Previous SectionIndexHome Page

7.36 pm

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) on seeking and securing this important Adjournment debate, which addresses questions that need to be asked about the relationship of nations in the United Kingdom to devolution. He is right to say that Welsh identity is sometimes overlooked both in this country and abroad, and that we are lumped together with the English, the British or whoever.

Our debate is a useful step forward in helping to raise the concept of the identity of Welshness, which needs to be done, given general geo-political forces in this country. The Government did not make a mistake, as they did not draw up the census form. The Office for National Statistics did make a mistake--there are no ifs or buts about that. However, the hon. Gentleman and I differ over the way in which the situation was then tackled.

I sat with my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) on the Committee that dealt with the census, but this issue never came up, as one can see from Hansard and the general forms that were put on the Table in Committee--[Interruption.] I do not know why my hon. Friend the Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger) is laughing. Perhaps he should serve in Committee, then he would know a little about what we do.

The issue never came before the Committee. The Economic Secretary told us what the census involved, explained its general progress and so on. An issue arose concerning the development of health statistics, to which

30 Oct 2000 : Column 580

I shall return later. I made only a suggestion about the definition of illness in the form and the English-speaking areas of the south Wales valleys, where the hon. Member for Ceredigion and I come from--indeed, we are from the same valley. I said that definitions of illness as being sick, very sick and so on had no validity in the south Wales valleys. The way we measure states of health is that one is bad, or bad in bed, or bad in bed under the doctor. I said that the idea of being sick, very sick or terribly sick had no relevance, which illustrates a difference in vernacular speech and our general attitude.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion is right and his argument about a tick box is irrefutable. A mistake was made, but what do we do about that now? I do not like the way that mistake is being used as a political football.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that I am a scientist. As I understand it, censuses create a framework for the development and administration of future policies, so it is necessary to get matters right. We want to know who is sick, what needs exist, who speaks Welsh, who does not speak Welsh, whether there is a reason for putting more money into the Welsh language or whether we are wasting money by throwing money at it, and whether it is declining in the population.

For those of us who want to save the Welsh language and who have been working for that for most of our political lives in various ways, particularly in local government, it is important to try and measure such things. However, people are running around for political and extreme nationalist reasons--I do not call the hon. Member for Ceredigion an extreme nationalist, but perhaps extreme bonkers--saying, "Don't fill the form in. There is no tick box. It is a flawed census." Even the hon. Gentleman used the expression.

Mr. Simon Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is going off at a tangent. May I make it clear to him and to the House that I have never called for anyone not to till in the census form?

Mr. Rogers: I did not say that; I said that there were extreme people saying so. I would not call the hon. Gentleman extreme. I would not call his party particularly extreme. It was not concerned about the tick box until another fringe party picked it up, forcing the hon. Gentleman and his party into a corner. It realised that somebody had taken its clothes, so it had to respond by developing the campaign.

I understand all that. It is no good being a Welsh nationalist party and suddenly finding that one's nationalist clothes have been taken, but that is the way of the world. The trouble is that the Western Mail, which calls itself the national newspaper of Wales, is backing the campaign in its editorials and its coverage of the matter.

The biggest problem of all is what will happen if people do not fill in the census form. In that case, it will indeed be a flawed census. People may put a line through whatever the hon. Gentleman and his friends object to, but for God's sake let them fill in the rest of the form. To create the idea that there is something wrong with the census is a ghastly mistake which could have profound consequences. I want to find out how many people speak Welsh, how many do not, and where the need is. If people flaw even that one page, it will be counter-productive.

I am very proud of being Welsh, as are other hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies. We do not run around waving the dragon all the time, but in our

30 Oct 2000 : Column 581

own way all of us have worked for the benefit of our communities--the people who elect us and whom we represent. However, our patriotism is not based on resentment against another nation. That is the divide between those on the Government Benches, who love Wales and things Welsh, and certain members of the hon. Gentleman's party, who seem to have a resentment against the English--why, I do not know. Perhaps it is a personality disorder of his party, which is unfortunate. Some of my very best friends are members of his party--

Mr. Llew Smith: My hon. Friend should not stretch the case.

Mr. Rogers: I will not stretch it too far. I mentioned that the hon. Gentleman's party had been pushed into a corner. I understand, and perhaps the Minister can confirm, that the chairman of the Welsh Language Board when it was consulted about the document was the former Member of Parliament for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, who is now Lord Elis-Thomas and who presides over the Welsh Assembly. The ex-president of the hon. Gentleman's party--the big wheel in the party--was consulted, yet he is not the focus of any attack for not doing his job at that time.

Mr. Thomas: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I know that he listened carefully to what I said, but he may have missed the part in which I stated clearly that the Welsh Language Board was consulted as a statutory consultee on the running of the census in both languages and on the question relating to the use of Welsh in Wales. The board did not see it as its job to comment on any other aspects. Nevertheless, I said that members of the board have told me informally that they told the Office for National Statistics that that should have been done.

Mr. Rogers: If that is the case, perhaps we are both right. That is a good way to conduct such a debate, in which we agree on so many points.

The hon. Gentleman is concerned that people should be able to state on the census form that they are Welsh, and that they should know where they come from and where they are going, which is a bigger problem. As I understand it, on the front of the form is a space for the address, so people can state where they live.

Mr. Thomas rose--

Mr. Rogers: No, I shall not give way again.

For the first time, a census form in Welsh and English will be delivered to every household. That has never happened before. Previously, if one wanted to fill in a form in Welsh, one had to ask for it. That is no longer the case, and I congratulate the Office for National Statistics on that. That is the first point. Let us be generous in our praise, as well as in our accusations.

Secondly, on the form people will fill in the address at which they live, so it will be possible to identify all those who live in Wales. The problem arises in respect of Welsh people who live in England, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out. That is not covered by the address, but a little

30 Oct 2000 : Column 582

further on in the form, there is a category dealing with place of birth. There are tick boxes for England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and "other". Those are in the bottom left-hand corner on page 15, as I recall. People can indicate, for example, that they are Welsh-born and live in Newcastle or London. That is no problem.

The third question is about ethnicity. I suppose that that is where the tick box causing all the concern might have appeared. I am happy to say that I was born in Wales, I live in Wales, I represent Wales, but I am also British. I see no problem with that, but I accept that if people have a problem with it, they will feel aggrieved about the tick box.

Mr. Smith: Why?

Mr. Rogers: I do not know why. As I said earlier, I do not require a tick box to affirm my Welshness, but people can write that they are Welsh. They can tick "British" or not tick it, tick "Irish" or not tick it, and write in "Welsh" if they want to. There is a space to write it.

In the next column on page 15 there are important questions relating to the Welsh language. From the provision of the forms and throughout the questions on address, place of birth and ethnicity, there is every opportunity for people to affirm their Welshness, but such a fuss is being made about the fact that there is no specific little box in which to do so.

I accept the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Ceredigion that it was a mistake on the part of the Office for National Statistics not to have recognised the very fine sensitivity that exists in some Welsh people. I do not need a census form to affirm that I am Welsh, and I am sorry that the issue is being made such a political football. Next time around, there will be a box. In that sense, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the Office for National Statistics will not make the same mistake again.

Next Section

IndexHome Page