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Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, we are concerned with Wales, but in considering Anglesey, which is one of the finest islands around these coasts, we should also consider other islands. If the noble Lord wishes, I shall go to the Isle of Wight as well!
The referendum on our own assembly will give us the opportunity to vote yes for Wales. That will mean a bigger say in policies and in decisions that affect our lives. There is an urgent case to bring power closer to the people, from Anglesey to Gwent. This can be achieved only by an elected assembly. I know from long experience that a hard-working Member of Parliament can do much for his people, but there is a limit to what he can do if a government impose unpopular and unattractive changes in the essential fields of health, education, employment and housing. Local government has been undermined in Wales for several years, and this effects Members of Parliament. I believe that that should be considered very carefully.
Furthermore, to our deep objection, quangos have been appointed in large numbers in Wales with party political influence. These quangos need to be examined in detail, and in many, if not most, cases the operations should be transferred to an elected assembly. Hospital trusts, the WDA, the Development Board for Rural Wales, the Land Authority and all of the training and enterprise councils must be looked at in detail and, where necessary, transferred to the assembly. These are Welsh organisations that exist to serve Wales and they should be elected by the Welsh people. Is there anyone here of whatever political party who can oppose that? I do not believe that there is anyone, and here I include Members of the Conservative Party.
I admire and respect the development of a free society in England, and Welsh men and women have made their contribution to this. But what I find difficult to understand is why the English establishment in Whitehall oppose the reasonable efforts of the Welsh to establish modest progress towards devolution. Throughout the last century and up to the last war those efforts were thwarted. Our first significant achievement was the appointment of the Secretary of State and the establishment of the Welsh Office in 1964--which occurred a century later than the establishment of the Scottish Office. This has been an undoubted success. Why did we have to wait so long for so modest a step forward? We must not wait so long for an assembly whose objective is to enable the Welsh people to make their own choices and implement their own policies over a reasonable area.
However, it should be made plain that Wales does not want separation from Britain. Power already resides with the Welsh Office. The object of the assembly is to make sure that the powers are accountable democratically. The Secretary of State will be a link between the assembly and the Government and there will also be a Welsh voice in the Cabinet. These are reasonable and sensible proposals which I hope that the House will support.
Let me say again, it is a proposal with fewer powers than the Scottish parliament. If the Welsh referendum is allowed to take place and is positive, there will be further legislation and debate in due course. If we achieve the assembly, it will have gone through the parliamentary processes.
English people who settle in Wales are welcome. I am glad to say that they, in turn, respect our way of life. The great majority encourage their children to attend our schools and to learn Welsh. Most of them will sympathise with us in this objective. Let us in this House show that we believe in reasonable measures of reform and of democracy.
We have a long and complex journey before us over the next few months. We have the White Paper which will precede the referendum. We have legislation in due course, if the referendum so decides. We have heard a bundle of technicalities today. There were also technicalities in another place when it debated the Bill. But at the end of the day we are dealing with principle--high principle at that. The case for the Welsh and Scots to have a measure of self-government is in my view unanswerable. There is no real case against it in a civilised society.
As we proceed--and as my noble friend Lord Shore said, let us think carefully about the consequences of dismissing the wishes of Scotland and Wales--it is by being reasonable and sensible that we preserve the UK.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, 20 years ago, at about this time of year, we were debating devolution in another place. Because I follow two noble Lords from Wales who take a different view, even though I fully share that sense of national identity referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shore, in his notable maiden speech, I shall spend just a brief time explaining why my views about that assembly have not changed fundamentally in those 20 years.
The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, was uncharacteristically fierce this afternoon. He chose to devote a large part of his speech to lecturing the Conservative Party. I shall say to him on two points that he made, first, I do not think that he need tell the Conservative Party that it has the freedom to make up its own mind on this issue, although he may have to look a little further along to the Benches close to him where the Labour Party now seems to take a rather different view. Secondly, I can agree with him entirely on what he had to say about the Welsh language. Whatever will divide us in the coming discussions, it will not be that subject.
I wish to devote a brief time--I shall return at greater length on a later occasion to exchange views with the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn--to explaining why I still remain unconvinced by the arguments in favour of an assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, observed, for several decades now we have had a Welsh Secretary of State in the British Cabinet. I agree with him that the existence of the Welsh Office and the presence of the Welsh Secretary of State in the Cabinet have been immensely beneficial and powerful instruments for improving the economic and social well-being of the Welsh people. It is my fear that the introduction of a Welsh assembly is bound gravely to weaken those instruments without providing an adequate substitute.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, referred to local government. Local government stands at the opposite end to the Cabinet and to the departments of state in our system. In my judgment--here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn--one of the greatest mistakes made by the Conservative Administration since 1979, for which I must accept my share of responsibility, was to weaken local government. I want to reverse that trend and strengthen it, but I believe that in Wales to impose the kind of assembly that is suggested on top of it will weaken it still further, almost to the point of destruction.
There is just one other reason I shall mention today for my hostility to what is proposed: we are to have a package that would leave us with different arrangements for the government of each of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. Those arrangements would be inherently unstable, and, because the assembly proposed would be incapable of meeting the hopes and aspirations invested in it, there would be an inevitable demand that it should be given greater and greater powers. Indeed, while saying that this need not be a slippery slope--I am prepared to accept that from the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas--he made it clear that there would indeed be further demands for greater and greater powers. We know that that is what his party will fight for. There is no reason why it should not.
Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. The point I was trying to make was not that there would be more demands, but that the agreement of the Welsh people would be
Although I am against the Government's proposals for a Welsh assembly, I should be all in favour of having a referendum about them, and those for Scotland, if it were a referendum like that in 1979, held after the legislation had been presented, debated and amended in Parliament. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish has already quoted the words of Ron Davies, the Secretary of State for Wales, with which I entirely agree. Tam Dalyell, the honourable Member for Linlithgow, put it slightly differently in another place when he said that the devil was in the detail: those awkward questions that have not yet been answered about the numbers and the role of Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament; whether the Civil Service is to be split in Scotland and Wales; how a system based on divided loyalties and responsibilities is to work; the cost; the manner in which important quangos--those referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn--all established by legislation, will operate in these new circumstances; and how their existing statutory obligations are to be amended.
"Don't worry", we are told as the Bill is indecently hurried through on the back of a House of Commons guillotine, "there will be a White Paper before Parliament rises for the Summer Recess". However, we have not yet been told how long before. I hope that today we can at least be given a specific undertaking, not only that we will have a debate before the House rises, but that there will be ample time for that debate. These issues are important and cannot be hurried through in a single day.
Even then, that will not be enough. Acts of Parliament frequently finish up in a form quite different from that envisaged in the White Papers which precede them. How can the process be adequate?--a couple of days' debate in Parliament just as the electors are off on their summer holidays. Then when they are hardly back they are asked to vote. On 22nd May Mr. Dalyell described what we are being offered as a pig in a poke. Mr. Alan Williams, the much respected Member for Swansea West, said that it could not be identified that clearly; it might be a pig, a mouse or a tiger. Mr. Rogers from the Rhondda warned of the danger that it would provoke cynicism among the electorate.
No doubt all those honourable Members were being as charitable as they could manage about the Government whom they support. I fear that I cannot be that charitable. What is proposed is little short of political chicanery. Let us be clear about what is taking place. The Government intend to rush through the Bill before they allow us to see a White Paper, let alone a draft Bill. They will then produce a White Paper, which may or may not fill in some or all of the detail. The press may or may not report what we have to say about it--it will be a rare exception to the modern rule
The Government hope, and no doubt expect, that with their own Members carefully disciplined and the Administration still basking in the goodwill of the honeymoon period, they will get their "Yes" vote. Then, when a Scotland and Wales Bill is finally brought to Parliament, we will be told that it must be hurried through without much more debate or amendment because the electorate has approved the principle, an electorate, let it be noted, confined to the Welsh and Scots who happen to live in their native countries. The rest of the population of these islands will be deprived of a vote on a measure which may have profound consequences for them all.
The Government and their supporters are not even waiting for the referendum before indulging in this game of political bullying and blackmail. Already there is a great deal of talk about the existence of an overwhelming mandate. If there were one matter on which I disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, in his maiden speech it was his implication that even he thought that that was true. I do not dare venture to comment about the situation in Scotland, but I know a little bit about what goes on in Wales. I say to those who believe that we hardly need to debate the matter because it has already been decided, stop and think again.
I note that the debate is to be wound up by the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Mostyn and Lord Thomas of Gresford. Perhaps wisely, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has never fought an election in Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has fought a great many elections in Wales and has never won one. I have fought a good many elections in Wales and I have never lost one. During the previous referendum campaign on devolution I played a leading role and I can see why the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, was so cross and indignant about the arguments advanced on that occasion because he found himself in a tiny minority of the Welsh people when we had the vote.
It is true that at that time there were eight Conservative Members of Parliament in Wales. However, we won a little less than 24 per cent. of the vote and Labour had almost 50 per cent. Labour, Liberal and Plaid Cymru between them had then, as they have today, an overwhelming majority. However, on 1st March 1979, referendum day, that same electorate voted by a majority of more than four to one against the assembly. The then Secretary of State, now the Attorney-General, observed that if an elephant appears in your back garden you cannot fail to recognise it.
In the recent general election, the electorate decided to get rid of a Conservative Government. However, there is no evidence that what moved them to cast their votes in Wales was the promise of an assembly. It may have been different in Scotland, but in Wales the subject created minimal interest. It was totally ignored by most of the party press conferences and was not mentioned in the manifestos of a large number of Labour candidates.
If your Lordships do not believe me, at least take some notice of those who won seats in Wales. Mr. Rogers told the House of Commons that he was returned to Parliament by 35,000 electors in the Rhondda, but he did not believe that any of them voted for him because they wanted a Welsh assembly. Ted Rowlands did not believe that the anti-Tory vote in Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney represented a vote for devolution. He said that the chattering classes got it wrong last time and observed that, having campaigned for devolution on that occasion and voted for it in the referendum, it was a painful process to find himself so overwhelmingly in a minority among his constituents. In recent weeks, a number of surveys in Wales have provided evidence that no one should confidently invoke the argument that the result of the general election has provided a massive mandate for a Welsh assembly.
There are grave risks in pushing this devolution legislation through without the most thorough examination. It was the long weeks of painstaking parliamentary examination last time that exposed an army of devils in the detail. If we do not remove them this time, they will come back to torment us for years to come.
Surely, one issue must be addressed before the referendums Bill leaves this House. It was referred to by my noble friends Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and Lord Campbell of Croy. If this inadequate pre-legislative referendums Bill is to pass, we must at the least accept the firm advice of Sir Patrick Nairne and Mr. David Butler, chairman and vice-chairman of the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums, set out in a letter to The Times on 11th June that every household should receive a publicly funded leaflet giving general information and statements on the "yes" and "no" cases; and that broadcasters should be encouraged to set out the arguments for each option in the referendum with a balance maintained between the "yes" and "no" viewpoints. The thorough report of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, The Road to the Referendum, makes exactly the same recommendation.
It is a particularly vital requirement in Wales where up to one-third of the population receive their terrestrial television channels from English receivers and only 13 per cent. of the population read either of the two Welsh daily morning newspapers. The question should not divide us on party lines. Mr. Alan Williams made the same point cogently and well in another place on 22nd May. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in his maiden speech made the same point and gave support to the issue. Surely there must be many Members on the Benches opposite and alongside the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who share that view and agree that, if we are to have referendums on constitutional issues, we must have proper ground rules. If the Government fail to meet us on that fundamental requirement, I can only conclude that we are confronted with a very serious abuse of parliamentary power and it is an issue on which this House should stand and fight.
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