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Lord Thomas of Gresford: I regret to say that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, although I congratulate him on bringing this important issue before us for discussion. I do not think that this is the place to decide where the regional committees are
The clause contains the wise provision for a specific committee for North Wales, however one defines North Wales. I am sure that that provision is included because there is, and always has been, considerable disquiet that North Wales would be dominated by the south. Ironically, in the south there has always been considerable concern that it would be dominated by the north. It is one of the ironies of Wales that so many of the people who hold the levers of power and influence in our capital city come from North and West Wales because they have the facility of being bilingual. That is a matter of considerable importance in the administration of business and government, in the media, and so on.
One has only to consider the problems which are thrown up by trying to define the various regions of Wales in order to say immediately that this House, despite its expertise and knowledge, is not the place for us to reach a final conclusion. Nor is the other place because the way in which such issues can be discussed is not suitable for the type of debates which take place. I would leave the clause as it stands and put the responsibility on the assembly as its first task to decide what is the function of the regional committees, what advice they are supposed to give and to whom and where the boundaries should run.
Lord Elis-Thomas: It is about time that we were honest about the issue of regionalism in Wales. We all know why the provision was included in the Bill. It appeared in the White Paper for the reason which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and my noble friend indicated; because the so-called North/South divide was an issue in the previous referendum. An attempt was made by the governing party--and all credit to it--in its referendum campaign to ensure that that did not happen.
After consideration, my view is that we make too much in our political structure, and we are making too much in this Bill, of the whole issue of regionalism in Wales. That is not to deny the importance of regional identity, regional differentiation, regional representation and so forth. In my view, we are about to construct a new form of national unity and diversity and we must therefore see the regions not as challenging or competing bases of political representation but as serious partners.
I warn the Government and the proposers of the amendments that they are pandering to the worst form of regionalism. There is a danger, in particular if one constructs a regional basis for a political constituency according to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord opposite, that we may create two tiers of members in the assembly. There will be the first-past-the-post members who are elected according to the ancient political placing of a cross on a piece of paper. There will be the members elected by regional franchise on the basis of the d'Hondt system and all those wonderful formulae which we discussed on the first day of the Committee. But those members will be equal. The danger is that if one creates a regional committee structure which is coterminous with the franchise for the regional elections, one is instituting a two-tier assembly with a national and a regional level. One is also instituting a two-tier membership; the regional members and the constituency members.
I believe that we must have a more radical approach to these matters. Although I do not agree with either of the proposals put forward in the report of the National Advisory Group, I am attracted by the Western model because it is applicable in terms of regional development. I am attracted also by the WDA regions--the TECH regional model--which brings me to the whole point of my speech. This is not a matter for this House--and here I disagree with myself in previous speeches. This is definitely a matter for the assembly by consultation and process. I would not put it as the first duty of the assembly; I would put it as an emerging duty. However, I would warn the assembly members not to pay too much attention to the issue of regional division. Politicians in Wales, including those in my own party, have played about with the issue of the regional division of Wales. My own party is guilty of that. We are creating a new national unity in which the diversity of the wonderful Marches, the border land and the west is just as important as the artificial creations called north, mid, south-west and east Wales. I am opposing the amendments and supporting the clause, but I issue dire warnings to the regionalists because in my book the regionalists are even worse than the nationalists.
Lord Hooson: It is always a great pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. As he completed his speech I could not help wondering how many times he has disagreed with himself. From my knowledge of him over many years, I suspect quite a number. I agreed with a great deal of what he said in the earlier part of his address, but he did not do justice to his cause in the latter part of his speech.
It is very important that the assembly is generally accepted. The Labour Party will almost certainly have a large majority in the assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, may shake his head and disagree with himself about this, too, but the reality is that only six parliamentary seats in Wales are held other than by the Labour Party. Let us look at the reality of what will happen.
From the Government's point of view, it is important that the assembly is generally accepted. Therefore, it is important that proper account is taken of regional susceptibilities. I represented an area in Montgomeryshire which deeply resented being included with Brecon and Radnor in an artificial creation called Powys which covers a quarter of the land surface of Wales. It is contrary to their history. The Tudors had it right because they paid regard to communications and to where the rivers flowed. Where the rivers flowed so market towns and the means of communication were developed. In an area which can be described as the Marches area, which included the old Montgomeryshire, there were many contacts across to Shropshire as well as west to Cardiganshire, to Merioneth and so on.
The regional susceptibility which exists must be carefully dealt with. If the assembly were to develop into a body dominated by what might be described as the old Labour attitudes in some of the area of South Wales it would ruin it for the Government and everyone. If there is anything which would upset the Labour control of Wales it would be making a mess of the assembly. Therefore, the Government must tread carefully on this issue.
I agree that we in this House should not try to define the regions. Most people in Montgomeryshire, for example, would prefer to be with North Wales if it were divided into a North Wales region and others. As I and people in the Welsh Office know, a number of representations have been made from Breconshire. It does not like to be part of Powys either and believes itself to be part of South Wales. The same probably applies to Radnorshire. But it should be left to the assembly to decide wisely in what way it will have regional committees. There is strength in the argument for a mid-Wales region because it has many similar problems. The Rural Development Board as it developed included Merioneth, Montgomery and so on and in many ways it was an actual region. The assembly might seek to go along those lines and define North Wales more narrowly.
It is important that within the assembly there is a sense that the affairs of a given area will be properly safeguarded. The dominant force will be from the industrial areas and there will generally be felt to be a need for strong protective regional committees able to influence the assembly generally. All in all, we must leave the matter to the good judgment and leadership of the assembly. I know that the present Secretary of State--I feel his presence--is most anxious to lead the assembly. He is very well aware of such problems. I am sure that he is totally dedicated to the idea of making the assembly a success and that he appreciates the importance of a sensitive solution to what may be described basically as the "regional problem".
Lord Davies of Coity: Although I have not lived in Wales for some years, I do not see any evidence that regionalism does not still exist. Clause 62 has the position just about right in terms of allowing the assembly to define precisely what the regions will be. We still hear terms--and they are expressed in the
I certainly support the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that the assembly is designed to create a unity in Wales. But that unity must evolve and has to do so with confidence, strength and belief. It cannot do it overnight. There is an undoubted requirement for these regional advisory committees to represent respective and specific interests in the areas of Mid Wales, West Wales, North Wales and South Wales--indeed, wherever it happens to be--so that the assembly can take the decisions which will ensure that all the people of Wales are able to have confidence in the work of the assembly. All those interests must be represented.
I suggest to the Committee that Clause 62, as presently framed, should be supported. We should allow the assembly to define the lines of regionalism in Wales for, perhaps, the interim period. They may not need to exist forever and a day, but, when the assembly starts its work, such definition certainly needs to be there. Indeed, only the assembly can define those regions after a great deal of thought and consultation.
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