some default text...
Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jones: No, because my contribution will be short.

There is merit, in the spirit of inclusive politics, in giving the people in Wales who want to go that step further the opportunity to do so. Our preference--we fought the election on it--is for a multi-option referendum. We may not be able to argue that point in the Chamber: we shall have to wait and see.

I ask the Government to consider giving the people of Wales the opportunity to vote on, at the very least, the legislative and tax-varying powers that are on offer in Scotland. Why not include that in the debate on the Welsh Assembly? I accept that the Government are perfectly entitled to have a referendum on the question as it is framed in the Bill, but they could include all shades of opinion on the right side--if I may put it like that--of the debate.

The Government have introduced the Bill in a spirit of co-operation and on the principle of a move towards inclusive politics. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath was right to say that it may be a long time before we have another opportunity to legislate on an elected body for Wales. Some people in Wales may find it strange that, faced with the ballot paper, all they are offered is a straight choice between the Labour party's position and that of the Conservative party. There are no Conservative Members in Wales, yet its position is preserved in the Bill. The Government should accept that, by going that little stage further and including all shades of opinion in Wales, they will be able to gauge the opinion of all the people in Wales.

All of us involved in this debate who fall on the side of positive change carry a great responsibility. We know from the history books or from being Members of the House that constitutional change is a momentous task. It has often ended in failure. Our children and future generations will rightly criticise us and may find it hard to forgive us if we get it wrong now. Wales is now ready for leadership, ready to consider co-operative politics, and ready to act on the desire for change.

I accept that there are no absolute truths in this debate: we must all recognise that. We have shown that there is a way forward to accommodate all shades of opinion. I hope that the Labour party will grasp that opportunity, so that the people of Wales can vote for meaningful change. If the Government are prepared to do that, we will be content to leave it up to the people of Wales to decide what sort of body they want. I am confident that if they are given that opportunity, not only will they vote for change, but will embrace change, as a modern, mature democracy that is part of the European community of nations. I hope that the Government will respond positively.

5.27 pm

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate, which is so important to the future of Wales.

22 May 1997 : Column 870

I am proud to be the first woman to be elected Member of Parliament for Cardiff, North. I am the first woman Member of Parliament in the city of Cardiff, and one of four women elected in Wales on 1 May. That is still only four women out of 40 Welsh Members, but it is four times as many as in 1992. This is the beginning of women taking their rightful place in the politics of Wales, and particularly in the Welsh Assembly; provided that we achieve a yes vote in the referendum.

Amazing as it may seem, until this election, Wales had only ever had four women Members of Parliament: Eirene White, Dorothy Rees, Megan Lloyd George and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd). Dorothy Rees represented the Barry constituency for about 18 months. At that time, it included Whitchurch, Rhiwbina and Lisvane, which are now part of Cardiff, North.

Labour now holds all the Cardiff seats, for the first time for 27 years. In 1966-70, the old Cardiff, North constituency was represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who spoke in the debate last night. It is fitting that the capital of Wales--which will be the seat of the assembly--will be wholly Labour when it is set up, subject to the Bill being passed by the House and a yes vote in the referendum.

Cardiff, North--the constituency that I now represent--is very diverse. Its northern tip is the village community of Tongwynlais, which lies in the shadow of the Taff gorge linking Cardiff to the valleys to the north. Cardiff's wealth was built on coal brought down from the valleys. It would squeeze through the Taff gorge, which contains the River Taff, the Glamorgan canal, the Taff Vale railway and the now much-widened A470.

The coal has now mainly gone, but the road to Cardiff, the A470--choked by commuter traffic--goes through the heart of my constituency. It goes through the huge motorway at Coryton, where the main east-west and north-south routes through Wales meet, and on down to the other giant interchange at Gabalfa, where the Western avenue cuts through the estates of Mynachdy and Gabalfa that lead to north Llandaff--famous for the Cow and Snuffers pub, which was much frequented by Benjamin Disraeli during his visits to Wales. Nowhere is the need for an integrated transport system more obvious than on the A470 through Cardiff, North.

Next to the Gabalfa interchange lies the Heath hospital complex. Along with the dental hospital, it has 1,000 beds and is the largest hospital complex in Europe. It is not always popular with residents, because of the parking problems. One of the best-known residents of the area near the hospital is the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Lord Tonypandy.

Cardiff, North has a high percentage of white-collar professional workers, and 83 per cent. of its residents own their homes. Many are civil servants working in Government buildings, and many have suffered from the job insecurity that has been caused by the privatisation, contractorisation and short-term contracts that have become commonplace in public service. They are all looking for a Government who are proud of their public services and recognise the worth of their staff.

Many jobs have been lost altogether to privatisation. The Atomic Weapons Establishment in Llanishen no longer makes parts for nuclear warheads. The skills of the

22 May 1997 : Column 871

workers have sadly been dispersed to the four winds because of the failure of earlier Governments to prepare for the winding down of the defence industry by diversifying. Five hundred highly skilled precision engineers have been lost to Cardiff. Their skills could have been used positively for civilian purposes. Companies House in Gabalfa, the Inland Revenue in Llanishen, the employment services department of the Welsh Office--all those have been subjected to that policy of forced insecurity. Her Majesty's Stationery Office has been privatised and closed down.

I have already mentioned that, for a brief time, Dorothy Rees represented the villages that were incorporated into Cardiff in 1967. Whitchurch is a distinct community with a bustling high street, which was really the battleground of the recent general election campaign. On Saturday mornings, I would contest the space on the high street with my opponent, Gwilym Jones. Gwilym Jones was the Member of Parliament for Cardiff, North for 14 years, living in the ward of Lizvane and St Mellons--which, incidentally, has the only Conservative member of Cardiff city council. Gwilym Jones rose to the rank of junior minister in the Welsh Office in the last Parliament after many years of public service, both as a city councillor and as a Member of Parliament.

As I said earlier, I am pleased to speak in the debate on the referendum for devolution. I campaigned strongly for devolution in my election campaign, and held a packed public meeting in Rhiwbina--which is the garden suburb in northern Cardiff--wholly devoted to the subject.

I believe that it is important for the practical benefits of a Welsh Assembly to be spelled out in the course of our campaign for a yes vote. We no longer want the people of Wales to have to put up with a standard of living that is 17 per cent. lower than the British average. We no longer want the incidence of heart disease and breast cancer to be greater in Wales than in the rest of Britain. We no longer want the poverty of aspiration that affects so many people in Wales, where a recent survey of women on benefits showed that seven out of 10 considered that they would be worse off, or no better off, if they took a job, and where the increase in child care facilities that can unlock the door to opportunity have passed the lower income groups by.

By bringing government closer to the people, a Welsh Assembly will be able to take the lead in tackling the practical issues that face people every day in Wales. In a country of 3 million people, we can get to grips with those issues. We can have a child care strategy that targets those most in need, and can come up with solutions that are unique to Wales and will tackle specifically Welsh issues.

Devolution is about people-friendly, women-friendly policies. It is not for constitutional lawyers or for politicians; its purpose is to make a real difference to the lives of all the people in Wales. With a yes vote in the referendum, we will be able to achieve that.

5.34 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) on her maiden speech. It was a model of its kind, in which she not only described her constituency, paying tribute to her predecessor Gwilym Jones--whom all Conservative

22 May 1997 : Column 872

Members remember fondly--but put down a marker in expressing the hope that the policies that she supports will truly benefit the people whom she has been sent here to represent. That is a good start for any new Member.

There are a huge number of fundamental questions for the Government to answer, concerning the very nature of the devolution proposals, before we get near to the detail of the actual legislation. There are questions about the stability of the Barnett formula, about the tartan tax--how Scots could raise extra income tax, or even cut income tax, without creating new tensions between the Scots and the English, on whom Scottish public spending is so dependent--and about the inequality of representation and powers among Scottish, Welsh and English Members of Parliament.

Those and other issues need to be dealt with. They were largely responsible for undermining the credibility of the 1978 proposals. Dealing with them is vital to the stability of the arrangements, and, ultimately, to the stability of the United Kingdom, but they have yet to be answered by the Government. No wonder they call devolution in Scotland unfinished business.

With such Labour dominance in both Scotland and Wales, there is a great temptation for Government supporters to regard the questions raised about the Bill and its two offspring as somehow irrelevant. That will be a constant danger for the Government: they will rely on the size of their majority, rather than on the force of their arguments. No doubt we Conservatives used to do the same, but that simply reinforces the point that great majorities are a threat to the quality of legislation.

For example, it has been asked regularly throughout the debate on what basis the discredited and reduced number of Conservative Members representing entirely English constituencies can raise such questions at all. Leaving aside the half a million voters in Scotland who did vote Conservative, let us start from first principles. The ultimate sovereignty of the Scottish and Welsh peoples is a fact. Whatever the niceties of international law, Scotland and Wales can claim the right of self-determination if that is what they want; but, in speech after speech, supporters of devolution tell the House that they are fervent supporters of the Union. Indeed, yesterday the Secretary of State for Scotland specifically rejected the suggestion that there should be a third question in the Scottish referendum to give voters the option to reaffirm their support for the Union. He said that that would imply that those who are going to vote yes in a referendum are the enemies of the United Kingdom.

It is for exactly the same reason that the plea of the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) that some other options should be put in the referendum will be rejected by Ministers. It opens up the whole argument about where the process is actually leading. If I may say so to the Secretary of State for Scotland: if the cap fits, wear it.

The argument often promulgated by proponents of devolution--we have heard it today--is that a Scottish Parliament would have blocked the poll tax. The pros and cons of the poll tax are not the issue here; the question is whether a Scottish Parliament will behave as though it had a mandate superior to that of the Parliament here at Westminster. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister set the record straight. With his customary lack of tact in regard to Scottish affairs, he said, "Sovereignty will rest with me, as an English Member of Parliament."

22 May 1997 : Column 873

The Prime Minister's underlying statement is, of course, right. All parts of the United Kingdom are subject to the absolute sovereignty of Parliament. That is what it is to be part of the United Kingdom. To enact a policy that questions that truth is to question the very basis of the whole constitution of the Union. The very idea of something called a Scottish Parliament is anathema to the concept of the union of the Parliaments. This, here, is Scotland's Parliament. If Scotland wants its own Parliament again, the union of the Parliaments is effectively ended.

A Scottish Parliament which, as some people expect, will challenge the mandate of Westminster in Scotland, and which will be based upon the Claim of Right of the Scottish people to self-government, will be based principally on nationalistic principles. Therein lies our claim that this schizophrenic arrangement is set to destabilise the Union between Scotland and England and that between Wales and England.

How will that happen in practice? Conflict between Westminster and Edinburgh is inevitable, not least over the mechanism for calculating how much the English taxpayer should continue to support Scottish public expenditure. Tensions and disputes are currently resolved behind the closed doors of Cabinet unity. They are set to burst into the open. If the arrangement works well, the demand will be for more powers to be transferred. If it seems not to work, the excuse will be that it needs more powers. Success or failure--either way the demand will be, "Give us more powers."

The extent and legitimacy of Scottish representation at Westminster will be increasingly questioned. The scene will be set for the breakdown of the settlement between Scotland and England that has provided such benefits to both countries for hundreds of years. That is why the process sets a sickly smile on the faces of the nationalists. They know that a Scottish Parliament will be the mother of the separatism that they seek.

It is extraordinary that the Bill should be the first one that the new Government should present, and it betrays the reality of the Government. The new Labour Government are brimming with optimism and self- confidence. They are ready for any challenge to their considerable mandate and are prepared to brush aside the time-consuming irritations presented by Her Majesty's Opposition. Their programme is long on aspiration, but they are depressingly short on policy specifics in the areas where specifics are so sorely needed.

A windfall tax, a training scheme and the abolition of the assisted places scheme hardly inspire or will transform the country. Bravado and press releases are no substitute for substantive policies. Just getting the Tories out will not solve the problems of crime, insecurity at work or deficient public services. The twin icebergs of public expenditure control and our European partners' federalist intentions are two great obstacles blocking the way of the new ship of state. The officers on the bridge carry on their task with dash and with the certainty that they are unsinkable, but the thinness of their real policies will be torn like the plates of the Titanic. Their riveting sound bites, hammered so lovingly, will snap and the cold water of reality will rush in.

Let us hope for better, but there is little sign of a real five-year Government programme. Instead, this whole Parliament is set to be dominated by changes to the

22 May 1997 : Column 874

constitution, but this drive does not come from the ordinary voter. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, even in Scotland and Wales few voters place devolution at the top of their list of priority issues. No number of extra politicians in Edinburgh and Cardiff will shorten health service waiting lists, or create jobs, except for the politicians themselves, who will increase their expense accounts and the number of their hangers-on.

The real drive of the Government's proposals comes from the party interest and not the national interest. The programme is designed to gerrymander the constitution in the interests of the Labour party and its acolytes. It is born not out of high principle, but out of the sheer frustration of being out of office for 18 years.


Next Section

IndexHome Page