Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

7.10 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale moved Amendment No. 26A:

Page 2, line 4, at end insert ("being such day as is appointed under section 1(1),").

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment has to do, I think, with the date of the Welsh referendum, has it not? Really, I would like to take this opportunity of asking the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, about the White Papers that are due to lead to it. I hope that I am not out of order and speaking on the wrong amendment.

What worried me were two things the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said at Second Reading. At col. 1112 of the Official Report of 17th June 1997, the noble Lord said:

That is what we always understood. However, the noble Lord also said,

    "We shall be publishing a separate White Paper on our detailed plans for Wales. Immediately following a majority in the Welsh referendum, legislation will be introduced to implement these plans".
That seems to say that there may be two referendums. One is suggested before the referendum, and the other post-referendum before the legislation is introduced. The

3 Jul 1997 : Column 361

two statements seem to say two different things. I thought that I should give the noble Lord an opportunity to clear up the matter.

Lord Sewel: I have not been able to follow what the noble and learned Lord said. Perhaps I may rehearse what I hope I have always said. I have sought always to say exactly the same thing on this point.

There will be two White Papers: a Scotland White Paper; a Wales White Paper. There will be two referendums: one in Scotland, one in Wales, on the proposals contained in the White Paper. Legislation will be brought in on the basis of the White Papers once they have received the endorsement of the electorate in Scotland and Wales.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: That is the referendum legislation, is it not?

Lord Sewel: The referendum legislation is what we deal with now. The referendum legislation establishes the means by which the views of the people in Scotland and Wales will be ascertained.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I think that the noble Lord has answered my question. He has now made clear, I think, that it was referendum legislation and not devolution legislation.

Lord Sewel: I think that I have done so, but I am certainly happy to discuss and resolve the matter outside the Committee with the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Rees: I do not wish to gild the noble Lord's lily, but what account will the Government be able to take of the views expressed in this Chamber or in another place about the detailed proposals contained in the White Paper? Will the Government Front Bench be able to respond to the criticisms--perhaps constructive or destructive--made in the course of a debate on the White Paper which we are assured will be held before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Lord Mackie of Benshie: With due respect, should the Committee now get on with the business on the Order Paper?

Lord Sewel: I am not sure which amendment we are discussing, to be brutally honest. I am not sure that this relates to the matter about which I am being asked. I just say that Her Majesty's Government are always open to constructive suggestions and criticisms.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I thought that we were discussing Amendment No. 26A; and I still think that. I had better write to the noble Lord because I am not clear in my mind what he meant at Second Reading. It seems to me that he is stating two different dates, two different White Papers: one after this Bill passes, and dealing with the process of Welsh devolution, and the other after the referendum has resulted in an affirmative vote for a Welsh assembly. That is how I read it. If the noble Lord can clear that up in correspondence, I shall be very grateful.

3 Jul 1997 : Column 362

Perhaps I may also say that I find the interventions of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, however well meant and favourable to the Government in the present mood of the Liberal Democrats, most unhelpful.

Lord Sewel: I shall deal with the matter through correspondence with the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 2, line 5, leave out ("establishment of a Welsh Assembly") and insert ("governance of Wales").

The noble Lord said: This group of amendments enables us to discuss in greater detail, although not at greater length, it is to be hoped, the form of the referendum relating to Wales: the forms of the questions; and how the Welsh people should be consulted. Some detailed preferences are set out. At the outset, wearing my hat of the Welsh Language Board, perhaps I may congratulate the learned Clerks of this House on their effectiveness in dealing with bilingual legislation. This legislation has had the most detailed, bilingual amendments put forward. I can only congratulate the Clerks on handling it, and say that it provides a good precedent for a Welsh Assembly or a Scottish Parliament should it arise.

Rather than making the referendum a simple "yes" or "no" response to the Government's proposals, this set of amendments deals with the various possible options that might be put forward. As the noble Lord, Lord Parry, mentioned, they follow on the latest opinion poll on this matter published in yesterday's Western Mail. It is worth citing some of those figures; they are produced in a poll by Beaufort Research for the Western Mail and are therefore doubly reliable.

A sample of the electorate was asked:

    "Do you agree with the Government's Welsh Assembly proposals?"
In response, 39 per cent. said "yes"; 27 per cent. said "no"; and the "don't knows" did rather well at 34 per cent. When the "don't knows" were "squeezed", the projections resulted in a figure of 43 per cent. voting "yes"; 29 per cent. purporting to say that they would vote "no"; and 28 per cent. indicating "don't know".

The reason for quoting those figures in detail is that they set out the varied opinions within Wales on this issue. When in a further question people were asked:

    "Do you want an assembly with tax-varying and law-making powers?",
31 per cent. favoured that option and 40 per cent. said no. When the question was asked,

    "Do you want Wales to be an independent republic in Europe, severing all constitutional links with the UK?",
the answer was a surprising 16 per cent. saying yes to that and 61 per cent. saying no. The "don't knows" were fairly constant at 24 per cent. Those figures indicate the variety of opinion within Wales.

3 Jul 1997 : Column 363

One significant fact was that, according to the poll, there seemed to be a "yes" majority in all regions of Wales, with the highest regional breakdown showing a "yes" majority, after squeezing the "don't knows", in Mid-Wales at 49 per cent.; followed by the Valleys of South Wales at 45 per cent.; North Wales and West Wales, 42 per cent. and 44 per cent. respectively; and Cardiff and the south-east at 37 per cent. "yes".

The poll indicates the varied views that the people of Wales hold on this subject. Those views appear to come together at this stage in a majority "yes" vote with a 10 per cent. majority--that is, not counting all the high proportion of "don't knows".

In this group of amendments I want to argue that voting by the expression of preferences on governance could actually strengthen the Government's case for a "yes" vote rather than undermine it; that the registering of preferences would in fact ensure a wider debate on the governance of Wales, and not merely treat it as a simple "yes/no" matter. I am arguing that we could have a better debate if all the options were debated rather than if the electorate were merely asked to reply "yes" or "no" to the Government's proposals. That is why I have set out some options in Amendment No. 78, which is included in this group.

The options canvassed in these amendments are not exactly those of the Western Mail. In paragraph (a) of Amendment No. 78, the electorate is offered, "The present constitutional arrangements". I use that form of words in the amendment because "The present constitutional arrangements" are not the same as "no change", which was one of the options offered in a multi-option referendum in another place. The reality is that in terms of the constitutional development of Wales over the period since the Welsh Office was established, we have seen a substantial dynamic, a substantial change in the Welsh Office system itself. It is not for us to argue this evening in the context of the referendum what other alternatives the Government might have were it to turn out that the Western Mail opinion poll is not reflected in the result of a referendum. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, cannot wait to enter the debate. I suggest he is as lively as the RWF Goat on this matter. (That has no other connotations, I hasten to add.) Were the Western Mail opinion poll not to be reflected in the result of a referendum, the political system--the administrative system--in Wales would continue to exhibit the kind of dynamic that it has exhibited over the past 25 years. I am sure that executive decentralisation would continue, regardless of whether it had an elected component. I therefore think that option (b) in Amendment No. 78, "An elected Executive Assembly", is a clearer description of what, in advance of seeing the White Paper, I understand government policy to be than is the mere statement that there shall be a Welsh assembly. It makes clear that this is not a parliamentary or a legislative type

3 Jul 1997 : Column 364

body, but is an executive body, taking over the executive functions of the department.

Option (c),

    "A subsidiary Parliament with law-making and tax-varying powers",
is an attempt to translate into the Welsh context the Government's option in Scotland. I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Simon will have further comments to make on this matter as we debate this group of amendments. Option (c) makes clear that the proposal is to establish a subsidiary body. This is not, of course, federalism; it is devolved parliamentary law-making, which is not the same. Clearly, in a well-structured federal system the powers are separated within a unitary system between the different levels of government according to the principle of subsidiarity.

Option (d) contrasts with the alternative question put by the Western Mail, which, as I said had 16 per cent. voting for what was described as,

    "an independent republic in Europe, severing all constitutional links with the UK".
I believe that the version I propose in Amendment No. 78 of self-government for the Principality more closely reflects a position which I hold, and the tradition from which I come, a tradition represented both by the Liberal Party and Plaid Cymru, and indeed by sections of the Labour Party in different guises. The emphasis is on ymreolaeth, self-rule, self-government or autonomy, rather than independence, and a parallel emphasis on the role in relation to Wales of UK, British, Britannic, or whatever word one might choose, institutions. That is a form of federal, or confederal relationship, including a clear role for the monarchy and for your Lordships' House.

I shall not enter into the historical debate on that. I wish merely to emphasise that, so far as my option is concerned, there is no slippery slope. As I said at Second Reading, there can be no further progress towards greater devolution without further consent. Further constitutional changes would require further consultation by referendum. There is no slippery slope; my option has a series of safety nets--or "constitutional cushions", if that metaphor is preferred. Then, to confuse the Committee entirely, I might say that the slippery slope has become a level playing field within the European Union, or it can potentially become so if we obtain the consent of the Principality for the equivalent of a European regional assembly.

It is important to rehearse these alternatives and to rehearse the argument that the referendum as a consultation process might benefit from a deeper debate. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I wish to speak to Amendment No. 30A which is grouped with Amendment No. 28. It is in the name of myself and my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas and reads:

    "at end insert ('with, so far as is practical, similar powers over Welsh affairs as a Scottish Parliament has over Scottish affairs')".

3 Jul 1997 : Column 365

I realise that I charged my noble friend prematurely with treachery and desertion. In fact, it was one of the consequentials of this amendment that he left me with the task of translating into the Welsh language. I am a great admirer of Welsh literature but I have only read the proposal in English. When I found that I had been treacherously deserted, I looked round wildly for the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to help me, but unfortunately he had disappeared too.

I regard the referendum as wholly unnecessary. Thus far I agree entirely with what was said from the Liberal Democratic Benches. I add--which they would not in their present mood of formal complaisance--that I am satisfied in my mind that the reason we have this quite unnecessary referendum is twofold. The affirmative answer will give the Government greater power to bully your Lordships; and as for tax-raising, it is to save the face of Mr. Blair, after the trouble that he got into in Scotland.

If we are to have a referendum, we might as well make the best of it and use it to tell us something useful about the subsequent legislation. The Committee will want to know why the Welsh people are not being offered a legislature, assembly or whatever with the same powers as for Scotland. I can understand that there are differences. The Welsh legislature is much more closely integrated with that of this country. There is now no longer any separate Welsh system of law, as there is a separate Scottish system of law. I remember when I used to go on circuit to South Wales that we were always harangued by the then Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan on the great virtues of the ancient Welsh code. I see the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, nodding. Perhaps he will tell us about it.

What the Welsh people will want to know is that they are given a choice. What are they being given? Why are they denied the same powers as the Scottish assembly? Little is known about the Government's intentions. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has persistently taken refuge in his South Sea Bubble defence. What he says is: "Just invest in my prospectus and you will find later that we will tell you what wealth it will bring you. Be good little boys and girls, vote for my referendum Bill and later there will be a White Paper--jolly holiday reading--which will tell you what questions you ought to have asked and put into the referendums Bill". It will be too late then. I want to see both the Scottish and the Welsh people given a wide range of choice.

So far as I understand it, the Welsh assembly will have power over such functions as are carried out by the Welsh Secretary of State at the moment and the Welsh Office. The noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that it will extend the power over secondary legislation. That in itself is important. It runs to thousands of pages every year--far more than the primary legislation. But the crucial question will be: will the assembly have power to amend that secondary legislation?

With great difficulty, your Lordships have finally achieved a resolution that you have full power to reject secondary legislation. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has already ingeniously found ways of getting round the

3 Jul 1997 : Column 366

supposed ban, but so far we have entirely failed to get an equivalent concession on the amending of secondary legislation. Will that be in the power of the Welsh assembly? I support the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page