as a precedent.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Is it not the general rule from the Chair that a quotation is in order, but that the main proceedings must be in English?
§ The Chairman
That is quite correct. I know a little of the classics, but I was slightly alarmed as to how far the hon. Member would go with his quotation. I think I have made the position clear. I am prepared to be tolerant.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Could I ask the Chair to allow the hon. Member to finish his quotation in Welsh and then let us get on with the business?
§ The Chairman
I agree with the hon. Member. That was exactly what I invited the hon. Member for Carmarthen to do.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
Surely it is fair to allow the hon. Member to continue. I think that he was quoting from "The Gododdin of Aneurin", which is not only pre-English but also pre-Anglo Saxon.
§ The Chairman
I think that all this should have happened yesterday on St. David's Day. I have made the position clear. It has been pointed out by hon. Members on both sides that it is in order to make a quotation. I hope that the hon. Member for Carmarthen will do so quickly and allow us to get on with the debate.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. On a number of occasions in Committee and on the Floor of the House I have resorted to quoting from the documents and reports in the Welsh language. 694 I was under the impression that this was a precedent in this House. I thought that it was permitted to quote what is, after all, our first language and to quote from documents which are, in many cases, written only in that language. Also in many instances the Welsh version is the authoritative version. I thought that that was the position of order in this House. If not, it is a serious reflection on a language that is spoken by half a million residents of these islands.
§ The Chairman
The Chair must use its discretion on each occasion, depending on the merits of the case. I have expressed my view, and I ask the hon. Member for Carmarthen to proceed with his quotation.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Would you confirm that had my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) spoken in Anglo-French he would have been perfectly in order, not only in making a quotation but in making a speech as well?
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
I am grateful for your personal courtesy, Mr. Murton, but this is a point of immense importance. We are apparently not in order in speaking the oldest British tongue in the only Parliament that we have. There is something very wrong in that. That is one reason why we must have a Parliament of our own.
The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) was quite correct. My quotation was from "The Gododdin of Aneurin"—composed in the sixth century at the time when St. David lived. The point that I was trying to make in my quotation was that we have in Wales as part of our tradition a very great literary heritage. In fact, scholars have said that if they had to name the 12 greatest literatures in the world, the Welsh literature would have to be included. Welsh literature has been put down in the language of Wales and we are now fighting for it. We are fighting for our great national culture, and for justice and freedom for our people.
The Conservative Party has so little sympathy with these aims—
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
I thank the hon. Member for giving way to a Conservative who has Welsh origins. Will he tell the House why the Welsh culture and Welsh literature are so fragile that they cannot be perpetuated without a Welsh Assembly?
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Evans
All I am saying is that no national culture in this day and age can survive unless it is defended by political institutions of Parliament and Government. There is so much centralism, and the media overwhelm us all. English is heard now on the box in all Welsh homes far more than Welsh. I know that the Conservative Party has little sympathy with that point of view.
I believe that there is some sympathy for this point of view on the Government Benches. Therefore, if they want to make devolution meaningful they should include in the Bill the power of legislation. I ask for Government support for this amendment to ensure that Wales will enjoy parity with Scotland in a way that is supported by 72 per cent. of the Welsh people.
Sir David Renfon
Will the hon. Member enlighten the House and tell us whether the official language in this legislative Assembly would be English or Welsh? Or would it be bilingual?
§ Mr. Evans
There was a time when the official language in England was French. That was the official language for three centuries [HON. MEMBERS: "It was Norman."] The Normans were partly French, at any rate. In Wales the language of government, the law and scholarship and the language of the whole life of the people was Welsh. Only one-fifth of our people now speak our language, but this is a reflection of the way in which we are governed. We believe that our language should be given official status in the Welsh Assembly. We shall request that both English and Welsh may be spoken in the new Assembly.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I wish to oppose profoundly the amendments which have been put forward by the Welsh nationalists. If these amendments were ever implemented in a Welsh Assembly, they would directly contradict the interests of the Welsh people.
We must disregard for the moment the obsession of the hon. Member for Car- 696 marthen (Mr. Evans) and many other members of his party that they are the wretched of the earth, that the whole history has been a conspiracy against Wales and that all the Principality's difficulties are a result of the system of government and the unique villainy of England against Wales and have nothing to do with the economic system which puts profit before people.
The Welsh nationalists try to super-impose a nationalistic analysis and a nationalistic answer on the situation, and this is bound to produce the kind of lunacy that we see in these amendments. In fact, that lunacy is only slightly diluted in the whole proposition of devolution.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has read Ralph Milliband's book "Marxism in Politics". If he has, he will have seen that there are at least four or five pages devoted to the question of nationalism in nations which do not have States. The author argues that the growth in national movements in Scotland, Wales, in Western Europe generally and in North America—Quebec—is closely related to the economic system of Western capitalism. It is an attempt by the peoples of the nations who do not have States to obtain States. It is an attempt to obtain governments for themselves that will enable them to set up planned economies in those areas and to intervene effectively against the worst ravages of multinational capitalism. That is Mr. Milliband's argument. I recommend it to the hon. Member for Bedwellty.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I say to Ralph Milliband on other issues as well as this one, that it is an utter delusion. It is a convenient rationalisation, a convenient explanation and a dodge for those who wish to pursue their ends through nationalism.
If the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) and Mr. Milliband examine the case they will find that the resentments resulting from the disadvantages visited upon those areas, nations and regions by the economic system under which they live might provoke a political reaction of protest. But it is idiotic for anyone to presume that the way to surmount those problems can in any way be 697 contributed to by the establishment of nationalistic institutions for nationalistic purposes under a nationalist ideology.
I can accept that there are countries which have used nationalism as a vehicle for much more profound changes. I am thinking particularly of the situation in Vietnam. I am thinking also of the fact that Allende, in Chile, used the national consciousness of the people of Chile in the same way but for a different purpose, as the Fascist generals are using that nationalist consciousness now. Nationalism is as nationalism does. The beauty of nationalism, or the lack of beauty of it, is in the eye of the beholder.
It is a delusion to suggest for a moment that there is a way to overcome or to circumnavigate the difficulties of the Western world by the creation of constitutional institutions, by changing rules, by seeking, as the amendment does, to introduce legislative powers, so that unemployment can be outlawed and so that depression can be safeguarded by pieces of paper, without any means of generating extra wealth for purposes of investment or reward or welfare benefit. It is a delusion that somehow the existence of an independent nationalist State can resolve the difficulties. It is a delusion for those who believe in it and it is a misrepresentation and a lie to those to whom it is preached. If anybody is stupid enough to be taken in by it, he probably deserves the judgment of history and everything that will be visited upon him.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen said that what the Welsh nationalists wanted was a kind of national Tennessee Valley Authority. He was supported, from a sedentary position, by the hon. Member for Merioneth, who said that the answer in the 1920s and 1930s would have been public enterprise. Here we have the confusion. The umbrella of nationalism certainly shelters the Welsh nationalists from reality. But underneath that umbrella there is a division between the humanitarian capitalism of the hon. Member for Carmarthen—a Tory who in time of difficulty will fall back upon Keynsian propositions such as the Tennessee Valley Authority—and the Marxist from Merioneth, who will suggest the most profound social and economic changes in the name of Socialist Wales. I want a Socialist Wales inside a Socialist Britain 698 inside a Socalist Europe inside a Socialist world. The resolution of our people's problems can come only from Socialism. But it is a distraction and a snare for people to propose that there can be some answer.
The one thing that can take us to Socialism is the ability to organise the resources of the nation so as to benefit our people and gain the reward for doing that at the ballot box in a democratic system. The Wales that the nationalists propose might be an independent Wales, a Socialist Wales, a Socialist nationalist Wales, but it will be a very poor Wales and an empty Wales. It will be a Wales that has been purged of its young people, its initiative and all the sources of growth and development in its culture, economy and society. If the nationalists want to preside over an empty, independent, Socialist Wales, I can tell them that it is not the kind of Socialist Wales, I want, nor the kind of Socialist Wales that my constituents will accept or want.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he is using the kind of language that is being used by the First National Bank, which is now proposing to move from Montreal to Toronto? He is using the same kind of language in describing the policy towards Wales as has been used by some of his capitalist friends in North America about the reasonably moderate Social Democratic Government of Rene Lévesque of Quebec. In referring to the Tennessee Valley Authority my hon. Friend was talking about the policy of Plaid Cymru in the 1940s and 1950s. In that period we put forward as the main plank of our policy a national development agency for Wales, which at that time in the history of the development of America—and which would have been if we had had it in the history of the development of Wales—was at least a step forward from the unplanned chaos from which Wales was then suffering.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I am not familiar with the language of the North American banks any more than is the hon. Gentleman. I am familiar with the history of the Welsh nationalist movement in the 1940s and the 1950s. Some Welsh nationalists were blowing up British aeroplanes at that time in support of the Nazi 699 war effort. All three of the nationalists Members know that very well.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Not at all. It was very expensive. It was possibly very expensive in terms of human life and the defence of freedom. I have never sought to evoke that past before. If we talk about the language of the 1940s and 1950s, that is the language used by a substantial number of members of the nationalist party at that time.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I shall not give way at this point. There will be plenty of time later for the hon. Member to speak.
I return to a question that has to be answered at some stage by Plaid Cymru. How in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s could any of the problems that are encountered or will be encountered in Wales in future be resolved by the award of legislative power?
The hon. Member for Merioneth talks about parity with Scotland. In so doing to some extent he exposes the myth of the devolutionary provision that has been made by the Government. The devolution that has been provided is a most contemptuous condescension, and it is opportunism of the worst kind. The reason why the devolution proposals for Scotland are more advanced than those for Wales—the reason why they have legislative power in Scotland—is that the Government, in their miscalculation, believed that they had to go to that extent to try to trump nationalism in Scotland. The Government feel that in order to trump nationalism in Wales they have to go only to the relatively—I emphasise "relatively"—modest extent that we see in this misbegotten Bill.
Even when the hon. Member exposes that absence of parity, he should take into account the attitude of the Labour Party in Scotland to those affairs. A statement was published yesterday by the Labour Party in Scotland which is reported in today's papers to the effect that the Scottish Labour Party, which is at least as committed to a planned economy as the hon. Member for Car- 700 marthen, if not the hon. Member for Merioneth, does not want the substantial economic powers called for by the Scottish nationalists and the SLP, whose members sometimes sit on these Benches.
There is a country and that is a movement in which enthusiasm for devolution has blossomed like a mushroom cloud since the day three years ago that the devolution proposals were kicked out by an assembly of the Labour movement of Scotland. Indeed, the same assembly for which the SNP and Plaid Cymru now claim credit in saying that it is good that those block votes have now been alocated in favour of legislative devolution was bad three years ago when those block votes were committed in a much bigger majority against it.
Nationalist Members should get their story straight and decide who they are supporting and not try to pass themselves off as the supporters and comforters of those in my party who favour devolution. They are equally bad, equally venomous to the interests of the Labour Party, regardless of which side of the argument people in the Labour Party stand.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Wigley
Will the hon. Member explain whether, in the context of an elected Welsh Assembly which he advocated in his own election address at the last election, he supported either legislative or economic powers?
§ Mr. Kinnock
I supported executive powers. I supported the devolution of government throughout the United Kingdom because that is the one way around the difficulties that will be visited upon my constituents if ever Wales becomes clearly demarcated from England, with its dependence—I acknowledge regretfully but nevertheless factually—on the taxpayers of England. We had better clear up the matter of my election manifesto, otherwise it will crop up time and again. I expect that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) has got it framed on his bedroom wall, if not in a smaller room.
What I said in my election address was that we shall respond to the genuine demands for democratic change made by the Welsh people. If we are to do that, certainly devolution as at present constituted, and definitely legislative devolution as advocated, and most certainly the 701 separation, the independence of some form or other that Plaid Cymru advocates, would not figure in the least among 5 per cent. of the genuine demands of the people of Wales and certainly not of the people of my constituency. I hope that we can clear that matter up once and for all.
If the nationalist Members accuse me of juggling with words, as has happened on previous occasions, let us look at the way in which that master magician of words, the hon. Member for Carmarthen, juggles with them in the context of what are the real aspirations of the Welsh National Party. He says "We do not want independence; we just want our own Parliament. We do not want separation; we just want our own system of government. We do not want anything; we just want decentralisation." There is a lovely soft concept. It is a reminder of the phrase on the last paragraph of the 1975 White Paper which referred to bringing some spending decisions nearer home. We can hear the violins playing in the background at this point.
When the hon. Gentleman talks about decentralisation, it is the most turbid—turgid, too—concept of any form of government. It is all things to all men. It is highly nebulous. The claim is that because we do not have decentralisation, according to the hon. Gentleman's definition, this is naturally something for which people crave. The hon. Member goes on to speak of the Welsh nation as having no powers for itself. The people of Wales have exactly the powers held by the people in the remainder of the United Kingdom. They have one vote each. They have the freedom to join or form any political party. They have the freedom to associate with any protest, to organise for that protest and to articulate their demands in any shape or form. There is no law in this country, other than the laws required for public order, which can prevent them from doing that. It is only because of the obsessive attitude of the hon. Member who sees the people of Wales as being in an inferior position, and I do not, that he says that the people of Wales have no power as a people.
If the people of Wales lack any power it is not a function of their being Welsh. It is not a consequence of where they 702 live; it is a consequence of the class to which they belong. In promoting his nationalism the hon. Gentleman deliberately—I do not think that he would do it accidentally, not a man of his intelligence—deviates and distorts and tries to delude the people of Wales, preventing them from pursuing a course which could possibly bring them succour and triumph over their difficulties.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
The hon. Member tries to distinguish between a struggle in Wales to achieve more power for the working class there and the drive for more national power for Wales. I do not see the distinction. We are a Welsh nation and we are a nation which is very much a working-class nation because of its tradition.
Earlier the hon. Gentleman mentioned that he felt that Plaid Cymru's policy of non-separatism and interdependence and freedom rather than independence was a nebulous concept which he did not understand. Again, may I take the North American example? He will find there that the Parti Quebecois under Rene Lévesque is now beginning to take up a referendum campaign dealing with the future status of Quebec. The status which that party is offering the people of Quebec is "Souveraineté-Association"—I take it that a French quotation is allowed as well as a Welsh quotation. That is a concept of an interdependent association of Quebec, which is both free and internationally recognised, within the rest of North America. This is precisely the same concept as we in Plaid Cymru are advocating. The concept is constitutionally understood in the context of North America.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The hon. Member puts it in French. No doubt he could put it in Welsh, too. In plain English, what it means is that when a nationalist party advocates confederation it is getting its bread buttered on both sides. It is having all the advantages of being embraced by a relatively powerful nation.
The hon. Member mentioned the Parti Quebecois. I mention the case of the nationalists in the United Kingdom. They want these advantages and simultaneously want the powers, the flattery and the ego-trip of some type of separation. I say "some type" because I approach with hesitation the description 703 of what Plaid Cymru actually wants since thus far it has refused to tell us anything in precise terms. On the day that it tells us, and the people of Wales, in precise terms, instead of hiding behind a lot of meaningless populist slogans, perhaps it will make a difference to its electoral fortunes.
§ Mr. Heffer
On this point about Quebec, is my hon. Friend aware that the English-speaking people in the Province are now finding that they are being discriminated against? Perhaps my hon. Friend will explain whether the Welsh nationalists are suggesting that those Welsh people in Wales who speak only English will find that they will be discriminated against in this totally Welsh society.
§ Mr. Kinnock
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The central characteristic of nationalism, however humble the concept—and there is no more humble man than the hon. Member for Merioneth; I do not know whether he has read his Dickens but he will know the allusion I am making—no matter how humble, how modest be the nationalists, is that there are some people on the face of the globe who are inferior and there are some who are superior and that their superiority is in some way related to their membership of a nation.
§ Mr. Kinnock
No. It is the reverse of racialism. I ask the hon. Member to go to his own county, to his own constituency conceivably, and to see linguistic racialism in operation.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I will not name the schools and I will tell the hon. Member why. If I did so, and if I named the children involved, they would be victimised even more than they are being victimised now by their teachers. I will give the hon. Member an example.
§ The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. Perhaps the hon. Member will give an example to the Chair showing how what he is saying is related to the amendment being discussed.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Indeed I will, Sir Myer. I am grateful for your reminder. We are discussing the proposal that a Welsh Assembly should have legislative powers. In seeking to answer the nationalists' case I am pointing out some of the dangers that would arise if ever they were able to use the legislative powers of a Welsh Assembly to translate into the law of the land the prejudices they now informally assert against children in some parts of Wales.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I will name them in private to the hon. Gentleman. I will not give the names publicly because the children will be victimised. If the hon. Member wants that, he is capable of much greater cruelty than I gave him credit for.
I could take the hon. Gentleman to a school in Anglesey—I shall not mention the name of the village because it has only one school—in which children of five or six have to ask in Welsh to go to the lavatory or suffer the consequences. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) will have heard the story. I could take him to parts of his constituency in which appointments to the county council are advertised in local Welsh language newspapers only in Welsh while rate demands are advertised in English only. It is a considerable credit to the well-known Welsh sense of humour and I must applaud it, but there are dangers in these characteristics of nationalism.
This may be nationalism taken to a militant zeal that no Plaid Cymru Members wants and, indeed, upon which its members would frown. I am asking them to do more than frown. I am asking them to ensure that it is a categorical pledge of their party that any person belonging to or associated with the party who is guilty of this sort of informal apartheid in schools or any other body in Wales should be thrown out of the party.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman has made accusations against the 705 Gwynedd Education Authority. I invite him to write to the chairman of the education committee, Councillor O. M. Roberts, or to give me details of the allegations so that they can be investigated and presented to the Local Government Commissioner for Administration.
I can state categorically that the education policy of Gwynedd is a sensitive policy that is intended to maintain and restore the Welsh language, which is the language of the majority of people in Gwynedd, and to do so while respecting the rights of children and parents. I am the parent of a primary school child and I want those rights preserved.
The suggestion that those of us who are anxious to restore the Welsh language and to give it status will do so by undermining the rights of English speakers is the sort of hysterical nonsense that we have heard so often in the devolution debate. If we are to debate linguistic policy, let us do it rationally and not in the form of baseless, nameless, blanket allegations against officials of local authorities and conscientious teachers.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I am aware of the education policy of Gwynedd and the fact that, officially, formally and with good will, attempts are made to enforce it. I am also aware of the hon. Gentleman's humanitarian attitude to the language and to children. However, the fact remains that, in the name of nationalistic zeal, there are people—members of the hon. Gentleman's party and others—who are undertaking this sort of warfare against children who are not capable of defending themselves.
I shall give the hon. Gentleman the instances that have been reported to me. I told him before he got himself upset that I would do that. I shall tell him in private and not in public because of the possibility of these children being victimised.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
Will the hon. Gentleman also recall that for a generation, not just one child, but the whole school population of Wales was punished for speaking Welsh in school?
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I am aware of that. My mother-in-law and father-in-law were 706 punished in precisely the way the hon. Gentleman describes. That is why I expect him to understand that there can be no justification for anyone, in the name of any language or purpose, pursuing such a course at any time, whether we are talking about the situation in Wales at the end of the last century and beginning of this century or the situation now.
The hon. Gentleman cannot influence history, but he can influence what goes on now and in future. My only request to him is that he should do precisely that—no more and no less. He should see that his attitude to the language is not gnarled by references that are 70 years out of date, and has something to do with the progress of the language, the freedoms and culture of Wales and the attention and care paid to education, rather than political venedettas on the minds of children who cannot defend themselves.
In support of his argument for a legislative Parliament—I am sorry, that was a Freudian slip; I meant a legislative Assembly—in Wales, the hon. Member for Carmarthen drew upon the attitudes and decisions of the Wales TUC, which has been fully in support of a legislative Assembly for Wales. Votes cast at its annual conferences have endorsed the idea of a legislative Assembly. The Wales TUC is entitled to press for the advance of devolution. Its logic is that there is no purpose in giving responsibility for administration without giving powers of legislation.
I notice that the hon. Member for Carmarthen, some of my warmest comrades in the Wales TUC and some of my acquaintances—I had better not call them comrades—in the Communist Party in Wales avoid, when they advance the need for legislative powers in order to bring to full fruition the capabilities of Wales, explaining how legislative power can be supported and justified without the additional responsibility for raising revenue. It may be that devolution without legislative power is a nonsense, but how much more nonsensical would it be to have legislative power without the means of taxation and how much more nonsensical still would it be for a democratically elected Assembly to have powers of taxation that it dare not use.
Let the hon. Member for Carmarthen consider this prospect. Let us suppose that the Government, in a brainstorm—as 707 they did for Scotland—decided to give legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly. As in Scotland, the next step would be the claim that revenue-raising powers were a logical and necessary democratic extension of legislative powers.
As the hon. Gentleman graphically described, Wales is a disadvantaged and dependent nation. We both acknowledge that with sadness, but without shame. It cannot conceivably be to its advantage to levy special taxes. The granting of legislative and tax-raising powers to the Assembly would be an open invitation to this House and other parts of the United Kingdom to say that those who govern themselves can damn well pay for themselves—especially when they have the power to do so.
As I have said before and will, no doubt, have to say again, there is nothing pro-Welsh and nothing that will advance the interests of the Welsh people in giving or advocating responsibilities that we cannot sustain, that our communities cannot afford, that the people of Wales cannot pay for and for which they have no will. The people of Wales will reject the Bill and they will laugh out of court proposals whatever their source, for legislative powers.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
In intervening at this stage, I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not delve into the history of the inter-relationship of nationalism and Socialism in Wales. I am sure that I would not be forgiven if I did delve into that history.
The whole question of legislative devolution as a possible extension to the powers in the Bill raises fundamental issues that enable us to consider the Bill as a whole as well as any additions that should or should not be made to it.
The great merit of the nationalist solution to constitutional problems is that it is clear and logical, however unacceptable or undesirable it may be. As such it vividly demonstrates the illogicality and unworkability of the Government's approach, which seeks to be all things to all men, and is, as a result, an indefensible and muddled mess based on no constitutional principle and arrived at by a series of short-sighted and purely political expedients. The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has explained the 708 thinking and the expedients behind the Government's approach.
Nowhere is the contrast between the intellectual clarity and respectability of the nationalist solution and the unviability and muddle of the Government's solution clearer than in the nature of the powers of the Assembly.
The Bill is presented to the Committee as one that provides for a purely executive Assembly. However, yesterday's debate, although castigated by the Lord President as a filibuster, disclosed with crystal clarity that it is nothing of the sort. The amendment is really concerned not with whether we should give the Assembly legislative power but with whether we should give it more legislative power than the Government are already proposing to give it.
If the Bill goes through as the Government wish it, the Assembly is to have full powers to pass subordinate legislation, although the House of Commons will retain the right to pass primary legislation. The division between primary legislation in this place and secondary legislation in the Assembly has been criticised as being illogical and likely to lead both to a conflict between Wales and the United Kingdom and, at least as important, to difficulties in the House of Commons. The question is whether that analysis is right and whether that illogical division of legislative responsibility has its dangers.
In which way should we move? Should we move in the direction advocated by the nationalists, of full legislative power for the Assembly, or should we move in the opposite direction by withdrawing the power to pass subordinate legislation and retaining that along with the power to pass primary legislation in this place?
To move to give full legislative powers to the Assembly is logically an attractive solution. Within defined areas it would be possible by doing that genuinely to create a Government in Wales and an Assembly in Wales able to operate in a defined sphere. It also has the merit that it would produce a scheme that would be on all fours with that offered to the people of Scotland, although I must admit that the way in which parity with Scotland was repeated as a parrot phrase was not altogether attractive in its connotations. However, as a matter of constitutional logic the grant of legislative 709 powers to a Welsh Assembly has that merit.
There is an objection to that approach that requires us to consider the matter not merely in terms of constitutional elegance but in terms of what would happen at ground level if such powers were conferred in relation to the development of policy and law. Legislative devolution, if it were granted to Wales, would provide the opportunity for standards, policies and laws in Wales and in the rest of the United Kingdom to diverge on a massive and increasingly great scale. The question is whether the people of Wales want the society in which they are living to differ more and more as the years pass from the society and legal structure that operates in the rest of the United Kingdom.
We are not talking in arid constitutional terms. We are talking about the sort of housing legislation under which the Welsh operate and the sort of education that they will have. These are vital matters that affect every family in Wales.
I would not attempt to speak for Welsh opinion on these issues, but if it is suggested that the Welsh people want the standards and system of government to diverge on such a substantial scale from those operating in the rest of the United Kingdom there must be a heavy onus on those who argue that case to prove that that is the wish of the people of Wales.
I suggest that those arguing that case have not begun to discharge the onus that is upon them. Already this afternoon we have heard many irrelevancies from the nationalist Bench. It has been suggested that if legislative powers had been conferred on a Welsh Assembly, Wales, in some peculiar way, would have been able to avoid the consequences of an international slump in the inter-war years that affected the whole of Europe. Why should one part of the European territories, if they may be so called, not supremely endowed with natural resources have been able to avoid an international disaster of that scale merely because legislative powers had been created for a Welsh Assembly? That argument does not stand up.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
The hon. Gentleman will recall that during the 1920s and 1930s the Welsh people who had to leave Wales—I mentioned them as totalling about 500.000—found work for the most 710 part in the South-East of England and the Midlands, the areas nearest to London that had escaped the world-wide slump from which Wales suffered more than any other country.
§ Mr. Brittan
I represent a constituency in the North-East of England. Those who lived in that area, in places such as Jar-row, suffered just as much as those living in Wales. However, they did not feel that they would have prevented their suffering by having an independent Assembly for the North-East or North-West. The hon. Gentleman makes the mistake of confusing economic realities, which might have been altered by economic policies other than the ones being followed at the time, with the creation of a Welsh Assembly with legislative powers, which would not have altered the economic realities.
The hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that the Conservative Party was in some sense opposed to Welsh culture, or hostile to it. There is not a scintilla of evidence or reason to support such an allegation. It is an allegation that smacks of political chauvinism of the worst sort, especially when we have had the vivid example of my hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) being able to identify a quotation almost before it came from the lips of the hon. Gentleman. That sort of accusation cuts no ice. Indeed, it probably reduces the respect that is accorded by many hon. Members to the sincerity of the views put forward by the occupants of the nationalist Bench.
I revert to the main theme of the argument against legislative devolution for Wales. Although the attractions of elegance and constitutional logic are strongly in favour of granting legislative powers to Wales as to Scotland, the situation is different in Scotland. That is not merely a case of greater nationalism. The argument that Scotland has a separate legal system has been somewhat pooh-poohed. It is an argument that can be exaggerated in its implications. I do not accept that it is an argument that supports the Government's legislative proposals for Scotland. However, there is a real difference between a country that since its union with England has always had a separate legal system and a separate system of laws, and a country such as Wales that has always had the same legal system as England. That is a difference 711 which in some ways makes the argument for legislative devolution stronger for Scotland than for Wales. But I do not regard that as a conclusive argument.
The real objection to legislative devolution is the divergence of standards, policies and society generally which would inevitably follow if legislative devolution were permitted for Wales. I do not believe that the Committee has been satisfied that that divergence is in the interests of or is desired by the people of Wales. That does not mean that legislative devolution is satisfactorily to be found in the Bill as it stands. As I said earlier, as the Bill now stands, the position is not that there is no legislative devolution, but that we have an uneasy halfway house of subordinate legislation going to the Assembly and primary legislation remaining here. That halfway house is not a viable solution to the problem of legislation within the context of a devolved Assembly.
Yesterday, the arguments in favour of that being a tenable position were not put forward. The debate was justified for putting forward arguments about the difficulties, if for no other purpose. The objection is that, by having this division of legislative power, we are creating conflict, or at the very least, the potential for such conflict between Cardiff and Westminster and at the same time creating real difficulties in the parliamentary process here.
The division between subordinate and primary legislation, as we showed yesterday, is not a natural distinction because it does not reflect a distinction between policy and administration. Subordinate legislation is often used, where an Act is in general terms, not just to fill in the minor details of administration but to create the policy. Therefore, the distinction between primary and subordinate legislation is not between administration and policy.
For example, direct grant schools were created and abolished by subordinate legislation. Whether we believe in or deplore them, that is a matter of considerable social consequence. It is a fundamental matter of policy, not some detailed piece of administration. It is wholly arbitrary whether the original Act 712 covers such situations or whether it is done by delegated legislation.
There is a real risk that, as time goes on, we shall see a divergence in the political complexion of the Welsh Assembly and of the House of Commons. If that occurs, one of two situations will develop. First, Cardiff may not pass the necessary subordinate legislation required to make sense of a Government Bill, be it a Conservative or a Labour Government. There is no mechanism to compel the Assembly to fill in the gaps.
If the gaps are not filled in, what will happen? Instead of an alternative policy favoured by the Assembly, but not supported by Parliament, there will be chaos and muddle, because no policy will be followed. There will be primary legislation dependent on subordinate legislation to make it work, but the subordinate legislation may not be passed. Even worse, if the Welsh Assembly fundamentally opposed the policy in the primary legislation, it may pass subordinate legislation deliberately calculated to stultify and negate the direction of policy in the basic legislation. That is a recipe for conflict.
What is the alternative? It is that Parliament will say "There is an Assembly of a different complexion in Cardiff. We cannot trust it to pass the subordinate legislation needed to make sense of this basic primary Act with the broad powers contained within it."
What shall we do? We shall have to fill in all the details. We shall have to produce the subordinate legislation in the main Act. Therefore, Acts of Parliament will become more complex. The whole trend, whereby Acts are passed in general terms with a great deal of infilling in the form of subordinate legislation, will be reversed.
That may be good for Conservatives who would like there to be less legislation. But it is clear that there would not be parliamentary time for a quarter of the legislation that we now have if we have to deal with subordinate legislation as well. I should have thought that for the Labour Government, who see the role of legislation as important and continuing, such a consequence would be damaging and unwelcome. The House of Commons would be unnecessarily bogged down by having to deal with 713 details which ought to be left to subordinate legislation but which could not be so left because the Cardiff Assembly having a different political complexion, may not be prepared to pass the appropriate legislation.
Apart from the paradoxical consesequence that devolution will not enable Parliament to hive off some of its work to Cardiff but that it will acquire more work because it has to fill in the details as well, there is the curious consequence that United Kingdom legislation is likely to be far less responsible to Welsh needs than it is at the moment.
Legislation does not come out of thin air. It does not emerge from a vacuum. Legislation can be sensitive and responsive only if it emerges from the problems that come to the fore in administration. If this Parliament is no longer to administer the affairs of Wales over large areas of policy but such matters are to be left to the Welsh Assembly, when it comes to legislate for Wales, as it will have to do, it will be far less informed of the needs of the Principality and of the shape that the legislation should take to meet those needs than it is at the moment. Members of Parliament who would speak up for Wales would be denuded of the power to intervene in and have intimate knowledge of whole areas of administration because they would have been passed over to the Assembly. Therefore, Wales will suffer not only because of the consequences of what goes on in the Assembly, but because of the inadequate basis of Welsh legislation or, indeed, general legislation as it affects Wales in the House of Commons.
The importance of all this is that, just as with the Scotland Bill, although in a different form, the Wales Bill will not only not help Wales but will have dangerous consequences for the government of the United Kingdom.
How should we resolve this legislative conundrum? If we must have an Assembly of this kind, I suggest that both subordinate and primary legislation should be reserved to Parliament, not to the Welsh Assembly.
Yesterday the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) said that there was no time here to debate Statutory Instruments affecting Wales and many other parts of the United Kingdom. That is 714 true. However, I suggest that, for the reasons that I have given, the cure proposed of this artificial division between subordinate and primary legislation is even worse than the initial disease.
The alternative solution, logically tempting though it is, of conferring full legislative powers on the Welsh Assembly involves an unacceptable degree of increasing divergence between Wales and the United Kingdom as a whole. As so often occurs, the conclusion to which one is driven, if one analyses the problems and looks at the alternatives, is that the best solution is not to have an Assembly in the first place.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
I shall have to disappoint the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) since I shall not be able to support him in the Lobbies if there is a Division. However, I have some sympathy with some of his arguments. I was particularly struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) because he dealt with a fundamental issue. The hon. Member for Carmarthen began by talking about inter-dependence, independence and separation. Partly because of the problems associated with this situation, I am basically pro-devolution.
It seems to me that the centralised nineteenth century unitary State is no longer an appropriate mechanism for legislation in Europe. I can give a number of examples. Let us consider the way in which we work in the House of Commons. Our work has been quantified by Professor J. A. G. Griffiths who analysed the amendments that were passed in Committee. I do not have the precise figures, but it is remarkable that of about 3,000 amendments tabled by the Opposition over a period of years only one was adopted. Of about 500 amendments tabled by the Government over the same period all but one were adopted.
I know that my Government are fairly wise and that the Opposition are not, but I should be overstating the case if I claimed that the Government were the sole repository of wisdom and that the Opposition were devoid of wisdom.
§ Mr. Heffer
My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) is making a serious mistake. Oppositions move an amendment and then, after listening to the arguments, the Government say 715 that the amendment is not drafted in an acceptable manner, but that they will introduce an amendment on Report to meet the point. Many of the amendments which my hon. Friend says are Government amendments begin in the Opposition ranks. I have read Professor Griffiths' statement carefully since he wrote it for the Committee of which I am chairman. This aspect was not developed to any extent.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis
I accept that. Perhaps the proportion is an exaggeration. However, the essence of the situation is summed up clearly by Professor Griffiths in the arguments that he advances in his book. I give that one example of the work of this Parliament in this nineteenth century nation State. I could give many other illustrations of woefully inadequate legislation being passed by Parliament, but I shall not weary the Committee with them.
I shall refer to one or two examples that relate to Wales. The hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby spoke about primary and subordinate legislation. I was interested in what he said, but he made one fundamentally wrong assumption. He assumed that legislation should take place only at the level of the nation State. That is a pretty big assumption and many people would question it. I would do so. To illustrate my argument I shall give two illustrations—one Welsh and one more international.
Let us take the situation in the European aircraft industry. It would be easy to put forward a fairly plausible argument that if there is to be a commercially viable aircraft industry in 10 years it is necessary that the industry should be organised on a European basis, particularly since 80 per cent. of the aircraft that fly over Europe are made in America. Many people might disagree with me, but others would agree. One could put forward a plausible argument to sustain that case. If that is so, legislation for that industry would have to be not primary or subordinate but at a higher level of the political structure.
I am sure that I could persuade people that it would be appropriate to pass legislation on that issue in Brussels, but I should not be able to persuade them that it would be appropriate to pass legislation 716 in Brussels about the use of the fourth television channel in Wales. If Brussels is not the place to decide that issue, why should it be London? Wales is the place to decide that issue.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
Surely the decision should be made where it is to be paid for. If my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) says that the decision should be taken in Wales, the Welsh people should have to pay. This is one of the arguments for devolution about which we are fearful. If the people of Wales are to decide on the fourth or maybe the tenth television channel, it is not for them to say that the whole of the United Kingdom should pick up the bill.
§ Mr. Ellis
If it is a question of who pays, every decision would be decided by 55 million people because they pay for everything. It is not appropriate that decisions should be made on that basis. Occasionally we have a referendum, but they are rare. We should not decide what to do with a television channel on the basis of who pays for it. My argument is straightforward. The question of what to do with the fourth channel in Wales is specific to Wales.
I recall when in 1973 the Prime Minister presented the Kilbrandon Report to the House of Commons. I was amazed at the reaction of hon. Members. The Welsh and Scots Members were agog but the English Members were not interested. They did not appreciate the significance of the report. They assumed that it was a local and parochial matter which was confined to Wales and Scotland. Any decision about the television service in Wales must be made in Wales.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman, even from his own example, that it is feasible that the people in the Welsh-speaking parts of Wales will conceivably get a better deal from a United Kingdom Secretary of State in a United Kingdom Parliament in a matter such as that than they might get from an Assembly in Wales in which the predominantly English parts of the Principality had a majority?
§ Mr. Ellis
I accept that they might very well get a poorer deal, but if they did it would fly in the face of everything that 717 my hon. Friend the Member for Bed-wellty (Mr. Kinnock) said in what I thought was not one of his better speeches. If it contained no hysteria, there was a certain shrillness about it on this issue, because he was saying that by granting legislation to a Welsh Assembly everything in Wales will be legislated for on behalf of the prejudices of the Welsh speakers.
§ Mr. Kinnock
If my hon. Friend intends to flatter me as he just did, I should be grateful if he would be accurate in his description of what I said.
§ Mr. Grist
The hon. Member mentioned that when the original proposals for devolution came before the House a number of English Members were unaware of what they involved. Has he not noticed that as those hon. Members have become increasingly aware of the proposals, so they have become increasingly hostile to them? Does that not illustrate the danger of the Assembly, which is that it arouses the English and will therefore ultimately damage the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Ellis
It might well arouse the English, but my sorrow is that the whole question of devolution did not start off on the basis of being for England alone. I think that that would have cut out a lot of the emotional attachment that has clouded the issue. This fundamental issue was raised in the speech by the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby in a reasoned way in comparison to some of the pejorative, rhetorical and emotional stuff we have heard.
With the trend that is taking place, there is a growing economic centralism, the Galbraithian concept, which derives from the sheer demands of technology. If one is to have a computer or aircraft industry, one must also have a major market which has; to be organised. Those are the centralist demands. At the same time, because society, for a number of reasons, has become more democratic—Jack has become as good as his master— 718 individuals are beginning to insist on having their say. They want an identity and they are not content simply to be cogs in an enormous machine or to accept orders from on high as was done 50 years ago when the political structure was pyramidal and power was at the top of the pyramid. Aneurin Bevan spent his life searching for the seat of power at the top of the pyramid. It is because that has gone and we have to marry economic centralism on the one hand with the self-determinism that people are expressing on the other that we have to accept that this issue can no longer be decided on one level and on the basis of dividing legislation into subordinate or primary categories.
I agree with the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby about the relationship between primary legislation and subordinate legislation, but he missed the point that we have reached a stage at which we have to consider passing legislation at different political levels differently structured, not just within the unitary nineteenth century nation State but on a bigger scale if we are to survive economically.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bed-wellty had a great deal to say about the economic issues and the question of nationalism, and I was tempted when he was referring in a deprecatory way to nationalism to ask him which nationalism he was decrying—Welsh or British. He referred in passing in a kind of loose way to the way in which other hon. Members had referred to interdependence and dependence, and he poured scorn on that. He said that he wanted to be a Welsh Socialist in a British and European Socialist context. So do we all, at least on the Government side of the Committee. But, as practical politicians, we cannot get away with glib phrases such as that. We have to face the real practical issues.
It seems that this legislation in its essence—
§ Mr. Ellis
I shall not vote for it, and I shall say why later. But it seems to be heading towards some sort of a solution, and it appreciates that the present set-up is profoundly unsatisfactory. If we can start from there, we have at least taken a step forward.
719 Herbert Morrison, when asked to defend Socialism, used to say that Socialism was what the Labour Party did. Some hon. Members seem to say that parliamentary democracy is what the House of Commons does, although some of us might question it. I have a great respect for this, the Mother of Parliaments, but that respect falls short of idolatry and I try occasionally to pour scorn on the House, not because I want to be scornful but because I want to shock some hon. Members into an appreciation of what is happening.
I said once that when I came here to listen to debates on defence it came across to me for all the world like the Denbighshire County Council settling its policy on Vietnam. Hon. Members did not like that, but it was my attempt to make the House realise what was happening in the world at large. This devolution Bill, fumbling though it may be, is an attempt at getting some new kind of political structure which is clearly long overdue.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)
Does the hon. Member agree with me that over the last 20 years a great deal of power has been devolved to the Welsh people? We in Wales have our own water authority, tourist board and rural development board, and it is not illogical at the end of the day that we should have our own Assembly to look after the interests of Wales.
§ Mr. Ellis
That is a good illustration, because it shows that there is a tacit appreciation of the need for some kind of devolvement while there is a reluctance to allow what appears to be the real power to slip away. So we have the myth without the substance. That, then, is not the reality. There is a Select Committee which has discussed the question of the water authority, the canals and so on. That shows a highly centralist governmental concern about issues which might be better managed on a truly devolved basis—devolved not in name but de facto, without the strings being pulled centrally. This seems to be the whole issue behind devolution and, to some extent, the specific amendments that we are discussing.
There comes a second and important point which is apart from this economic and social question that it seems poli- 720 ticians should begin to consider. Let me draw from a number of political thinkers who have been toying with the problem. The two reference points in politics at the moment are the individual and the State. Politics essentially is devising some kind of mechanism for controlling that relationship. But a third and equally important reference point has developed in recent years as society has become more laterally structured, and that is the community. Bakunin in the last century called it natural society. Osmond today calls it community, and Yves Person calls it ethnic That is an emotive and dangerous word because it can be used pejoratively. But in our case in Wales it seems to me, for a number of obvious reasons, that the unit might be considered as the community. It is not too big. It might even have been better if it had been smaller.
Therefore, the need for some kind of political voice expressing a community as a community is a need that is beginning to insist itself upon the consciousness of politicians and other people. Again, this appears to me to be a jolly good argument for devolution and, on top of devolution, ultimately some kind of legislative arrangements for the devolved Assembly.
§ Mr. Kinnock
My hon. Friend is posing the prospect of the two institutions, the individual and the State, and to a certain extent I agree with him. However, is he not forgetting the third function—ownership and the power that goes with it, especially when that ownership is not devolved or democratised in any sense but is in private hands? What will the function of industries be when owners and those in charge of production, distribution and exchange say to the community "To hell with you. We are not providing jobs ", and then remove themselves? Is not my hon. Friend missing out a very important factor in the whole equation?
§ Mr. Ellis
I agree that ownership clearly is important. However, what my hon. Friend has to appreciate is that the way in which we are actually going so far is still along the capitalist road, and private capitalism is no worse than State capitalism. At present we are heading towards a corporatist State, which is antidemocratic and, for that matter, antisocial. It is precisely because of the need 721 to marry this question of ownership with something which is a safeguard against the corporatist tendencies of the State that again leads me—out of my hon. Friend's own mouth, it seems—to support some kind of legislative arrangements for such a body, and not just one body in Wales but for Scotland and the whole of England as well. I certainly take the point that ownership is extremely important.
Having said that, however, ownership is not everything. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) had a few words with me on this subject on Second Reading, and I took his point. But there is a good argument to be put forward to the effect that an exclusive preoccupation with economics, economism and mechanistic materialism in itself is anti-Socialist. To that extent, again we are getting away with this particular issue, at least partly; but not entirely.
I could make a fairly good argument on straight economic grounds for a Welsh Assembly. It would run something like this. First of all, I would quote the statistics. Heaven knows, the statistics on demography, age structures, social classes, wage rates and emigration in relation to Wales compares badly with those for England, and I know that the same case would go for the North-East or for Scotland. That would be the first stage of the argument.
The next stage would be to say that the central Government have introduced regional policies. We have had them now for 40 years. The next stage would be to examine the effect of regional policies. One then finds out, in effect, that nothing has altered. Regional policies are so much cosmetic, lipstick and rouge, to pretend that something is being done.
Then I would give examples of a few regional policies—indeed, the only one in Europe that has worked, and that is in Berlin. Berlin is a region that is way out on a limb. Perhaps the right metaphor would be that Berlin is on the edge of a volcano. Berlin has prospered. It had to prosper for obvious political reasons.
The next obvious conclusion is that the key requirement is political clout. Next, I would say that the first thing we have to do to get regional policies established is to develop political clout. I suspect that this is precisely the reason 722 why my hon. Friends from the North-East woke up to the dangers, as they saw them, confronting the North-East if Wales and Scotland were to be given political clout.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
Did Berlin prosper on the strength of its own political and economic resources, or did it have some assistance from elsewhere?
§ Mr. Ellis
Berlin had a great deal of assistance from elsewhere. Did Britain and France prosper on their own resources? Perhaps the hon. Member will deal with that question when he makes his speech.
It is not a question of rich Britain doling out charity to a poor Wales. What we have had is charity. What we do not want is charity. We want an opportunity for a political structure in which we can do things for ourselves.
Having said all that, supporting the hon. Member for Carmarthen so far, in a broad sense, I should like to conclude by saying why I shall not support the hon. Member in the Lobby. The reason is quite simple. It is that the wisest way of actually reaching the objective in due course is not what is proposed.
To do what the hon. Member is suggesting would be, in effect, to compound the failings within the Scotland Bill. The great failing in that Bill, as many hon. Members have pointed out, is that it is attempting within a unitary structure not simply to set up a glorified county council but to set up some kind of countervailing power still within the unitary State. It is neither one thing nor the other. It is neither flesh nor fowl, nor good red herring. It is not a federal State or any other recognised system. It is an attempt to leap a chasm in two leaps. Everyone knows that that can be done only with one leap.
The Welsh proposal, which is much more modest, is, in effect, setting up a glorified county council. To that extent, not a great deal of harm can be done to the British constitution.
For my money, I should be quite happy to set up an elected Assembly in Wales and to say to the Assembly "Your function is to twiddle your thumbs", because I know that when one elects a body, like all living organisms it will grow, and grow naturally.
723 The worst possible thing that legislators can do is to bring out a terribly complex body of legislation from the top of their heads. We saw this in 1971, when the then Government introduced their Industrial Relations Bill. They brought out a big fat book of legislation, page after page. No one is clever enough to do that. It is impossible. If the Conservative Government had introduced one or two simple bits of law, they might even have got through, and then the legislation would have developed, as legislation is now developing.
However, the failure was not simply an ideological failure, although there were great differences in ideology between the two sides of the House of Commons. The main failure was that the Government tried to bring out this full-blown, badly drafted, complex set of pieces of legislation on an enormously difficult subject, and of course, as everyone on the Labour Benches knew, they were inevitably bound to make a mess of it.
It is for that reason, therefore, that I am not prepared to repeat the errors, as I see them, in the Scotland Bill. I would support the Scotland Bill—indeed, I would support it even as it first came before us—to get an Assembly. I am not being wise after the event. Two or three years ago I wrote quite a number of articles explaining what I thought would be the problem, and it has transpired almost exactly as I forecast. The Government tried to introduce devolution for Scotland for the wrong reasons in the first instance. The initial reasons were partly electoral, and so on. In the case of Wales there has been a really thought-through and committed party approach. Whatever anyone says, the Labour Party in Wales is committed to this and has been for a long time. It has thought through the proposals.
I believe that the Welsh proposals, devoid of any legislative aspect for the time being, are incomparably better than the Scottish proposals. I believe that in that I command the support of some of my hon. Friends who are well-known anti-devolutionists. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are the supporters?"] Indeed, where are they?
§ Mr. Ellis
This is the very point I am making. We are here discussing a crucial matter. There are 635 Members of Parliament, but only 36 of those are from Wales. I should be rather interested to count the Welsh Members present as a proportion of the 36, and then the proportion of English Members present out of 500, or whatever the exact figure is. Because this is a matter that does not apparently concern England directly—although it does, as we all know—many people seem to think that it is a bit of a thing for the Welsh. Many think "The Welsh are behind the mountains enjoying their own little customs and idiosyncrasies and so on, and let them get on with it." But, when the crunch comes, 500 English Members' votes will squash 36 Welsh votes and and about 70 Scottish votes.
This matter has nothing to do with racialism. It has to do with community.
Since when, in recent Labour Party history, have the Welsh ever been squashed? It is not my version of history.
§ Mr. Ellis
I shall not bore my hon. Friend with a long list of illustrations. I shall simply give him one and then sit down, because I have spoken for longer than I intended.
I give my hon. Friend a practical example of how the present position tends to rankle. Wales produces 5.1 per cent, of the physical scientists in Britain, slightly more than its proportion of population, which is 5 per cent. Most of those graduate scientists like to do research, and half will actually do it, not only in university but as a career.
In 1975 the Government had 99 research establishments. I do not know how many they have now. Those establishments employed 13,850 graduate scientists. There is not one such establishment in Wales. There are 26 nationalised industry research establishments. There is not one in Wales. There are 36 industrial trade research associations. There is not one in Wales. In 1974 Nature, the scientific magazine, had 584 advertisements for research scientists. Not one was for a job in Wales. My son has just obtained his degree in physics. He wrote off to 20 firms, and I am happy to tell the Committee that he now has a job. Of those 20 firms, 17 were within 50 miles of London.
725 My hon. Friend asked how the Welsh had been squashed. That is one small illustration. The Government can locate their research establishments pretty well anywhere. Such establishments are not like steelworks, which originally, along with the coal mines and slate quarries, were put where providence had provided the mineral deposits.
What matters today in an enormous range of industries is knowledge, which can be located anywhere. One could almost locate a research establishment on top of Snowdon. There is a railway going up the mountain. In Welsh terms, we would claim that we have pretty good communications to Snowdon. One has only to look at the Rhondda Valley. 1 am not talking about the constituency of my hon. Friend the Minister. Where is there an area which, for its size, has given so much wealth to the world? 1 had the great privilege this week of going to a meeting in the Rhondda Valley and I saw going up it what was, in effect, a cart track.
I give way to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight)—
The First Deputy Chairman
I am sure that the hon. Lady does not wish the hon. Gentleman to give way. I have been in the Chair for an hour and a quarter, during which time two hon. Members have taken part in the debate. Even allowing for the natural loquacity of Welsh hon. Members, I believe that speeches lasting for more than half an hour could easily be cut down.
I call the hon. Gentleman to resume his speech. As he does not rise, am I correct in thinking that he has finished?
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I wish to speak particularly, and not at great length, to Amendment No. 48 and New Clause No. 6.
I am strongly opposed to devolution, both Scots and Welsh. I could give many reasons, but I shall give merely three, all connected with the amendments. My first reason is the enormous cost—£6½| million at once and £12½ million a year, the Bill tells us. When we are desperately short of money in so many areas of our national life, when the social services have had to be cut down and when there is not 726 enough hospital care, it seems to be madness to spend so much on these proposals.
My second reason is the increased bureaucracy that would result from Amendment No. 48. I do not like bureaucracy of any sort, but I detest it when there is no good reason for it, and I can see no good reason here.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Most of all, I oppose devolution because I believe that it must inevitably lead to the fragmentation of the United Kingdom. When Welsh Members marvel that there are English Members who are interested in the subject, I can assure them that many of us are deeply interested in the future of the United Kingdom and extremely anxious about what is happening to it. "Divide and rule" is a very sinister concept.
§ If Wales and Scotland go for devolution, why not Kent, Cornwall, Coventry or anywhere else? If through a strange quirk this Bill and the Scotland Bill came on to the statute book and were agreed to in the referendums, and became advantageous to the people of Scotland and Wales, why should not such legislation be thought to be advantageous for other parts of the country? How dangerous that would be for Britain! But if they were not advantageous—and I do not believe that they would be—where is the point of the exercise and the cost of the bureaucracy?
Amendment No. 48 says:
A Welsh Assembly Act may amend or repeal a provision made by or under an Act of Parliament.
The mind boggles at the possibilities and implications. For example, suppose that the Assembly took it into its head to alter the traffic laws. Suppose it said "In Wales at any rate, we shall drive on the right"—
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Alec Jones)
Or in the middle.
§ Mrs. Knight
Suppose that the Assembly had its own ideas about education. I can see every reason why sensible people in Wales might want the power to opt out of the laws passed by the House of Commons. There are many people throughout Britain who have a deep and abiding desire to opt out of some of the laws passed by the House. It would be marvellous if a particular area could 727 absolve itself from the rape of the grammar schools. Amendment No. 48 envisages that a Welsh Assembly could opt out of education proposals.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
Is my hon. Friend aware that it can already do so extensively under the present secondary legislation powers given to it in the Bill?
§ Mrs. Knight
I shall come to that, but I want first to look at the broad proposal at the beginning of this long amendment, No. 48.
I can imagine why people might be very pleased to opt out of nationalisation proposals. As far as I know, there has not been until now any suggestion that they could opt out of any takeover proposed by the House of Commons.
What about the questions of immigration and arranged marriages which are occasioning heart-burning in many parts of the United Kingdom? This has become a perpetually open door, and it effectively means that there is no possible end to immigration. If the Welsh people decided to opt out of that, I would not blame them.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Is my hon. Friend aware that some of these powers obtain in the Scotland Bill as it has been passed through the House of Commons?
§ Mrs. Knight
Yes, but if I talked about that Bill I might be out of order, and I am anxious, as always, to stick to the rules of order.
Subsection (9) of the amendment says:The Secretary of State shall consider every Bill passed by the Assembly and—(a) if he is of opinion that it is not within the legislative competence of the Assembly he shall refer the question … to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for decisionI can envisage the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council having a tremendous extra case load if this amendment is agreed to. Whether it has enough to do at the moment is beside the point. Certainly it would need to take on extra staff. I have no doubt about that.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
The hon. Lady has given three examples where, under our proposals, the Welsh Assembly might find itself at variance with the Parliament at Westminster. If I may say so, she has chosen three very bad examples. She 728 mentioned, first, comprehensive education. She will realise that up to 80 per cent, of Welsh schools became comprehensive well ahead of the legislation to make comprehensive education compulsory in England Secondly, she mentioned nationalisation. The overwhelming majority of Welsh employees are already employed by the public sector. As for immigration, I do not know what the hon. Lady refers to, because we have substantial immigration into Wales by English people and by other nationalities. I assume that she considers that that is different and is referring, as her leader was, to coloured immigrants.
§ Mrs. Knight
That is all the time that I shall give to the hon. Gentleman. I am not sure that I was wise to give him that much, Sir Myer. My point is not whether Wales would wish to do this or would not wish to do it, or whether Wales has something already or does not have it already. Amendment No. 48 seeks to introduce what I regard as very sweeping powers indeed. It would give the Welsh Assembly powers to amend or repeal a provision made by the House of Commons. This is the point at issue, and the hon. Gentleman must accept it, because that is what the amendment says and he has signed it. The powers that the amendment seeks are far too great. Although I do not wish to take any more of the Committee's time on the point, I feel sure that I might usefully direct the imagination of hon. Members to many other instances which would prove to them that it would be quite mind-boggling to pass the amendment in its present form.
Turning to New Clause No. 6, I note that the wording is:If it appears to the Secretary of State that a Bill passed by the Assembly contains any provision which would or might affect a reserved matter.Presumably the Assembly would not be allowed to take that step. Surely, if it were an important matter the power would not be granted to the Assembly. If it were not a very important matter, I feel that the powers would already be there. If it were merely to decide when and how streets could be cleaned or whether a school would offer bursaries for holiday courses—or if it concerned some legislation on flyposting, street processions or the sale of council houses—all this, presumably, might come within 729 the competence of the Assembly. But all this already falls within the competence of the local authorities in Wales. I should like to know what sort of measure Plaid Cymru thinks could be passed by the Assembly which cannot be dealt with already.
I cannot agree with the notion that Wales—a part of the kingdom for which I have a great admiration and love—has been in any way grossly deprived by arrangements up to now. But certainly, if these amendments were to be agreed to, I am sure that we should have cause to regret it deeply before very long.
§ Mr. loan Evans
I do not wish to speak at length on this series of amendments, but I have a few observations to make. As I mentioned earlier, I hope that it will be possible for the Business Committee to make some arrangement to deal with Clause 13 when we reassemble in Committee on Tuesday next, because I believe it to be a very important part of the Bill. But, of course, Clause 10 is also very important.
It is interesting that, when we wear considering the Scotland Bill and an amendment was passed concerning the percentage of the vote in a referendum, the nationalists and some others made the accusation that we were changing the rules as we went along. Now, however, on Clause 10, we are to debate a series of amendments put down by Plaid Cymru Members. It should be noted, indeed, that more amendments have been put down by Plaid Cymru Members than by any other party in the House of Commons, although Plaid Cymru has only three Members and there are two parties in the House with nearly 300 Members each.
§ Mr. Evans
The nationalists, having made their criticism of what happened with the Scotland Bill, are themselves trying to change the rules as we go along.
It is very difficult to understand where Plaid Cymru stands on devolution, because we are told by the Government that the purpose of devolution is to prevent the very thing that the nationalists are advocating. We are told that the Bill is designed to improve the unity of the people of Britain by having a devolved 730 Assembly in Wales. It is strange that the most enthusiastic supporters of devolution in the House of Commons are the very people who do not want Britain to be united and who do not want a United Kingdom. Their whole purpose, their whole function, is to split up Wales, Scotland and England. I am sure that the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) will not deny it.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
Is my hon. Friend aware that I am the most enthusiastic devolutionist in the House of Commons, and that I certainly do not want to have a disunited United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Evans
I thought that we would have a philosophical interruption, because I know that my hon. Friend believes in smallness. That is actually why he is for the Common Market. He believes in Europe, and he believes in Wales as well as the outer parts of the great European Continental region. From the Labour Party point of view, my hon. Friend is in a rather peculiar position in relation to the rest of his colleagues.
But not of the sort that my hon. Friend has in mind. If he is saying that he wants more than Plaid Cymru wants, I hope that his friends in Wrexham will take note of what he says. But I do not believe that he wants more powers for Wales than Plaid Cymru wants. I am sure he does not mean to say that.
§ Mr. Evans
My hon. Friend says that what he wants is what the Labour Party wants, but what the Labour Party wants is certainly not what Plaid Cymru wants. Plaid Cymru does not want devolution. It wants independence. It wants to separate Wales from the rest of the United Kingdom.
There has been mention of the dangers of creating an Assembly that is not a properly organised Assembly. The danger in this respect is that we shall finish up with a half-way house. We should then be on a slippery slope.
Although the Bill is not yet on the statute book, although the question has 731 not yet been put to the people of Wales to decide whether they want it and although we do not yet know what their wishes are, Plaid Cymru is seeking to take a further step forward and to give the Assembly legislative powers which are not contained in the Government's proposals. I give way to the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells).
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
The hon. Gentleman has said that the policies of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) are not the right ones for Wales. He also does not believe that the proposals of his hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) are acceptable. Will he admit that there is some merit in the Liberal proposals which take the view that, if devolution is to succeed, Wales must have parity within the United Kingdom? Would the hon. Gentleman be in favour of federalism?
§ Mr. Evans
The proposals which the Liberal Party has put forward are for a federal society. I believe that we could eventually arrive at a world federal society, but that is an ambition for the future. As time passes, one hopes that we shall have a world order. In the present context, however, the Kilbrandon Commission examined federal proposals in respect of Britain. The difficulty of accepting a federal proposal for the United Kingdom is that 80 per cent, of the population—perhaps more—live in the England area. A federal structure based on a population in Wales and Scotland that is far less than that of England would not be a very good federal structure.
In fact, as I have suggested before, more people live in London than in the whole of Wales and Scotland. Under a federal structure, we should need a government for London. I do not think that is a practical possibility.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman has criticised Plaid Cymru for proposing amendments to the Bill which seeks to give the Welsh Assembly legislative power. He has argued that in doing so we are going down a slippery slope and that our aim is separation. I would like him to understand that, as was said earlier, the policy o f Plaid Cymru is a policy of evolution. Political 732 evolution cannot progress at a more rapid pace than the people of Wales want it to progress. We are suggesting that the Assembly ought to be given law-making powers because we believe that those powers would be more logical and effective than the secondary legislation powers that we have been given.
However, that decision must be ratified by the Welsh people in a referendum. Any constitutional change in Wales must be a democratic one which has the support of the majority—a fair majority and not a rigged one.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Gentleman's interventions are so long that I doubt whether he will need to make a speech. He seems to be making his points as we go along.
I would not accuse Plaid Cymru of believing in the slippery slope. It believes in the slippery precipice. It wants to go all the way down that precipice to a separate State. It is all very well for Plaid Cymru to talk about evolution, but what it really wants is a revolution. It does not want modified change; it wants a complete change. It wants a separate State for Wales. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) comes to the House of Commons and says that the people of Wales want this, that or the other. But the policies of Plaid Cymru have been put to the people of Wales time and time again.
In the context of this Committee discussion, it is important to remind hon. Members that the nationalist pressure in Wales is not as great as the nationalist pressure elsewhere. It must be remembered that of the 36 Plaid Cymru candidates who fought the last General Election, 27 lost their deposits. A General Election is when we ascertain the wishes of the people. Had the people of Wales wanted an independent Wales, they would have voted for Plaid Cymru candidates. But they did not.
The hon. Member for Merioneth holds up three fingers. I am glad it is three fingers and not six. It is true that Plaid Cymru has three representatives in the House of Commons. But Plaid Cymru is the smallest parliamentary party. In fact, after the next General Election the hon. Member for Merioneth will not be able to hold up three fingers, because I 733 do not believe that he will be here to make any gestures.
I believe that politically we are now in a situation where the nationalist phase in Wales is a passing phase. I believe that the hon. Members who now represent Carmarthen, Merioneth and Caernarvon will be replaced by Labour Members who will support the next Labour Government. But that is yet to come.
I do not believe that there is any real demand for nationalism in Wales. I speak as one of the Labour Members with real experience. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will know, the real challenge in Wales at the last General Election was in the Aberdare constituency. That was the constituency that had been represented by Keir Hardie. What a jewel it would have been in the crown of Plaid Cymru had it represented Aberdare in the House of Commons. Plaid Cymru would have regarded that as a great achievement.
It was interesting that students came all the way from Aberystwyth and bypassed Carmarthen in order to work in Aberdare because they were convinced that Aberdare would be won by the nationalists. There was a very good reason why the nationalists thought that they would win. Of the 10 county councillors in the constituency, no fewer than six were members of Plaid Cymru. On the Cynon Valley Borough Council the nationalists had no fewer than 12 councillors. But the Labour Party did not equivocate. It fought the nationalists determinedly. Due credit must be given to the constituency party of the Cynon Valley Borough Council which withstood the attacks from the nationalists and forced them out of the area. At least, they are in the process of going.
Let me bring the figures up to date. In February 1974 in the Aberdare constituency, which Plaid Cymru thought it would win, Labour had a majority of 11,000. In the October 1974 General Election that majority went up to 16,000. That was a quite substantial increase and is a credit to the people of the valley for finding out what the nationalists stood for.
We have since had district and county elections. Before they took place there were three Labour county councillors and six Plaid Cymru county councillors, but 734 there are now seven Labour county councillors and only two Plaid Cymru county councillors. One of the Plaid Cymru county councillors won his seat because there was a split in the Labour vote. The same applies to the Cynon Valley Borough Council, where at the last count Plaid Cymru was down to about five members. Its support is falling away month by month.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen comes to the House of Commons and talks about Plaid Cymru being the party for Wales. It used to be known as Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru. It was not known as the Welsh National Party because nationalist parties were not popular in many parts of Wales. Therefore, Plaid Cymru dropped the "Genedlaethol" and called itself the Welsh Party. It is not the Welsh Party.
Other parties in the House of Commons—the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party—poll more votes in Wales than Plaid Cymru. There are more people voting Liberal in Wales, with only two Members of Parliament, than there are voting Plaid Cymru. If the hon. Member for Merioneth cares to look up the figures, he will see that Plaid Cymru carries about 109 per cent, of the people of Wales and that the Liberals carry 15.9 per cent. It is the Labour Party in Wales which has nearly 50 per cent. of the electorate.
§ The Chairman (Mr. Oscar Murton)
The hon. Member has quoted a great many figures. I think that he ought to get back to the amendment.
§ Mr. Evans
I apologise, Mr. Murton. My difficulty is that I am not speaking from notes. As a result, I tend to deal with too many statistics—[Interruption.] I have just been corrected by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. It is not 10.9 per cent. but 108 per cent. which Plaid Cymru has.
But here we are, debating amendments put forward by Plaid Cymru which are trying to inject an element of nationalism into the proposal put forward by the Government. I believe that the Government have brought forward these proposals in good faith to seek to fulfil the pledge made to the people of Wales in Labour's manifesto. I do not say anything about those of my hon. Friends who are opposed to the Government's 735 proposal other than that I hope that we shall not indulge in personalities. There are those who believe sincerely that the Government's proposal is a solution and that if we do not get it correct and if we are not sure that it is correct we shall bring about a situation which I know the Government honestly want to prevent. I believe that that is what the argument will be.
I tell the Opposition that it will be Labour supporters in Wales who will decide the outcome of the Bill. The Conservative Party will be ranged on one side, against it. The nationalists will be on the other side. I believe that the Liberals, like the Labour Party, will be divided when they campaign. But, after all, we represent nearly 50 per cent. of the electorate, and it will be our supporters who decide the outcome.
If Plaid Cymru should succeed in writing these amendments into the Bill, there is no surer way of getting the Bill rejected by the people of Wales. There might even be some Machiavellian advantage in agreeing to these amendments. But I believe that that is not the way that we should proceed. Although there are many parts of the Bill which in my view will undermine the unity of the people of this island and create divisions between the proposed Assembly and this House of Commons, it is not for us to let a Bill go through knowing that it is riddled with imperfections. That is why, when we come to Clause 13, I shall seek to make a number of amendments.
I hope that the Committee will reject these proposals overwhelmingly. They would push the people of Wales further down a nationalist road which time and time again they have rejected at parliamentary elections. This Committee must reject the type of talk that we hear from the hon. Member for Carmarthen. I am glad that he did not refer to the people of Wales as being colonials. At least that speech has been pigeon-holed at last. When we come here, we come here equal to hon. Members from Scotland or any part of England. We participate in the affairs of the House of Commons on the basis of equality.
We are told that the people of Wales are not free and that they are being denied their freedom. But they are free. 736 They are free to elect Plaid Cymru Members if they want to, and they exercise their freedom. That is why in 33 of the 36 constituencies they have elected people from other parties, and that is why we cannot say that the people of Wales are not free. They are free, and they exercise that freedom at General Elections by rejecting proposals put forward by the nationalists. That is why, when this legislation is put before the people of Wales, they will reject it. They will reject it because it has aroused fears that we may be moving along a road which they do not want to travel.
I hope that this series of amendments will be rejected and that in future, if it should happen that other amendments are accepted, we shall not hear the cry from the nationalists that we are changing the rules whilst the game is being played. They have sought to do that, and their attempts will be rejected because they do not carry the argument with them. However, I hope that other amendments will be made to improve the Bill, although even with an improved Bill I look forward to the time of the referendum, when it will be rejected by the people of Wales.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
We have heard a number of reasons why these amendments should be rejected but very few reasons why they should be accepted. There seems to be a balance of opinion on both sides of the Committee against them.
The amendments propose to grant to the Welsh Assembly powers comparable with those which have been granted to the Scottish Assembly, and it is not unnatural, I suppose, that Plaid Cymru Members should seek to add those powers to this Bill. It would be strange if they did not attempt to do so. In some respects, it might be more logical to do so, because it would give the appearance of setting up similar systems in Scotland and Wales.
My anxieties about the Assembly have not been so much about its powers as about the manner in which it is being set up under these proposals. I regard the format of this Bill and of the Scotland Bill as being somewhat open ended. I see only the probability of conflict between the House of Commons and 737 these Assemblies. What is more, I foresee that under these proposals, if anything goes wrong, if the country is facing an acute crisis, there will be pressure from those who wish to extend the powers of the Assembly because they will explain that the problems arise because of the lack of powers or the lack of financial resources.
In setting up Assemblies of this nature, I feel that we are in danger of exposing ourselves to the break-up of the United Kingdom—
§ Sir R. Gower
My hon. Friend will probably not say "Hear, hear" if I explain that, if we must have an Assembly at all, I should prefer it to be on a federal basis. Then it would not be open ended. It would have the chance of long-term stability.
Although the granting of these primary legislative powers would seem to be more logical and would bring the Welsh Assembly into line with the Scottish Assembly, I can see the force of the argument that the two are not the same. Scotland had its Secretary of State a considerable time before Wales did. The Welsh Office and the office of Secretary of State for Wales are of much more recent inception than those of the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Department. Scotland also has a different system of law. as the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) pointed out, although he did not see that it was a matter of vital importance in considering these matters. I see this as an important difference. When we legislate, often we have to have separate Bills for Scotland because of the different system of law. That is not the case when we are legislating for Wales.
We are forced to consider, if we have an Assembly, whether it would be desirable to add to its present executive powers and powers of delegated legislation. Should we add the primary legislative powers embodied in these amendments? I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), who said that there was very little evidence of a demand for this addition. I go further and say that there is not a great deal of evidence of a demand for an Assembly in the first 738 place. Maybe it is very strong in the constituencies represented by Plaid Cymru Members, but there is not an evident demand in large parts of the Principality.
Therefore, if we are anxious about the Assembly with its relatively limited powers, the addition of these powers makes us even more anxious. If we study these amendments, we realise the implications of the powers that would be granted. Obviously, this additional danger exists in the Scotland Bill.
The Government have decided, rightly or wrongly, that they want an Assembly with relatively limited executive powers and the powers of subordinate legislation that are now included in the Bill. Full of possible dangers as we find that, it is not nearly so dangerous as the addition of the powers in the amendments.
I shall certainly oppose these proposals. I hope that the majority of hon. Members on both sides will agree that we should reject them. We have not heard from the official Government spokesman that the Government will reject them out of hand, but I anticipate that that may be the reply. On the other hand, I would not say that the mere rejection of these amendments removes my anxieties about the Bill. But I shall be less apprehensive if these powers are omitted. I hope that the Committee will take that view as well.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is my maiden speech on the Wales Bill and, like all maiden speeches, it will be brief and non-controversial.
I really begin to wonder where the steam is coming from for this Bill. I look around the Committee and I see my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans), who likes the Wales Bill about as much as I like the Scotland Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins), who is very hostile to the whole concept. Who else is there? It is true that my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) was here a little while ago, but the ideas of my hon. Friend on how the affairs of government should be conducted are as different as mine are from those of the Government Front Bench. When he campaigns for a "Yes" vote in the referendum, it will not be a "Yes" vote for the proposition under discussion today.
This is not my first incursion into Welsh affairs, I once asked a Question of the Welsh Office about kidney transplants. I had the grave misfortune to be called first in Welsh Questions on that occasion. I have never taken to my heels as quickly as I did when I was called first in Welsh Questions. On this occasion I have no such diffidence. The truth of the matter is that the future of the United Kingdom is at stake.
I am not quite a political novice in Wales. I vividly remember the first time that I was invited to a political meeting in Swansea, where they showed me the most marvellous hospitality. I went along to the meeting with Baroness White and other colleagues, and the chairman made it absolutely clear that I was in Wales—Welsh Wales. It was not the contrast between Wales and London that struck me, but the contrast between Swansea and Cardiff. I remember vividly a discussion with one of my colleagues who is in the House of Commons, and the issue was whether he should move his home to Swansea. Apparently it was perfectly all right for him to live in London, but if he kept a home in Cardiff this raised very real problems.
However, I should stress that I am very fond of Wales, and I spent a lovely holiday in the constituency of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas)—at Dolgellau, with its beautiful and incomparable scenery and hospitality.
I wish to return to a number of specific issues. One was the issue raised in general terms by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) just now. She gave a number of examples of things that might be difficult across the border. One associates her particularly with the issue of abortion.
Increasingly since our debate on devolution began, the medical profession in Scotland has been alarmed and horrified at the idea of a Scottish Assembly being likely to carry a Bill along the lines of the one that was proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White). If such a Bill were carried, 740 rightly or wrongly, it would create a difference between the abortion laws of England and those of Scotland.
In all the discussions that have taken place on abortion my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has been to the forefront as a proponent of certain ideas. Suppose that my hon. Friend and others like him proposed a Bill in Wales embodying his ideas on abortion and put pressure on the Assembly to carry it through. Would it or would it not be the case that the abortion situation, rightly or wrongly, in such circumstances could be different on one side of the Welsh border from the other? If it could not, it raises in a most acute form the question of why the Scots could do it but the Welsh could not. If it could not, we would be faced with the problems that have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhamp-ton, North-East (Mrs. Short) and others. I should like a factual explanation of this particular issue. Are we in the Bill, as in the Scotland Bill, fragmenting the kingdom in relation to abortion? Are there to be different rules in one part of the kingdom from those in the other? I shall be grateful to have a factual statement about that from the Secretary of State.
In passing, I would utter regret that, if the Bill is passed, never again will Welshmen such as the late Mr. Emrys Hughes or Mr. Cyril Bence be able to represent a Scottish constituency. That is something which some of us feel is profoundly unsatisfactory. It may be said by those on the Government Front Bench that there is no reason why the like of Mr. Cyril Bence or Mr. Emrys Hughes should not be able to do this. That may be true. The fact is that if we set up this kind of scheme there will not be the political mobility between various parts of the kingdom that some of us have taken for granted for a long time.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the abortion issue. This is very valid. He will note that the Nursing Homes Act 1975 is one of the measures which the Assembly will operate even if the amendment is not passed. My reason for interjecting is to ask the Secretary of State whether it will be possible for different regulations to operate in regard to clinics on one side of Offa's Dyke as opposed to the other.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Let us leave it like this. We ask for a factual explanation of the situation on abortion. I have made various inquiries. The results of those inquiries were ambiguous. I genuinely do not know what the answer is. I hope that in his reply the Secretary of State will clear up these things for the satisfaction of the Committee.
I rose to ask two questions. Curiously enough, I rather agree with the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), who spoke first. The hon. Member said that the Scottish legal system was not in itself a reason why there should be different schemes for Scotland and Wales. I agree with this, having talked a good deal about it with lawyers and others. Although there is something to be said for the argument, I do not want to overplay the argument and say that there is nothing in it. Having a different legal system is a factor in the situation, but it is by no means a paramount factor in having a different scheme for Scotland from that for Wales.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Therefore, my question is this. If the Government think that devolution and the creation of Assemblies is about good government, why is it that Wales has less of it than Scotland? If it is really about good government and if the Government believe that the Scottish scheme is designed for good government rather than appeasement of political parties or any of the other considerations which some of us have the temerity to suggest in the 25 days of debate, how is it that the Welsh get less devolution than the Scots? Is it because the Welsh are inferior? We dare not suggest such a thing. Is it because they are less mature? Of course not. There must be some explanation. This is an explanation that we have never been given. Of course, the real doubt, as the Committee knows, is whether devolution is about good government. The people who say that it is about good government, about bringing decisions closer to the people and about creating extra democracy, have to prove why the Scots should have substantially more devolution than the Welsh.
§ The Secretary of State grunts. I do not blame him for grunting. Nevertheless, I hope that in his reply he will explain in full why there should be these differences in the Government's 742 approaches to Scotland and Wales. This is a question that has hitherto not been answered. In no forum that I know of has a satisfactory explanation been given of why it is good that the Welsh should have less devolution than the Scots.
§ I know that there are differences in the Bills. One does not provide for a legislative Assembly, and the other does. It does not matter how often it is referred to in various forms. What we must now call the West Glamorgan question is now with us. The truth is that, like a certain other question in the Scotland Bill, merely talking about it ad nauseam does not mean that it will go away and vanish. The rocks that became apparent in January 1977 are still with us.
§ When Wales has 56,000 voters per constituency and England has 65,000, how long can a system endure in which many of the most delicate matters of domestic politics—given the membership which has been set for Wales and is likely to last for many years to come—are determined in this fashion?
§ Like my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) and a number of other hon. Friends, I have to pose this question. What will happen when the day comes, sooner or later, when there is a United Kingdom Labour majority and an English majority of another political colour? This question has not been answered. Therefore, having posed it again in the form of the West Glamorgan question, I hope that we are more certain, after all these days of discussions of the Scotland and Wales Bill and subsequently of the Scotland Bill, to receive an answer. The rock on which the previous Bill perished is still with us. I am fascinated to know how Welsh Ministers will circumvent this particular rock.
§ Mr. Grist
It is a pleasure to welcome so battle-scarred a warrior of the Scotland Bill to our debates. I speak for most hon. Members when I say that we welcome the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and hope to hear from him again. He can bring a depth of experience and knowledge into our debates on this subject.
It is extraordinary that so far we have not heard anybody speak in defence of the Bill. We are debating the amendments, but nobody has spoken against the amendments on the basis that the Bill 743 has got it right. Even the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) gave it as his opinion that he did not particularly like the Bill and thought that the Scotland Bill was marginally worse but for a variety of reasons he was going along with it.
During the Second Reading debate, the hon. Member for Wrexham said that once we set up a national, elected body it would grow. That is his attitude. But that had nothing to do with the executive or secondary legislation or primary legislative functions embodied in the Bill or the amendment. Once again it is left to the Secretary of State, presumably, to come to the rescue of his baby, which is particularly friendless. No doubt, though, if we are forced to a Division he will be surprised to find that he has some passing friends.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) opened the debate in his usual smoke-screeny style—very pleasant, very mild and reasonable. Somehow or other, it does not sound quite the same when one is in Wales. There is an odd difference in the tone. The evenness of the language question seems to take on a different tinge. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) will no doubt remember a meeting in Aberystwyth in which certain questions were put in the Welsh language to the two of us by people who spoke English perfectly well but who chose to put them in the Welsh language to cut me out. The hon. Member had the courtesy to translate them for me. But it showed the attitude of the sort of people who support his party about which the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) was speaking.
I do not see why I should spend a lot of time attacking the amendments. Clearly, I and most of my hon. Friends do not support the Assembly in the first place, so we can hardly be expected to support an extension of its powers. The Government have themselves to blame for facing this set of amendments. Clearly, as has been pointed out, to give primary legislative functions to the Welsh Assembly on a par with the Scottish Assembly is at least logical. What the Government propose is thoroughly illogical. As has been pointed out repeatedly, we shall have a constitution for Scotland, another for Wales, another for Ulster, another for England and, pre- 744 sumably, some sort of overall United Kingdom blanket constitution. It is hopelessly unstable.
This demand for legislative functions is bound to arise. The only point here is that it has arisen so early. It is clear that this demand will arise from the Assembly. If it is ever set up on the basis of the Bill, the demand for primary legislative powers is bound to arise. Here we have Plaid Cymru Members producing them now instead of waiting a year or two for their friends and allies to do so in the Coal Exchange in Cardiff—a bad exchange for the Welsh people if it ever were to come about. This is the first step. The signal flags have been put out, and even the Secretary of State must see where his proposals are going.
In all fairness, it has to be said that the demand for legislation, once an Assembly was set up, would not come only from the nationalist Members of the Assembly. It would come from a whole range of Members who would feel frustrated in various ways because they did not have the legislative powers which they felt a nationally elected body ought to have. They would feel justified in calling for those extra powers, and there would be a constant row with this place to get them. Secondary legislative powers would whet their appetities for the primary level and, in most cases at any rate, Members of the Assembly would feel particularly frustrated.
If the House of Commons were to try to stop the abuse by the Assembly of its secondary legislative powers, if the House were to delineate Bills in a highly detailed fashion and lay down conditions which would prevent the Assembly from thwarting the will of the majority in this House, the temper of the Assembly would grow greater. It would be forced in many cases to operate laws with which it thoroughly disagreed. It would not have power, through secondary legislation, to alter such laws. This would feed the frustrations and the demands of all parties in that Assembly.
Equally, such a situation would have a funny effect in this place if we were to go on with the Bill as it is. If we were to have closely delineated Bills, Members of the House of Commons would get fed up. The Bills would get thicker and thicker and more and more detailed. Committee stages would be more and 745 more tedious and hon. Members here would eventually say "Heavens. If we are to have to spend all our time going through this, let them have it, let them take it over. We do not want to have to go all through these Bills." A sense of boredom and frustration would apply here. More particularly, Members of Parliament from Wales and Scotland sitting in the House would, under the Government's proposals, become less and less capable—as would the Secretary of State's Department—of judging the quality of the legislation being brought forward. There would be this difficulty over cutting off the administration of law from the passage of law.
There is nothing like having a feedback through officials and constituents to tell us whether a law is working and what changes ought to be made to it. Such a feedback tells us what attitudes should be taken to new legislation. The position is none too hot now. It would be infinitely worse if we were to have Assemblies in Scotland and Wales. Clearly, to the degree that service in this place got worse, as I believe it would, there would be greater justification for passing over primary legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly, because it would then be said, truthfully, that it was closer to the people and closer to the point where the legislation met the populace.
The Government have got themselves into this position. Tonight is just a rehearsal for what will occur time and again if ever the Assembly is set up. Let the Government be warned. This is the first of many fights that they will have over many years if ever the Assembly comes into being.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Gow
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) rightly posed the question: who is in favour of this Bill? The answer to that question reveals a devastating situation. Once again the Committee is churning out legislation, much of it undebated, for which there is practically no enthusiasm in any quarter of the Committee. Indeed, there are only two Benches from which support is forthcoming—the Treasury Bench and the Plaid Cymru Bench. Plaid Cymru is to this extent a supporter of the Bill, although for it—as was the case with the Scottish nationalists—the Bill is seen as a step towards a separate State.
746 The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), in moving his amendment, made it clear that his party wanted to see Wales moving towards a separate statehood. The words that he used were that he wanted Wales to have representation at the United Nations. I do not think that the hon. Member has thought that through in the least. For a State to have representation at the United Nations it must be sovereign and independent. If the hon. Gentleman is telling the Committee that he wants his new Welsh State to have representation at the United Nations, he is arguing in the clearest and plainest terms in favour of a Wales constitutionally divorced and separated from the rest of the kingdom.
I wish to address my remarks to Amendment No. 48. This amendment reproduces, as close to verbatim as is possible while remaining in order, Clauses 17, 18 and 19 of the Scotland Bill. I believe that this Bill and Amendment No. 48, like the Scotland Bill, are based upon a fundamental misreading of the constitutional wishes of the people of Wales and Scotland and, far more important, a fundamental misreading of the cause of the nation's ills. When I use the word "nation", I am talking about the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
As has happened so often during our debates, the hon. Member for West Lothian has seized upon an important point. He posed the question to the Secretary of State: if the legislative Assembly is to be of such great benefit to Scotland, why do we not have a legislative Assembly for Wales? Of course, Amendment No. 48 would give to Wales that which, in my view wrongly, we have given to Scotland in the Scotland Bill. The reason why the Government have dealt differently with Wales, the reason why a greater concession has been made to Scotland, is that the Government believe—I shall come to their misreading of the position later—that it is necessary to offer more crumbs to the national party in Scotland than to Plaid Cymru in Wales.
The Government believe, wrongly in my view, that they are in electoral danger in Scotland to a degree to which they are not in Wales. The pretended argument behind the amendment and the Wales and Scotland Bills is that if we 747 establish legislative Assemblies for Scotland and Wales, the people of Scotland and Wales will be better governed and some of their grievances will be removed. I challenge that concept. I do not believe that a Welsh Assembly, whether with legislative or only deliberative powers, will affect the quality of government for the people of Wales. In one respect, it will have a positively dangerous result.
The Secretary of State will argue, as other Government spokesmen have argued, that if the Bill becomes law, many of the grievances of the people of Wales will be removed, the quality of government in Wales will be better and people who are unhappy will become happy. However, if we tell the people of Wales that beneficial results will follow if they pursue a certain course, and those results do not materialise, we shall add to the sense of grievance and indignation of a people who are certainly filled with grievances.
What are the real causes of the dissatisfaction of the people of Scotland and Wales with the administration of this country? I make no party point. The build-up of the phenomenal rise in Scottish nationalism, the partial rise in Welsh nationalism and the astonishing rise in the Liberal Party vote had basically the same reasons. These developments were manifested at the two General Elections in 1974 because of growing dissatisfaction and a recognition that the recent history of this country in economic and political terms and in terms of self-confidence was indifferent. There was a loss of national confidence and a growing awareness that other nations had done better than we had.
There is an astonishing coincidence that supports my argument. Between the General Elections of June 1970 and October 1974, there was a threefold rise in the nationalist vote in Scotland and there was almost exactly a trebling of the Liberal vote.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
Would not my hon. Friend agree that one important factor in the rise of Scottish nationalism was the discovery of oil off Scottish shores and the implication that, with oil revenues, Scotland could conceivably become a sovereign and independent State since the essence of such a State is that it should be able to maintain itself out of the product of its own taxation? 748 One of the major differences between Wales and Scotland is that as far as we know, Wales has no oil off its coast and there is no prospect of a Welsh sovereign independent State maintaining itself from the product of its own taxation.
§ Mr. Gow
My hon. Friend is asserting a doctrine to which, in an ideal world, I should like to subscribe, namely, that a prerequisite of sovereignty is the ability to maintain oneself out of taxation. However, that was not the policy followed by Lord Barber when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and it is not followed by the Government. We do not have the courage to raise what is required in taxation and we have to resort to the dishonest way of borrowing large amounts overseas.
The United Kingdom is not the only country that cannot maintain itself out of its own taxation but has to resort to borrowing. I estimate that about 30 per cent, of the member States of the United Nations have no prospect of maintaing themselves out of taxation and have to rely on grants, many of which are misplaced—such as our own to Mozambique.
My hon. Friend said that the rise in nationalism in Scotland was due to the discovery of oil. I do not deny that this was a contributory factor but if the partnership between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which had been accepted without question, had been seen or was thought to be successful, no one would have wanted to dissolve it. One does not dissolve a happy and succesful partnership.
The relative failure of successive Governments, including the Tory Administration between 1970 and 1974, caused a sense of grievance among our people. The amendment is based on a fallacy. The hon. Member for Carmarthen believes that if we give more power to the Welsh Assembly we shall solve the problems and meet the needs of Wales. I disagree fundamentally with that view, and I disagree with the Government who say that the Assembly does not need legislative powers and that if we give it deliberative power—much less than we have given the Scottish Assembly—we shall make the people of Wales happy. We shall not.
The amendment and the clause as it stands perpetrate further deceptions. They will do nothing to bridge the gulf between 749 the Welsh people and the House of Commons and the gap, not only in Wales but elsewhere, between government and the governed.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)
I shall deal with die main argument of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), which is the essential argument in the debate, namely, that legislative powers are needed for the Assembly because they will make all the difference to the future prosperity and economic salvation of Wales, as they would have done if an Assembly with legislative powers had existed in the past.
Politicians tend in general to attribute to themselves greater influence than they really have. The prosperity of a country is more closely related to its geography and the extent of its historical development than to assemblies of any sort. Naturally, the hon Gentleman chose to cite an example that suited him best. He seems to think that small is beautiful. He chose Switzerland as an example. That country is very different from Wales. It is the centre of communications in Europe. It is an area where international communications cross, and have done from the Middle Ages.
The hon. Gentleman could have chosen the Netherlands as his example. That is another example of a small State that has prospered because of its geographical and historical good fortune. However, he did not choose as his example the islands in the Caribbean that have recently obtained their independence. There is no evidence that independence has brought them prosperity, or that it is ever likely to do so.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
I thought that the hon. Gentleman would go further north in Europe in search of small countries. There are the five Scandinavian countries. Each of the five has a standard of living far higher than that of England's. They do not seem to have exceptionally advantageous geographical positions. How does he explain their success?
§ Mr. Atkins
They have great advantages. They have great natural resources in relation to their populations. I do not doubt that long periods of Labour Governments have helped.
750 Sweden, for example, had a great period in early modern times, in the seventeenth century, when the Baltic was full of fish and the Hanseatic League was operating. Norway has considerable advantages apart from North Sea oil. Holland, despite its position at the mouth of the Rhine, despite its great supplies of gas, and despite the smallness of its population and the fact that it is getting nearer to democracy, has not been able to prevent the Dutch disease. That is because of economic circumstances.
The example of the Tennessee Valley Authority was most unfortunate from the hon. Gentleman's point of view. He spoke about it as if suggesting that if there had been a Welsh Assembly in the 1920s and 1930s there would have been, as it were, a Welsh equivalent Tennessee Valley Authority. The fact is that Tennessee did not provide the money for the authority. It was provided by Federal funds. If Tennessee had been a separate country, there would have been no authority. It was because Tennessee was a part of a larger country that the funds were forthcoming. The funds came from President Roosevelt. The scheme was attacked in many parts of the United States as a piece of Socialism. It is argued that that piece of Socialism helped to alleviate the depression, but it had nothing to do with a separate legislative authority.
There is no valley in Wales like the Tennessee Valley. The nearest that we get to it in the United Kingdom is in England, in the Severn Valley. There has been talk of a Severn barrage scheme. The funds would come mostly from England, and so would most of the area of the Severn Valley Authority, if there were such a thing.
§ Sir A. Meyer
I mentioned another scheme that goes right across that which is proposed in the Bill. I refer to a proposal that has been temporarily shelved but which will recur, namely, a barrage in the Dee Estuary linking the common interests of Merseyside and North Wales. It is hard to see how the interests of the Assembly will relate to that.
§ Mr. Atkins
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. It reminds me that the parts of Wales most open to development are those that adjoin England. When we speak about prosperity, 751 the factor that we must consider is that Wales is very much bound up with England. The most developable part of Wales in the South is the most English part of Wales. It is the part where the penetration of populations from England and elsewhere has been the most common. Apart from the Marches, the most likely developable area is in the North. The prosperity of those areas has been bound up with England.
The early developments and the later developments have been bound up with England. I feel that it would be a disaster for Wales if these communications were cut off artificially. However, that is a typical example of the exaggerations that we get from the part of the Bench that the nationalists occupy. It is for that reason that I refer briefly to one other point that the hon. Gentleman raised. I believe that I am right in saying that the hon. Gentleman stated that the Welsh culture is in the top 12. Presumably he was referring to the top 12 in the world. I was astonished. I tried to intervene, but the hon. Gentleman would not allow me to do so. I wanted to ask the hon. Gentleman to identify the other cultures.
If I were to follow his myopic thinking, I should look to Andorra, Brittany, San Marino, Cornwall, Scotland, I suppose, and Ireland, all the small cultures of the world. I do not know whether the cultures of England, Germany, France, Russia, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Arabia, India, China, or even America, would come into the top 12. I do not know the system that the hon. Gentleman uses. It must be difficult to evaluate the various cultures.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) is straying a long way from the Welsh Assembly.
§ Mr. Atkins
Yes, Mr. Murton. I have been influenced by what I have heard during the debate. I have been attempting to reply.
The hon. Gentleman is a rational person when dealing with most subjects, but when he talks about Welsh nationalism he has a large blind spot and he is transformed into an entirely different person. I hope that the public of Wales will not suffer from an equally large blind spot.
§ Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)
It is a great pleasure for the second 752 evening running to be called after the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins). I hope that the Committee will not get too used to the duet of agreement that we seem to carry across the Floor of the Chamber, Scandinavian Socialism apart.
I turn straight to the central point of the debate, which is one of power. The series of amendments before the Committee is clearly intended to increase the powers that are given to the Assembly in Cardiff. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) put his finger very much on the issue when he said—if he did not say it, he implied it—that this is the first shot of a continuing battle of constant strife. That is the principal reason for my right hon. and hon. Friends being so much against the Bill and the amendment. They are the first shots. They are backed by a series of circumstances that it will be possible to exploit if the Assembly becomes a reality.
A remark was made from a sedentary position from the Scottish National Party Bench last night which gave the game away and made it clear that we are involved in a struggle for power. That is what the amendment is so much about. The remark was made from a sedentary position when it was being said that the Assembly would be but a rubber stamp. The remark which floated across these Benches was that at the end of the day the House of Commons would be the rubber stamp. That, at the end of the day, is what the debate and the amendments are about.
The exploitation that can take place when the Assembly is a reality is manifest. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) talked about protest votes and the Government's failure to deal with a sense of grievance which from time to time prevailed in Scotland and in Wales.
Apart from the West Glamorgan question there is an additional point which has not so far crept into our proceedings—namely, that we are vulnerable here to the concept of mid-term elections. Any minority party with a grievance in Wales can exploit such elections, as in local government elections. Nothing is so lamentable about our democratic system as the pathetic—I use that word advisedly 753 and deliberately—sweeping out of experienced councillors, whether Labour or Conservative, merely because a Government of the opposite complexion are in power. If we cannot apply that lesson, which is so clearly before us and has been made clear in Wales throughout the last 10 years, the House of Commons is not as wise as we may hope that it is
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North referred to the first shot being fired. We see again, using the local government analogy, the urgent need of those who are given control over anything to expand the powers that they administer. I suspect that the amendment will fail. We must constantly be on guard if the Assembly becomes a reality. However, I do not believe that it will become a reality.
I turn now to what was said by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans). My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North referred to a smokescreen. I was trying to make sense of the argument put forward by Plaid Cymru. I jotted down the word "confederation". Then I wrote "UN" next to that. That does not quite add up to my understanding of the possibilities for Wales as part of a confederation. The hon. Member for Carmarthen said "We do not want independence, but we want to be interdependent. We would sink our sovereignty in an international body, but we must be free to make our own contribution."
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) rose—
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
As I am unfamiliar with nationalist philosophy, which takes some understanding, perhaps the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) can help.
§ Mr. Anderson
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that this is the constant problem of those who try to pin down the nationalists regarding their policies. If Commonwealth status or membership of the United Nations is to have any meaning, it can come only from sovereign status, which means independence, and that in turn means separation. The nationalists use the term "Commonwealth status" as a euphemism to hide their real aim of total separation.
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that explanation.
754 I sympathise with the problems that he and other hon. Members of both major parties have when it comes to combating Plaid Cymru within the Principality. It is difficult to know what the nationalists want. I suspect—this is the whole game that we are in—that the nation concept is being exploited by an entity which is not a viable State. I put that before the Committee as one of the major reasons why the amendment should be utterly rejected.
Today, for example, there is an exhibition in London sponsored by the Development Corporation for Wales. The aim is to attract investment and jobs into the Principality, not least from the South-East corner of England. If the amendment were to become a reality, apart from the Bill, confidence about the money being invested and where it was going would have to be taken into consideration. There would be no point in holding such an exhibition if the amendment were to become a reality.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ I am pleased that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has returned to the Chamber. The question that he posed in the proceedings on the Scotland Bill has been posed by him on the Wales Bill. In addition, he asks why Wales should be different from Scotland. We would be interested to know why Wales should be treated differently from Scotland. I should like to hazard the answer. I suggest that, were it not for Scottish devolution, the politics behind the beginnings of it and the fact that it has got thus far, there would be no Welsh devolution. In fact, Welsh devolution is following upon the coat tails of Scottish devolution. However, it does not politically become necessary to give so much away. I hazard that answer in reply to the question posed by the hon. Member for West Lothian, but we must wait and hear what the Government have to say about it.
§ Much play has been made of the opinions of the Labour Party in Wales. Far be it from me, as an Opposition Member, to speak for the Labour Party. However, I think that I should draw the Committee's attention to The Times today. I am dealing not with the Welsh Labour Party as an entire entity but with the constituency parties which comprise the Labour Party in Wales. It appears 755 that the majority of those parties has come out not only against devolution but against the Assembly. The Government might well take that on board when they consider their attitude to this matter.
§ Finally, stress has been laid on the Welshness of Wales. As I come from that part of the United Kingdom, I should be the last person to deny that factor. However, it is fair to point out that the English-speaking dimension in Wales is five to one against the Welsh-speaking dimension.
§ My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North, in a polite and gentlemanly way, drew attention to the dangers that exist. I have no great confidence in the way that matters would be conducted if the considerable powers implicit in the amendment were to be given to the Welsh Assembly. The Quebec example has been quoted more than once tonight, but not in any great detail. However, I suggest that it should be taken into consideration, when it is allied with the question of confidence and the need for investment in something which is not a State entity, though a proud nation, we realise the thin ice that we are on with an amendment such as this and the dangers that go with the Bill.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
I should like to reiterate Plaid Cymru's position on these amendments. I start by trying to correct a misapprehension which seems to have floated about the Chamber during the debate, and recently raised by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), as to what we are trying to achieve through these amendments.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) said, we are attempting to give the Welsh Assembly precisely the same law-making powers as the Scottish Assembly will have. But that is not the full programme of Plaid Cymru. This is a gradualist party. We do not believe that constitutional change in Wales should take place overnight. We have seen the emergence of new Welsh institutions such as the Welsh Office. We have seen the expansion of the powers of the Welsh Office. We believe that to create a Welsh Assembly is the next logical step in creating a democratic system of government for Wales.
We believe that substantially more powers should be transferred to Cardiff 756 and that Wales should have an effective parliamentary and governmental system to tackle our basic economic and social problems. That can come only when we have full control over the economy. That does not mean economic separatism or an end to economic interdependence. It means that Wales would be in the same position as similar European countries in the EEC and as the Scandinavian countries within the Nordic union. That is the longer-term constitutional aim of Plaid Cymru. But that is not what we are putting forward tonight. We want to strengthen the Government's proposals and to give Wales the same powers as are proposed for Scotland.
Hon. Members argue that by indicating that position we are misleading the country and putting up a smokescreen. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are putting forward what we consider to be the next reasonable constitutional step. We shall continue to argue on that basis. It does not represent the slippery slope. It is a continuing debate about how far we should go and how much power should be vested in Wales to ensure effective development for Wales.
The argument will not stop here. In last night's debate hon. Members said that if we were to stop this Bill the whole argument would go away. That was said many times last night. But it is not true. Similarly, in tonight's debate, the argument about legislative powers for the Assembly will not go away. Tonight we are trying to decide how we can have an effective Assembly as the next step in the development of Wales. This is a process. It is a step forward but not an end in itself. In a sense, it is setting up a tier of Welsh democracy on top of the existing bureaucracy in Wales. We cannot do this unless we have the transfer of legislative powers as a whole and not merely the transfer of subordinate legislation. This is my major argument.
The Government have picked on the category of subordinate or delegated legislation to be transferred to Cardiff. I am not a constitutional lawyer, but my understanding of the British constitution is that one cannot describe delegated or subordinate legislation as a separate category.
In the United Kingdom we do not have the two or three categories of legislation that exist in federal systems. In 757 highly developed federal systems there is framework legislation which allows subordinate assemblies to fill in the detail which is relevant to their areas or which represents their special interests. Such assemblies can amend legislation to fit in with special needs. We do not have that system. We have primary legislation which is debated and decided by the House of Commons and its Committees. Consequential actions are taken by Ministers. This involves the Secretary of State signing orders. I hope that he reads them first. This action will be within the powers of the Assembly but it is not a separate category of legislation.
I agree with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan). Once the Assembly has these powers devolved to it, it will have to spend a substantial amount of time deciding whether a matter is ultra vires or at least ultra its own vires. That is the situation that we shall have once secondary legislation is devolved.
Room to manoeuvre to make subordinate legislation varies from one Act of Parliament to another. Some Acts are more detailed than others. Some allow for greater ministerial discretion than others. Presumably in its first year of office the Assembly will employ full-time, bilingual clerks to work out precisely where its powers lie and what it can or cannot comment upon.
Some sections of some Acts are to be devolved. Let us take, for example, the Mental Health Act 1959. Certain sections are to be devolved and others are not. If the Assembly is to take a decision about detention policy relating to a patient in a mental hospital, will it have to decide whether it can take action because certain sections of that Act are devolved? It is not logical to devolve secondary legislation functions unless primary legislation is also devolved. We have advanced this argument ever since the Bill was produced. We have not had a justification from the Government showing why they believe primary legislation is not the ideal candidate for devolution. We have not been told why secondary legislation is considered to be the ideal candidate for devolution.
I could understand it if the Government argued that certain categories of legislation were to be devolved initially—that the Assembly should be given 758 devolved powers over housing and education, for instance—and that if the Assembly behaved itself planning legislation would then be devolved. But I cannot understand the Government saying that they will devolve orders and Statutory Instruments but not the major part of the legislative process.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I should be interested to hear what the Government have to say in answer to the reasonable question posed by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas). This is not a trick question but it is of interest and is relevant. What is the hon. Member's view about the behaviour of the 36 Welsh Members when voting on basically English issues? Members of Plaid Cymru have got out of what they see as a basically English issue. What about Welsh Members? How should they behave?
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his support for part of my argument. In the House of Commons we have assumed a convention whereby we do not cast our votes on what we consider to be primarily or wholly English legislation. On the position of Welsh Members of Parliament generally, I would say that while primary legislation for Wales is being made in this House the Welsh Members will take part in the whole primary legislative process. Equally, I would argue that once Welsh primary legislation was devolved to Cardiff, Welsh Members would want to confine themselves to not debating primary legislation for England in devolved areas. That is my answer to the West Lothian, or the West Glamorgan, question.
I return to the question of the categories to be devolved. Here we shall have serious problems when the Assembly takes over, if it is set up, in deciding precisely how it will operate. It would have been more sensible for the Government to devolve to us a totally consultative talking shop which was not able to take decisions or make any legislation than to lead the Assemblymen into the position where they were not certain where the delineation of their power began and ended.
On the financial side, the position is clearer. There will be a block grant and the Assembly will decide its priorities 759 within it. That is logical. The Welsh Assembly will decide the rates support grant for local authorities in Wales. That again is logical. But what I do not see as logical is the division, even within individual Acts of Parliament, of which powers are devolved and which are not.
I mentioned the Mental Health Act because that is one Act in which there are consecutive sections, some of which are devolved and some of which are not. I should be grateful for a reasoned reply from the Government about the specific provisions of the Act. How can the Assembly devise an all-embracing mental health policy if the powers to be devolved are only partial? That Act is a good example of the way in which constraint will be put on the Assembly in its attempt to grapple with policy.
The Assembly cannot hope to have a total oversight of the functions of area health authorities or of its own internal health service bureaucracy in the Welsh Office if only some of the mental health powers are devolved. I chose only that one example, but there are others throughout the legislation which is to be devolved. They occur in planning, education and housing. In those areas of social legislation the Assembly's functions are not clearly defined. Where they are denned the division of powers is unreasonable because the Assembly will have responsibility for some aspects of social policy while being unable to take a broad view.
So in this sense at any rate the Assembly will be in a more ambiguous position than, say, a regional health authority deciding on its field of action. The authority knows that it has no legislative powers and that it is therefore operating within clear legislative and financial limitations. The Welsh Assembly, however, will have an unclear division of power and will have more powers in certain areas than in others because some Acts are more tightly drawn than others.
If the Government were to devolve subordinate legislation to Cardiff and were to change the framework of primary legislation for Wales, telling us that from now on all Welsh Bills would be framework Bills couched in general terms with the Assembly destined to fill in the details, our party might consider that that 760 would be slightly more logical. But I do not see that the delegation of subordinate powers in this blanket way without account being taken of what the Assembly will have to decide can be a tenable position. That is why we are advocating that full law-making powers within the devolved subject areas should be transferred to Wales as they are being transferred to Scotland. That would make the Assembly a clear law-making body with precise functions from the start.
There would be no argument about whether its powers covered Section 29 or 28 of the Mental Health Act. That type of law-making devolution would provide for a far more effective Assembly because the Assembly would know precisely where, within the structure of Government, it could intervene and where it could not. With the present devolution of subordinate legislation the Assembly will be unable to decide where its areas of responsibility will lie.
I want the Under-Secretary to give us a model of how he would expect the Assembly to function, showing how its debates would take place and how its decisions would be made within its Executive under the present scheme for devolution. How would it come to grips with policy issues, and how would it know whether it had the power to make subordinate legislation on various aspects of policy? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is bound to be ambiguity and confusion on the delineation of the Assembly's powers?
§ Mr. Alec Jones
The hon. Member talked about confusion, but surely he is aware that Schedule 2 explicitly spells out those functions which are to be transferred. I accept that it might not go as far as the hon. Gentleman and his party would like, but in all honesty I do not think it can be said that, whatever else remains, there is confusion.
§ Mr. Thomas
I was intending to refer to the enactments later when I hope we shall be able to debate Schedule 2. The Under-Secretary has dealt with it now, so perhaps I shall be permitted to pursue the point. I referred to the Mental Health Act. I do not see how the Assembly could sensibly debate mental health policy in view of the enactment that is devolved under Schedule 2 as it affects 761 mental health services. The responsibility in this sphere is broken up. How, then, can the Assembly take sensible executive decisions when parts of its functions are not devolved to it?
If the Assembly is to work properly, law-making must be devolved in total and we must get rid of this ambiguity about the Assembly's powers. The devolution of secondary legislation is only a political sop to us in place of full law-making powers. It was felt that we should have some kind of law-making powers. Someone in the Privy Council Office said "Let us pretend that secondary legislation is a separate category, and let us devolve it." We believe, in addition, that the crucial problems of Wales, particularly our economic and social problems, require that we have full law-making powers now.
I do not want to go over the interventionist debates that we had earlier with the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). The hon. Member seems to take what I would consider to be a rather unorthodox Socialist view, namely, that planning an economy and laying down social objectives and achieving equality in society have nothing to do with legislation or government. He always castigates the Plaid Cymru Bench because we take the view that having a Government in Wales would result in legislating more effectively for Wales, and ensuring that one could have greater equality and, where necessary, more effective intervention within the Welsh economy to bring about that kind of equality.
The hon. Member always seems to argue that the location of government does not affect the quality of decisions. It is an argument that it is advanced outside the House of Commons. Professor Nevin, in a programme on Granada Television last night, said that he was not concerned about where government was but was concerned about better government. The Plaid Cymru argument has always been that the location of government and size of government are determining factors in the quality of decisions.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
When one is talking about effective government, one must ask whether it would be more effective if one wrote a letter to one's Assemblyman in Cardiff and it took three weeks to get 762 a reply or if one wrote to the Government in London and got a reply within a week. The fact that the seat of government is in close proximity to individuals does not make it more effective government. The point of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) in discussing this matter with Plaid Cymru Members is that they tend to see the solution to problems lying in a narrow, geographical area, whereas my hon. Friend is saying that we need to change the economic system to solve the problems. That is the difference between the views of the hon. Member and my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Thomas
Let me take first the point about the letters. We should all like to see the day when all Government Departments were able to answer letters within a week, and the day when Members of Parliament were able to answer constituents' letters within a week. But that is not the point. If one has a bureacratic system that functions by the high-speed train or high-speed car between London and Cardiff, as we have now with the Welsh Office, decisions are taken within that system and those decisions have their answerability democratically in the House of Commons. That is the way in which the system operates now. We are arguing for a transfer of more functions to Cardiff to enable not only the execution of policy to be undertaken in Cardiff but also the policy making to be done there.
If one has the executants of policy also formulating that policy, one will have a more effective policy-making function localised in one area. The fact that that will be localised in Cardiff will mean that it is in greater touch with and closer to the problems of Wales.
To take the hon. Member's other point, what we have always maintained is that there will not be a change in the economic system in Britain or in Wales, and there will not be a transfer of power and wealth to working people and their families, until, as an integral part of that process, there is a breakdown of the centralised structures of the capitalist State.
That is the basic position of nationalists throughout the non-State nations of Western Europe and North America. It is also the position of nationalists throughout the Third world who have 763 been fighting capitalist imperialism. In the context of Western Europe, our belief is that we shall not have fundamental change in the economic structures of Western Europe unless it is accompanied by popular democracy based on the nations as a unit. That is the great transformation that is happening in Spain now. I hesitate to go further on that matter, because I should be ruled out of order.
The point that I was making before the hon. Member intervened was that we believe that law-making is an integral part of the whole process of government in Wales. It is part of the process of controlling the economy, of controlling development and of ensuring that the standard of our housing and of our education provision improve. We cannot have devolved to Wales powers of execution of executive action when we do not have the powers of formulating the policy that we really need.
This is particularly so in the economic field. We now have the Welsh Development Agency. We take the view that if that agency were not a nominated body, with all the problems that we have had in our debates in this Chamber about persuading the agency actually to use the powers given to it by law from Parliament to set up wholly-owned subsidiaries, but were an arm of a Ministry of Economic Development Cardiff, with the Minister answerable on a day-to-day basis to an Assembly with economic and law-making powers, that Assembly would, a long time ago, have ensured the use of the powers to set up wholly-owned subsidiaries.
However, what happens? In this Chamber I complain and complain about an advance factory in my constituency which has been empty for five years. I ask the Under-Secretary whether he will talk to the WDA about the possibility of using the powers in regard to wholly-owned subsidiaries. That is how we go on, trying to pressurise indirectly. However, if the WDA came under the Ministry of Economic Development in Cardiff, an Assemblyman would be able through a majority within the Assembly, directly to force and compel change in policy by the WDA.
764 That is what our kind of devolution means. It means having an effective democracy in Cardiff, both economically and socially. That is what our amendments would provide.
We take the view that effective government within Wales needs a transfer of the whole machinery of government within the developed area. One cannot do it by transferring only the wheels or only the suspension. One must have the steering wheel as well. One must have the whole policy making function and subordinate legislation, primary legislation and economic planning powers. All of this must be transferred if the Assembly is to start working properly and if it is to start to come to grips with the problems of Wales. Transferring only the subordinate functions is to pretend to give power to an Assembly but to keep the reality of power here. It is a recipe for conflict, as Opposition Members have so often said. It is a recipe perhaps for creative conflict or for destructive conflict. We shall see.
There can never be a satisfactory transfer of power to Cardiff on this limited basis. We shall have to come back to the House of Commons in five or seven years, or whenever, to pass a further Wales Bill that will devolve primary legislation to the Assembly in Cardiff.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
Can the hon. Gentleman account for the fact that there has been little demand over the last 20 years for legislation directly related to Wales? I can think of only about five or possibly six Acts relating specifically to Wales which have been passed in the last 20 years.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am grateful for that intervention. The answer is that it is presumably because the House of Commons is able to find so little time for Welsh legislation.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Benyon
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. May I remind you, with the greatest respect, of the parable of the labourers in the vineyard? The hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Chamber.
§ Mr. Anderson
I remind the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) that all the labourers were paid the same amount, whatever time they arrived.
§ Mr. Benyon
And I remind the hon. Gentleman that the ones who were there first were very angry at the end.
§ Mr. Anderson
But that did not assist them.
In his well-reasoned speech, which will repay closer attention, the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) illustrated well the nationalist fallacy that by setting up institutions one necessarily in some way affects economic structures. If the amendment were accepted and legislative powers were devolved to an Assembly in Cardiff, it would not per se build an extra house in any part of Wales. It would in no way attract an advance factory to any one of our peripheral areas. The notion is a nationalist fallacy.
The hon. Gentleman talks of the nation. The nation in his concept does not exist in Wales, because there is not the sort of popular attachment which is a necessary part of the concept of nationhood. Wales is not an economic unit, or cannot be for the great range of problems within Wales. Far more constructive than the hon. Gentleman's demands for an economic plan for Wales, for example, is the Secretary of State's proposal to try to knit together the several structure plans of the major industrial counties in South Wales and look at problems there by having the same inspector dealing with the inquiries into the structure plans rather than artificially trying to take an all-Wales outlook which bears no relation to the actual economic picture within the Principality.
The hon. Gentleman said that there was nothing logical about the Bill. One accepts that that is so. Logicality has never been the hallmark of this Bill or the Scotland Bill, perhaps necessarily so because we are dealing with a problem without precedent—the attempt to devolve within a unitary system without having a federal concept. There must necessarily be something illogical about that.
But, by criticising the lack of logic within the Bill, the hon. Gentleman also exposed a lack of logic in his proposals, certainly with regard to the powers of 766 Members representing Welsh constituencies who remained in this House of Commons. He conceded that their proper role after legislative devolution would involve an "in and out" situation. There would be enormous problems of definition as to which Bills were sufficiently Welsh for Welsh Members to take part in the relevant debates and which were by and large English and from which debates they should properly absent themselves.
The hon. Gentleman said that he believed in a gradualist approach and a continuing debate. He quite properly said that the subject would not go away and that if the Bill were killed we should not be wholly back to square one, with everyone in Wales being contented. There is a Welsh question, there is a Welsh dimension, and, if nothing else, our debates on the subject over the coming days will serve as a platform for a useful clarification of some of the problems affecting Wales as a whole.
But if the hon. Gentleman is, as he claimed, a gradualist, he must surely concede that, rather than having a gradualist approach, the Bill is based on a substantial step forward, a wholly qualitative change. Up to now the process from the establishment of a Minister responsible for Welsh affairs to the establishment of the Welsh Office and to regular extra delegation of powers to the Welsh Office has been the gradualist process. One can accept further moves along that road, the end of which one does not know as it depends on how far and how fast the people of Wales want to go.
We can discuss that matter, but it is wrong to suggest that the Bill is based on a gradualist approach. It is based on a wish to have a giant step forward when many of us would be content with moving further along the gradualist road along which we have been moving thus far by, for example, haying the Welsh Grand Committee meeting in Cardiff, having certain extra powers devolved to that Committee and having a super-tier of local government in Wales. That is the gradualist approach, rather than the substantial change that is now suggested.
I should like to make one brief comment on the first two days of the Committee debate on the Bill. It has started in a fairly ludicrous fashion. In popular parlance, one might call it an "Irish" 767 Bill rather than a Welsh Bill in that yesterday we had the unprecedented step of the Government withdrawing a clause which they wanted to see enacted—Clause 1, relating to the unity of the United Kingdom. Today we have the equally ludicrous fact that we are debating a Plaid Cymru amendment in which Plaid Cymru Members have no faith and which they do not really support, because what they want is not legislative devolution but separation, Commonwealth status, or whatever is the jargon they are prepared to use at any time. The situation is unreal. They are asking the Committee to accept an amendment which fundamentally they do not support, and that is as inconsistent as the Government's position during yesterday's debate.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
I am loth to intervene again. I thought that I had made the position clear at the beginning of my speech. I tried to explain that what we proposed tonight was what we thought to be a strengthening of the Assembly which would make it effective if and when it was set up within a year's time.
We are not putting forward full national status, because we do not believe that that policy would be acceptable to the Welsh people as of now. We, of course, continue to believe in it and will argue for it in debate and work for its achievement, but we are logical in our gradualism in that we are putting forward a package that will strengthen the Assembly.
§ Mr. Anderson
That is at least a useful concession by the hon. Gentleman, that the Welsh people would not want separation as of now. He accepts, therefore, that his party's amendments are but a staging post, a tent to be folded up on the way to its eventual aim of total separation. That, too, will be of interest to our people in Wales.
This I will say of the Government's position with regard to Wales and Scotland under devolution. The Government's premise is that there is a Welsh and a Scottish dimension. They say that in these Bills they have made an attempt to come to terms with the existing circumstances in both those countries and that there are clear differences between Wales and Scotland. I do not accept the Government's premise because I do not be- 768 live that the demand exists or that such demand as does exist need be met with a Bill of such far-reaching scope as this. But if we accept the Government's premise there are clear differences between the situations in Wales and Scotland which merit different treatments.
There is no need to categorise them. They are very well known. First, there is a separate legal system in Scotland. We do not have a separate legal system in Wales. That in itself is a cogent factor in favour of a difference of treatment. Secondly, there is the degree of devolution which already exists in Scotland and which does not exist in Wales. There are the powers which already exist within the Scottish Office. There is also the fact that Scottish Members representing Scottish constituencies have a role which we in Wales do not have. Indeed, it might be a useful advance for us if we were to go along that road. Finally, there is the degree of support which exists for some form of constitutional change in Scotland as opposed to that in Wales.
Each of these factors leads one to conclude that it is proper to treat Wales differently from Scotland at the present time. As has been said, we are dealing with a continuous debate, and he would be a foolish politician who did not seek to keep in tune with the movements within the areas which he represents. Given these major differences, the Government have quite properly concluded that they lead to a difference in treatment and that on that basis it would be quite wrong at the present time to equate the position in Wales with that in Scotland or to tackle it in the same way. In my view, therefore, it would be quite wrong to accept the amendment.
§ Sir A. Meyer
I am rather sorry, Mr. Godman Irvine, that you should have called me at this moment, because this is about the only time during the debate when the Conservative Party in Wales has not had at least 50 per cent, of its Members present. There was a good deal of discussion earlier as to which was the Welsh party. I am bound to say that the attendance record of the Welsh Conservative Party during the debate has been as good as any. With the exception of Plaid Cymru, which for a time was represented by only one Member, I think that we show up very well.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
Is my hon. Friend aware that the two Conservative Members who are missing from the Chamber at present are checking up on the speaking records during the debate?
§ Sir A. Meyer
That brings me to my next point. The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who has just finished his interesting speech, was, like all the opponents of the measure, brief, succinct and effective. Lest it should be said at the conclusion of the debate that it has overrun its time because of the obstruction of opponents of the measure, I point out that virtually every speech by an opponent of the measure has been extremely brief, whereas the only three hon. Members who could be mustered to speak in favour of it have spoken for, respectively, 30, 32 and 33 minutes.
I wonder what has happened to the enthusiasm of the Labour Party for the measure. We have had a speech from the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), who is always a pleasure to listen to, but is, as I am sure he will admit, something of a free-shooter in this issue, as in a great many other issues. Where are the other ardent Labour supporters of the measure? There were three Labour Members yesterday who took an active part in the debate—the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Davies), the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes)—but none of them has been very conspicuous today. As for the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) and the hon. and learned Member for Abertillery (Mr. Thomas), we seek in vain their familiarly agreeable countenances.
§ Mr. Alec Jones
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that we are not at the moment discussing the whole content of the measure? We are expressing our views about Amendment No. 43, and every hon. Member, apart from three speakers, has been opposed to it. Those who are taking so much time in speaking to the amendment will only have themselves to blame if they complain later that there is less time than they would like in which to deal with more important amendments.
§ Sir A. Meyer
Yesterday I deliberately withdrew from the main debate in order to help to abbreviate it, after having care- 770 fully prepared my speech and sat here for four hours.
Let me try to deal briefly and succinctly with the amendment, as other speakers from the Conservative Benches have done. I am very glad that the Plaid Cymru Members have tabled the amendment. If there is a Division, I shall not vote against it. If I could be absolutely sure that my action would not be misrepresented, I might be very tempted to vote for the amendment. Nobody in this Chamber believes for one minute that there will ever be an elected Assembly in Wales, but if we are to have one I do not see that it makes any sense without legislative powers.
My fundamental view is that the whole concept of devolution as expressed in this Bill or in the Scotland Bill is wrong. I believe that it is still possible to restore meaningful unity to the United Kingdom, but if that is to be done two things are necessary. First, the authority of the democratically elected Government of this country, the authority of this democratically elected Parliament, must be strengthened, particularly in relation to the powerful feudal barons that have grown up—the trade unions, the multinational corporations, and so on. The second requirement is that there should be vastly more decentralisation of decision-making to existing local authorities.
Provided that those two courses are followed resolutely, I am pretty sure that it is not too late to restore a real United Kingdom. I say I am pretty sure, but it might even now be too late. The trouble is that the whole course of the public debate on devolution has destroyed the credibility of government, not necessarily only of this Government but of government in general.
The present Government's proposals for devolution have been a manifest yielding to nationalist militancy, a culpable attempt to avert well-merited electoral disaster, especially in Scotland, and obviously not a thought-out attempt to improve the government of Scotland and Wales, and the acceptability of that government to the people of Scotland and Wales. In short, so clearly has it been done not from strength but from weakness that the chances of restoring the authority of government are not, I fear, good.
Furthermore, by offering showy and fundamentally meaningless solutions such 771 as the amoebic Assembly set out in the Bill, the Government has depreciated in advance the more sober, more efficacious remedies such as those referred to by the hon. Member for Swansea, East. By that I mean proper democratic control of executive action in Wales, through elected representatives at Westminster working through a Select Committee based on the Welsh Grand Committee, to which the Secretary of State for Wales, whose powers should be extended, would be directly and closely answerable.
It will not now be easy to return to the right road of strengthening the central Government and at the same time decentralising decision-taking. However, I believe that that attempt must still be made because this is still the approach desired by the majority of people in Wales, probably also by the majority of people in Scotland, certainly in the United Kingdom as a whole, and, to my certain and personal knowledge, by the near-unanimity of my constituents. It is because of that that I shall not feel able tonight to vote in favour of the amendment.
Having said that, I go on to express my own purely personal view of the amendment. I take some comfort from the fact that in doing so I am not as far removed as I thought I would be from the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan). First, I do not believe that devolution, properly so called, is right, necessary or practical. However, if there has to be devolution it must be real, meaningful devolution in which both real power and—I stress this—responsibility are transferred to an elected Assembly, and that responsibility must include responsibility not only for spending money and being answerable for how that money is spent but for raising that money.
I do not for a moment pretend that a Wales to which government has been devolved would be financially autonomous. It would clearly continue to depend on an Exchequer subsidy, but if the solution is to be a permanent one a large share of financial responsibility for the elected authority in Wales must be built into it.
That being so, I believe there is much to be said for the Plaid Cymru amendment, since it makes it quite clear that 772 there is to be a transfer both of power and of responsibility. Despite my opposition in principle to devolution, I might be tempted to vote for the amendment if I could persuade myself—it is a big "if"—that the people of Wales would accept laws enacted by the proposed Assembly.
The trouble with that, as with devolution in general, is that the people of Wales are deeply divided on this issue, so deeply divided in my view that their divisions will not dissolve in time because they are based not only on opinions—which can be changed by propaganda, as I think we shall see during a referendum campaign, if there is to be one—but also on their interests. Interests are very much more permanent. No legislation by an elected Welsh Assembly, however well balanced and carefully defined, can surmount or reconcile the interests of North Wales, which are inextricably intertwined with Merseyside, and the discordant interests of South Wales.
Because of this confrontation of interest, and because of the deep abiding divisions of attitude over devolution itself, I do not believe that Acts of the Assembly—to choose the phrase used by Plaid Cymru—will command the basic minimum of public acceptance which is necessary to maintain the rule of law. My fear—I emphasise that it is my fear—is that ordinary, decent, law-abiding people in Wales will regard Acts of the Assembly as being debatable and as not requiring the same degree of compliance as "proper" laws.
Let me make it quite plain that, if the impossible were to happen and we were to get a legislative Assembly in Wales, as the Plaid Cymru amendment calls for, I myself would feel obliged to urge my constituents to regard Acts of the Assembly as being in every way as binding as ordinary Acts of Parliament. It is not impossible that in the end we might win through to a state of affairs in which the directly elected Assembly in Wales would eventually secure the acceptance of the people of Wales for its legislation.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If that situation arose, how many Welsh Members of Parliament does the hon. Gentleman think ought to be in the House of Commons?
§ Sir A. Meyer
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop the argument that I am making, I shall return to what 773 he has said, but I am nearly at the end of my speech.
It is not impossible that we might ultimately get to a situation in which the people of Wales would accept Acts of such an Assembly. I believe, however, that that would be a process longer, more quarrelsome, more divisive and more disorderly than the other equally difficult scenario that I foresaw at the beginning of my speech—the scenario of reverting to a proper United Kingdom by restoring the authority of the central Government.
It may be that one day we shall get such an Assembly. But to bring such a situation about will, I believe, require upsets which will not be acceptable to the people of Wales. That is why I cannot vote for the Plaid Cymru amendment, even though in my view its solution is in some ways less harmful than what is proposed in the Bill itself. At least, it is an acceptable stopping place in order to get that kind of Assembly.
There is some reason to suppose that it may be possible to hold the line. I do not believe that it will be possible to hold the line, even for a matter of weeks, at the point suggested in the Bill.
This whole mish-mash of an Assembly, with its power-sharing committees and all the rest, seems to be deeply corrosive of the fabric of the United Kingdom. I believe that it will rot that fabric as steadily, inexorably and horribly as a quagmire will rot the body of anyone unlucky enough to fall into it or to be pushed into it by this mean and reckless Government.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Benyon
My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) made a most interesting speech. Indeed, the whole debate has been interesting and informative. It has shown how necessary it was to spend so long yesterday discussing Clause 1. The trend running right through the day's debate has been the unity of the United Kingdom and how it could be threatened by the Bill.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised one aspect about abortion, and I interrupted his speech. But there is another aspect which is even more fundamental, and it is contained in the brief which we have been sent by 774 the National Farmers' Union about the various measures which will be devolved for secondary legislation to the Assembly and which could affect the operation of agriculture on both sides of Offa's Dyke. I shall not weary the Committee by reading the list of measures. It is a considerable list, however, and they are very important measures.
One of the most fascinating remarks in the debate was made by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), who said that what was needed in this life was political clout. Then I looked along the Treasury Bench, and it occurred to me that the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council represented Welsh constituencies, the Lord Chancellor in the other place was Welsh, the Home Secretary was Welsh, and I presume that at some point in his ancestry the Foreign Secretary's forebears were Welsh. It occurred to me as well that any party which could muster that sort of clout in the Imperial Parliament should not be worrying too much about the future of the Principality.
May I now touch briefly on what I like to call "the English dimension"?
§ Mr. Alec Jones
There may be a glut of talent on the Treasury Bench representing the Principality, but it is a little short on the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Benyon
I am afraid that I missed that little gem.
I turn, then, to the English dimension, which is what really concerns me. I bear a Welsh name. My ancestors were cattle thieves on the Welsh border and preyed upon the predecessors of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Leo-minster (Mr. Temple-Morris). They liked so much what they saw over the border that they never went back to Wales. But that is by the way.
I sit for the fastest-growing constituency in the United Kingdom. Today, I have more than 100,000 constituents. My constituency in the Home Counties is only two hours by train or road to the border, and there is Wales.
As I say, I represent 100,000 constituents. The total number of constituents in Wales is about 2 million.
§ Mr. Benyon
If I am wrong, perhaps the Secretary of State will give me the 775 correct figure. Anyway, let us settle for 2 million. Those 2 million electors at present send 36 hon. Members to the House of Commons. If this Bill becomes law, it will not be very long before my constituents begin to ask why they are so under-represented in the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and why their Member of Parliament is such a splendid chap who can deal with 100,000 constituents whereas hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies on average can deal with only 55,000.
The second question that my constituents will ask is the West Glamorgan question. They will ask why Members from Wales are sitting in this place deciding legislation when English Members cannot decide any legislation in Wales or Scotland. It is the same problem as that of Scotland all over again. Much more important and divisive is the block grant to the Principality. My constituents will ask questions about the amount of money given per head to the Welsh electorate compared with that given per head to the English electorate.
The third question is the situation which was raised originally by the hon. Member for West Lothian. What happens where there is a United Kingdom majority of one party and an English majority of another party? These questions will not go away. My constituents will not be prepared to wear this very much longer if the Bill becomes law.
We in England have been taken for granted. We are too nice, too tolerant and too united. We have not made any running on either this Bill or the Scotland Bill up to now. But the worm will turn when the full implications of what we are doing now become evident to my constituents.
§ Mr. Benyon
The English worm. The English dimension will not go away. It will have to be taken into account. That is why we object to the Bill in total and to the amendments in particular.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
I have listened with interest to the debate in the past five hours. Of the right hon. and hon. Members representing the two major parties who have spoken, not one has 776 said a word in favour of parity between Wales and Scotland and of giving legislative powers to the people of Wales. I am surprised at the Labour Members, particularly the hon. Member for Wrex-ham (Mr. Ellis). He agreed with the basic idea of the amendments tabled by the Welsh nationalists, but he said that he would not vote for them.
I shall vote for the amendments tonight because I honestly believe, as a staunch devolutionist, that the Welsh people deserve the same treatment as the Scottish people. We are not second-class citizens in Wales. We are Welsh and proud of it. If the Scots deserve a legislative Assembly, so do the Welsh.
The same question is being asked all over Wales: "When shall be get a legislative Assembly in Cardiff?" I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us tonight why we cannot have a legislative Assembly in Cardiff. Many hon. Members have called for clarification of the position on the legislative commitment of the Government and when this will be made known to the people of Wales—and even to those in England.
Once we have our own Assembly—and I believe that we shall have it once the referendum is held—we shall need to make sure that devolution will work. Therefore, we must have parity between the nations in the United Kingdom. In a few years people in Wales, and in Britain as whole, will come to accept Liberal Party policy, and I believe that then we shall have a federal Britain.
§ Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South)
There are several reasons that have been touched on tonight why an English Member or a member of the Committee who does not represent a Welsh seat should have a deep interest in the debate. One of them that I had not thought of was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), that of envy—the fact that presumably when one represents a Welsh seat the Boundary Commission does not chop it in half.
Another fundamental reason is the principle of devolution, which raises the question of the integrity of the United Kingdom. The speech of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) confirmed one's worst prejudices on that point. Despite his intervention in the 777 speech of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), he nevertheless, despite his rejection of the point, said that no devolution was better than half independence. Certainly he did not spell out, perhaps rightly, whether interdependence included in its definition the continued idea of subsidy from other parts of the kingdom.
The third reason why we who are not Welsh Members have an interest was stated clearly by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), when he produced not the West Glamorgan question but the West Lothian Mark II question, namely, whether on matters such as abortion within the boundaries of our total country we are to have two sets of rules about these very deep personal and social matters.
I want to touch on the direct impact which the Bill and these amendments in particular will have on certain parts of the United Kingdom other than Wales. I am particularly concerned, in the part of the country that I represent, with the question of water. We shall, I hope, discuss in later amendments some of these water questions in greater detail. However, the new schedule produced tonight by the Welsh nationalists in Amendment No. 108 in Part II—"The group of matters within the legislative competence of the Assembly"—lists in Group 16:Supply of water and safety of reservoirs.If one accepts their premise on the need for devolution, which I do not, that would be fair enough.
But paragraph 2 of the schedule says:Subject to paragraph 7 of this Schedule, a provision is not within the legislative competence of the Assembly if it extends to any part of the United Kingdom other than Wales.That is all right, but paragraph 7 reads:Paragraphs 1 and 2 above do not prevent any provisions from being within the legislative competence of the Assembly if those provisions—That completely nullifies the provisions that the Welsh nationalists put in the beginning of the Schedule about the effect of measures: taken by a Welsh Assembly on other parts of the United Kingdom.
- (a) are necessary or expedient for making other provisions effective or for the enforcement of other provisions; or
- (b) are otherwise incidental to or consequential on other provisions."
778 An illustration of this problem is that the Severn-Trent Water Authority, which happens to be the largest water authority in the United Kingdom, draws, directly and indirectly, almost 50 per cent, of its water from reservoirs within Wales, particularly from the reservoir at Elan. The matter is further aggravated if one considers, for instance, the city of Birmingham or the West Midlands region. A total of 90 per cent, of water for the West Midlands is drawn from Wales, either from the Severn or directly from reservoirs in Wales.
The question of the rights of the Welsh Assembly to control the supply of water to areas outside Wales is, in my part of the world, no academic matter. It strikes at the industrial heartland of the United Kingdom, causing great concern to all those directly responsible for the provision of water in the area. The Bill is bad enough. It will cause immense uncertainty unless this question of who will control the price and supply of water in the Midlands is resolved. We must know what will be the precise circumstances in which a future Minister—
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
Would not the hon. Member agree that once we have our Welsh Assembly the Severn-Trent authority should withdraw from Wales and hand over the rights of Welsh water to the Welsh water authority?
§ Mr. Spicer
The thrust of my argument is in exactly the opposite direction, for reasons to which I shall come. There is great uncertainty as to the circumstances in which a Minister may intervene to resolve cross-border disputes. The administrative machinery by which a Minister may resolve disputes and enforce any resulting judgments is unclear.
Unless I have misread the proposed new schedule there is no question but that it is the intention to control the provision of water to the West Midlands through the Welsh Assembly. A total of 90 per cent. of the population in this area depends upon water from Wales. Yet these people will have virtually no say in the pricing and distribution of that water. Although the Welsh Assembly will have three members on the Severn-Trent authority, there will be only one member from Hereford and Worcester and one from Chester. That is just two people 779 representing this vast population which depends upon water over which they will have no control. This is especially the case if the proposed amendments are carried. This is a matter of immense seriousness.
If control of the water is placed in the hands of the Welsh authority it will have been given virtually sovereign powers. This is a proposition which is completely intolerable to the people, living, working and manufacturing in the West Midlands.
A major objection to the Bill is that it has enabled the Welsh nationalists to "up the ante" precisely in the way indicated in the schedule. It has given to their views a new respectability, so that we have spent all afternoon debating matters which a year or so ago would have been considered to be beyond the pale. The Secretary of State nods his head. It is the existence of this Bill which has given the cloak of respectability to such points of view.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
The hon. Gentleman says that it is only about a year since these ideas were given credibility and respectability. Is he not aware that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom came to Cardiff in 1895 to declare himself in favour of a Parliament for Wales and that within three months of that visit the House of Commons also declared itself, in principle, in favour of a Parliament for Wales? It is no new thing; it has been going on for generations.
§ Mr. Spicer
Above all, the Bill has created its own cumulative momentum and the result is that without much further help from the Welsh nationalists they will achieve virtually all their objectives on the specific issues that I have mentioned. The impact of the amendment on the water supply of the West Midlands is almost made by the Bill itself. For Birmingham, the West Midlands and the authorities that draw water from the Severn, the Bill already gives powers to the Assembly to control a commodity that those of us who believe in the United Kingdom regard as a national resource. The amendments merely rub salt in the wound and must be rejected.
§ Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)
Like the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), I am making my maiden contribution not only to the Committee but to Welsh affairs. Yesterday was not only St. David's Day but the anniversary of my arrival in the House. That is necessarily more important to me than to others.
I sat through yesterday's debate and, with my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) desisted from contributing in order to enable my hon. Friend to put forward his amendment on proportional representation. As one who joined him in the Lobby subsequently, I am delighted to see that the 107 votes that we got on PR in the Scotland Bill have increased to 114.
I cannot help joining my hon. Friends who have commented on the absence of hon. Members opposite. Winston Churchill, in his book on the life of his ancestor John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, comments on the deliberate way in which the Duke and the Prince Eugen arranged for their ally the Margrave of Baden to be absent from the field of Blenheim. I shall not get the quotation precisely right, but, in essence, Winston Churchill said that the surest testimony of the Margrave's military ability was that the two greatest captains of his age thought his absence from a crucial field was well worth 15,000 men.
To adapt Churchill's phrase, the surest testimony of the high constitutional importance that the Labour Party attaches to the Bill is the emptiness of the deserted Government Benches.
§ Mr. Brooke
Throughout the first two days of the Committee stage and everything surrounding the Bill, the drum rolls of retreat have sounded. The Government retreated from last year's Bill and retreated over the referendum. The Secretary of State made a series of accommodating remarks on Second Reading in the hope of assuaging misgivings about the Bill and yesterday the Government gave up Clause 1 completely.
Today the Government are fighting a rearguard action against the guerrilla warfare of the Welsh nationalist Members 781 who say that the Bill does not meet the true needs of Wales. Caught between the upper and the nether millstones, the Bill is being ground into very thin gruel, indeed.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) commented on what a difference an Assembly would make to the economy of Wales and cited the Tennessee Valley Authority. Yesterday my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) traced the evolution of devolution in Wales through the Maxwell Fyfe era, through the Ministry of Housing and Local Government era, up to the appointment of a Secretary of State.
There is one aspect of that evolution on which my right hon. and learned Friend did not touch. The first Minister of Housing and Local Government to be also Minister for Welsh Affairs was my father—I suppose that I should say, my noble father, in another place. No particular significance attaches to that fact as it was an organisational decision by the then Prime Minister. What was of some significance was my father's subsequent recommendation, based on working experience in Wales as the Minister for Welsh Affairs, that the Government should appoint a Minister of State for Welsh Affairs and should base him in Cardiff. The Government appointed the late Lord Brecon, who made so great a contribution to the health, wealth and vigour of Wales.
It is a matter of economic history, for all the observations of the Welsh nationalists today, that more industry and more jobs were attracted to Wales in the years that immediately followed that decision than have been attracted either before or since. It is an interesting footnote to these debates that that devolutionary decision that proved so worth while and practical a step was taken by an English Minister sitting in a United Kingdom Cabinet, even if he had the considerable advantage of having in my mother a Welsh wife.
I have a particular and coincidental personal reason for remembering the economic upsurge of those years because long before a steel works was established in Llanwern my grandparents lived there. One of the best views of the works is from the churchyard on the hill above the works where my grandparents lie 782 buried. I mention at some length the episode of placing the Minister of State in Cardiff because it was a solid step in the development of Welsh devolution. It worked well and to the good of Wales.
The incoming Labour Government considered that we had not gone far enough but that it was a step in the right direction. They appointed a Secretary of State. Now they say that in that step they did not go far enough. Therefore, we are trudging through the legislative valleys of the Bill in Committee as a consequence.
I suppose that the present Government can plead that our resistance to the appointment of the original Secretary of State for Wales deprives us of the right to argue that we have a clearer opinion and clearer vision of where Welsh opinion stands than they have themselves. What I will accord to the Government, as the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said, is that their Bill, thin though its gruel is, is in the gradualist tradition that has served Wales so well in the past.
By contradistinction, the move to a full legislative Assembly as proposed in the Amendment would be much more of a seismic landslip. The unity of the United Kingdom is endangered by the Bill. There is widespread agreement in the Committee on that. However, it is but a wit less endangered by the Bill as it stands than it would be by the amendments tabled by the Welsh nationalists.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
Perhaps in three senses with these amendments we have come to the crucial issues. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) and the argument in which he engaged for so long with the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) revealed clearly the real objectives of those whose political activities have given birth to the Bill. Words about confederal partnership, nationhood and national freedom will be understood by most Welshmen in the terms that they more usually use as separation. That is the plain English of what is being talked about in these debates.
The amendments aim us towards separatism. They are what the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) described as a staging post on the way to separatism. That is the same sort of relationship as that of countries 783 such as France, Germany and Holland within the EEC. That was being advocated from the nationalist Bench. That is what most people in this country regard as independence. He would be a strange Frenchman who did not regard himself as independent. If that is what the nationalists are aiming at, I suggest that they are toying with language when they try to cover it up with these complex phrases.
In a second sense, we came to a crucial issue when the hon. Member for Bed-wellty pointed out that advocates of legislative power never say what they would do with it without the means of taxation and that it is not in the interests of the Welsh people to have powers which they cannot afford to sustain and which in simple terms they cannot pay for.
In a third sense, we come to a crucial issue. We come, at any rate, to the point in the Bill where we can remove a central fallacy which has been allowed to take hold among some that this Bill is in a sense less disruptive, less dangerous and less riddled with inconsistencies than the Scotland Bill. It is apparently believed by a few that, while legislative devolution endangers the unity of the State, we can hand over the responsibility for administration and for secondary legislation without hazard. I believe that that is an absurd proposition.
There is an awful logic and inevitability about the amendments, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) observed earlier—logical because the distinction made between the two parts of the government process is entirely fallacious, and inevitable because any Assembly would at some stage be bound to demand what the amendment would give it.
The absurity of seeking to divide the legislative process and to separate it from administration was enunciated, though I do not think that the consequences were fully followed through, by the Kilbrandon Commission in paragraph 828 of its report. I drew attention to it in our proceedings on the Scotland and Wales Bill, but it was expressed in its clearest form, as other similar principles have been before, by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) when he said: 784not only is it impossible to devolve legislative power to an elected Assembly in one part of the kingdom but not in others, without dissolving the unitary parliamentary State, but it is not possible to devolve a much more extensive responsibility for administration in one part of the kingdom unless one can do so in the other parts. The same anomalies, the same contradictions and the same differences of function arise for the Members of this House if we attempt to do that.A little later the right hon. Gentleman said:But if to an elected Assembly in one part of the kingdom we devolve the administration of a much wider area of policy, of a much more extensive range of subjects, than in other parts of the country, we shall find that we are caught on the West Lothian paradox, because in the last resort the legislative power, the power to fix in the form of law what is to be the overriding policy, cannot be divorced from the responsibility and oversight of the administration."—[Official Report, 29th November 1977; Vol. 940, c. 331.]Earlier the right hon. Gentleman had pointed out how legislation grows out of administrative experience—a point which has been made several times in the debate today.
Separating the function of primary and secondary legislation is clearly a profound absurdity. We have to consider only how some of the most important and controversial issues in housing, education and social services arise out of secondary legislation or to observe how impossible it would be to pass controversial legislation into effect on, for example, housing finance to realise the absurdity of what is proposed in the Bill as it stands without the amendments. Primary and secondary legislation are parts of the same process. The second stage enables the Government to elaborate on and fill in the details of the original statute and to modify it in the light of experience as time passes.
Last night I spoke of the folly and risks involved in the attempt to break up those parts. I do not intend to spend much more time on the matter tonight because my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby developed the case as powerfully as always. He even gained the agreement of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), who, on this point at least, was with him. But the hon. Member for Wrexham then said that he thought it was a better system than that in the Scotland Bill. I do not know how he arrived at that conclusion.
785 Last night I also spoke of the possibility of carrying legislative intentions into effect. I pointed to the suggestion made by the former Mr. Short, which was quoted in the book by John Osmond, that legislation might have to be put together in a more detailed way to overcome the problem. That point was made tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist).
Last night the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) seemed blind to the problem. But the problem was recognised in the Kilbrandon Report. It was recognised by Mr. Short, now Lord Glenamara. He frankly said that he was unable to provide an effective solution.
I forecast that the Bill as it stands will cause endless difficulties, and for that reason I believe that the Bill is unworkable.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Would it not be of interest if we translated Lord Glenamara's name from the original Celtic into English? "Glyn Marw" means "Valley of death". Does that not mark the aim of the whole process of devolution, because Mr. Short has taken the name, the valley of death?
§ Mr. Edwards
That is particularly apposite when we are discussing this fundamental flaw in the Bill. The structure cannot work. There cannot be two Executives. In spite of how the Committee tries to disguise it, that is in practice what we are to have. We cannot have two Executives separately carrying out the task of administration in the same State and believe that the situation can endure for long.
The right hon. Member for Down, South was correct. The question then arises: if we are up to our necks in this morass, why not go the whole way? If administrative devolution will produce chaos and the creation of an Assembly leads logically and inevitably to the demand for legislative powers, why not provide those powers? That was the argument that my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby almost pressed in his speech, although he then provided another solution, which my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) also put forward.
The argument can be carried further, almost to infinity. If the setting up of 786 an Assembly with a separate Government, which is what we are doing despite the complex committee strategy, leads at the end of the day to a break-up of the unitary State, why not surrender now? If rape is inevitable, why not lie back and enjoy it, or, at least, make the best of it? I am not sure that rape is inevitable. We are in for an uncomfortable time if the Bill passes. We shall have to put up with the assertions of those who want to go further, but we can resist their more outrageous demands.
I do not see why the great majority who do not want these things should always have to submit to the vociferous minority. The Government have produced a political compromise. They may be able to defend it on political grounds. I do not see how they can defend it on grounds of reason. But I reject the whole structure from the foundations up, and, therefore, I see no need to defend any part of it, any interlocking part that holds the whole unstable fabric together. Therefore, I see no reason why I should not reject the proposal that the Assembly, however unstable it may be, should be given these legislative powers when that proposal flows from the gift of an administrative Assembly with the secondary legislative function.
If I have to play around with this unhappy scheme, I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby, have no doubt that I would prefer to move forward to an Assembly which has simply an administrative, scrutinising and advisory role but does not have the power to introduce secondary legislation. The Government have settled on the most unstable position of all. We can swing the balance one way or the other with this amendment. We can swing it towards a purely administrative body, or we can dismantle the apparatus altogether—the best solution of all.
In the case of Scotland, arguments were advanced that cannot be sustained in the case of Wales. First, it was said that, because there was a great deal of existing Scottish legislation which the House was too busy to handle, a new Assembly should be established to deal with it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) pointed out earlier, that is not the situation in Wales, and no one could argue that it is. We do not have to create a legislative power 787 simply to give the Assembly something to do.
Secondly, it was said that Scotland had a separate legal system which justified its having separate legislation. Wales, however, has the same legal system as England, and separate legislation would simply introduce duplication and confusion.
Thirdly, it was said that in Scotland there was a demand for an Assembly. I do not believe that there is a demand for an Assembly in Wales, and there is certainly no demand for a mass of separate Welsh laws. As I travel my constituency and the rest of Wales, people tell me they want more housing, hospitals or jobs or that they want more money for roads. They never say that they want separate laws on housing, schools or social services, unless they happen to come from the ranks of the nationalists.
§ Mr. Wigley
Does the hon. Member recall that two or three years ago he and his colleagues were most vociferous in opposing the Welsh Development Agency Act, which applied only to Wales? It was noteworthy that in the Welsh Grand Committee a few weeks ago the hon. Member had to eat humble pie in that respect. Perhaps he will have the same experience on other Acts.
§ Mr. Edwards
There is no reason why, since I opposed the introduction of one Act, I should be forced into supporting a separate legislature to deal with other Acts. That is the most illogical conclusion I have ever heard.
Most Welshmen are unhappy about the present state of affairs in their country—
§ Mr. Kinnock rose—
§ Mr. Edwards
I cannot give way. There are important clauses that we must move on to in our debates next week, and we have had half-hour speeches from the supporters of the Bill. I do not want to add to that tally.
Welshmen, however, recognise that they share their unhappiness with Scots and Ulstermen. They do not want more laws or different laws. They want better laws. I realise that Plaid Cymru and others who think like them put all the blame for the present economic and 788 social evils on the fact that Welsh problems are not dealt with separately by a Welsh Government operating in Wales passing Welsh laws and administering them with Welsh enthusiasm. That approach is based on the concept that all would come right if sufficient energy could be mobilised in Wales to tackle these economic problems from within. These optimists point to what they regard as the failure of centralist policies, as did the hon. Member for Wrexham earlier this evening.
They point, too, to what they regard as the ineffectiveness of regional policy. They repeat, like a religious chant, the incantation that all will be well if the Welsh do things for themselves. But they never go on to say how. They always stop at that point, but with the important qualification, of course, that they still want the English money.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
It is not so much that the Welsh should do things for themselves as that the Welsh do the things most appropriately done by the Welsh.
§ Mr. Edwards
Clearly, one of the things most appropriately done by the Welsh is making use of the undoubted resources, which exist within the United Kingdom as a whole and which they need.
These optimists start from the misconception that the problems that face Wales all spring—some of them may—from the fact that she is at the periphery and government is over-centralised. But her problems do not all spring from that simple fact. Interestingly enough, some of them spring largely from what happened during the period of history when government was not over-centralised and when prosperity developed in the places where the raw materials were found.
Wales today, along with parts of Scotland, the Midlands and the North-East, suffers from the fact that she was the boom region of an earlier industrial period, and for much of the time that British Government has been centralised the area of greatest activity and greatest economic prosperity was well outside London and the South-East of England. It is a comparatively recent phenomenon that it has not been so, and I am not sure that it will not prove to be a very brief phenomenon in the economic history of our country.
789 There is nothing in the Welsh record, either, to suggest that Welsh energy and Welsh entrepreneurial skills alone will be enough to restore her. Most Welshmen fully recognise that our economy is absolutely integrated with that of the rest of the United Kingdom—just as I would suggest that that of Berlin, the example cited by the hon. Member for Wrexham, is integrated with and dependent upon the economy of West Germany as a whole, and just as the water supply of our country is integrated, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) so correctly pointed out.
The Tennessee Valley Authority was cited as an example by the hon. Member for Carmarthen, but I think that the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) dealt with that suggestion fairly effectively. He pointed out that most of the developable parts of Wales and the population masses are closely adjacent to those in the West of England.
We need, and the people of Wales recognise that we need, the shared skills, shared order books and shared resources that are available in a united economy. The people of Wales recognise that the Welsh regions, Welsh steel, Welsh coal, Welsh agriculture and Welsh manufacture cannot be restored and will not thrive if the English regions are left in decline. The success of English steel, coal, agriculture and manufacture are equally important to our recovery in Wales. It is absurd to think that we can got it alone and that we can be completely regardless of what is happening in North-East England if the situation continues to be bad there.
It may be that government is over-centralised and that the State industries particularly are too monolithic. I should like to see some of the subordinate units, research centres and so on, distributed better. There is no reason why that should not happen in a united kingdom. It may be that small is best in some circumstances. However, if that is true in Wales, it is true in the United Kingdom as a whole, and there is no reason to imagine that Welsh isolationism and the power to pass separate laws will improve the lot of the Welsh people.
The other argument advanced for separate Welsh legislation is based on the supposition that the Welsh people are op- 790 pressed, cringing and helpless under an English majority. That is a concept frequently advanced by the hon. Member for Carmarthen, who positively relishes his own subservience. But it is a concept that wholly overlooks the nature of a unitary State. As the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) pointed out, it is nonsense.
We are equal in the House of Commons. I have exactly the same say on behalf of my constituents as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), for example, has on behalf of his constituents. All hon. Members speak not as delegates for Scotland, Wales, England or an English region—though we may well represent the collective and general view prevalent in part of the kingdom—but as individuals making collective decisions for the whole.
England does not vote down Wales. Individual hon. Members decide collectively what they believe is right for all our people. My constituents and the constituents of the hon. Member for Carmarthen are as well or ill governed as those in any other constituency in Britain. They suffer no particular hardship. I was going to say that they enjoy no particular benefit, but they do. They have in addition the benefit of separate institutions—the Welsh Office, the Secretary of State and the Grand Committee—to enable those representing Welsh constituencies to exert a rather more than proportionate influence in this place.
Some of us fear that the further we go down this road in the setting up of an Assembly, the granting of powers and the surrender of our legislative rights, the less Welsh influence there will be in this place and in a British Cabinet. The laugh will be on us with a vengeance if we gain the right to pass laws only to surrender our real influence on the economic decisions that decide the way of life of the Welsh people.
There is a real danger that what the Welsh people would gain from the Bill is chaos combined with a disastrous loss of influence. It is not a prospect that I relish, and I do not believe that they will relish it either.
§ Mr. John Morris
We have had a long debate. It started at about 10 minutes past four and has run for five hours and 25 minutes.
791 For a long time we heard only one speaker for the amendment. I have listened to most of the speeches. There were at least a dozen, a massive sledgehammer, to deal with the arguments of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans). I am not complaining about the length of speeches, the point made by the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer).
Certainly, it has not passed without notice that while there have been three speakers in all for the amendment-the hon. Members for Carmarthen, Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) and Cardigan (Mr. Howells)-they took about 65 minutes between them and in reply we have heard about 20 speakers. That is prodigal with time allotted.
It may not be filibustering as we have experienced it on previous occasions, but there has been a whole gathering of new faces. I very much welcome them. I had not come across the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) in our Welsh debates before. I welcome him and other hon. Members who, on their own admission, have come to take part in our debates for the first time. It seemed to me very odd that the Plaid Cymru amendment, supported by no one except the Member for Cardigan, should have attracted a mass onslaught of 20 speakers, taking up so much time that could have been devoted to other matters.
§ Sir A. Meyer
Is the Secretary of State aware that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) has not only been here for the whole of the debate today, until the very end, but was also present for the whole of yesterday's debate on the motion that Clause 2 stand part of the Bill? He voluntarily withdrew from speaking at the end of that debate, having carefully prepared his speech and sat through the whole debate, precisely in order not to prolong the proceedings. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should withdraw that statement.
§ Mr. Morris
I merely welcomed the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South and others to the debate. I did not complain about his speech. On the subject of withdrawal, I have been expecting all day some indi- 792 cation from the hon. Member for Flint, West concerning the suggestion that he made, ill-advisedly, yesterday about my taking part in a television programme. Perhaps he would care to make it now.
§ Sir A. Meyer
I gladly withdraw the remarks that I made yesterday, but I had been informed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's absence was due to his taking part in a television programme. When I got there I discovered that he was not prepared to face the television cameras.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman might have had the courtesy to put the record straight yesterday. He did not do so, but I forgive him.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I was on the same television programme, and I know that the reason for the absence of my right hon. and learned Friend from the debate yesterday was that he was engaged in matters much more important even than the present business of the Bill.
§ Mr. Morris
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. He is well aware that he and I have had many discussions on problems relating to jobs, employment, industry, and so on. I was indeed concerned in some detail yesterday with matters which were of very great importance. The hon. Member for Flint, West, before he demands withdrawals, should make it his business to find out what happened.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
I also took part in the television programme to which reference has been made. The Welsh Office was adequately and powerfully represented, and the Secretary of State was very powerfully replaced by a junior Minister.
§ Mr. Morris
I have the utmost confidence in my hon. Friend who took part in the programme.
I listened carefully to the speech made by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards). He seemed to me to have prepared his speech and was determined to make it, come what may, in the same manner as he made his speech yesterday. His speech yesterday was a sort of book review of Mr. Osmond's latest book. In the same way, all we had today were repeated incantations. The word "absurd" was used on three, if not four, 793 occasions. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the use of an adjective does not necessarily replace argument.
The hon. Gentleman said that we cannot have two Executives. He seems to have forgotten that there are two, if not three, Executives across the whole range of government. He must have heard of the powers exercised by local government. Although he is, I understand, now passionately against local government reorganisation, he knows the concern of Pembrokeshire, the county that he represents, and how badly let down it feels by local government reorganisation. Now the people of the county know that their Member is letting them down, because he certainly does not want to see a change. He will defend the Tory measure to the end of his days, or for as long as he has, for a short time, the privilege of representing Pembroke.
Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten Northern Ireland? The West Lothian question has been raised again today. It seems to have been forgotten that for 50 long years there were two Excutives and, indeed, two legislatures. Indeed, for 50 years, on and off, the Conservative Party, when it was in power, whenever it was necessary relied on trooping in its cohorts from Northern Ireland. It seems to have been forgotten that Northern Ireland Members were used as lobby fodder for the Conservative Party.
I might perhaps be unfair in saying this because there might have been other occasions when it happened, but it is my recollection that only one of these Members was ever allowed to hold office in any Tory Government. It reminds me of the situation in Wales. It is beyond our memory when any hon. Member from a constituency in Wales was allowed to grace the Treasury Bench in any office. let alone the Welsh Office. That is the pattern that we have experienced over the years.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Perhaps I might jog my right hon. and learned Friend's memory by recalling that on the occasion when a previous Member for Pembroke, Mr. Desmond Donnelly, and Mr. Woodrow Wyatt gave rise to certain difficulties relating to steel, certain things were said about the voting of Ulster Members by the former Prime Minister, my right hon. 794 Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), and by other members of the Government Front Bench at that time, who resented their presence.
§ Mr. Morris
That is the point that I am seeking to make. Over the years the Tory Party relied on the support of those Members, and I find it odd that they cannot now recall that for many years two Executives were in existence.
§ Mr. Grist rose—
§ Mr. Morris
I must get on. I do not want to fall into the trap of taking up an undue amount of time. However, it is known that I am most generous in giving way, and if it pleases the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), I give way to his hon. Friend. I do not want to be accused of excessive prodigality with regard to the use of the time available to the Committee, which could be put to better use than it is being in this debate.
§ Mr. Grist
I suppose I should thank the Secretary of State for giving way, but he made this accusation yesterday in the South Wales Echo. Does he not remember Lord Thorneycroft, as he now is, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and also Secretary of State for Defence, while representing Weymouth? Does he not remember Lord Rhyl as he now is, who represented Flint, West and was Financial Secretary? Does he not remember my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) as a Foreign Office Minister of State? I ask the Secretary of State to search his memory.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman has correctly spelt out the point that I was seeking to make before I was sidetracked into dealing with the Northern Ireland problem. My point is that it is not within our recollection that any member of of the Conservative Party served in the Welsh Office when he had the advantage of representing a Welsh constituency. I have no doubt that if one were to go back to the period before 1906 one would find innumerable examples of that having happened, but my memory is not good enough to recall more than two or three Members who held Government appointments.
Let me spell out the problem. If I have exaggerated the situation, let me deal with 795 the Welsh question. No holder of office in the Welsh Office when the Conservative Party was in power had the privilege of being elected by a Welsh constituency. That is the point that I am seeking to make, and I was making a similar but broader point about the situation in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman concede that that is not what he said, and will he withdraw his original statement about no Welsh Member being on the Treasury Bench when he meant in the Welsh Office? He referred specifically to the Treasury Bench.
§ Mr. Morris
I was dealing with two points. The first related to Northern Ireland. For a long time the only Tory Member on the Treasury Bench was the Minister of State at the Ministry of Public Building and Works. That should satisfy the hon. Gentleman. However, at no time was a Conservative Member appointed to the Welsh Office who had the advantage of being elected by a Welsh constituency. In fact, the holder of the office had been kicked out. That is the truth of the matter.
§ Mr. Kinnock
A crucial point was made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) which perhaps inadvertently my right hon. and learned Friend may have missed. The proposition put by my hon. Friend was that, on the occasion when the Labour majority was cut from 14 to two because of the presence of Ulster Unionist Members, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) drew attention to it.
Does not my right hon. and learned Friend consider that, in the event of devolution being granted to Scotland and Wales, there may be several more occasions, on which there is a close proximity of votes, when attention is drawn to the over-representation of Welsh and Scottish Members in the House of Commons? The consequent political division and conflict arising from that might inevitably have grave consequences for the unity of the kingdom.
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend will know that there are areas of England where there is great disparity between their 796 representation and other parts of England. In like manner, there are parts of North Wales—there may be parts of Gwent as well—where there is great disparity between the size of the electorate there and the electorate which I and others have the honour to represent. That is a factor which occurs right across the kingdom. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it.
But I am dealing only with the issue with regard to Wales. Since the responsibility for primary legislation remains here, there will be a very important and continuous role for all Welsh Members of Parliament. I look forward to their playing a vital role. In addition, there will be other factors that have already been advanced. I hope, however, that Conservative Members will accept that primary legislation is a crucial factor.
Although we have had a host of Second Reading speeches, there is no time tonight to deal with the basis of the Government's approach to devolution as a whole or to devolution in Wales. I would be misusing the Committee's time if I did so. In a nutshell, what we are dealing with is the transfer of existing functions, not the creation of a new tier of government. Hon. Members who say that we are creating a new tier of government are living in Cloud-cuckoo land, because the tier already exists. It is there because some of the functions are those that I exercise and some of the functions are those exercised by the nominated bodies in Wales.
At no time have we heard the Conservative Party attack the nominated bodies. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) has made the point time after time that it is through the nominated bodies in Wales that the Conservative Party seeks to perpetuate its power and influence because it has been in a minority in Wales ever since the last century. That is one of the fundamental reasons why there is deep concern in Wales about the lack of democracy.
We have heard the argument about Welsh and Scottish membership. Has it not struck the Committee that, at a time when there could be democratisation and more decision making given to an Assembly elected by the majority of the Welsh people, Wales has elected a majority of Labour Members of Parliament? The 797 majority of Welsh Members of Parliament have been Labour or Radical since 1906, yet time after time we have been in a minority in the House of Commons because we have been part of an Opposition who have been defeated by a larger number who were then Government Members but are now Opposition Members. Therefore, that argument should be borne in mind.
I am not suggesting that it is a conclusive argument, but it is one which I believe can be overcome substantially if we pass to the proposed Assembly many of the functions now exercised in a wholly undemocratic way or exercised by me and my officials or by a Tory opposite number who happens to be in the Welsh Office through the courtesy of the English electorate. I believe that that would bring more democracy to the level of decision making which concerns people.
People talk about housing, hospitals, roads and schools. Those are the issues which concern the people whom I and my colleagues have the honour to represent. We believe that, given a block grant to a Welsh administration, we can better order our priorities for those devolved matters in Wales within the framework of this Bill and, therefore, bring decision making closer to the people and be more democratic. I have nothing to fear from democracy.
§ Mr. Pym
I have not taken part in this debate, but will the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, in the 20 minutes for which he has been speaking, he has been making nothing other than a Second Reading speech? He has not yet addressed himself at all to the amendment before the Committee, and, to the extent that he may claim that he has, he has given the impression that he is in favour of it. That has been the general drift of his remarks so far. His colleagues on the Treasury Bench complain that other hon. Members have not attended to the matter under discussion. Will he now come to the point?
§ Mr. Morris
—to the 20 or so speeches which have been made in this debate, he would have been the first to indicate that I was being discourteous to the Com- 798 mittee by not replying to them. I thought that it was proper for me to do so, and I did so, and I made clear why I did so.
I come to the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Carmarthen and supported by the hon. Members for Merioneth and Cardigan. The Government have been asked why they are not going that way. The policy in the Bill has sprung from the endeavours of the Labour movement in Wales. No one else is answerable for it. Long before Plaid Cymru Members were elected, the Labour Party in Wales was working on the scheme which is proposed in this Bill. In 1968, we put our proposals to the Royal Commission, and I have before me the document which sets out the evidence that we gave on that occasion. The Bill substantially reflects that evidence to the Royal Commission. It ill becomes the Conservative Party to pray in aid any part of the report of the Royal Commission. It ignored the Royal Commission and did not bother to give evidence to it.
Our proposals spring entirely from our deliberations and the evidence that we gave to the national executive committee of the party at conference after conference and gathering after gathering. The principles of devolution were endorsed in both our national manifesto and the Welsh manifesto.
We have rejected right along the line the proposals of the hon. Member for Carmarthen. If there is any dubiety whatsoever about my approach, let me assure the hon. Member about the tenor of my remarks. I shall recommend, when the time comes to vote, that my right hon. and hon. Friends should reject the amendment. I hope that that clarifies the issue. We reject it because we have never wanted it. We reject it because we have put forward coherent and cohesive proposals, approved and accepted by the Labour movement in Wales and upon which we fought the last General Election.
The support in Wales for Plaid Cymru has been dropping. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) was too generous when he said that Plaid Cymru's support at the last election was 10.9 per cent. It was only 10.8 per cent. I shall give the figures that reflect the position. In 1970 Plaid Cymru polled 799 175,016 votes. In the first General Election in February 1974 it polled 171,364 votes. My arithmetic is not good enough to work out the reduction precisely, but it is something like 3,000 or 4,000 votes. In October 1974 Plaid Cymru polled only 166,321 votes—a further reduction of 5,043. Therefore, there is no doubt that the party which has put forward the amendment is losing support in Wales, as is its policy.
Welsh nationalists may not use the word "independence" these days—
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Member says that they have never used it. However, I recall the words that they have used. Maybe I have misinterpreted their remarks, but I believe that they have always wanted Commonwealth status, a Welsh army, a Welsh navy and a seat at the United Nations. There has been no doubt in my mind, against that background, that, even if the word "independence" is not apposite, that is, in effect, what they want. I should have thought that Commonwealth status, a seat at the United Nations, an army, a navy and so on—although these are difficult to reconcile with some of Plaid Cymru's pacifist views—are proposals for independence. They are also proposals that have been constantly rejected by the Welsh electorate, and increasingly rejected—by sheer numbers and by proportion.
I find it incomprehensible that the Welsh nationalists should propose this amendment for legislative devolution when they do not believe in the Scottish pattern. In the past few months, all that we have had from the Scottish National Party is attacks on what the Government propose for Scotland. SNP Members say that our proposals are grossly inadequate. There are divisions in that party between the hawks and whatever is the opposite of hawks. I presume that "doves" is the appropriate word.
I find it peculiar and odd—and, if I may borrow a word from the hon. Member for Pembroke, absurd—to find the Welsh nationalists on the one hand seeking to decry what we are proposing both for Wales and, in another Bill, for Scotland but, on the other hand, trying to introduce into the Wales Bill precisely what their colleagues in the SNP have 800 condemned as inadequate in the Scotland Bill. That is logic standing on its own head. I find it difficult to understand the argument.
§ Mr. Wigley
The Secretary of State will appreciate that the amendments are within the confines of the Bill as it was presented after Second Reading. At the time of tabling those amendments, Clause 1 stood within the Bill. We were not aware that the Government would withdraw it. The amendment provides for full self-government in Wales, which is outside the confines of the Bill, as we were correctly advised.
Given that situation, we are more than happy to take another step in the right direction and to take legislative power over a certain number of areas. Having seen that the Wales TUC, part of the Labour movement of Wales, was willing to support that, I am surprised that the Secretary of State finds it so odd and out of step with his own thinking.
§ Mr. Morris
I do not believe in personal abuse. Therefore, I shall not use a word which comes to mind—"hypocrisy". But even my good nature is severely strained when I recall the fact that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) voted against Clause 1 of the Scotland Bill. If that is the reason why he now finds himself handicapped, why he cannot now propose the kind of independence amendments that he would have liked to propose, I find his attitude towards the Scotland Bill distinctly odd. I have no indication that he would have adopted any different attitude towards this Bill. His own logic is standing upon its head. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is doing his best to assist and advise the Committee, but I find it difficult to accept that he has fully understood—I put it no higher—the tenor of his remarks and the advice that he is seeking to give to the Committee.
I ask the Committee to reject the amendment. I ask that the amendment should be rejected because it is not wanted. Nor is it required. It has been rejected time after time by the people of Wales. I am confident that when the time comes it will be rejected in stronger terms—when Plaid Cymru seeks to put itself before the electorate at the next General Election.
§ Mr. Dalyell
May I interrupt my right hon. and learned Friend before he sits down? He will recall that we put some factual questions to him, to which I do not think any of us knew the answer. They related to abortion and whether there would be any difference in the procedures as between the two countries.
§ Mr. Morris
I apologise to my hon. Friend for failing to deal with that point. The answer is that the situation in Wales will not be comparable with that in Scotland. The Welsh Assembly will be able only to administer the abortion laws and
§ there will be no question of altering the basic legal conditions under which abortion takes place. For example, the requirement that a second qualified doctor must give his opinion will remain. As for private practice, the power to approve cases other than at National Health Service hospitals in which abortions are to be carried out will be devolved.
§ Question put. That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 104.801
|Division No. 134]||AYES||[10.09 p.m.|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Freud, Clement||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Howells, Geralnt (Cardigan)||Watt, Hamish||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Reid, George||Welsh, Andrew||Mr. Dafydd Wigley and|
|Ross. Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Mr. George Thompson.|
|Abse, Leo||Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Ogden, Eric|
|Anderson, Donald||Fool, Rt Hon Michael||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||George, Bruce||Ovenden, John|
|Atkinson, Norman||Gilbert, Dr John||Page, John (Harrow West)|
|Sarnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Bates, Alf||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Bean, R. E.||Grist, Ian||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Grocott, Bruce||Renlon, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Benyon, W.||Hamilton, James (Bolhwell)||Roberts Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Roberts Wyn (Conway)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Harper, Joseph||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Brittan, Leon||Janner, Greville||Rowlands, Ted|
|Brooke, Peter||John, Brynmor||Sever, John|
|Carlisle, Mark||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Carmichael, Nell||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Smith, Rt. Hon. John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Cope, John||Kerr, Russell||Snape, Peter|
|Corbett, Robin||Kinnock, Nell||Spearing, Nigel|
|Cormack, Patrick||Knight, Mrs Jill||Stallard, A. W.|
|Cowans, Harry||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Cryer, Bob||McCartney, Hugh||Tinn, James|
|Davidson, Arthur||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Ward, Michael|
|Davies, Denzil (Lianelli)||Madden, Max||Watkinson, John|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Deaklns, Eric||Meacher, Michael||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Dormand, J. D.||Mendelson, John||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Mitchell, Austin|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|English, Michael||Newens, Stanley||Mr. Donald Coleman and|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Nott, John||Mr. Ted Graham.|
|Question accordingly negatived.|
§ Mr. Wigley
I beg to move Amendment No. 134, in page 6, leave out lines 18 to 21.
The powers provided in this part of Clause 10 appear to us to be extremely confusing. As was said in the previous debate, one of the most important requirements in any constitutional measure is that its provisions should be clear. Clarity should be a paramount consideration in any such change and that is why we were proposing that where executive powers are being transferred to the Assembly, legislative powers in the same areas should be granted.
We should have seen the Bill as being more coherent, even if fewer functions were being transferred, if functions had been transferred in totality, if there had been a clean division of power between what exists at Westminster and what would be exercised by the Assembly in Cardiff. If that is not ensured in any Bill, that leads to the seeds of conflict about which those who are opposed to the Bill on both sides of the Chamber have talked about in debate after debate, including on Second Reading and in Second Reading speeches at other stages.
We need to ensure that the Members of the Assembly are clear in their own minds what are their powers and what are not their powers, so that in those areas devolved to them they can take action clearly and confidently in the knowledge that they are acting within their own competence and within the competence laid down by Parliament.
To the extent that these issues can be fudged and that there is a lack of clarity as to who is responsible for doing what, we shall have difficulties in the day-today operation of the Assembly. Those difficulties can arise equally, if not more so, from the sort of provision that exists in Clause 10(2) as in any of the other instances cited by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who are opposed to the whole principle of devolution of power to Wales.
We know that the executive powers of the Assembly could be hamstrung if they come within the framework of Westminster legislation. However, even worse than being hamstrung in that way would be a situation in which the Executive at 804 Cardiff was torn, divided and uncertain, as must inevitably be the situation that arises from Clause 10(2).
That part of the Bill is much worse in that the powers are exercisable concurrently under Schedule 3, to which the subsection refers. Schedule 3 provides that in a number of Acts—there are nine of them—the powers conferred shall be exercisable concurrently. The same powers may be exercised at the same time by different people who are answerable to different bodies although they are dealing with the same spheres. The same powers under the same Acts in the same area—that is within Wales—may be exercised by two quite separate people at the same time.
That will lead inevitably to a considerable number of problems. We have heard of the problems of split legislation in respect of Scotland, but that split does not apply to the same spheres at the same time. The delegation of legislation to the Scottish Assembly was quite clear. However, a provision is specifically written into the Bill that is bound to cause difficulty and chaos.
There needs to be a strong argument from the Government Front Bench to retain it. It is dangerous in principle and, unless a strong case can be made in its favour, it should be avoided. We need a clean division of function so that the Assembly knows where it stands and what it is supposed to do.
A mixture of Acts comes within Schedule 3. It is difficult to see the common thread that runs through. We start with the Commissioners of Works Act 1852. The Act provides that the Commissioners may purchase land for public service and may sell the same. The Act outlines the land that may be purchased and sold.
According to the Bill, either the Assembly or a Minister at Westminster may purchase or sell the same land at the same time. I find it difficult to understand the logic of that. Either the land stands in the name and ownership of the Assembly, in which case the Assembly should have the right to dispose of it, or it does not. I understand that there may be attributes of the same Act that take place in two different places. However, for them to be exercisable concurrently—the words in the schedule—appears to be somewhat difficult to follow.
805 The second Act is the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act 1945, Section 52. That deals with land. To some extent, that is not too great a problem, because the Act has by now spent itself and relatively little activity is likely to take place under it. However, I cannot see the logic of it.
The Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953, Sections 4 to 6, becomes more of a reality. Section 4 provides forGrants for preservation of historic buildings, their contents and adjoining land.I should have thought that it was beyond question that ancient monuments and so on in Wales should be organised, run and administered and have grants made to them by the Welsh Assembly, if by anyone. What would happen if the Welsh Assembly felt that something was not of such great historic importance and was not therefore worth keeping and another body here deems that it is and makes a grant to it? We should get into a tangle. Such a tangle is unnecessary. Section 5 of that Act likewise suffers from the same problem. Who will own historic buildings, their contents and adjoining land: the Minister or the Assembly?
The Transport Act 1968 suffers from a similar problem. There is a slight difference. Section 57 deals not with land, but withGrants for research or development in connection with transport services, etc.The word "conditions" appears in that section—The Minister shall have power with the approval of the Treasury to make grants upon such terms and conditions as he thinks fit.How can we be sure that the Minister and the Assembly will interpret "conditions" in the same way? I foresee difficulties arising there.
The most difficult one to appreciate—perhaps the Minister can enlighten me about this one—is the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970. Section 1(5) provides that any body or person can fall within the terms of that Act. What I cannot understand is why, if Section 1(5) needs to be written into this duality control, the whole Act has not been written in. It seems odd that Section 1(5) is to. be written in, but the rest of the Act is not.
806 Section 113 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 deals with theCompulsory acquisition of land by the Secretary of State for the Environment.Why is it necessary for the Secretary of State to have this power concurrently with the Welsh Assembly? There may be some spheres in which the Secretary of State for the Environment will still be active in Wales. For example, in the past he had responsibility for the railways. But why should he have powers concurrently with the Welsh Assembly in certain spheres? This matter needs to be clear cut.
The Local Employment Act 1972 is slightly more understandable, but again it could be operated separately by the Assembly without the need for concurrence.
Problems arise on the Local Government Act 1972. Section 1973 deals withAllowances to members of local authorities and other bodies.Section 174 coversTravelling allowance and subsistence allowance.Section 175 coversAllowances for attending conferences and meetings.These matters, transposed into the situation of the Assembly, should be clear cut. The authority for these matters should fall fairly and squarely on the Assembly. Other matters far more sweeping than that fall on the Assembly—for example, the right to determine the salaries of Members. I should like that right to be exercised outside. I believe that, for example, Members' salaries should be geared possibly to a particular grade in the Civil Service. Instead, we are in the invidious situation of determining our own salaries. I suggest that that decision should be outside the power of the Assembly. For powers involving attendance and financial loss allowances to be exercised outside the Assembly leaves a big question mark.
The circumstances surrounding the Community Land Act 1975 are surprising. This is the animal that provided the Land Authority for Wales. In this Act perhaps more than in any other Wales has a specific structure. The structure is coterminous and the powers fall within those of the Assembly.
§ Sir A. Meyer
I intervene with trepidation since I am a novice in these matters. The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) refers to the Community Land Act 1975. I am looking at Section 37. Might not occasions arise when a piece of land required for the development of an airport, for example, lies athwart the boundary? Clearly, the Assembly would wish to have a say in the manner in which it is disposed of. But, equally, the English authority also would be involved. That is an instance when the Secretary of State needs to have a power to intervene and to exercise it concurrently with the Assembly.
§ Mr. Wigley
I do not believe that that is the point of this provision. If a piece of land straddled the border, the Secretary of State would be acting in England, not in Wales. That situation does not arise. We are talking of concurrent powers. That argument is not relevant. The situation is difficult to follow. I find Section 18 more difficult than Section 37.
This is a probing amendment. We want to ensure that the powers of the Welsh Assembly are known, seen to be known, clearly defined by the Bill and fully understood by those who will have to implement it. To that extent we need clarification. That is why we have tabled this amendment. I should be glad to hear any justification for including this provision in the Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I wish to ask one brief question to satisfy my curiosity. Our Welsh colleagues are for ever stressing—more than our Scottish colleagues—their dislike of nominated bodies. Tonight the argument has been that the Welsh Assembly would take over the various functions of certain nominated bodies. The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) used historic buildings as an example.
What is the proposition? Is it that the Welsh Assembly should take over the functions of the Historic Buildings Council? I declare an interest because my wife is a member of the Scottish Historic Buildings Council. Is it seriously suggested that the Assembly should take over the type of work that is done by that council?
808 There is a host of other such bodies. If that is the proposition, we want to be clear about it. One wonders how practical such a proposition would be, even if at first sight it might appeal to one's democratic instincts.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) made it clear that what was uppermost in his mind was the confusion arising out of this part of the Bill. He had no alternative to offer. We have protested about this confusion from the start.
The object of the amendment is to remove the enactments that confer powers that are exercisable concurrently by the Assembly and the Secretary of State. Detailed criticism of a similar but better and clearer clause in the Scotland Bill was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) on 6th December in the debate on that Bill. His comments then are equally true of the subsection we are discussing. He said that when powers were exercised concurrentlythere is every opportunity for conflict, overlapping, ambiguity and uncertainty."—Official Report, 6th December 1978; Vol. 940 c. 1159.]As the hon. Member for Caernarvon explained, nine Acts are listed in the schedule. They range from The Commissioners of Works Act 1852 to the Community Land Act 1975. All nine contain powers that may be exercised concurrently by the Assembly and Ministers.
Some of the powers are important. There are those under the Transport Act 1968, the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, the Local Employment Act 1972 and the Local Government Act 1972. But what does the exercise of concurrent powers mean in practice? My hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby examined a number of the listed Acts in detail in the debates on the Scottish Bill. In particular, he referred to the Transport Act and the Community Land Act. I shall not enthral the Committee by repeating his comments. There has been further analysis by the hon. Member for Caernarvon.
I shall take the Local Government Act as an example. The precise reference to that Act in the schedule is to Section 177 809 (1)(f) and (2)(c). The first of those subsections reads:Sections 173 to 175 above shall apply to the following bodies—and so on. Then
- (a) all local authorities;
- (b) river authorities "—(f) any body prescribed for the purposes of those sections and on which any such body as is mentioned in any of the foregoing paragraphs is represented.It is that last paragraph that is referred to in the schedule.
The other subsection reads:(2) In sections 173, 174 and 176 above the expression "approved duty", in relation to a member of a body, means any of the following duties, that is to say—and so on. Then comes the paragraph referred to in the schedule:
- (a) attendance at a meeting of the body, or of any of its committees or sub-committees;
- (b) the doing of any other thing approvedby the body "(c) where, in pursuance of a duty imposed on or a power granted to the body by any enactment of instrument (including a Royal Charter), he has been appointed by or on the nomination of the body to be a member of some other body pres-scribed for the purposes of this paragraph … the doing of anything as a member of that other body for the purpose of, or in connection with, the discharge of the functions of that other body".Those are the two subsections referred to in Schedule 3.
As the hon. Member for Caernarvon said, these subsections refer back to clauses permitting allowances to be paid to Members of local authorities and other bodies—allowances for attendance, financial loss, travelling, subsistence, and attending conferences and meetings, and payment of expenses in connection with official and courtesy visits, and so on. But the very precise references to the Act in Schedule 3 do not seem to confer any power at all on either the Secretary of State or the Assembly, except perhaps that the Assemblymen are now brought within the ambit of those to whom such allowances could be payable. The Assembly itself is made into a body that may pay such allowances, and there is, one imagines, a consequential duty to ensure that these allowances are not abused.
The regulations governing these allowances are made by the Secretary of State under Section 178 of the Act. That is 810 where the real power lies. That section is not mentioned in Schedule 3, but it is included in Schedule 2 as one of the functions to be exercised by the Assembly. Are we to take it that the Assembly, too, will make regulations as to the allowances payable? If so, will those regulations cover the Assembly's own Members only or members of other bodies entitled to the allowances which are bodies related to the Assembly?
Is fixing these allowances to be a subject of joint consultation? Is that what "concurrence" between the Assembly and the Secretary of State means, or can the Assembly and the Secretary of State act independently? We must have spelt out in rather greater detail how this exercise of powers concurrently is to be carried out. I have given only one example of the sheer confusion that seems to exist, and that example relates to only one of the nine Acts referred to.
I said earlier that the Scotland Bill had a better clause. I said "better" because it defines the concurrent exercise of power in relation to powers that may be exercised by the two authorities involved at the same time, with or without the consent of each other. How do the Government view subsection (2) of Clause 10? That is the point to which we have to return. Does this subsection represent a sort of fall-back position? If the Assembly fails to perform certain functions, will the Secretary of State step in? Or does it mean that the Assembly and the Secretary of State will both exercise the same function simultaneously, with or without the consent of one another? If so, there is clearly a danger of duplication of work and effort and a grave danger of the extreme confusion to which the hon. Member for Caernarvon referred.
All this is very unclear. I fear that it is part and parcel of the infernal muddle and confusion that the Bill will get us into if it ever becomes an Act.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) for moving the amendment in a probing way. The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts), who I think is making his debut on the Opposition Front Bench, adopted much the same line 811 in the questions he put to the Government on subsection (2). The effect of the amendment would be to delete the subsection, which seeks to deal with a special class of powers, those few listed in Schedule 3, which are to be exercisable concurrently by the Assembly and a United Kingdom Minister, so that either can use the particular power in its application to one and the same object.
When one is making a constitutional change of this kind, there are clearly some problems at the edges. It is not as easy as the hon. Member for Caernarvon may think to make an absolutely clean division between all sorts of functions, especially when one is in the process of decentralising those functions to an Assembly. This is a subject with which we became familiar during the debates on the Scotland Bill and with which we shall no doubt become more familiar during the debates on this Bill.
There is a great difference between making a constitutional change with a clean sheet, building up a constitution such as was built in West Germany after the war, when there was a collapse of the State and a new constitution had to be formulated, and making an important constitutional change in the context of ongoing government, where there is a continuing responsibility of the United Kingdom Government. That poses problems for the Government as constitution makers.
We thought that the best way to deal with some of the problems at the edges was, as in the Scotland Bill, by the technique of the use of concurrent powers. The hon. Member for Conway believed that it had been done better in the Scotland Bill, although he knows, because he read the interesting speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), that there was a deal of criticism of that technique. I have no doubt that comparisons will continue to be made between the ways in which matters are dealt with in the two Bills.
I already detect a certain affection for some of the techniques in the Scotland Bill among those who are arguing about the techniques in this Bill, an affection signally absent during the passage of the Scotland Bill. I say that as one who 812 frequently listened to the contributions to the debates on that Bill. I hope that this process will continue, that the more we examine this Bill, the more Opposition Members will realise the merits of the Scotland Bill. It is a process of education.
I recognise that it is much more difficult to persuade the Conservatives of the merits of the Wales Bill. It was difficult to persuade them about the Scotland Bill, but there is a certain ideological confusion about the Conservative Party's commitments to Scotland which inhibits the style of Conservative Members. Every time the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cath-cart (Mr. Taylor) spoke he had to be given a message by his right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) reminding him to say at some point that he was in favour of the principle of devolution.
That sort of handicap does not exist with this Bill. The Conservative Party is free to express its mind on the Bill. There are no unfortunate commitments with regard to Wales entered into by previous leaders of the party. Therefore, Conservative Members can adopt a more swingeing attitude to the Bill. As the hon. Member for Conway knows, the Conservative's opposition to the Wales Bill is not on points of detail such as this. They are totally against the concept of devolution for Wales.
We are very much in favour of the concept of devolution for Wales. We face up to some of the difficulties caused by providing a scheme that allows effective power to the Assembly and important United Kingdom controls at the same time. Our purpose is to strengthen the United Kingdom as well as to allow important measures of responsibility to pass to the Welsh Assembly.
We have some problems at the edges. I doubt whether I have time to go through all the Acts to which reference was made, but I shall study in detail the points that hon. Members made. I shall try to respond to them now, but I may not be able to do so adequately in the time available.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
Will the Minister concentrate on the Act that I analysed in some detail, namely, the Local Government Act 1972? I referred especially to Section 177(1)(f) and to subsection 813 (2)(c) of that section. Will he tell us what are the concurrent powers that are conferred?
§ Mr. Smith
I shall do my very best, but in courtesy I ought first to spend a little time in dealing with the points made by the hon. Member for Caernarvon before the hon. Member for Conway intervened in the debate.
I was interested hi the statement that the hon. Member for Caernarvon would prefer that fewer functions were devolved but that those functions should be devolved more clearly. I think that at some stage the hon. Gentleman ought to tell us which functions he thinks ought not to be devolved. The proposition is rather odd, if I may say so, from someone who was arguing earlier for an extension of the powers of the Assembly.
§ Mr. Wigley
The Minister will find, when he reads the Official Report, that I was making my comments against the backcloth of the transfer of legislative functions. I said that we would rather not have some legislative and executive functions transferred to the Assembly than any cut-down of the executive powers.
§ Mr. Smith
I am interested to know which powers the hon. Gentleman thinks could be sacrificed in the interests of clarity. Is it education, housing, or health? What are the functions that he thinks ought not to be transferred to the Welsh Assembly? What is he prepared to trade in order to get this extra clarity? I suspect that I shall not get an answer to that question.
§ Mr. Wigley
In the terms of the amendment, we want absolute clarity in regard to the nine Acts set out in Schedule 3. We should like to see all nine Acts clearly defined under the Assembly. But at least let us know whether this is to be under the Assembly or under the Minister and let us understand what concurrent means here.
§ Mr. Smith
I shall move immediately to what concurrent means, but the hon. Gentleman cannot escape from the point as easily as that. There are problems at the edges. There are some powers that are exercisable under these Acts by United Kingdom Ministers, and it is important to reserve their powers in that respect.
814 The hon. Gentleman referred to the Commissioners of Works Act 1852. I think that this has to be read with Section 113 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and Section 37 of the Community Land Act 1975. If Clause 10(2) stands part of the Bill, it will enable the Assembly and the Government to acquire land in Wales needed for the devolved public service.
As to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) about historic buildings, the Assembly will be given all the powers of appointment to the Historic Buildings Council for Wales, and could subsume it by order under Clause 62 of the Bill, but the approval of the Secretary of State would first be required under Clause 62(3). This is a slightly different matter from the concurrent power issue raised by my hon. Friend. This is one of the Acts mentioned, and I reply to the point in that way.
The hon. Member for Conway referred to the Local Government Act 1972 and the various sections and subsections mentioned in the Bill. These, essentially, are powers to prescribe bodies for the purpose of the payment of attendance and financial loss allowances and travelling and subsistence allowances relating to expenses and allowances under the Act. These powers need to be available to both the Assembly and the Government.
The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with Schedule 5. Not all local government functions are devolved. Quite a number are reserved. I suppose that the largest spender amongst them would be the police service, which is a fairly high cost to the Exchequer, and that matter is reserved to the United Kingdom Government. It is because we have this split between some local government functions which, in the central Government sense are supervised by the Assembly, and some other local government functions for which, in the central Government sense ministerial responsibility remains with the United Kingdom Government, and with this Parliament, that it is important that powers should be available both to the United Kingdom Minister and to the Welsh Assembly Executive.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
Does that mean that there will be two sets of allowances, 815 one set made by the Assembly and one made by the Secretary of State?
§ Mr. Smith
I expect that what will be required to deal with this issue will be a measure of co-operation between the Assembly and the United Kingdom Government. I have not considered that matter in detail, I confess, and I shall look into it, but in this area there will need to be a certain amount of concerted action between the Assembly and the United Kingdom Government, and one expects that that will be forthcoming.
I know that some hon. Members take the view that if we make constitutional changes of this kind, there are bound to be conflicts on all sides. My view has consistently been, both on the proposals for Scotland and on those for Wales, that we ought reasonably to expect co-operation between the Assembly and the United Kingdom Government on many of these matters. I do not think that there will be a great difference of view on the prescription of bodies in relation to which allowances may be paid to councillors for carrying out functions that may relate to the United Kingdom Government or the Assembly. It is possible that agreement can be reached on matters of that kind, but that is the purpose behind the inclusion of that Act.
§ Mr. Wigley
Is the Minister saying that, given one set of powers, they might be exercised by the Assembly in relation to devolved functions that come under the Assembly, and by the Minister perhaps in relation to non-devolved functions within the same Act that happen in Wales. but never by the Minister and the Assembly in relation to the same item that has been devolved?
§ Mr. Smith
The purpose of the provision is to give power to the United Kingdom Minister in relation to United Kingdom functions. The purpose is not to create a situation where they compete against the Assembly, but to allow the United Kingdom Minister to exercise functions under some of these Acts for United Kingdom purposes.
§ Mr. Brittan
Is it right that the functions should be exercised by a different body in a different situation? The enactment does not provide that and 816 allows both bodies to act in both situations.
§ Mr. Smith
I think that it would be extremely difficult to devise a scheme which, in all circumstances, prohibited both bodies from acting. What I am concerned about is not exactly the legal position, but about giving this power so that it will be possible for the United Kingdom Minister to act. Against that background, we assume that there will be reasonable co-operation between the United Kingdom Government and the Assembly.
I have been through this before on the Scotland Bill. A not dissimilar provision arose there. We believe that it is a reasonable enough provision.
It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I now bring my remarks to a close. I have not been able to go through all the points in detail, but I shall study what has been said to see whether there are any errors or omissions that need to be put right.
§ Mr. Wigley
Given the assurance that we have received from the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ It being Eleven o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, pursuant to Order [16th November].
§ Committee report Progress: to sit again to-morrow.