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Lord Crickhowell: I do not intend to spend long on this group of amendments and it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. At least I know exactly where I am with both of them. It is rather more difficult to know where you are with the Liberal Democrat party. We had a startling intervention on an earlier amendment from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who referred to the Conservative Benches as "the Opposition", from which I can only assume that he places himself and his colleagues as the alternative Labour Party. If he is going to pursue that line, I wish he would give us a little more room on the Benches this side and move himself and his colleagues to the Benches opposite, where they clearly feel at home. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is not going to give them a welcome.
I see that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, wishes to intervene. But I do not wish to give way but to get on to more serious points. He is urging that we get on. I shall do so and deal with the points that have been made.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, asked an important and significant question: why no tax-raising powers? I believe that Mr. Ron Davies, when asked the question elsewhere, said: "Well, we didn't put it in the manifesto". That seems to be about the thinnest offering ever made by a Minister. It makes even the replies we have got used to from the Benches opposite sound solid, substantive and informative. But that is what we have on offer at the moment.
If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, was guided on his visits to Wales by that notable Lord Lieutenant, Sir Cennydd Traherne he could have no better guide. He knows everything that needs to be known about Wales. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that he may be attaching too much significance to the poll published yesterday in the Western Mail. Earlier this year I had a tragedy in my garden in Wales. We had some ducks which laid 11 eggs. Then my grandchildren came to stay for the weekend. I am sorry to say that the ducks deserted and the 11 eggs were still there, never likely to be hatched, for several weeks afterwards. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that at about the same stage at the end of 1978 and in early 1979 there were a number of similar polls in the Western Mail. The result declared on 1st March 1979 bore no resemblance to them. So the noble Lord should not be too confident about the end result.
I term this group of amendments the "slippery slope" amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said that he was not creating a slippery slope because he was introducing a safety net at every stage. Therefore there would have to be a referendum before one went any further. But he has tabled an amendment which suggests a series of preferences and asks the electorate to say now which of those preferences it wants. He is already
I cannot remember exactly how many years we spent debating this topic 20 and more years ago and how many weeks we spent on the legislation. But I have no doubt at all that it was the detail which emerged that had a decisive influence on the judgment of the electorate. Until then, the electorate had had nearly no idea of what was intended.
The trouble about having a list of preferences is that, unless there is a most extraordinary information-providing system--presumably to be financed by the state, as it is hard to see how otherwise it would be financed--it is simply totally impossible to put in front of the electorate the kind of information that it would need to make sensible judgments on each of the preferences offered. Indeed, even the question, "Why should we not have the same legislation as in Scotland?", raises some major issues. The Government, in their White Paper and indeed in any material that they present to the electorate, would have to set out a string of further arguments which I do not believe they contemplate including in their White Paper at the moment. They would have to set up a whole series of arguments on why things were the same as those in Scotland or why they should be different. So it is a complex set of questions that are raised in this set of amendments.
As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said, the reality is that we are involved in a dynamic process. He said that the Welsh Office had emerged and extended its responsibilities and that will continue. But he hastily added, "Of course, I shall introduce some safety nets". Well, it is dynamic in that sense. That is what some of us fear. We are not happy or confident about the safety nets. We have a genuine fear that once one starts on this process, it is not easy to stop. As I understand it--I have not yet seen, nor has anyone else outside the Government, even a draft White Paper--what is being proposed is quite an extensive change in the present practice. Mr. Ron Davies, speaking in the Welsh Grand Committee in North Wales on 30th June said that the assembly would be responsible for almost all aspects of public life for which the Welsh Office is currently responsible: health, education, housing, sport, the arts, culture, heritage and so on. Later said, in answer to a question from one of his honourable friends, he said that the overwhelming majority of the present responsibilities of the Welsh Office were going to be transferred.
So, in the proposed legislation to which the referendum refers, we are confronted with a very major change indeed. Essentially, it is the abolition of the entire system of government which has been developed by successive governments of different political persuasions over the past 30 years in Wales and which has had a significant impact not only on the governance of Wales but on the economic successes in Wales and the transformation of the Welsh economy. It is quite
A whole series of detailed questions are posed about the role of the Civil Service, the responsibilities of Welsh Members of Parliament and every aspect of government. So even this one step, which is likely to be less extensive than in Scotland, is a very big step indeed on to a very slippery slope. For one thing is absolutely certain: if there is an assembly which is given those responsibilities, it will not be content with what it is first given. When anything goes wrong, whenever the people of Wales utter a word of criticism, the assembly will say, "Of course, it is not our fault. It is that Government back at Westminster". It probably will not be able to say that it is the fault of the Secretary of State because no doubt the Secretary of State will no longer exist, but whoever is given the responsibility in a government at Westminster will be blamed. Therefore, there will be tension created between Westminster and the assembly which will be deeply dangerous and damaging.
We have in this set of amendments a very interesting revelation of the road down which we are being asked to advance. I, for one, am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for putting before this Chamber and, for the first time in this current debate, before the electorate the real issues that will confront the electors of Wales when the referendum takes place, issues which so far have been disguised by the Government and kept from that electorate.
Lord Hooson: It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, but I am very amused by the fact that he defends the status quo of the secretaryship of Wales, when the Conservative Government did nothing to establish it. I remember putting forward the proposition that there should be a Secretary of State for Wales and it was turned down by the Conservative Government of the day. That is the nature of political life.
The noble Lord referred to the attitude of the Liberal Democrats on this matter. I want to make quite clear what that is. It faces political reality. For the whole of my political life I have fought for a domestic parliament for Wales. In fact, I fought within my own party and outside it. I supported every campaign for a domestic parliament for Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, knows, I have always opposed a separate Wales and an independent sovereign state in Wales.
The reality of the political situation is that the Labour Party is dominant in Scotland and in Wales. It fought an election with the issues set out clearly as regards their proposals for Scotland and for Wales. I would go much further than the Government are prepared to go. But the reality is that they democratically won an election. They have a very large majority in the elected Chamber. We
The Bill provides for a referendum to be held in Wales and in Scotland. I made quite clear that I do not believe in referendums. Let us look at the history of some other countries--for example, Germany, before the war. There were referendums continually in the Weimar Republic and they nearly always produced the wrong results. I believe that a government should govern.
Having said that, the position regarding this Bill is that it provides the machinery for referendums. I cannot support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for what he would accept is really a "preferendum". To open the political debate again, he and I would go much further than what the Labour Party and the Government propose. But it has one supreme merit so far as Wales is concerned; that is, for the first time in the history of Wales we would have a directly, democratically elected body to represent Wales. Whatever its powers, it would be an enormous milestone in the history of the Welsh people. The fact that, incidentally, it could deal with other matters such as the nominated bodies that so proliferate in Wales and that are unaccountable to the people of Wales, is a different matter. For the first time in our history we would have a directly elected assembly.
The issue of whether our personal preferences are for an independent Wales, a domestic parliament or an assembly with tax-raising powers, is not relevant to the present discussion. The only question is whether we vote for this Bill to allow the referendums to take place and vote "Yes" or "No" on a simple issue. I would not do anything to cloud that issue. The real test is facing political reality; that is, are we for or against what the present Government--which have a huge majority in the elected Chamber--propose?
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