§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Before I call the Secretary of State for Wales, I ought to tell the House that I shall select the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones). If it is desired that there be two Divisions, as is quite possible, it will be impossible if it is not taken before 6.30 p.m. I thought that I had better warn hon. Members.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)
I beg to move,That the draft Wales Act 1978 (Repeal) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 22 March 1979 in the last Parliament, be approved.I suggest that it will be for the convenience of the House to debate at the same time the remaining two motions. The first is as follows:
- (1) A Select committee shall be appointed, to be called the Committee on Welsh Affairs, to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Welsh Office and associated public bodies; and the committee shall consist of a maximum of eleven members, of whom the quorum shall be three.
- (2) The Committee shall have power—
- (a) to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place, and to report from time to time; and
- (b) to appoint persons with technical knowledge either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee's order of reference.
- (3) Unless the House otherwise orders, all Members nominated to the committee appointed under this Order shall continue to be members of the committee for the remainder of the Parliament.
§ That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.
§ The second is as follows:
§ That no Motion shall be made for the nomination of Members to serve on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, or for their discharge, unless;
- (a) notice of the Motion has been given at least two sitting days previously, and
- (b) the Motion is made on behalf of the Committee of Selection by the Chairman or by another Member of that Committee.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker. We have before us today three motions. The first is to approve the draft Order in Council repealing the Wales Act, the second is to establish a Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, and the third is to enable the Committee of Selection to nominate the members, which was the procedure recommended by the Select Committee on Procedure.
On the first motion, I hope that the House will agree that there is very little to say. Certainly I intend to say very little about it. Section 80 of the Wales Act 1978 lays down that if it appears to the Secretary of State that less than 40 per cent. of the persons entitled to vote in the referendum voted "Yes" or that a majority of the answers given were "No" he shall lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council for the repeal of the Act. If the draft is approved by resolution the order may be made. If, therefore, we approve this motion today we are approving repeal of the Act.
Of the 40 per cent. requirement, and of the calculation of those entitled to vote, the facts speak for themselves. There is no need to take that provision into account. Of the valid votes cast, only 243,048 were in favour of putting the Act into effect, while 956,330 were against—a majority of nearly 4 to 1. Every county in Wales voted heavily against. The verdict of the Welsh people on the Wales Act was thus absolutely clear. Their rejection cannot be questioned.
In accordance with the provisions of the Wales Act, my predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), laid the draft repeal order on 22 March. I have little doubt that, had the previous Government remained in office, they would have moved the approval of the draft themselves.
In considering the draft, I do not think we should spend too much time on what must now be clearly seen by everyone as the mistakes of the last five years. Again and again we warned the previous Government that the proposals and the Bill they were then putting forward were fundamentally and hopelessly flawed. The flaws showed through in almost every part of the Bill. It was, in our judgment, a recipe for conflict and division, for waste and duplication.
302 The debate on the Bill was never conducted completely on party lines. Many hon. Members on the then Government Benches saw the flaws and the defects as clearly as we did and helped to expose them more and more fully as the debate on the Floor of the House proceeded.
We warned the previous Government, too, that their proposals were not wanted in Wales. We were right. The electorate overwhelmingly endorsed the view that we had taken. There is no point in further delay, and I hope the House will agree that we should move swiftly to give effect to the view expressed by the people of Wales on 1 March.
None the less, we on the Government Benches have for long recognised the need for better scrutiny of the activities of the Welsh Office and nominated bodies in Wales. I therefore turn to the second motion before us. This is to establish a Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. Throughout the referendum campaign and the recent general election campaign my party advocated, as an alternative to the proposals in the Wales Act, an approach based on increased parliamentary scrutiny of the affairs of the Principality.
Specifically, we advocated the establishment of a Select Committee, which would be able to meet in Wales, to examine the work not only of the Welsh Office but of other related bodies in Wales. As we undertook to do in our manifesto, we are now bringing this proposal before the House.
The proposals contained in the second motion follow closely those approved by the House yesterday for 12 departmentally related Select Committees. If it is carried, action can be undertaken quickly to set up the Committee on Welsh Affairs. As a result of the further motion which was put down last night, the Committee of Selection would propose names for the new Committee. This is as the Procedure Committee recommended.
The Welsh Committee would be able to look at the full range of my responsibilities. But an additional, and very important, element in its work would be to improve the scrutiny of nominated bodies operating in Wales. It would therefore be able to examine the activities of public bodies operating within the area of my responsibilities, making these bodies 303 more directly accountable to elected representatives.
The test in every case will be whether there is a significant degree of ministerial responsibility for the body concerned. I am sure the Committee will be able to settle that issue, in consultation with me, quite easily. I am sure that is the way the issue ought to be settled.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
So far, nobody seems to have mentioned an obvious difficulty about a Select Committee relating to a part of the United Kingdom, namely, its composition in relation to the United Kingdom as a whole. I see that some of my hon. Friends wish to extend it so that, presumably, it will contain every Welsh Member of Parliament, but it should contain some English, Scottish and Northern Ireland Members if it is to be at all representative of the House.
§ Mr. Edwards
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on one point. It is a Committee of the House of Commons. It is not specifically a Committee of a particular group. But I should have thought that the view of the House—I shall welcome its opinion on this matter—would probably be that the membership should come from Welsh Members, who are particularly concerned with Welsh affairs. But that will be a matter for the Committee of Selection to decide under the procedure that we have laid down.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
If I understood the Secretary of State correctly, he said that the quangos would be subject to the Committee if there were a significant degree of ministerial control. The paradox for us here is that the less ministerial control there is, the more important it becomes that such bodies should be subject to the scrutiny of the Committee. How will the Secretary of State deal with that?
§ Mr. Edwards
I think that it is clear that the basis on which the new Select Committees are being set up, on the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Procedure, is that they should essentially be departmental Committees dealing with areas of responsibility connected with government. If I may say so, although I fully understand the right hon. Gentleman's point, I do not think that 304 this will in reality lead to difficulty. I should have thought that the nominated bodies with which he is concerned, the ones which operate in Wales, are responsible, at least to some degree, to the Secretary of State for Wales. I hope that we can see how this works out in practice. I shall certainly co-operate in every way possible to see that all the bodies about which there is concern in Wales can be looked at by the Select Committee in a reasonable manner.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
Surely, if the organisation is appointed by the Secretary of State, it is essential, to meet his objective that there be some scrutiny by him, and the less scrutiny there is—we recognise that he and his hon. Friends cannot be minute in their investigations—the more important it becomes that these bodies should be subject to the scrutiny of the Committee.
§ Mr. Edwards
I think that we shall have to look at this, and perhaps we can have further discussions about it, but I should have thought that where the Secretary of State for Wales has an important measure of responsibility for appointing the members of these bodies, that represents a degree of ministerial responsibility. I should hesitate to try to publish, agree and pass through the House a list of nominated bodies that should be subject to the scrutiny of the Committee. Indeed, I think that that might handicap the Committee rather than help it. But I shall be anxious to co-operate with the Committee in every way possible to enable it to examine those public bodies in Wales which the Committee wishes to examine.
I think that we must look at this in the light of experience. There will be bodies operating at least partly in Wales which will have more direct responsibility to other Departments and which will probably come under the scrutiny of other departmental Select Committees rather than the Welsh Select Committee. But again I assure the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and the House that we shall be anxious to co-operate in every way possible with the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Although the purpose of the Select Committee is to govern the Executive, not that the Executive should tell the Select Committee 305 what to do, are we to understand from what has been said that the Secretary of State intends to place restrictions upon the activities of the Select Committee? For example, may we have an assurance that there will be no difficulty in the Select Committee calling before it BBC Wales and the Independent Television Authority, or is the right hon. Gentleman saying that these must be exempt since they do not fall directly into the category that he has enunciated?
§ Mr. Edwards
I think that in the case of those two bodies the prime responsibility would lie with the Select Committee dealing with Home Office affairs, because there is ministerial responsibility in the Home Office in respect of those organisations. I think that it would be in line with the advice given by the Select Committee on Procedure that we should operate in that way.
§ Mr. English
It may help the right hon. Gentleman if he recalls the relevant portion of the report of the Procedure Committee that was discussed at length last night. I think that we all agreed that no real restriction can be placed upon the right of any of the Select Committees to call before it any persons or corporations germane to its current inquiries provided that they are, as it were, the main or lead subject of its inquiry.
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. Gentleman speaks with great experience, and he has been heavily involved in the discussions which have gone on. I am sure that the House will value the comment that he has just made.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend yet further, but this is a matter of some significance. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) raised an important question regarding the membership of such a Select Committee including Members of Parliament from throughout the United Kingdom. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could deal with that, since the motive force behind the setting up of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs goes beyond the generality of the Select Committees to which the hon. Gentleman refers, in that it is designed particularly to deal with the affairs of the Principality.
§ Mr. Edwards
With respect to my hon. Friend, I think that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) had a point when he said that the Select Committee was responsible to the House as a whole. However, having said that, I still have in mind that we are setting up departmental Select Committees with a broad United Kingdom remit, and I think that it would probably be the view of the House that on matters expressly concerned with Wales the sensible way to proceed would be to have a Committee consisting of Welsh Members. But at the end of the day this is a matter for the House of Commons to decide, and specifically for the Committee of Selection.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Will the Secretary of State explain to me, a simple Englishman, why we need a Select Committee at the same time as we need the Welsh Grand Committee? What will be the relationship between the two, what will be the function of the one as against the other, and so on? I confess to being somewhat confused about why we need the Select Committee when we have the Welsh Grand Committee.
§ Mr. Edwards
With great respect, there is a totally different function. On the one hand, the Welsh Grand Committee simply has the power to debate an issue, to have a relatively short and general debate. The Select Committee, on the other hand, will have all the powers of a Select Committee to call Ministers and witnesses before it, to call for papers, to carry out the detailed examination which a Select Committee can carry out and to issue a report which, in its turn, can be debated by the House. Moreover, I see no reason why the reports of the Welsh Select Committee should not also be debated by the Grand Committee if the Grand Committee wished to do so.
Thus, on the one hand, one has an investigative and probing Committee, a Committee able to work in detail and to prepare a report. On the other hand, one has a broad debating Committee with far less opportunity to probe and examine the work of government in detail. There is a clear-cut distinction, which I am sure the House understands. It is really the distinction between a Select Committee and this House of Commons operating as a House. Here, we can only debate in 307 general, and we appoint Select Committees to probe in more detail.
I have given way a good deal, and I wish now to press onto other aspects of these matters, first saying a little about powers. The question of powers was discussed extensively yesterday and I do not want to repeat all that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House then said. It seems agreed that generally, on the basis of past experience, the conventions governing co-operation between Select Committees, Government Departments and public bodies operate satisfactorily. I do not believe that a case for change has been made out.
My right hon. Friend yesterday gave an assurance—indeed, assurances—of the Government's willingness to co-operate, and I repeat those assurances now in relation to the Welsh Committee. The House will not find me or my Department raising unnecessary difficulties. We shall do all that we can to help the new Committee.
I turn now to the question of numbers. We propose a Committee of 11. That is in line with the largest of the departmental Select Committees established yesterday. The Select Committee on Procedure recommended a norm of about 10 for the membership of these Committees and expressed the belief that the Committees should be small enough to operate as single cohesive investigative units. I agree with the Committee's views and consider that if Committees of this size are right for a major Department such as the Treasury, with all its varied responsibilities, there is no reason why one of that size should not be right for Wales.
The Opposition have put down an amendment proposing a Committee of 36, presumably on the ground that all Welsh Members should be able to serve. It must be appreciated—appreciated, I suppose, by none more than by you, Mr. Speaker—that some Welsh Members, due to the offices which they hold, are not eligible to serve, so presumably the amendment would involve the attendance of English Members. To that extent I suppose that it might be welcomed by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West. However, I am not sure whether that is 308 what the amendment's sponsors have in mind. No doubt some Welsh Members will not wish to serve because of their other commitments.
I am afraid that I cannot accept the amendment. Quite apart from the arguments that I have already advanced about the Select Committee's recommendation on the size of an effective committee, I must point out that the 12 major Select Committees established yesterday will require a membership of 120. The remaining Select Committees, other than Wales, and any committee that may be established for Scotland, will require more than 60 more, so that we are in a situation where approximately 200 hon. Members will be engaged in Select Committees. And I believe that a large Select Committee of the kind proposed by the Opposition would place a considerable strain on hon. Members, particularly those Welsh Members—and there will be many—who wish to serve on the departmental Select Committees established yesterday or on other continuing Select Committees.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West was right to suggest that the House as a whole will be interested in the work of the Welsh Select Committee. However, there is no doubt that there will be many Welsh Members who will not take kindly to the idea that they should concern themselves only with Welsh affairs and should not be closely involved and members of the other Select Committees that will be established.
Yesterday the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) referred to the danger that the Committees would be thinly attended. It would be no service to the House, or to Wales, to establish a Committee of a sort which many Members would find difficult to attend regularly. I must say to the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) that I do not consider the proposition contained in his amendment to be entirely reasonable. We have put forward a scheme that is in line with the recommendation of the Procedure Committee and in line with the decision taken by the House yesterday. We are taking a major new initiative. The right way to do that is to make a start that is in line with the practice of the House generally and to see how we get on. We can always make modifications later in the light of experience.
309 I turn now to some general points about the consequences of our passing the first motion on the Order Paper, and our reasons for proposing the others. As I have said, our main thrust, following rejection of the Wales Act, should lie in improved parliamentary scrutiny of the affairs of Wales. We have already had, at the very earliest opportunity, a short Welsh affairs debate. We have undertaken to hold more frequent meetings of the Welsh Grand Committee, with some of the debates to be used to discuss the reports of the nominated bodies. We intend to hold a general debate on the Welsh economy in the Grand Committee in two weeks' time, followed before we rise for the Summer Recess by a debate on the Price Commission report on the Welsh water authority. I believe that the fact that we are proposing this programme is an earnest of our good intentions. With two debates on the floor, two debates in the Welsh Grand Committee and two lots of Welsh questions inside two months, I do not think it can be argued that we are neglecting the affairs of the Principality in terms of parliamentary time.
In addition, the new proposed Select Committee, I believe, offers the way forward for a major advance in the public scrutiny of Welsh government. I am sure that the Select Committee has an important role to play.
During the Welsh affairs debate I said that I was considering other aspects of the problem, and in particular the relationship of local and central Government. I want to give local government a much freer hand. I want to disengage from detailed supervision whenever that is possible and to cut down on the number of circulars. I want responsibility to lie at the lowest level possible.
At the same time, I am anxious to ascertain whether we can improve on the consultative processes that now exist. I intend to discuss this with the local authorities. I particularly want to know whether they feel that the existing consultative council on local government finance provides the best forum for general consultation and whether its role can in any way be widened and improved.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
What action is the right hon. Gentleman taking to reduce the number of quangos in 310 Wales? Does he recall that that was part of the Conservative Party's campaign before the general election? Is he proposing a reduction in the number of quangos?
§ Mr. Edwards
One often finds, on giving way to an intervention, that one was about to move on to the matter raised by the intervenor. I am in that position.
We shall consider whether all the nominated bodies are required. That exercise is taking place urgently. We shall be making announcements. There are a number of bodies that we could well do without. I shall be making statements on that matter as soon as possible.
The exposure of the nominated bodies to the Select Committee will be a valuable discipline for them. I have one other immediate proposal to make, and that is that they should expose themselves more to public examination. The Welsh arts council has already made experiments in this direction and I think that these have been welcomed. I believe that some of the others might follow that example. I propose asking the chairmen of some of the leading nominated bodies in Wales, such as the Welsh water authority, the Welsh Development Agency, the Development Board for Rural Wales, and the Wales tourist board, to conduct an experiment and to hold public meetings to present their annual reports.
It may be that such meetings will arouse little interest or, alternatively, that they will attract a number of cranks. I believe that that problem can be partly overcome by inviting to the meeting the representatives of local authorities and organisations with a particular interest, though their presence would not exclude the general public. I do not think that bodies with public responsibility should be afraid to face the public, any more than public companies can avoid facing their shareholders. I believe that it will be an interesting experiment in public participation and will help to make these organisations less remote from those they serve. As politicians, we frequently place ourselves in a position to be questioned in detail about our activities. I see no reason why those who administer these important organisations in Wales should be afraid to face similar examination.
The debate will give the opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to put 311 forward other suggestions for improving government in Wales in the light of the decision of the Welsh people not to proceed with the Wales Act. My proposal is that we should approve the draft order for repeal—
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
During the discussions that were held when we were considering possible alternatives if the people of Wales did not want an Assembly, it was argued that there should be greater democratic accountability. It was contended that there was a need for those on nominated bodies to be more accountable. Has the right hon. Gentleman given consideration to the suggestion that Members of Parliament and representatives of districts and counties should be brought together to determine who serves on the nominated bodies? If that were done, they would be more democratically accountable than those who serve under the present system which depends on which Government are in office and the determination of patronage.
§ Mr. Edwards
I can answer only one question at a time. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) before I conclude. I was about to say that I want the debate to be constructive and to provide an opportunity for hon. Members to put forward any proposals that they wish. I undertake that the Government will listen to the suggestions that are made. I shall take note of and consider what the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) has said. The hon. Gentleman may care to elaborate later.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes
Is the right hon. Gentleman proposing any change in the arrangements for the Welsh Council, which is now chaired by Sir Melvyn Rosser? Is he proposing any changes in its function and constitution?
§ Mr. Edwards
I told the House in the previous Welsh debate that I was considering the position of the Welsh Council. That is still the position. I believe that I am meeting the chairman of the council this week. I do not wish to reach any general conclusion until I have paid him the courtesy of meeting him and discussing the council with him. I shall make 312 a statement to the House as soon as conclusions have been reached.
The way in which to proceed this afternoon is not to rake over the stale arguments but to see whether we can use the debate as an opportunity to consider any fresh proposals and constructive ideas that may be put forward. In that spirit I urge the House to approve the three motions. It is my belief that in so doing we shall be setting out on a sounder course towards the improved accountability of government in Wales.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda)
Our first act is to deal with the draft Wales Act (Repeal) Order 1979. I believe that it is generally unwise to linger at the graveside of anything. It is positively harmful and some people catch their death of cold by so doing. In spite of my own disappointment, I believe that when the people of Wales speak as clearly as they did on 1 March, and with a uniform voice throughout Wales, it behoves all of us who claim to be democrats to pay heed to it. At the same time I do not think it is right that the Wales Act should go unsung. The Act was not a hurriedly drafted sop of nationalism.
First, it was a genuine attempt, after years of discussion, consultation and a Royal Commission, to increase democratic control over the Government machine in Wales. Judging by the comments in the past few days, all of us believe that to be necessary. Secondly, it was a genuine attempt to make the nominated bodies more accountable and democratic. Obviously, from the interventions we have heard today, few of us are satisfied with the present set-up. Thirdly, it was designed to ensure that public expenditure in Wales was more in keeping with Welsh needs and that priorities in public spending were decided by a democratically elected Welsh Assembly. All that has gone as a result of the referendum. However, if we as democrats are to pay heed to that referendum result—I agree that we should—it is equally important that we pay heed to the problems that the Labour Party, when in power thought that the Welsh Assembly could deal with. Those problems still remain, in spite of the referendum result.
313 One of those problems is that of nominated bodies or quangos. The Secretary of State indicated the difficulties we were up against in dealing with this problem. We want to know which of the nominated bodies in Wales will come under the scrutiny of the Select Committee. I take two examples. I refer first to the arts council. That subject was debated in the Welsh Grand Committee. The Secretary of State is responsible for appointments to that body, although he has no control over it. On the other hand, the Secretary of State appoints only a minority of the members of the Welsh water authority. Will those two bodies come under the jurisdiction of the new Select Committee? The House should be given, at an early moment, a complete list of those nominated bodies responsible to, or coming under the scope of, the new Select Committee.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
The Welsh arts council and the water authority would be the kind of bodies that the Select Committee would expect to be able to examine. I should have thought that all the bodies that would have come under the authority of the proposed Welsh Assembly would come into that category as well.
§ Mr. Jones
With respect, it is not good enough for the Minister to say he thinks that they will come under that authority. If we propose the setting-up of a Select Committee to examine nominated bodies, before agreeing to it we should at least know which of the nominated bodies will come within the scope of the Committee. I hope that we may have much more detailed information as to which of these bodies comes within the scope.
§ Mr. Abse
May I impress upon my right hon. Friend, as I sought to impress upon the Secretary of State for Wales, that if the Select Committee is to be meaningful, it must be independent of the Executive? It must be able to take its own initiatives, call whomsoever it wishes, whether the chairman of the Welsh BBC or the chairman of a water authority. The worst that could happen is that the Opposition should give countenance to the idea that if a Select Committee comes into existence it should be beholden to the Secretary of State for Wales to decide what its business should be.
§ Mr. Jones
I agree with my hon. Friend. The motion says:A Select committee shall be appointed, to be called the Committee on Welsh Affairs.However, I should have hoped that it was the intention of the Government, in putting the motion forward, to interpret that generously, in such a way as to ensure that bodies such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend come within the scope of the committee.
I am facing this difficulty. The Secretary of State said that the bodies which would come within the scope were those over which there was a significant degree of ministerial control. That kind of definition leads me into the difficulty of not knowing what are the Government's intentions in this matter.
§ Mr. English
This matter was specifically discussed in the debate on the Procedure Committee report last night. It is clear that any Select Committee of the House has the right, leaving out Ministers for the moment, to summon before it whom it wishes and to order their attendance.
There is a chance that we may throw away the baby with the bath water if we endeavour to be too pedantic. Nobody suggests that "associated public bodies", which is a skilfully chosen phrase, means bodies associated with any special function. The Minister was more specific than the motion when he referred to a degree of ministerial responsibility. In fact an associated public body may come under no degree of ministerial responsibility, but it may be associated with Wales.
§ Mr. Jones
This is the difficulty. The Secretary of State, probably with the best of intentions, tried to give a definition that appeared to members of the Opposition to seek to constrict the activities of the Select Committee. Perhaps someone may be able to clear up this matter. I interpret the words "associated public bodies" in the same way as my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
There is another point that requires elucidation. We are told that the Committee will shadow the Welsh Office and associated public bodies. Many of us would prefer that to be the totality of Government operations in Wales. For 315 example, the operations of the Department of Industry and other Government Departments may be relevant to the Select Committee. We would not want them to be limited to one Government Department, the Welsh Office.
§ Mr. Jones
I propose to raise that matter later.
More than merely knowing which of these nominated bodies will come within the scope of the Select Committee, we must look also at the question of the composition of nominated bodies.
In the reasoned debate on the arts council in the Welsh Grand Committee we dealt with the accountability side of the matter. However, as soon as the question of the composition of that and other bodies was raised, the balloon went up. Obviously there is strong feeling on both sides of the House that the way in which appointments are made to these nominated bodies is not in the best traditions of democracy. That is a problem which, I suspect, will remain even if we move tonight towards a Select Committee.
There is dissatisfaction in Wales among many local authorities as to how the rate support grant is shared out. Powys and Gwynedd are not content with this method. Hon. Members know that the present system is that the rate support grant is distributed in accordance with a formula devised on an England and Wales basis. It does not necessarily reflect the relative needs of different areas in Wales. We need a separate Welsh rate support grant settlement, more finely tuned to the needs of Wales. I am not sure that a Select Committee is the only means of focusing attention on that need. I believe that it could be accomplished even without a Select Committee. It is one of the problems and we must tackle it.
There is an urgent need for some body to re-examine the National Health Service and to see whether its structure is efficient, effective, and even democratic. There are strong arguments in many parts of the country to the effect that there is no need for area authorities and district authorities. This sort of investigative work has to be carried out by someone.
Despite the fact that there were divisions between the two sides of the House 316 and within the Labour Party when we were discussing local government within the devolution context, it is my experience, from the years I spent in the Welsh Office, that there is dissatisfaction among a number of local authorities in Wales. While the solutions offered vary in accordance with membership of a county council or district council, it is a problem which someone at some time will have to look at. Problems of this sort can be probed and analysed and solutions for them can be found. In that respect I believe that a Select Committee on Welsh Affairs can make a meaningful contribution.
The House passed judgment last night on the desirability, in general terms, of Select Committees. We have to ensure, first, that Wales is not left out, if this is as good a deal as most hon. Members believe it to be and that the Committee set-up in Wales is the best that can be devised to suit the needs of Wales. In saying that, I do not believe that a Select Committee can solve all our problems. If it can produce solutions to some of them I shall be satisfied.
I therefore give a cautious welcome to the proposals and remind some of my hon. Friends that we have been arguing about this for many years. I found a document drawn up by the late Ness Edwards in January 1968, in which he summarised the views of the Welsh Labour group which were thatA Select Committee should be appointed to investigate … the functioning of the administration throughout the Principality and to report.My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) produced a report for us at about the same period, and he was supported by the Welsh Labour group. He said thatThe Welsh Back Bencher should be in a position to make a thorough analysis in depth of the nation's problems … to scrutinise, examine and, where necessary, improve the policy formulated by the Administration.We know to our cost—this applies to both Labour and Conservative Administrations—that Welsh Day can often be curtailed by circumstances beyond the control of the Secretary of State for Wales, whoever that may happen to be. The procedures for Welsh Day, parliamentary Question Time, the Welsh Grand Committee, and the Adjournment debates, do not provide sufficient opportunity for Back-Bench 317 Members to carry out what is called for in the report of the Select Committee on Procedure, namely, the examination of all aspects of expenditure, administration and policy.
If the wording of the motion means that we should be able to carry out the task set by the Select Committee—the examination of all aspects of expenditure, administration and policy—I am sure that it would meet the requirements of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). I should like to give these proposals a fair wind, but I have some questions to put to the Secretary of State, and I hope that we shall have some answers to them before the end of this short debate. The Secretary of State said that he would be interested in what we had to say and would take note of it. It is surely somewhat late for him to say that. It would have been more appropriate to have had some consultations in this House on the wording of the motion before asking us to vote on it. It would have been a most suitable subject for discussion in the Welsh Grand Committee. The views of all Welsh Members could then have been aired before the motion was put down in black and white. It is not incapable of amendment, but from a practical point of view it is now somewhat difficult to amend. I am therefore somewhat disappointed by that aspect of it.
As to the future of the Welsh Grand Committee, I believe that it is right that we should wait and see how the Select Committee develops. Meanwhile, we should certainly retain the Welsh Grand Committee, because there are to be some major general debates, such as the one we are to have on 4 July on the economy of Wales. We should retain it also because it is the one vehicle we have whereby all Welsh Members can express their view if they so wish. For these reasons, I hope that we shall retain it.
Concerning the size of the Select Committee, I hope that the Secretary of State has a more open mind than his speech appeared to suggest. I am not suggesting in my amendment that 36 is a perfect number. It may not be the right number, but I tabled the amendment to draw the attention of the House to my view—I think it is shared by some of my hon. Friends—that while 36 may possibly not be the right number, 11 is totally unreasonable. A membership of 11 is too 318 small to take adequate account of the fact that the Welsh Office is a multi-functional Department, spreading over most of the subjects to be covered by separate Select Committees in England. For example, the Select Committee in England dealing with the environment will be in session year in and year out, keeping a constant eye on environmental problems in England, whereas in Wales one Committee with only 11 Members will have to deal with a range of subjects, so that it will be much more difficult for it to keep a constant eye on any individual subject.
If the Committee decided that it would in the first year examine in depth the issue of housing in Wales, and then roll on and deal with other subjects as years go by, it could be six or seven years before it could come back to the housing problem. I do not think that that would be the sort of continuous investigation that is required. Hon. Members may point out that there can be Sub-Committees, but I believe that our membership of 11 is too small to provide the number of Sub-Committees necessary to examine the various subjects which are the responsibility of the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
I believe that my right hon. Friend's amendment is nearer perfection than he is suggesting, because it refers to a maximum of 36, so there would not have to be 36 members. It could be a number up to 36. That would cover the problems posed by my right hon. Friend about certain hon. Members not being able to serve.
§ Mr. Abse
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is assuming that there will be Sub-Committees. No one on the Government Front Bench has demurred, but are there to be Sub-Committees? The Home Office has specifically said that it would have two Sub-Committees. Is there the power under this order to have Sub-Committees? My right hon. Friend should look at this question.
§ Mr. Jones
This question must be answered in the Minister's reply. I had assumed that this Select Committee would have the power to operate Sub-Committees. Doubtless the Secretary of State is 319 not in a position to answer the question now, but we shall expect an answer later.
I am too modest to claim that my amendment is near perfect, but I did use the words "up to a maximum of 36" bearing in mind the fears of the Secretary of State that if we made it otherwise it would impose a severe strain on Welsh Members.
§ Mr. English
There was a proposal in the Procedure Committee report that there should be a Liaison Committee to deal with this question of Sub-Committees. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Committee cannot operate as an investigatory committee if it is too big? If it is as large as he wishes, it must have Sub-Committees because it is impossible for 20 or 30 people to cross-question a witness. Also, does my right hon. Friend realise that the figure of 11 may be governed by the number of Conservative Members in Wales? If the Committee is to have a governing party majority, it must have English or Scottish Members on it as well.
§ Mr. Jones
The argument that I put forward for using the words "up to a maximum of 36" is not that I believe one would sensibly have 36 people trying to investigate an item. That would be even worse than all the Welsh trying to get in on a Welsh Grand Committee debate. But by having a fairly large Committee, we would be able to establish Sub-Committees to deal with the specific and different functions of the Welsh Office.
§ Mr. Jones
Just one moment. My hon. Friends should appreciate that the Government are on the other side of the House. As far as the number of 11 is concerned, I was not so devious as to think that there was any deviousness on the part of the Secretary of State here. I thought that he had merely followed the Select Committee recommendation.
§ Mr. Anderson
May I draw my right friend's attention to the fact that in item 5 on the Order Paper, under the heading of "Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)" there is a specific power granted to that Committee to appoint one or more Sub-Committees? That suggests that a 320 specific power is neeeded and since no power is specifically granted to this Select Committee, can one conclude that no Sub-Committees can be appointed by it? Does one not need a specific power as in item 5?
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
I hesitated to intervene at this stage for the sake of good order, but perhaps it would be helpful if I could clarify the position. In order to establish a Sub-Committee, the consent of the House of Commons is required. I do not rule out, particularly in the light of the range of the responsibilities of the Welsh Office, the suggestion that there should be a Sub-Committee. By deciding on a Committee of 11 we have left room for that option. It was expressly to provide room for Sub-Committees that certain of the Select Committees established yesterday were given additional members. Those Select Committees that have 11 members are empowered to have Sub-Committees.
Personally I would prefer to proceed without a Sub-Committee at the outset, and to reconsider the proposal when we had some experience. This is because I am concerned about the burden and the strain that will be placed on the facilities of the House in serving these Committees and the multiplicity of Sub-Committees. I am anxious that we should not get off to a bad start by over-straining the services. However, if strong representations are made during this debate, we shall look at this matter again, because we want to meet the desires of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
The right hon. Gentleman refers to Sub-Committees. The Select Committee was insistent that we should not have a multiplicity of Sub-Committees and it strongly recommended 321 that there should be only one Sub-Committee. While I shall certainly consider a single Sub-Committee, I hesitate to recommend a whole multiplicity, which would have to be serviced and would add greatly to the burden.
§ Mr. Jones
We are not suggesting that we want 36 Sub-Committees. But it is not really fair to suggest that we should follow blindly the pattern of the Select Committee which the House adopted yesterday for specific individual Government Departments. The Welsh Office is different. The Secretary of State for Wales is the Secretary of State for Housing in Wales, just as he is the Secretary of State for Education, Transport and a whole range of other functions in the Principality. That does not apply to other Government Departments which are the subject of these Select Committees.
§ Mr. Jones
I do not think that I should ask for any more assistance. In fairness to hon. Members on both sides of the House I do not think that I should give way again.
We do feel the need for a larger membership to allow Sub-Committees to be set up and carry out the sort of examination that is necessary.
The Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries is to disappear. It will be replaced by a joint Sub-Committee of departmentally-related Committees. How will the Welsh Select Committee fit into this pattern? The nationalised industries—certainly the coal and steel industries—have particular significance in Wales, especially now. Welsh Members want to ensure that if a Sub-Committee examines the major nationalised industries, on which so many of our constituencies depend, there should be a place for Welsh representation on that Sub-Committee.
I turn to the point about composition. If we have, as is recommended, a Committee of 11, and if there are six Government members, that would leave five for the Opposition. That means that the Government would have roughly the same number of members on the Committee as the Opposition, although the Opposition has twice as many hon. Members in Wales. That is hardly fair. If the nationalists and the Liberals are 322 to get a seat each, we would end up with the Conservatives having six Committee places representing 11 Members of Parliament in Wales, whereas the Labour representation would be cut down to three places, representing 21 elected Members of the House. These are genuine difficulties which are not mirrored in England. Therefore, we should not blindly follow the English pattern. These are matters which a larger Committee membership would have eased and, if there had been genuine consultation before this order was laid, some of the difficulties might have been avoided.
Nevertheless, I wish to give a fair wind to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. Though deploring the lack of consultation, I repeat my cautious welcome for the idea. However, I trust that the Government will reconsider the size of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs and ensure that it has power to establish Sub-Committees. Otherwise, many of the functions administered by the Secretary of State for Wales will not receive the same scrutiny in Wales as do many of the functions in England.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
I wish to echo most of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. Whatever may have been said in the debate yesterday on the Scottish repeal order, I believe that, in view of what happened at the time of the referendum, there is hardly anything else that Parliament can do but to agree to this order. The decision in the referendum was perhaps more impressive than any decision that might have been taken by this House, because it was a decision by the electors in the Principality.
§ Sir R. Gower
I am not now dealing with Scotland. The result in Wales was truly decisive—a figure of 79.5 per cent. voting "No" and only 20.5 per cent. "Yes". Even in Gwynedd there was a decisive result against the proposals.
Although it is true that Plaid Cymru electors voted heavily in favour, there was evidence in an ITA poll after the referendum that there was a large majority in the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Parties against devolution. Indeed, it was 323 significant that in the Labour Party 78 per cent. voted against and only 22 per cent. in favour, and that among the Liberals 83 per cent. voted against and only 17 per cent. for devolution. Among Conservatives, 95 per cent. voted "No" and 5 per cent. "Yes" According to the same poll, there was a majority against devolution even among Welsh-speaking voters in the most Welsh parts of the Principality. This was achieved after a modest campaign on either side. There was no great campaign by supporters or opponents, and comparatively little propaganda from either side. It was almost a spontaneous result among the electors.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the majority of Welsh people voted against the proposals and not against the principle of devolving power to the people of Wales?
§ Sir R. Gower
We are dealing with the proposals today, and that is the subject on which I am commenting. Those proposals were decisively rejected by Liberal, Labour and Conservative voters and apparently they were acceptable only to members of Plaid Cymru. This result was achieved after a modest campaign, with little propaganda from either side. Therefore, for those reasons it was all the more impressive. Against that background, surely there is nothing that Parliament can do but to pass this order reversing the original Act.
I welcome the setting up of the Select Committee. The right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) thought that this proposal was inadequate, but surely it is an innovation and should be regarded as such. He thought that this proposal was objectionable because it could not be amended. However, amendments could have been tabled to these proposals.
§ Mr. Alec Jones
I hope that I did not give the impression that I regarded the proposals as objectionable. I tried to point out that there are still problems in Wales, some of which could be dealt with. That is why I gave a cautious welcome to a Select Committee. But they will remain problems which neither a Select Committee nor any of our present procedures will deal with. However, I was not raising any objection to the proposal.
§ Sir R. Gower
Many of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks reinforce the view expressed by the Secretary of State for Wales to the effect that we should see how the new system works and then decide what improvements are needed, rather than rush into the appointment of a number of Sub-Committees. Indeed, the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks was that we should begin with a similar battery of Committees as will be represented in the main Select Committees in the United Kingdom as a whole. Surely we should be glad that in addition to the Select Committees that will cover United Kingdom services, we shall have a Welsh Committee specially designed to deal with the work of the Welsh Office and associated bodies.
There has been a certain amount of discussion on how far the term "and associated public bodies" should extend. Surely this relates to my hon. Friend's responsibilities and those of his Department in relation to this House and to the extent to which the work of these "associated public bodies" will be included in that responsibility. I may be wrong in that view, but that is my reading of it. The wording is important and may require future amendment to bring in other bodies.
The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) was dealing with a slightly different matter when he mentioned the right to call witnesses. That is a wide-ranging power, but the terminology in these proposals touches a different issue—not the right of a Select Committee to call witnesses, but the bodies that fall within its remit. That is why the phrase "and associated public bodies" is so important.
On the whole, I regard this proposal for a Select Committee as reasonable. The right hon. Member for Rhondda appeared to believe that the Select Committees in England would be able to investigate the whole area of governmental activity. That is an impossible task and it cannot be done. The value of this system lies in the fact that a Select Committee may investigate any facet of departmental activity. None of the Select Committees which we discussed yesterday will be able to investigate more than a small proportion of the activities of a Department. Therefore, the value of the new Select Committee 325 on Welsh Affairs may be very great indeed. It is not the extent of its work that is important. Its importance lies in the uncertainty about where its next piece of work will be performed. We shall be keeping on their toes those who serve the Government Departments, whether the political heads or the permanent officials, because they will not know where the Committees will pounce next.
I believe that some of the right hon. Gentleman's fears will prove to be unfounded. I believe that the Select Committee will have a great value in investigating a wide area of Government activity in Wales. The amount of work that it can undertake, even if it is supplied with Sub-Committees, will be relatively small, but I believe that its value will be as great if we begin with one main Select Committee.
My right hon. Friend said that he would be prepared to reconsider the situation a little later and that he may even consider adding a Sub-Committee. Experience may reveal the need for an additional body. However, in the first place, it is important to set up the main body.
I was interested to hear mention of the activities of the Welsh Grand Committee. I should be happy to retain that Committee. Its work is different, in that it is not investigatory or inquisitorial. In that Committee we can conduct the broad debates on Welsh affairs which cannot be taken on the Floor of the House. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider—some people may denounce this as mere window dressing—the value of an occasional meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee in the Principality. The suggestion of an occasional sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee in Cardiff has been put forward before. That might take place in the Welsh Office or in another suitable place. My right hon. Friend might consider that to be an additional useful innovation.
I support the initiation of the Select Committee. It will be a valuable addition to our armoury. We already have Welsh Day, the Welsh Grand Committee and the special arrangements for dealing with Welsh affairs, but this will be a valuable addition. As time goes on, we can learn from the Select Committee, improve it and possibly add to it. I support the motion strongly.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Nobody loves a funeral more than the people of Wales. However, this is one funeral which it is better to pass by quickly. Clearly, the Assembly is dead—rejected decisively on St. David's Day. Now, long live the Select Committee.
Although the protracted debate on the Wales Act was abortive in one sense, it was fruitful in another. For the first time for many decades there was the opportunity to debate the constitutional development of Wales and to examine the adequacy of the control procedures in this place and outside. In that debate many of the criticisms of the existing procedures were shown to be well founded. Therefore this response by the Government is proper in the context of the debate.
The debate exposed the inadequacies of existing scrutiny and control procedures and highlighted the fact that there is in United Kingdom politics a Welsh element which it would be folly to ignore. I believe that the solution—although a part-solution—is a good one. It does not have the dangers of bureaucratisation and separatism which were contained in the Assembly proposal.
I was interested in the Secretary of State's remarks about the other side of the coin, the other body which was debated during the course of the devolution debate—the Welsh Council and an extension of it. It has been suggested that an all-Wales body, perhaps incorporating senior representatives of Welsh local authorities on an indirectly elected basis, could be set up. It is clear that little thought has been given to that suggestion in the Welsh Office, and it will be interesting to see how such a body might operate now and how it will relate to the Select Committee. It might be better to look at that side of the problem and the Select Committee side of the problem before going ahead with the proposal.
However, I welcome the proposal as far as it goes. In principle it is a good step, but its practical effectiveness will depend on a number of factors, the first of which is the spirit in which it is viewed by the Government. How quickly will Select Committee reports be debated either in the House or in the Grand Committee? It would be a little artificial to hold debates on the Select Committee 327 in the Welsh Grand Committee, because there would be an overlap of individual members from both Committees. Therefore, it would be better if the matter came before the House in some form.
The seriousness with which the Government view the Committee will be shown by the resources that they are prepared to allocate to it. I refer particularly to the staffing arrangements of the Committee and how the specialist advisers will be made available. That will be vital to give the Committee bite and control over Government expenditure.
To what extent will the Committee be able to sponsor studies? There is a vast reservoir of talent in the University of Wales which could be called upon by the Committee for various studies. To what extent will the Committee be empowered to do that?
I hope that at an early stage the Committee will consider the subject of housing in Wales. For far too long there has been a lack of priority in dealing with the scandal of Welsh housing. I hope that the Committee will be able to call before it not only Welsh Office officials but senior officials of local government, to see how artificial or otherwise are the waiting lists in Wales. I hope, too, that the Committee will be able to call upon various other housing experts, and upon bodies such as MIND and Shelter, so that we can act as an effective pressure group in favour of providing greater resources for housing within the Principality.
The Government, perhaps by not consulting in advance, have hit on the number of 11 members. There is nothing magical in that figure. Again, there is nothing magical in the figure of 36 that was put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones). Indeed, that figure is inappropriate, because of the 36 Welsh Members, a number are in government and therefore could not serve on what is essentially a Back Bench investigative Committee. Even at this late stage, is there no scope for both sides to be in a negotiating position, both having made their starting bids? It should be recognised that there is an imbalance between the parties because the Labour Party has a proportion of two to one of the Welsh Members. Perhaps the numbers could be arranged 328 within the range of 12 to 16, so that there is a proper representation of the Labour Party and the other two minority parties on the Select Committee.
The Secretary of State conceded that if the Committee is to appoint Sub-Committees it has to be given specific power to do so—such power as is given to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which is referred to on today's order paper. The Committe may not appoint Sub-Committees immediately, but I believe that it should be empowered to do so.
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Select Committee on Overseas Aid in the 1966 Parliament had precisely that power?
§ Mr. Anderson
I was not aware of that, nor am I aware whether the Select Committee took advantage of the power. However, I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will refer to the matter in his reply. I hope, too, that the Government, even at this late stage, will consider giving the Committee that power. Whether the power is exercised is another matter. I hope that the Committee will not be debarred from appointing a Sub-Committee as a result of the wording of the motion.
I am impressed by the fact that we are told that:A Select Committee shall be appointed … to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Welsh Office and associated public bodies".Enough has been said about what is incorporated within the term "associated public bodies"—which quangos are included and which are not. I noted the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda about the proposal made by Mr. Ness Edwards in 1967 or thereabouts. The proposal was that the Committee should be empowered to look at the range of governmental activities in Wales. Although the Welsh Office was in existence at that time, albeit with more limited functions, it was proposed that the Select Committee should not be confined to the Welsh Office—of all Government Departments. Clearly, the Department of Industry for example has substantial powers over employment within Wales. Again, the Ministry of Transport has substantial power in respect of railways within Wales.
329 I hope that the terms will not be so narrowly construed as to confine the Committee to examine the Welsh Office only. If, for example, there were to be a Sub-Committee on transport, or if the Select Committee were to examine an aspect of transport in Wales I believe that it should be able to call witnesses before it from the Ministry of Transport because of the responsibilities of that Department within Wales.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we have to take account of the fact that civil servants in the Ministry of Transport and other Departments may resent being responsible not only to the Select Committee on Transport but to the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Select Committees?
§ Mr. Anderson
I hope that civil servants will not resent being called to account as public servants, though there is a burden on us not to give them too much work. I hope that they will not resent being called upon to answer when a Select Committee wishes to examine them.
We should not overestimate what the Select Committee will be able to do. There is no possibility of their advancing on the lines of American committees, because there is no separation of powers in this country, and our party discipline is much stricter.
The Government's proposals are an important democratic advance which should not be seen as a development of which the Welsh Office should be afraid. The Committee could assist the Welsh Office in many ways by adding to the debate in Wales and by acting as a pressure group to get increased resources for Wales. As the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) said, the Committee will be able to chivvy civil servants and keep them on their toes because of the uncertainty about where the spotlight will fall.
I hope that the Government will see the Select Committee not as an enemy but as a valuable tool and a body which can help them with their responsibilities.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Hooson (Brecon and Radnor)
I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) refer to the proposals as an advance 330 for democracy. I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman meant by his reference to a fruitful funeral, but I agree with him that some good things came out of the devolution debate in Wales. It provided an opportunity to think constructively about a number of subjects.
I welcome the tone of the two Opposition speeches that we have heard so far. I was glad that the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) offered a fair wind to the Select Committee, even though he had a number of detailed criticisms. As one of the hon. Members from Powys, I heartily agree that we must be dissatisfied with the rate support grant, which is most disadvantageous to the rural areas of Wales.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) referred to the remarkable size of the rejection of the Welsh Assembly. It is unusual in a democracy for the winning side ever to get up to 60 per cent. of the votes. For the "No" vote to have reached 79.5 per cent. in the referendum was a remarkable achievement. There was not a single county in Wales where the majority was not 2 to 1 or better.
I was always sceptical about opinion polls, and having seen some ludicrous and inept polls carried out in South Wales constituencies during the recent general election, my scepticism has become even greater. I agree that the figures published by Opinion Research Centre on the basis of interviews with Welsh voters immediately after they had voted were a remarkable testimony of the rejection of the Assembly proposal by supporters of all three main parties.
About 95 per cent. of Conservatives voted against the Assembly, 83 per cent. of Liberal voters voted against it, and 78 per cent. of Labour supporters voted "No" Even some Plaid Cymru supporters voted against the Assembly. I may murmer modestly that the Conservative Party was the only party that understood the feelings of the Welsh people on this issue from the beginning, but it is right to pay tribute to the courage and quality of contributions to the devolution debate made by a number of Labour Members.
I hope that in the quality of that discussion, which was not confined to party lines, and the common ground that we 331 are developing in this debate, we are laying the ground work for a constructive approach to Welsh affairs over the next few years. We are embarking on something of a constitutional experiment and conditions could be favourable for progress on this subject in Wales.
It has never been easy to build a solid Welsh interest in measures of home rule. Home rule Bills have failed before now in Wales. They failed in the 1890s, and it is clear that Wales was not prepared to support the previous Government's attempt to set up a Welsh Assembly.
The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) asked in an intervention whether the referendum result was a rejection of the previous Government's Bill, because it was as full of holes as a colander, or a rejection of devolution of any sort. Of course, no one knows the answer to that question, but I believe that while there is no great feeling among the Welsh people for devolution there is no great feeling against it, either.
The Welsh people are looking to the politicians to work out some ideas for the proper goverment of Wales and to have the courage of their convictions to do the things that they have been elected to do. If there is one lesson to be learned from the referendum it is that politicians should have the courage of their convictions. We cannot pass the buck to the electorate.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that perhaps we ought to give the people of Wales the right to decide in a referendum whether they believe in the principle of devolving power? We could then get together in the Select Committee or elsewhere to work out proposals that would be acceptable to the people of Wales.
§ Mr. Hooson
The hon. Gentleman has more confidence than I in abstract questions obtaining concrete results. We have a responsibility to put concrete proposals to our people. The previous Government submitted concrete proposals and they failed spectacularly.
If there was a major flaw in the proposal for an Assembly, it was that it did not make enough sense, though there were reasonable objectives in the proposal. There was only one argument in favour of the Assembly. There is a need for super- 332 vision of the work of the Welsh Office and numerous nominated bodies. I have no difficulty in agreeing about the need to control those bodies. There is, however, a degree to which the number of nominated bodies can be reduced with no great loss to Welsh public life, but it is easy to identify circumstances in which a watchdog body could be effective.
Let me give two examples. First, both sides of the House have been shocked by the failure of local authorities to spend their allocations for housing in two successive years. An annual underspending of £28 million was followed by another of £11 million. That was in an area where housing problems are particularly severe.
The second example is contained in the final report of the Price Commission describing lax management within the Welsh Water Authority. A body searching among some of the nominated bodies in Wales would undoubtedly bring about improvements in the quality of administration. If the Welsh Assembly could have given that one gain, of the supervision of bodies, the price would have been excessive. We should have achieved overmanning in politics and tripled the number of professional politicians in Wales. Clearly, that prospect did not appeal to the Welsh people. We should have had the potential of conflict between a Cardiff Assembly and Westminster on the one hand and local authorities on the other. We should have had the expense of a new building.
I am confident that we achieve the substance of what would have been available in the Assembly much more economically and efficiently through a Select Committee. I must rely very much on the experience of hon. Members more senior than I, but everything that I have studied about the form of parliamentary Committees convinces me that the effectiveness of a Select Committee depends very much on its working coherently as a team and with small numbers. Therefore, I support the view that we should begin with rather modest numbers. Let us walk before we try to run.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)
I have always held the view that the Welsh people would be better governed if they had their own Parliament. I am very disappointed that the Wales Act is to be 333 repealed. Many of us fought very hard for the principle of devolving power to the people of Wales. We failed to persuade the majority of the Welsh people to vote for the proposals, but I still believe that the majority are in favour of the principle of devolving power, though they would not accept the proposals put forward by the previous Government. To be fair to the Welsh people, I should add that if proposals had been put to the people of Wales similar to those put to the people of Scotland many more would have voted for them.
Today, the alternative to the status quo is for me to return to the people of Ceredigion, whom I represent, and for other right hon. and hon. Members to return to their constituents, and tell them that the choice now is between a Select Committee in London to look after their interests and the status quo. It is a great shame that the Government will not put something more constructive to the people of Wales.
Just because the referendum on a Welsh Parliament was defeated earlier this year, it does not mean that devolution is dead. It will continue to be an issue, as it has been in the past 50 years.
Talking about referendums, I wonder whether, if a referendum had been held a quarter of a century ago, we should have a Welsh Office today. I also wonder whether, if the people of Wales had the right to vote in a referendum on the matter, they would accept the present Government proposals on a Select Committee. I very much doubt it. The Welsh people seek proposals for a Welsh Parliament to look after their interests, with responsibility given to other people in Wales as well.
The problems that eventually led to the conception of the Wales Act still exist. We are ignoring them, sweeping them under the carpet and hoping that they will disappear. That is not a realistic attitude. The formation of a Select Committee is no real answer. It is simply tinkering with the problems. Some would say that setting it up was a rather insulting gesture by a political party that has never really been aware of the problems that face Wales.
It must also be remembered that the referendum result proved nothing conclusively. It demonstrated that the people 334 of Wales did not care for the Act as it was drafted. Many were uncertain of the implications, because of the unprincipled scaremongering initiated by opponents of devolution. Others felt that the Act did not meet the needs of Wales in full.
However, when people in Wales are asked for their views about government from Westminster they seldom express any satisfaction with the system. The majority will say "You will have to change the system." I take the electoral system for the sake of argument. I believe that many changes in it in the years to come are essential.
There is also a definite feeling that government is far too remote from the people, that Welsh electors have no say in their future, and that we are being governed by a faceless bureaucracy in Whitehall over which we have little control. I am sure that people who hold those beliefs will not find a House of Commons Committee an adequate answer to their criticisms. We need to examine the whole question seriously and formulate a positive approach.
It is agreed that centralisation of government is no longer efficient or desirable and that a degree of decentralisation is to be encouraged if democracy is to flourish. The Liberals advocate a federal system, in which Wales, Scotland and the regions of England would have their own Assemblies and be given equal treatment. A radical approach of that kind is essential. I believe that the concept of devolution would then gain acceptance from the British people as a whole and enthusiastic support from the electorate of Wales.
If devolution is to succeed in the United Kingdom, we should have parity within the nations. Having spoken to many of my colleagues and other hon. Members representing English constituencies, I have found that many are in favour of devolving power to the regions of England. The sooner many of us who believe in devolution get together and put forward proposals giving parity, the sooner people throughout the land will accept devolution.
I believe that the majority of hon. Members representing Wales, if not all 36 of us, should have the opportunity to serve on the Committee. I am not in favour of the Secretary of State's 335 figure of 11. Although I am not in favour of the proposals, I wish them well and hope that they will serve the people of Wales and give a degree of satisfaction to those serving on the Committee.
However, a Select Committee is not the answer to the aspirations of the people of Wales. What we need is a Welsh Parliament, and the sooner we start campaigning again for it, the better it will be for everyone. We are proud of our culture and language. As I have asked many times before, how long must we wait before we have our own Parliament—five, 15, 50 or 500 years? We have campaigned for the past 50 years. I hope that the day will soon dawn when we, the people of Wales, get together and fight for our goal—a Welsh Parliament representing the people of Wales.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)
I was very glad to hear that the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) and the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) did not intend to tarry at the graveside of the Wales Act. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) is still crying over the bier and is not adopting the same stance as other right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches seem to be doing. But, with great respect to the hon. Member for Cardigan, rather than playing with the ashes that drop from the funeral pyre he should be heaping them on his own head, because he knows that he got it horribly wrong. The people's verdict proved quite conclusively that what the hon. Member for Cardigan wanted for Wales was not what the Welsh people wanted. The hon. Member cannot gainsay that unless he intends to gainsay the whole democratic process.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
When I campaigned throughout Wales trying to persuade the Welsh people to vote for the then Government's proposals, I did not say that I was attempting to sell Labour's proposals to the people. I went round trying to persuade people to accept the principle of devolving power to the people of Wales.
§ Mr. Best
I accept that, of course. The sad thing was that the people of 336 Wales were never asked whether they wanted to accept the principle of devolution. What was before them was a specific measure, the Wales Act, and that is what the people rejected.
I was very glad to hear how the right hon. Member for Rhondda and the right hon. Member for Swansea, East put the matter. It seems that they have accepted the verdict of the people. I came here today expecting to hear the hollow sound of the beating of breasts. That has not been the case, and it is encouraging to find that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House seem to accept now, though perhaps with one or two exceptions, that the Wales Act is finally dead and should go.
I confess that when I heard about the promotion of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), I thought that some realisation was creeping into the Opposition Benches that the view which had prevailed against the Wales Act was in the ascendant at last. I hope that that is a view which prevails now in this Chamber.
The Wales Act must be repealed for two main reasons. The first is that it is offensive to have an Act on the statute book which the people have so clearly spoken against and turned down. The second is that I believe that the Wales Act itself was a negation of the concept of devolution.
I turn first to the fact that the Act was rejected wholeheartedly and overwhelmingly by the people of Wales and that it would be wholly wrong now for this House to allow it to remain on the statute book, lying around the corridors of power in this House like some somnambulant dinosaur ready to be paraded at some stage in the future with a greater grotesqueness than perhaps an elephant which arrived on the doorstep of one of the right hon. Members sitting on the Opposition Benches. That is why the Act should go, because it is an offence to democracy when the people have spoken against it so overwhelmingly.
But, perhaps more pertinently, the Act was also a negation of the concept of devolution. I take one point made by the hon. Member for Cardigan. It was that people did not speak against the concept of devolution when they voted against the Wales Act. Perhaps we are 337 unfortunate in this House in not knowing how the people of Wales really feel about the concept of devolution. However, from my campaigning throughout the referendum and thereafter I have gauged the feeling of most people to whom I spoke to be that they felt that the Wales Act was a measure not so much in furtherance of the idea of devolution as merely creating another tier of local government. They found that abhorrent. They found it abhorrent when they realised that if one of my constituents in Anglesey had a problem with education, he or she would have to go not to Caernarvon but to Cardiff with that problem. That was the reality of what the Wales Act was proposing. We Conservatives believe that the idea of devolution is to bring government closer to the people and not take it from them as the Wales Act proposed.
I turn to the idea of a Select Committee. I accept fully what the right hon. Member for Rhondda said about such a Select Committee needing to have teeth. Obviously it is no good having a Select Committee which is not able to scrutinise fully the powers of the Welsh Office and associated bodies, if it is merely to be a gesture or sop to those who want some form of devolution, and if it is put forward by the Government as some kind of palliative. That is not what it is, and I do not believe that it should be looked at in that way. The Select Committee can have teeth so long as it is set up and administered sensibly.
One criticism that can be levelled against the present proposal for a Select Committee is that there is no specific reference to the Committee's being able to call Ministers before it. However, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will look at the reality of the situation. If the Select Committee wished to call before it the Secretary of State for Wales or one of the Under-Secretaries of State, it would be an act of crass political folly, if nothing else, for the Minister concerned to fail to appear before the Committee. Certainly it would be the subject of a great deal of comment thereafter in the Chamber of the House. I think that right hon. and hon. Members need not worry too much about the absence of a specific power to call Ministers before the Select Committee.
338 But there is a difficulty in that there is no real power in any event. As a newly elected hon. Member, I bow to the judgment of more experienced right hon. and hon. Members. However, I see in paragraph 6.48 of the first report of the Select Committee on Procedure:The Clerk of Committees suggested that the House might be wise to think twice' before granting the new committees an unlimited power to appoint sub-committees.I shall deal with that in a moment. But, as I understand it, there is no power for a Select Committee to summon hon. Members of this House before it.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)
As the hon. Gentleman observed, the motion refers to the power of the Committee to send for persons. I assume that a Minister is still a person. Therefore, the motion provides for a Minister to be summoned to the Committee.
§ Mr. Best
I am grateful for that intervention but, as I understand it, that can be achieved only by an order of the House if a person fails to appear before a Select Committee. As I say, I bow to greater and more experienced judgment, but that is my understanding of it.
We ought to look first at the powers proposed for the Select Committee. They seem to be extremely wide. According to the motion, the Committee will have power to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Welsh Office and associated public bodies. The motion says:A Select Committee shall be appointed, to be called the Committee on Welsh Affairs.My understanding of that is that "associated public bodies" qualifies not "the Welsh Office" but "Welsh Affairs" and so will encompass all those public bodies which have specific responsibility for matters in Wales.
I am much persuaded by the arguments put forward by my right hon. and hon. Friends that we should have a Select Committee that is not too unwieldy in size. A Select Committee needs to have teeth. It would not be effective with a plethora of hon. Members whose attendance record was not great and who would not feel such a degree of commitment and sense of corporate existence as would a small Committee. The number should 339 be more commensurate with that for other Select Committees, as proposed.
The report of the Select Committee on Procedure states in paragraph 5.52We do not in any case believe that size is in itself a necessary indicator either of its ability to perform its functions effectively, although a committee obviously needs a reasonable minimum size to be viable and may need rather more Members if its activities increase significantly in scope or if subcommittees are to be appointed.I accept what the right hon. Member for Rhondda said. There is need for powerful Sub-Committees of the Select Committees. But hon. Members should wait and see how the Select Committee functions rather than set up a whole mass of Sub-Committees that may not be fully exercised. I hope, on balance, that we will say today that we warmly accept the idea of the Select Committee. One must look at the ability to set up Sub-Committees only in the light of the experience of the operation of the Select Committee. A most important factor is that this Select Committee should have adequate staffing, so that it has the resources to scrutinise the powers that will come within its study.
I express the esperance that hon. Members will support the idea of the Select Committee as a full and viable alternative to what was put forward in the Wales Act and far more to the benefit of the people of Wales than the Wales Act would have been.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
I suppose that the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) is now the authentic voice of Anglesey, following Mr. Cledwyn Hughes. The authentic voice has changed over the last few months, especially on this issue. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on his reasoning for people in Anglesey rejecting the devolution Bill. The fact that all education decisions would be moved from Caernarvon to Cardiff was the understanding that existed in the campaign. It was the sort of muddled thinking that led to the conclusion we saw.
The hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) referred to the non-campaign. He said that there had not been a campaign, and that there had been no propaganda. That is what led to the uncertainty 340 and the ignorance in the referendum which led, understandably, to people, in their uncertainty, opting for the status quo. We are in the final act of a long charade—a charade that has been going on for decades in this Chamber and accentuated over the past 10 or 15 years.
We have seen the pretence by various parties, most recently by the Labour Party, that they had the determination and the commitment to provide for Wales and for Scotland, as previously for Ireland, by their own volition, a formula of some limited self-government that would give satisfaction to the people of these countries while retaining some unity and integrity of the Kingdom as a whole. That myth has ended with this referendum. A hundred years of radical politics have ended. The first day of March was a watershed. We should now be aware that there is no possibility in the future of arriving at a compromise in Welsh politics that allows suitable self-determination for the people of Wales within the British context.
The choice is now "all or nothing". It is total self-government for anyone who believes in any autonomy for Wales. That is written clear. It is a result of this referendum, and follows from the manner in which certain hon. Members, with one or two honourable exceptions, campaigned in the lead-up to that referendum. What would have happened in 1964 if there had been a referendum on the Welsh Office? Would the right hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) now be sitting on the Treasury Bench? Of course not. Would there have been all the arguments about 2,000 civil servants in Cardiff, all the arguments about another tier of government that was unnecessary, and all the peripheral arguments in the referendum on 1 March?
It would not have happened. The right hon. Gentleman knows that. How many other changes would have occurred through this Chamber if there had been a referendum on each occasion? Would we have seen the introduction of a pension in the early part of this century? Would we have seen the introduction of a Welfare State? Would we have seen the social legislation for which the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has worked so hard over recent years? The hon. Gentleman has acknowledged in the 341 media that had there been a referendum on these issues the people would have voted against them.
It is easy to find 100,000 reasons against any proposal. There are many fewer reasons for taking positive steps in a certain direction. If there were a referendum now on hanging, the conclusion might be very different from the outcome of a vote in this House. Is there to be a referendum on hanging? I doubt it, and I hope not, although for many people the issue of hanging may be one that they understand much more than the issues in the referendum campaign for the Welsh Assembly. The whole institution of a referendum is under question as a result of what we have seen in Scotland and Wales.
If there had been a different result and a majority in Wales, as in Scotland, in the referendum, we know that there would have been no Assembly anyway. That is the extent of democracy that emanates from this place. It is causing cynicism among young people in Wales. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) I am in a position to hear the feedback coming from Wales. It is a cynicism with the so-called democracy of the institutions of Parliament and the inability of Governments to fulfil their manifesto commitments, even if they so wished.
§ Mr. Wigley
I will not give way. Other hon. Members wish to speak. The inability to hold a referendum on a fair basis was seen in the introducing of the 40 per cent. rule. This put a damper on the campaign.
There is cynicism about the power of the media in this type of referendum. The day after the then Prime Minister spoke in Swansea—his only meeting in Wales during the campaign—the Daily Mirror, one of the papers most widely read in Wales, failed to devote a single column inch to the speech. This was much more relevant and central to the result in Wales than it was in Scotland, which at least has its own newspapers. We saw in the campaign the diametrically opposite so-called "facts" put forward, for example, on the cost of the Assembly. Those in favour were saying that it would cost ½p per person per week. Those 342 against the Assembly were adding up the cost to the end of the century and stating how many hospitals in the valleys of Gwent this would mean if the proposals did not go through. It is not surprising that the electorate, at the end of the day, did not know where they stood and opted for the status quo.
We saw the reluctance of the last Government—with one or two notable exceptions—to campaign for the Assembly, even though this was apparently their policy. The stark silence from so many directions was underlined by the refusal to undertake a ministerial broadcast. Yet we saw how a ministerial broadcast could be used so spuriously in the approach to the vote of confidence at the end of the last Parliament.
Many people are now asking whether national aspirations can be attained through constitutional and political methods. I hope that they can, but I argue with less conviction today than I did before. The devolution issue led directly to the fall of the last Government. I have no doubt that the present incumbents of the Welsh Office and No. 10 Downing Street should thank for their tenancies the hon. Members for Pontypool and Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and the gang of six.
During the campaign opponents of the Welsh Assembly based their case on a number of issues. They said that it would cost too much. They said that it would cost £13 million, and argued that that was not good value for a talking shop. But now the proposal is for something which is even more of a talking shop. What is a Select Committee but a talking shop? It has no power to put into practice any of its recommendations. Volumes of Select Committee reports are stacked on shelves and nobody takes a blind bit of notice of them.
It was argued that an Assembly would lead to too much bureaucracy, but, as the unemployed in Cardiff know, 1,100 jobs would have been created by the Assembly. We did not hear much about bureaucracy in the run-up to the European election. The European Parliament creates an extra tier of Government and only 33 per cent. of the people voted for members of that Assembly, but the Government went ahead with it. There is a duality of standards between what is 343 acceptable for Wales and what is acceptable in more favoured arenas.
Throughout the campaign people said "Ah yes, we are in favour of the principle of devolution and possibly of an Assembly, but not this Assembly, not this form of devolution and not this Wales Act." I wonder whether those people will have a choice of any other type of Assembly or Wales Act. It behoves those who argued in that way to produce positive alternative proposals.
People said that devolution would put up the rates, yet without the Assembly rates are shooting up. So much for the cynicism in the campaign. We heard much about the slippery slope to separatism, yet the option now is the status quo or full self-government. Those who want any devolution or autonomy for Wales have no alternative but to come all the way with us.
There is a need for a Parliament in Wales—not a talking shop or an impotent Assembly. We need a Parliament with powers to make laws, to control our economy and to tackle problems such as unemployment, and deal with taxation powers. If we had such a Parliament we should not now be shuddering at the prospect of a Tory Government ruining our council housing stock. We should not be worrying about what is to happen to our railway lines, about the cost of the water authority, or the cuts in road programmes. If we had such as Assembly there would be somebody to speak up for Wales—somebody who would be a buffer against the iniquities of the Tory Government. We shall not have that. We are now lying back facing the rape of the Welsh people by the Tory Government. It will not take long for the 'Welsh people to find out what that means.
The Wales Act 1978 may be dead, but that was the only issue determined by the referendum. Even if the Act is dead, I believe that it is unwise to take it off the statute book at a time when there are to be further discussions about devolution for Scotland.
But there are to be no all-party discussions about Wales. During the passage of the Wales Act, the Conservatives said that there should be more discussion. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym)—now Secretary of State for 344 Defence—said that there should be more discussions in the Welsh context, but now the Conservatives are the Government and they can forget about Wales. They are over the hump of the referendum.
Questions remain unanswered. Questions were raised by Members of all parties in the referendum campaign. We heard much about the burden of work on the Welsh Office. How will that be tackled without an Assembly? The work is still there. Will there be more Ministers in the Welsh Office? Will there be a Member of the House of Lords in the Welsh Office, as we read in the Liverpool Daily Post recently?
We heard about the need for greater scrutiny of secondary legislation because legislation was going through on the nod. How shall we control that? There are no proposals from the Government or from the Opposition Front Bench.
How are we to control the nominated bodies? The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) suggested that Members of Parliament should sit on those bodies.
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Member said that Members of Parliament or local councillors, or both, should sit on nominated bodies. He can read what he said in Hansard. How many times has he attended meetings of the National Library of Wales, the National Museum of Wales or the courts of university colleges of which he is a member?
§ Mr. Evans
I suggested that instead of creating an Assembly with 80 members on full-time salaries we should bring Members of Parliament and representatives of the county and district councils together to determine who should serve on the nominated bodies. I did not suggest that Members of Parliament should have seats on those bodies. Instead of those nominated members being answerable to a Secretary of State they would be answerable to the elected Members of the House and to district and county council representatives. I never said that Members of Parliament should serve on nominated bodies.
§ Mr. Wigley
Perhaps the hon. Member used his language loosely in the debate, since I listened to him carefully. He seems to be saying that some indirectly 345 elected Welsh council should be a replacement for the Assembly and that such a body should nominate people to run the various bodies that affect much of Wales and control between £4 million and £5 million of expenditure. That is quite unsatisfactory. The answerability for public expenditure in Wales was an issue during the referendum campaign. There will be no answer on that from the Select Committee, or from such a Welsh council. Under the Wales Act there would have been flexibility in spending priorities. There will be no such flexibility now.
The Assembly would have been a forum in which I could have described the problems of my constituency in my own language. I do not suppose that I shall be allowed to do that in the Select Committee, in the Grand Committee, or in this Chamber. That is the regard that this Government, this Chamber, this Parliament and this city have for the language of my country. That need would have been fulfilled by the Welsh Assembly.
The Assembly would have been a focus for the energies and aspirations of the young people of Wales. That focus has disappeared. All that remains is a void—a vacuum in the politics of Wales. Where there is a political vacuum other things creep in. I do not know what will creep in to fill this vacuum, but I am sure that something will.
A Select Committee—a talking shop—is proposed. Will it be able to talk about the coal and steel industries in Wales? Will it be able to talk about the Manpower Services Commission or the University of Wales? I doubt it. Will there be any guarantee that anything will result from the Select Committee's reports? I doubt it. This is the talking shop of all talking shops. We understand that six of the 11 members of the Committee will be Conservatives. The Secretary of State said that Government Ministers cannot be part of it. That means that the three Welsh Office Ministers will not take part, nor will the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Stradling Thomas). That leaves all six Welsh Conservative Back Benchers on the Select Committee, including the PPS to the Secretary of State. That will be a nice set-up for the Tory Party.
Will the Committee be able to do anything about the health authorities in 346 Wales? The Secretary of State wants them to have greater freedom of action with less involvement by central Government. The people of Wales are worried that the health authorities are not answerable to anybody. They are worried about other nominated bodies. What will happen to the Countryside Commission? Will such a Commission be set up irrespective of the Act hitting the ground, or are we to lose it in perpetuity?
These questions have been unanswered. I, my colleagues and my party in Wales will not now be involved in some possibly unworkable compromise Assembly set in a British context. We shall be working for full self-government, and the sooner we get that the sooner we shall get an answer to our problems.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
It is sad to hear the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) expending his great talents on vain and idle regrets. I had no hesitation in opposing the Wales Act, if only because of the fatal flaw at its heart, which was the setting up of an Assembly with the power to spend money but with no duty to raise it. I was not opposed to the concept of devolution, and therefore I am glad to be here today as we bury the Wales Act and christen a Welsh Select Committee—a modest start in the direction of giving the people of Wales more say over the decisions which affect their daily lives.
The very existence of this Select Committee should go some way towards giving the people of Wales the feeling that they have more control over their destiny, but it will be the duty of that Select Committee to give reality to those hopes. Those who have the privilege of serving on that Select Committee should be deeply conscious of that duty. They must ensure that its activities lead to the people of Wales having a greater say in the decisions which affect their daily lives. We shall do them no service if we raise their hopes too high. Clearly, this Select Committee, with its limited resources, cannot carry out all the functions which were to have been laid on that expensive and lavish Assembly.
I thought that the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) went a little far in the number of issues that he suggested the Select Committee might conceivably 347 tackle if it were increased to the size that he would like. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) was a little closer to the mark on that score.
The hon. Member for Rhondda did the House a great service in suggesting some of the issues which the Committee might tackle, and tackle in a spirit of cross-party discussion and co-operation which is characteristic of a Select Committee. Everything remains to be seen how this Committee will function.
Perhaps I should remind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that Mr. Harold Macmillan used to say that he did not want constructive criticism, he wanted praise. I assure my right hon. Friend that he will not be getting praise from the Select Committee, and that he will not always think that the criticism it offers is constructive, but I think that in the long run he will come to believe that the decision which I hope the House will take this evening is a good one for the people of Wales.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) I, too, do not want to linger long at the graveside. Perhaps necromancers enjoy funerals, but I do not. Although the corpse was originally misconceived, and, when half alive, was seen to be misshapen, still I do not say my few words, I assure the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), in order to relish these obsequies.
It is true—I acknowledge it—that I participated in the ending of the life of this poor creature. I acknowledge also that I and five other Labour Members gave the opportunity to the people of Wales to put an end to this wretch. After all, it was the people of Wales who, having heard the accusations we made, having heard the often eloquent defences made by members of the Liberal Party and Plaid Cymru who believed in the Act, and having heard other defences advanced by people with unbelievable cynicism, condemned this poor thing to death.
I note today that few of its once-ardent friends are even present. They have slunk away. Those who are present are diffident in coming forward to give their 348 encomiums above the coffin. It is not because I feel guilt at the slaying that I am saying this, and certainly not because I wish to compose a threnody at the graveside, but because, whenever a death takes place, even of evil beings, wise men do not rush from the cemetery but rather try, even if for a brief moment, to gain a new perspective, to make appraisals of their lifestyles and their philosophies. They do not merely look back in anger, as the hon. Member for Caernarvon has.
Apart from the hon. Member no one here—such are false friends—appears to be in heavy mourning. But not even those who caused its death should be celebrants, for that would be unseemly. For the dynamic behind the devolution Act, sick though I believed it to be, was a response, although an inauthentic response, to some of the bewilderments, the especial anomie, the estrangements of our contemporary Wales. It was a response to an emptiness that was marvellously and curiously lacking in other days, in the days of adversity in Wales, not in these days of comparative prosperity. I refer to the days when community flourished and egoism withered. Sick though I believe the response to these problems to have been, the Act nevertheless was in some ways less purulent, less toxic a response than that given by those in Wales who helped to give us this Tory Government which, by shabby philosophy, mocks at the humane radicalism which so far in this century has been the unique contribution of Welshmen to British politics.
The new Secretary of State and his acolytes may feel triumphant that by teasing out all the avarice in the Principality—by offering income tax cuts and houses at discounts—by their huckster's approach, have pulled out more support in Wales than ever before to embrace the worst, the emptiest, the most banal values of South-East England suburbia.
The debate conducted in Wales over devolution was largely worthy of Wales. It was a battle of ideas, personally polemicised, as becomes Wales, but it was a search for a worthy identity. Although opportunists infiltrated both camps it was a genuine and passionate argument with ideational content, and a content that was in some ways spiritual.
There was and there is more common ground between those who were genuinely 349 committed to devolution and those who, for idealistic reasons, opposed it than exists or will ever exist between, on the one hand, radicals in the Labour Party, the Liberal Party and in Plaid Cymru and, on the other hand, the Welsh Tories who would iron out all the elan, all the distinctiveness and all the humanity which history, geography and, indeed, biology, have endowed upon Wales.
I come to bury the devolution Act, not to praise it. But I close the cemetery gates knowing that there is more, and that there must be still more understanding between the genuine mourners, of whom there may have been a few, and the genuine anti-devolutionists than can or should exist between them on the one hand and the Secretary of State on the other. The right hon. Gentleman has this afternoon danced—admittedly a little lightly—on the Act's grave, chanting, not quite audibly, the pagan songs of avarice that, if acted upon, would debauch the Principality.
Burying this Act does not mean that we have solved the problems of Wales. It should be understood by those in Wales that we radicals inside the Labour Party know that it does not mean that we have filled the vacuum within which too much of the life of our country is lived. It does not mean that we have arrested by one iota the corrosiveness of a self-interested, narcissistic form of capitalism which is spreading in Wales and which could totally destroy our especial pride of community and leave us as petty suburbanites in a provincial Britain.
Therefore, today is not a moment for lamentations, for looking backwards and for trying to stir up old hostilities. It is the time for all radicals in Wales to reunite, for if we do not do so we shall indeed have betrayed our heritage and be without identity, distinction, distinctiveness or reforming zeal. We shall then deserve the fate of petty anonymity that so evidently threatens Wales and its people.
What, then, is the response we now have before us for attempting to deal with these massive problems? It is a Select Committee. Let me make my position clear. If it were a genuine Select Committee, adequately backed, manned by people who wanted to use the inquisi- 350 torial powers with which it was endowed, it could be a valuable instrument.
If it remains in the present form it will however become a guard and a shield for the Department and for the Secretary of State for Wales. As has already been pointed out, the numbers on that Select Committee will be small and the majority will be Tory Members of Parliament—those left without office but who are still panting for it.
The power of patronage will remain with the Secretary of State for Wales. He will have a pliant Select Committee which will do what he wants it to do. The majority of its members—Welsh Tory MPs—would be bound to collude with the Secretary of State, not to open, up or reveal the great gaps that may exist within the Administration but rather to seal them. I cannot see the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) acting as the battering ram for the people of Wales and coming down heavily on the bureaucrats and the Ministers who will come before the Committee. It is farcical even to imagine such a concept. What we are creating is an instrument which, because it will have a Tory majority if it remains with its present numbers, can shy off any really complex problem which is bothering Wales, and in particular bothering the Secretary of State for Wales.
What the Secretary of State has done—even though perhaps he has not done it in a Machiavellian manner—is, since he lacks innovatory spirit, slavishly to follow the idea of the general Select Committees. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda has pointed out that they are inappropriate, and ineffective, in dealing with the multiple facets of administration which exist in the Welsh Office. Of course we need more people on the Select Committee but we need something else. I give this to the Secretary of State. Why should these people be appointed for the whole Parliament?
Members of other Select Committees have been appointed for a whole Parliament due to the need for continuity. For instance, in dealing with energy a Committee needs the people who know the subject and who build up a source of information on it. But the very nature of a Select Committee for Wales, if it has any meaning, is that it should be dealing with subject after subject. The very 351 nature of a Select Committee for Wales is that it ought to have Sub-Committees which would have powers of surveillance. We need a larger Select Committee and that Committee ought not to be elected for the lifetime of a whole Parliament.
If we concede that this is not a Machiavellian device to protect the Minister, and if the Committee is not going to be a creature—as I believe it will be—of the Secretary of State, what is necessary above everything else to make it effective is that people should be appointed for only one Session. That would enable a change of personnel and would allow the Committee, perchance, to grow a little and make some little contribution, which it cannot do at present, to resolving the vast and yawning problems of Wales. The Government, far from being able to meet those problems, will, as we know from their record and from their threats, be likely only to exacerbate them.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), whose speech I am sure we all enjoyed, has left me slightly disappointed, because in the course of that speech he loudly slammed the cemetery gates. I stand outside those gates, a late arrival, with my floral tribute. It is the only tribute that I have ever offered to the Wales Act, and I am feeling frustrated.
Whatever else may be said for or against the Wales Act, it did achieve one useful and major political purpose in that it focused the attention of the people of Wales on the real issues of devolution and self-government. For that alone it was a worthwhile effort. In that context, I was fascinated by, and will take every opportunity to repeat, the comments of the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley). He made it clear that, faced with overwhelming public opposition even to partial devolution, he now draws the uniquely logical conclusion that what the people of Wales want is total self-government. That is a banner which I am sure will be waved on his behalf from various political platforms during the next few years.
Now that devolution has gone, there remains the problem of how to deal with the need for democracy in nominated 352 bodies. I do not criticise the intention behind the proposition before us. What I criticise is the lack of preparation and thought before the proposition was brought forward. We add confusion—and I understand the difficulties in which the right hon. Gentleman found himself—by defining what is meant by "associated public bodies". At this stage I am far from clear, as I am sure many of my hon. Friends are, about the remit of this Committee. We look, with justifiable optimism, for a lucid explanation and definition of this from the Under-Secretary of State when he replies to the debate.
It has been made clear that the governing party intends to take a majority of the seats on this Committee. That will leave the Government with only six qualifying Back Benchers because of ministerial commitments and because of the understandable exclusion of the PPS. Therefore, on the Government side, all six Back Benchers who are eligible will be represented. On the Opposition side, of 21 Labour Members—virtually double the number of Conservative MPs—we are to have possibly only four representatives. The vast majority of Welsh Labour Members will not have access to the information that will be available to all the Conservative Members.
If the Government persist in confining the Committee to a mere 11 members, is it envisaged that the evidence and documentation made available to the few Committee members from the Labour side will be made available to Welsh Members generally? Even if we took four places—and that would leave us still grossly under-represented as the majority party in Wales—that would create grave genuine difficulties for both the minority parties, in that one or other of them would be excluded from the Committee, and have no opportunity of participating in it, for the full life of a Parliament.
§ Mr. Williams
Experience has shown that once these organisations are in existence such groups do want to be represented and to participate.
With regard to the work load, I do not think that the Committee is a practical proposition in the form in which the right hon. Gentleman has put it forward. As 353 my right hon. Friend indicated, this is a multi-functional Department. A great many disciplines and specialisms are involved. If we are to have meaningful, regular scrutiny of all the sectors of government covered by the Welsh Office we need a Sub-Committee structure, but that would put an impossible time requirement on the members of the Committee. In any case, it would be inefficient because it would mean that even if we had a Sub-Committee there would be no facility for drawing on the specialisms to be found on the Labour Back Benches. That would be a more relevant way of dealing with the Sub-Committees, and that is why we put forward the idea of a larger basic Committee.
What is the right hon. Gentleman's view on publicity and the media? In the last Session of Parliament we noted, for example, that the Public Accounts Committee allowed radio and television access to certain of its meetings. Is it envisaged, particularly if this Select Committee is to meet in Wales, that the media should have access to it? Will this be a decision for the Committee itself? Will that be something within its power? That may well be an interesting prospect for the Welsh media.
Further, the proposition before us is ill considered and ill defined because the normal processes have been ignored. There has not been consultation on what is essentially a procedural issue, and I am amazed that no attempt was made at least to have consultation through the normal channels with my right hon. and hon. Friends before the proposition was brought forward. Even better, of course, would have been the proposition put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones), to have a discussion on the matter in the Welsh Grand Committee, or a discussion such as we have now, but with time then for contemplation.
Therefore, even at this late stage I ask the Minister to consider not pressing the decision on the Select Committee here this evening but to take away the arguments that have been put to him, to have consultations with the Opposition parties over the next fortnight, and then to consider a modified proposiion that might have all-party support.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wyn Roberts)
My task at the end of this debate is to concentrate the mind of the House on the motions and the amendment before us and to deal with as many of the points raised as I can within the time left to me. I must say that I wish that some hon. Members who have raised points today had been here yesterday, when so many of their questions were covered in our debate on the report of the Procedure Committee and the establishment of the Select Committees, on which the House reached a decision in the early hours of the morning.
This is the second debate relating to Wales that we have had on the Floor of the House since the opening of Parliament seven weeks ago, and there are more debates to come in the Welsh Grand Committee, so I do not think that anyone can say that Wales has been neglected in Westminster.
The order repealing the Wales Act marks, as many hon. Members have said, the end of the road down which the previous Government tried to lead the Welsh people. Four out of five of those who voted in the referendum saw the dead-end ahead and voted "No". Even the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) must have seen something large, dark and minatory looming in the empty halls where he should have addressed mass meetings in the course of his campaign. Eventually, after the votes had been counted and the result declared, he recognised the elephant—as my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) put it—on his own doorstep, and, to be fair to him, he had the courage to admit the error of his ways.
Tonight, we shall relieve Opposition Members of their misery and make the elephant disappear. No magic wand is required—just a two-line Whip on the Government side and a one-line Whip on theirs. I gather that the Plaid Cymru Members may vote against repeal of the Act. If they do—they have a three-line Whip—it will be proof that they do not respect a 4 to 1 majority in the referendum, let alone the 40 per cent. requirement under section 80 of the Act. They are democrats, I suspect, only when it 355 suits them and only when they are on the winning side.
I turn now to the question of the Select Committee. During the referendum campaign, my right hon. and hon. Friends learned that the people of Wales were receptive to ideas about improvement in the way they were governed. I do not think that my right hon. Friend will castigate me unduly if I reveal that on the morrow of the referendum result I wrote to him saying that, when we formed the Government, we must have more frequent meetings of the Welsh Grand Committee to discuss the annual reports of certain nominated bodies, among other matters, and that we must have a Select Committee on Welsh affairs.
The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who referred to the late Ness Edwards, was quite right in this context. There is nothing new in the idea. What was new, I think, was the fact that we had put forward the idea during the referendum campaign and my right hon. Friend, whose mind is ever open to fresh ideas on the governance of the Principality, saw to it that we were committed to these developments in our manifesto.
We were, of course, making rods for our own back—not the shield, I assure him, that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) thinks we have created—but we would rather make rods for our own back than have the people of Wales suffer from any sense of constitutional grievance. I am glad of the welcome, however cautious, given to our proposal by the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones)—whom we congratulate on his recent honour—and the welcome given by other hon. Members.
Much has been made of the point that there has been no consultation. I am not aware that there was any approach to us requiring consultation on the matter of the Select Committee, for it was specifically mentioned in our manifesto.
The size of the Select Committee has been very much a key issue. Our motion proposes a membership of 11, and the Opposition propose by their amendment a membership of 36. In our opinion, the latter figure would be far too large. The Procedure Committee recommended a norm of 10 members, on the ground that 356 Select Committees should be small enough to operate as single cohesive investigative units. We agree with that argument.
§ Mr. Roberts
No, I cannot give way. I am pressed for time. We consider that 11 rather than 10 is the right number for the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, as giving rather more scope for the representation of minority parties, if the Committee of Selection should so decide.
Last night, or rather early this morning, the House approved the establishment of 12 departmental Select Committees, ranging in size of membership from nine to 11. Four major Departments of State—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Home Office, the Treasury and the combined Departments of Industry and Trade—have 11-member Committees. Four others have 10-member Committees. Yet another quartet—Departments, I should add, as important as Employment, Education and Science, Agriculture and Health and Social Security—have nine-member Committees.
Standing Order No. 75 lays down thatNo select committee shall, without leave of the House, consist of more than fifteen Members, and such leave shall not be moved for without notice.Only the Expenditure Committee has more than 15 members. I do not think that precedent can be called in aid by those who argue for more than 11 members on the proposed Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. Neither can the report of the Procedure Committee be called in aid.
A membership of 36, as proposed in the amendment, would reduce the availability of Members for other Committees and general responsibilities in the House. It would lead to pressure for a host of Sub-Committees rather than the one which the Opposition are demanding, and a tremendous increase in general support staff.
§ Mr. Roberts
I cannot give way. Are we to understand that what is being suggested is that the Welsh Grand Committee should be given the powers of the Select Committee?
§ Mr. Roberts
I urge hon. Members to think again about that proposition. The two Committees are very different, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) pointed out.
§ I must now draw to a close, and I do so very simply by calling on my right hon. and hon. Friends to support our motions and to defeat the amendment to the second of them, put down by the Opposition.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 191, Noes 8.359
|Division no.28]||AYES||[6.40 p.m.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Greenway, Harry||Page, Rt Hon R Graham (Crosby)|
|Alexander, Richard||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Parris, Matthew|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Grist, Ian||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Ancram, Michael||Grylls, Michael||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Arnold, Tom||Gummer, John Selwyn||Percival, Sir Ian|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Hampson, Dr Keith||Pollock, Alexander|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Hannam, John||Porter, George|
|Atkins, Robert (Preston North)||Hawkins, Paul||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Hawksley, Warren||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Heddle, John||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Henderson, Barry||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Best, Keith||Hicks, Robert||Raison, Timothy|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Higgins, Terence L.||Rathbone, Jim|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hill, James||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Blackburn, John||Holland, Philip (Carlton)||Rhys Williams, sir Brandon|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hooson, Tom||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Bright, Graham||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Rost, Peter|
|Brinton, Timothy||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Brittan, Leon||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||King, Rt Hon Tom||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Knox, David||Shersby, Michael|
|Budgen, Nick||Lang, Ian||Silvester, Fred|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Sims, Roger|
|Butcher, John||Lawrence, Ivan||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Lee, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Le Marchant, Spencer||Speller, Tony|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Chalker, Mrs. Lynda||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Sproat, Iain|
|Chapman, Sydney||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Squire, Robin|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||McCrindle, Robert||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Clark, William (Croydon South)||Mackay, John (Argyll)||Steen, Anthony|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)||Stevens, Martin|
|Cockeram, Eric||McQuarrie, Albert||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Colvin, Michael||Major, John||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Cope, John||Marland, Paul||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Corrie, John||Marlow, Antony||Thompson, Donald|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Marten, Neil (Banbury)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Critchley, Julian||Mather, Carol||Thornton, George|
|Cryer, Bob||Maude, Rt Hon Angus||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Mawby, Ray||Trippier, David|
|Dover, Denshore||Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Viggers, Peter|
|Dunlop, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Waddington, David|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Mellor, David||Wakeham, John|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Elliott, Sir William||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Wall, Patrick|
|Faith, Mrs Sheila||Mills, Peter (West Devon)||Waller, Gary|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Moate, Roger||Ward, John|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Molyneaux, James||Watson, John|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Montgomery, Fergus||Wells, P. Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)|
|Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)||Morgan, Geraint||Wheeler, John|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Forman, Nigel||Mudd, David||Wickenden, Keith|
|Fox, Marcus||Murphy, Christopher||Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)|
|Fraser, Peter (South Angus)||Myles, David||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)||Needham, Richard||Wolfson, Mark|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Nelson, Anthony||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Neubert, Michael|
|Gorst, John||Newton, Tony||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Gow, Ian||Normanton, Tom||Mr. John MacGregor and|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Onslow, Cranley||Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.|
|Alton, David||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Beith, A. J.||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Steel, Rt Hon David||Mr. Geraint Howells and|
|Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)||Mr. Dafydd Wigley|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.