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9.13 pm

Mr. Rogers: It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), who made a fine speech outlining the aspects of his constituency that he regards as virtues. I am pleased that he did not go on too much about rugby, because his area gave the world the game of sevens. For many years, they beat everyone at it, but now neither Scottish, Welsh, English nor Irish teams can compete with those from the other side of the globe. Perhaps through his area's membership of the British Lions we can put it over the South Africans in the 15-a-side game very shortly. I wish him a long and distinguished career in the House, in the same way as his illustrious predecessor, who not only served his party with great distinction but was a valuable and respected Member for many years.

I come to this debate like an old threepenny bit--with many sides. In 1979, in the Ystrad Mynach Labour club, I and other hon. Members whom I will not mention to save their embarrassment organised the vote no campaign. We had a 4:1 victory in Wales against the same sort of line that we get today--a Labour Government, the chattering classes, the archbishops, the moderators, the head of this and that Church, university professors, bureaucrats and everyone else who has a vested interest in extending the number of bodies that govern the poor people of the Rhondda among other places.

Times have moved since 1979. I certainly recognise that. We had 18 years of Conservative rule. Without any doubt--this is accepted within the Welsh community--the Tories had no mandate whatever. When the injustices heaped on the people of England were also heaped on the people of Wales, it was an easy way out to blame the problems of Wales on the lack of a body to look after the interests of the Welsh people. We are now hearing the same silly arguments that we heard previously.

A university professor wrote a letter to the Western Mail, in which he said that if the people of Wales had had the courage to vote yes in 1979, we would not have had the poll tax, we would not have had poor health and we would have had jobs and--the most stupid claptrap of all--we would not have had the miners' strike. I was sorely moved, but I resisted, to write and remind him that the miners' strike started in Nottingham. I doubt whether a Welsh Assembly, even one with powers much greater than what is proposed, could have stopped that. It could not have prevented the high unemployment or the harsh economic realities of the outside world that visited my constituency among others in the valley communities in Wales.

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I am not one of those who believe that a Welsh Assembly will resolve the problems of south Wales or my community just like that. The Labour Government have to work a lot harder than that to rectify the problems that we have inherited both from the bad Government of the past 18 years and from the harsh economic realities of the world outside.

I am pleased that a referendum is taking place because it provides an opportunity for the arguments to be put. I am sorry that my Front-Bench colleagues from Wales are not here. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), said--I took the phrase down--that he wanted a constructive, well-informed public debate. So do I. I want democracy to be brought to all our institutions. If people say that we must have a Welsh Assembly in order to have democracy in Wales, are they saying that we do not have it now? I would then ask what is the Secretary of State. Is he an unelected dictator? What are Welsh Members of Parliament? Are they unelected? What are the Welsh Grand Committee and the Welsh Select Committee about? Where is the thread of accountability and democracy? On those grounds, I do not think that a proper argument has been put forward. I am not yet convinced.

I am convinced about another matter, however, which is why I go along with the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is present. There is too much centralisation of government in this country and there is a profound argument for devolving power from here to institutions closer to the people. Whether we have to set up new institutions to do that is another matter. I believe there might very well be existing institutions to which those powers could be given.

We have heard the argument that the quangocracy was set up because the Conservatives could not win seats at local government elections. They therefore bypassed local government and transferred their functions to others, for example, Tai Cymru, Housing for Wales. If we opt for devolution, the first thing that must be done, as some other colleagues have already said, is to take those powers from the quangos and return them to where they belong--in many cases, with local government. When that is done, we must then consider the role of other institutions.

We have heard so much about the principle of subsidiarity. This country is being torn apart constitutionally by people who want to set up new structures, so-called devolved structures. We are being torn apart because powers and functions are being given to Europe and Brussels. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Somewhere in between, someone must stop and start to think about the form of government that we should have. Conservative Members think that I am on their side, but I am not. I am on the side of the Labour party because at least it is tackling the problem positively.

Once we start breaking up the quangos and returning their functions to local government, we can start looking at the structures that we want. That is why I appeal to my colleagues on the Front Bench to consider the future of the quangos at the earliest possible moment.

In fairness to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, some time ago he asked me, knowing my great reservations on the matter, "Why don't you do something?" I have, and I hope to present my findings to him tomorrow. The main thrust of my case will be that

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we should consider such matters prior to the development of any relevant legislation because some of the fears that have been expressed are justified.

To be honest, I do not think that the referendum will go through. The last time the vote was lost by 4:1, and my bet, if I were a betting man, would be that next time the vote might go the same way. As for the Labour party mandate for devolution, with all due respect, I was returned to Parliament by 35,000 voters in the Rhondda, but I do not think that any of them voted for me because they wanted a Welsh Assembly. I certainly did not mention that in my manifesto leaflet. Everyone I canvassed there said, "Get rid of that dirty, corrupt, sleazy Government." That is what it was all about. It was not about giving a mandate to anyone, but about getting rid of the Tories. I am glad that that sentiment is recognised.

I will support the Government on this issue because, even with all my reservations, they are positively tackling the problem. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has already said, a referendum based on a constructive, well-informed public debate is what is needed for Wales. We might eventually be able to get the right solution, but I will not support the creation of another level of government which will take functions away from existing local authorities. That is another issue which must be settled.

I will not support a Welsh Assembly that has the power to decide its own remit, because, by the nature of any elected organisation, it would want to acquire power for itself. I do not believe that the principle of subsidiarity and proper devolution would be served by that.

I will vote with the Government tonight, but I hope that, when the Bill is finally published, my fears, which I will continue to express, will be taken on board and treated constructively.

9.24 pm

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): I was greatly interested in the observations of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers). In particular, I sympathised with what he said about the relationship between central and local government. As a Conservative Back Bencher, I freely admit that since the war this country has failed to get the balance right--especially the financial balance--between central and local government. If we had made a better job of that, much of the demand for alternative forms of devolution would dissolve.

I shall be genuinely brief, in deference to other hon. Members who want to speak. I shall confine myself to one point, which follows on from what the hon. Member for Rhondda was saying. Over the past day and a half of debate, it has become clear that there are many confused and contradictory expectations of what the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly will be like. The reason why the Opposition have taken such a close interest in the wording on the ballot papers is that Parliament must be clear about what questions are being asked. They must be unambiguous and they must be able to deliver a clear result and effect.

We have found it alarming that, for example, the Scottish National party clearly believes that the entire process is aimed at breaking up the United Kingdom, whereas the Government believe that it is a way of cementing and reinforcing the United Kingdom. The SNP

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believes that, at the end of the process, the Scottish Parliament will be a sovereign Parliament--or will rapidly become such.

The Liberal Democrats believe, in general terms, in home rule and a degree of sovereignty for the Scottish Parliament. The Government, I think--although it is not clear--intend that the Scottish Parliament will be subservient to the Westminster Parliament. I should be grateful if the Minister could make it clear beyond dispute that this Parliament, in which we sit, will be legally superior to the Scottish Parliament. We must be completely clear about the constitutional arrangements.

All the other parties are coming together to urge a yes vote, but all the parties cannot be satisfied by the outcome. The contradictory expectations will become clear only when it may be all too late. The Government say that everything will be revealed in a White Paper, but this House has no control over that White Paper. The other Opposition parties would be most unwise to rely on any White Paper to sort out matters that should be made clear in legislation before a referendum.

Whatever the imagination put into the White Paper, we will be left with an in-built contradiction between the aspirations of a Scottish Parliament to control matters such as health, education and the environment, on the one hand, and expenditure powers on the other. This Parliament will continue to write the cheques; the Scottish Parliament, even with a tax-varying power, will remain almost entirely dependent on the financial decisions being made in London. Therefore, the imbalance that we see in local government--the subject with which I began my speech--will be magnified in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Scottish Parliament.

The best way of solving the problem of confusion and contradictory expectations would be to have a referendum after the main Bill had been passed; then, the question would be clear, simple, unambiguous and enforceable. I ask the Government, even at this late stage, to show a little less arrogance and to use the Bill to reverse the order, so that at least the people of Scotland and Wales will be asked to vote on something that is clear.

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