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Government Of Wales Bill

Volume 302: debated on Tuesday 9 December 1997

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Order read for resuming adjourned debate on amendment to Question [8 December], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Which amendment was, to leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

'this House, deploring the failure of Her Majesty's Government to respond to and allay the legitimate fears of the Welsh people expressed in the referendum vote of 18th September and in particular the omission from the Government of Wales Bill of any statutory assurances in relation to the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament, to the protection of geographic and cultural minorities, to the proper resourcing of Wales to reflect need, and to the safeguarding of the position of Wales within the United Kingdom and its voice within Europe, declines to give a Second Reading to the Government of Wales Bill.'—[Mr. Ancram.]

Question again proposed, That the Amendment be made:—

4.40 pm

On 18 September the people of Wales backed the Government in creating a modern new democracy for Wales. They voted for a new Wales and a new future. They demonstrated that we in Wales are ready for the new century, more confident about ourselves than in the past.

Nobody can pretend that it was a decisive yes vote, but as my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell) said—their contributions yesterday were most welcome—most no campaigners accept the will of the people. As the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) added, only English Conservative Front Benchers want to rewrite the rules of democracy by insisting that a narrow yes vote is somehow really a no vote. Even Conservatives in Wales accept the result and the need to respond constructively to the Bill. Notably, Lord Roberts of Conwy voted no, but he is not trying to turn the clock back and has advanced some interesting ideas.

The truth is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) argued, the result was an historic achievement, overcoming old divisions between north and south; English and Welsh speakers; and industrial and rural areas—divisions that were so ruthlessly and contemptibly exploited by the Tory-led no campaigners, who appealed so nakedly to fear and grubby parochialism.

The Tories wanted Wales trapped in the past—weak, divided, and cowering before power centralised in London—but the Government led a broad popular coalition, spanning all parties, to secure a swing of 30 per cent. since the ill-fated referendum of 1979. Significantly, that swing was bigger than in Scotland, even surpassing Labour's 1 May landslide. It was a vote not for separatism but for democracy: for decentralising power from Whitehall to the people and modernising our almost mediaeval British constitution.

It was not a shock to see the Conservatives opposing this extension of democracy: the shock would have been if they had done otherwise. They opposed every great constitutional reform—votes for working-class citizens; votes for women; reform of the House of Lords—so why should they make an exception of Wales? Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) pointed out, they also opposed the establishment of the post of Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Development Agency.

Why is the Minister so anxious about the vote? He attacks everyone left, right and centre, and the witchfinder general of Wales tries to extirpate Labour Members who voted no. There must have been large numbers of those—250,000 more than the Conservative vote. What is behind all this? There was a massive rejection on the day: 75 per cent., given the chance to vote yes, did not do so. The Minister is trying to make 75 per cent. seem insubstantial as against his own 25 per cent. What is it all about?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's spirited attempt to prop up the empty Opposition Benches. I was merely replying to points raised by Opposition Members in yesterday's debate, in accordance with the courtesies of the House.

The Tories wanted to be able to inflict Redwooditis on Wales again, if they returned to government. We want that disease banished forever from Wales, so that never again can the likes of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) trample all over the people of Wales. We all thought that Redwooditis, a form of political BSE, had been made safe by slaughtering more than half the Tory Members at the general election—it was indeed a radical cull, strictly in line with the rules of public health and safety—but we discover that it has not been eliminated.

Redwooditis has remained deeply embedded in the spinal cord of the Tory party and has emerged among Opposition Front Benchers as they stumble groggily through the devolution debate. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is the Tories' voice for the valleys; Wales is safe with an Essex boy, the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin); and then we have the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the Marquis of Lothian, who is the answer to the West Lothian question personified.

Will the Minister confirm that Devizes, and indeed Scotland, where I come from, are rather nearer to Wales than South Africa?

Not nearer than Neath, which I represent—with a record majority at the general election, I might add—but I none the less welcome any more spirited interventions from the right hon. Gentleman.

Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Bill as a "dangerous dog's breakfast"; I do not know what a safe dog's breakfast might be. He gave a curiously lacklustre performance: perhaps, as a closet devolutionist going back 20 years, his heart is not really in it. By contrast, his Back-Bench colleagues, the hon. Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) made thoughtful contributions, and I look forward to hearing more from them in Committee.

I notice that the right hon. Member for Devizes has promised a secondreferendum on devolution. If he does not mind, I will give him some comradely advice: referendums are not that easy to win. I speak from personal experience. If the Tories ever won another general election, I would relish the prospect of fighting a no campaign to keep the national assembly for Wales, but I offer a prediction: that second referendum will be yet another Tory broken promise. We got used to them in government, and now we are getting used to them in opposition.

Look what happened to the Tory Leader's promise of a referendum last time: the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who treated Wales as a youth training scheme for his leadership of the party, promised a referendum on the Amsterdam treaty; but that was in June, and we all know that six months is a long time in Tory politics. Last week, the Tory leadership refused to table an amendment calling for a referendum when the treaty was put before the House. The new Tory leader's motto is, "U-turn if you want to, this man's definitely for turning."

I see from yesterday's The Daily Telegraph that the Leader of the Opposition is now trying to get Scottish Tories to
"break with the past and reinvent themselves"
by changing their name following their disastrous election result. [HON. MEMBERS: "Like new Labour."] We will come to that.

One of the Tory leader's advisers told the newspaper:
The old name is potentially damaged goods".
All sorts of new names are being canvassed: the Scottish Unionist party; the Progressive Unionist party; and even the Democratic Conservative party, which I would have thought a contradiction in terms. I am sure that, if that new thinking is applied to Scotland, Wales will not be left out. Perhaps I can be helpful: what about the Tories calling themselves new Conservatives? In Wales, that could be Ceidwadwyr Newydd, or Toriad Newydd: real vote winners.

Mind you, it is not surprising that they are having this trouble, as the Tories' name came from a gang of 17th-century Irish outlaws known as the bog trotters. Perhaps that explains the incontinent rumblings of the right hon. Member for Devizes yesterday.

Long after our Tory shadows in opposition have faded from memory, my right hon. Friend's name will be entrenched in Welsh history as the person who delivered devolution for Wales. Perhaps future generations will salute him by demanding a St. Ronald's day; I am sure that Opposition Members will support that.

The Bill is not only about democracy. Wales is, by United Kingdom or European standards, a poor country. Our gross domestic product per head is 18 per cent. lower than England's: a gap that has widened over the past 21 years. Average earnings are 11 per cent. lower than in England, whereas in 1979 they were only 3 per cent. lower. Youth unemployment, at more than 19 per cent., is almost half as high again as in England.

Economic inactivity rates for those of working age, especially men, are higher than in England. Health is worse and so is poverty. While some areas, notably the south-east and the north-east of Wales, have prospered, others have stagnated at best. That is the dreadful legacy that the Tories want to maintain with the old style of government.

The Tories want Wales to be poor and divided. We want Wales to be a new, modern world-beating country, united for the first time through an assembly that will ensure that the needs of all parts of Wales are fully understood and fairly represented, a point eloquently argued by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik).

Before the Minister leaves the question of poverty, could he clarify something? We received in the Library today a document entitled, "Principles to govern determination of the block budgets for the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales". In paragraph 8b, on the Barnett formula, it states:

"action taken by the Scottish or Welsh administrations in a devolved area has knock-on costs for the UK Government or vice versa."
Can he explain the background of the statement that has appeared?

My hon. Friend always asks penetrating and well-researched questions. I think that he will find that the answer is contained in the memorandum to which he referred.

The speech by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire was witty and eloquent. I assure him that the Secretary of State will seriously consider his generous offer to construct the assembly building all by himself.

The Tories want to maintain the politically corrupt Tory quango state, which accounts for more than a third of the Welsh Office budget. We want the quangos abolished or merged, and all made subject to democratic accountability through the assembly, which will have sweeping powers to reform them. The Tories want local authorities strangled; the Bill offers a new partnership to empower local government, as my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) and for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) argued.

Meanwhile, we are building an integrated Welsh Development Agency for the whole of Wales. Tai Cymru will be merged with the Welsh Office. Health service trusts will be reduced in number and reshaped. Cardiff Bay development corporation will be wound up. As my hon. Friends the Members for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) and for Gower (Mr. Caton) argued, that amounts to a fundamental shift in the way public services are delivered in Wales.

Most significant is the merger into the WDA of the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Land Authority for Wales. The Bill creates for the first time a single economic development agency for Wales. It will remove the complexity, confusion and waste that result from existing arrangements and give the assembly a powerful vehicle to improve economic prosperity across Wales. In partnership with local authorities, the business community and many others, the new WDA will have a pivotal role in developing and delivering the objectives of economic growth and prosperity for the whole of Wales. It will also be charged with delivering local solutions for local businesses and communities in the different parts of Wales.

How does the Minister square that with the statement this morning in the Welsh Affairs Committee by Mr. Chris Barber of the Federation of Small Businesses of Wales that the merger of the DBRW into the WDA would have a catastrophic effect?

That statement has not been repeated by many, if any, business men across Wales. They see the enormous advantages to Welsh businesses, small and large, of a unified powerhouse agency, especially with the development of English regional development agencies, which I welcome. I am sure that Mr. Barber does not speak for the whole of business in Wales.

The all-Wales remit of the new agency will tackle inequalities in investment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane) pointed out in the Welsh Grand Committee last month, inward investment has created 12,280 jobs in Newport, Cardiff and Caerphilly but only 43 in Conwy, Pembrokeshire and Denbighshire. At least in part, that reflects the democratic deficit that Wales has endured for far too long.

Only by bringing the quangos, and especially the enlarged WDA, under the control of a democratic assembly representing the whole of Wales can the needs of areas that have lagged so far behind, particularly in the rural north and west, be properly addressed. To do that, the new organisation will need a strong regional structure, with boundaries closely aligned with those of the reconstituted training and enterprise councils, the economic forums and the strong regional committees for the assembly that are established by the Bill, a matter rightly stressed by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) yesterday. The WDA-led powerhouse will be equipped to spearhead our drive for a world-class Welsh economy for the 21st century, and subject to the Bill's passage, will be fully operational by autumn next year. The Bill is therefore the vehicle for not only the political but the economic regeneration of Wales.

The assembly created by the Bill will be a modern institution, accessible to the whole of Wales, in keeping with its mission to serve the whole of Wales. In that respect, I stress the importance of the Secretary of State's advisory committee. It is open to new ideas and suggestions for how business, the trade unions and voluntary groups—from women's organisations to school governors—wish to relate to the assembly. We want to create a new political culture in Wales, a new participatory democracy.

We also intend to pioneer a new digital democracy. The assembly will be designed to make use of new technology, not only in members' offices but in the chamber and externally, to link up with the outside world. I realise that the right hon. Member for Devizes has a problem pronouncing the word "digital", but if he wants I shall show him how to spell it afterwards.

The Bill ushers in an exciting new era for Wales. It is no surprise that the Tories oppose it. History teaches us that the Tories, through the English Tory establishment, always respond in a reactionary way to demands for reform. The familiar pattern is being played out before us over a Welsh Assembly. First, they rubbish the case. Secondly, they resist it, often uncompromisingly. Then, when they see that they are losing the battle, they slide into the third phase of trying to co-opt the pressure for change, as shown by last year's proposals to beef up the role of the Welsh Grand Committee, as if that could substitute for genuine devolution. Fourthly and finally, they are forced to cave in to the will of the people. When that happens, as it surely will, none of them will ever admit to having opposed a Welsh Assembly in the first place.

4.56 pm

I am grateful for the chance to speak on the second day of the Second Reading debate. It is wonderful to follow the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain). It is so good to hear the Neath accent again—although, strangely, despite my 30 years of living in Swansea, I had quite forgotten that it sounded like that. When I refer later in my speech to inward investment, I shall not be referring to the hon. Member for Neath.

This afternoon, I shall touch on issues that were debated yesterday and introduce other matters that need to be addressed in Committee. We have been criticised by the three pro-devolution parties for being negative and for acting as an Opposition. I make no apologies for doing so. I regret that we are the Opposition but we recognise that we are the Opposition. We are the only party that speaks on behalf of the three out of four people in Wales who did not endorse the proposals. Much has been made of the twisting of the figures of 18 September into a resounding endorsement, which they were not.

The result was not brilliant for any of us. At just over 50 per cent., the turnout was down from 58.3 per cent. in 1979, when I voted no in Swansea. The split between yes and no could not have been closer—just 0.6 per cent., with 11 areas voting for and 11 against. As the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) said yesterday, Offa's dyke seems to be moving west.

It would have been better if the percentage majority in favour had been in double figures. That would have settled the issue once and for all, but it did not and it remains unsettled. The Prime Minister knew that it was not a brilliant endorsement because the day after the referendum, on the steps of No. 10, he said that he would need to address the fears of the large number of people who did not endorse the devolution proposals. What action has he taken? The Welsh Assembly is to be called the National Assembly for Wales, cynulliad cenedlaethol Cymru. A name change is always worth a try. As new Labour knows, it sometimes works. But more than a name change will be needed to sell the merits of this case.

The other major change was that the assembly bandwagon, which was due to roll in to a town near you in England, rolled backwards into Wales. It has been derailed. So the English have a great deal for which to thank the Welsh, but the Welsh have little for which to thank the Prime Minister.

Another change, we are told, is that there is to be an advisory committee which will help in setting up the assembly. We are told that it will represent all political shades. That would have been a step in the right direction, had the Secretary of State asked the parties for nominations, as the Secretary of State for Scotland is doing. We were told yesterday that the Conservatives had been consulted, but neither the shadow Secretary of State nor I have been asked to suggest a name. We have checked with a number of our representatives from Wales and they have not been asked to put forward a name. We have tabled a parliamentary question to ask exactly whom the Secretary of State for Wales consulted. We look forward to the answer. Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to intervene now and tell us whom he consulted about the nomination.

I am more than happy to confirm that I have received a parliamentary question from the hon. Gentleman and, of course, I shall give it careful consideration and let him have a full reply. The point that I make is the one that I made in yesterday's debate to the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). I invited him to the Welsh Office at the same time as I invited the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) and the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). They came and discussed matters with me, but the right hon. Gentleman chose not to come. In his absence, I could hardly have a consultation with him.

This simply will not do. As even the Western Mail says, recent events do not get this whole thing off to a good start—and that newspaper was pro-devolution at the very beginning. The Secretary of State has a cheek to talk about inclusivity when he has just given that sort of answer.

I was in the room when that telephone conversation took place. The Secretary of State talked about trying to force his own nomination on to the Welsh Grand Committee. Not content with choosing the Conservative nominee on the advisory body, he wants to choose one of the Welsh nominees on the Welsh Grand Committee. This is a strange and twisted form of democracy. Perhaps the Secretary of State will say whether the nominee to serve on the advisory body will be the hereditary peer mentioned in today's Western Mail.

As the hon. Gentleman was with the right hon. Member for Devizes at the time of that conversation, he will be in a position to confirm that I invited the right hon. Gentleman to come to see me at the Welsh Office to discuss a range of issues that were likely to be before Parliament this Session. It is a matter of regret to me that the right hon. Gentleman declined that invitation. The fact that the other two party leaders accepted my invitation and have been involved in the consultation process is a demonstration of their wisdom, and the foolishness and short-sightedness of the right hon. Gentleman who leads for the Conservative party on these matters.

The major difference is that the representatives from the other two political parties are behaving as if they were sitting on the Government Benches. We already know that the Secretary of State for Wales likes to close down debate in his own party. Now he is trying to dictate who should be the Conservative nominees on various bodies. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to confirm whether the nominee is the hereditary peer mentioned in today's newspaper? Is that his Conservative nomination for the advisory committee?

The hon. Gentleman obviously has such a thin speech that he needs me to pad it out for him. I can confirm to him that the first meeting of the advisory committee will take place in Cardiff on Friday. All members of the committee will be present and their CVs will be made available. The whole of Wales, including the hon. Gentleman, will have the opportunity then to find out precisely who sits on the committee.

There the Secretary of State goes again, marginalising the House of Commons. He has been given the opportunity to tell it the membership of the Committee today, but no, the information will be spin-doctored away in the media. He should not talk to us about inclusivity.

As the hon. Gentleman wants to take the debate a stage further, perhaps I should explain that the committee will be my advisory committee. The purpose of it will be to consult people in Wales and offer advice to me.

If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall explain that the purpose of the advisory committee is to offer advice to me so that I can offer advice to the statutory commission which will prepare the standing orders. The committee will offer advice to me as Secretary of State, not to the House of Commons.

Then let us have no more pretence that the advisory committee will represent all shades of political opinion. Let us make the position clear to the Secretary of State for Wales. He seems to be having a little difficulty here. As the hon. Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell) put it yesterday, all that we are asking for is a bit of chwarae teg, or fair play, on this. We do not want to hear that all political shades are being included when the Conservative party has not been asked for its nomination.

The Secretary of State for Wales has an opportunity today to seek some sort of consensus and a step forward. He was told by Lord Roberts that we were expecting a letter asking for the Conservative party to put forward a nominee. We are still awaiting that letter. If we receive it, we will put forward a serious suggestion.

If the Secretary of State carries on in this fashion, I must make it clear to everyone in the Chamber and outside that the person whom the Secretary of State has chosen does not represent us and has not been chosen by us. The person has been selected by the Secretary of State for Wales. He does not and will not speak for the Conservative party. He will speak only for the Secretary of State for Wales. I ask the media to take note of this: that nominee, whoever he may be, will never be accepted by us as a spokesman on our behalf.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is far wide of the mark. The people who sit on the advisory committee will not represent anyone. They will not represent political parties or vested interests.

Of course it is different in Scotland. The members bring to the committee their personal expertise and point of view. They do not represent vested political interests.

Let us make it clear that there is no Conservative party representative on the committee. The Secretary of State can ask us to put forward a name. We will do so. But no—all that we have heard today is, "This is my advisory committee." The Secretary of State should not talk about inclusivity or the spread of political views.

Let us move on, as it seems that we shall make little progress on the issue of the committee. It has been pointed out to me that yesterday the Secretary of State for Wales said that there was a Conservative representative on the committee. He is not a Conservative representative and he does not speak for us. I move on.

The other point that I wish to make relates to the scrutiny of the Bill. We are not in the business of wrecking the Bill, but it contains more holes than a Swiss cheese and we, along with other right hon. and hon. Members, will seek to fill them in and improve the Bill. Let us follow the convention and take this important constitutional matter on the Floor of the House. The Secretary of State has said that he will table amendments of his own. Labour Members—of varying persuasions, no doubt—will want to table amendments. Let us not steamroller the Bill through a small Committee Upstairs as if it were perfect. This is another matter on which we can make progress, but only if the Secretary of State will meet us half way.

I now turn to the siting of the Assembly and the farcical nature of this shabby, sorry exercise. I know that it is the pantomime season, but recent events are at a new level. Where shall we site the assembly? In Cardiff city hall, of course. "Oh, no, you won't," says Russell Goodway. "Oh, yes, we will," says the Secretary of State—and now it is likely that the assembly will not be there. All that is missing is the familiar ring of, "It's behind you." The Secretary of State must wish that this whole sorry business was behind him. This does not bode well for an harmonious relationship between the assembly and the Secretary of State for Wales, assuming that he still holds that office when it starts up—I am generous enough to assume that he will be.

What possible relevance do the hon. Gentleman's comments have to the Bill and the debate today?

The hon. Gentleman made a lengthy speech yesterday. The same question could be asked about much of his speech.

The siting of the assembly was mentioned time and time again in yesterday's debate. If we cannot get that right, what can we get right? The Labour leader of the capital's authority is at loggerheads with the Secretary of State, whose warm, magnetic charm has, unusually, failed him on this occasion. We are now witnessing an unseemly, squalid row.

I note that the hon. Gentleman is even laughing at his own lines. Is he suggesting that my right hon. Friend should have agreed to pay more for Cardiff city hall than the independently valued market price?

No, of course not. I find it peculiar that everyone thought that a deal had been done with the Labour leader of Cardiff city council. Everyone thought that the assembly would be based at Cardiff city hall, but after the referendum, after the people of Wales had decided, we found out that there was no such deal. It all seems rather strange to us.

We are naturally taking a keen interest in exactly where the new assembly will be sited. It does not bode very well for the assembly's future if, at the outset, a Labour leader of a local authority cannot get on with a Labour Secretary of State for Wales. What happens if one of them is replaced by someone from another political party?

An unconsultative document has been rushed out to seek suggestions about which lucky area will house what some see as a gravy train. And who can blame all the Welsh authorities for fighting to house something that will bring in its wake public service jobs and all that that entails? Even my old home town, the proud city of Swansea, has become entrenched in the bidding process.

What would have happened if the row about the assembly's location had broken out before the referendum? After all, Cardiff voted no on 18 September and it seems as though it is still voting no today. The Conservative party believes that the financial estimates in the White Paper must be adhered to—after all, the £17 million start-up costs and running costs of between £15 million and £20 million are high enough.

That money must either be saved by abolishing the quangos—the Bill only makes a small start on that—or will have to come from money that would otherwise be spent on front-line services such as doctors, nurses, teachers and policemen. The average nurse costs £325 a week; the average policeman costs £491 a week; and the average teacher costs £432 a week. The price of the average politician in the assembly has not been settled by the Bill, but after the initial salary has been agreed, it will subsequently be set by the members of the assembly.

We know what will happen, because we need only look at the expenses charged by Welsh Labour local authorities when they have a say about them. We will scrutinise those costs carefully. That does not make us penny-pinching, it means that we will hold the Government to account to ensure that they keep to the spending limits presented to the Welsh people.

To help towards that end, we will oppose the ludicrous amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats to increase the number of assembly politicians from 60 to 70 at a cost of £750,000. We must remember that the areas represented by the Liberal Democrats voted no on 18 September. They did so not because they wanted more politicians but because they wanted fewer. With such crackpot thinking from the Liberal Democrats, come the next general election those people will want fewer Liberal Democrat representatives at Westminster—and so do we.

The Liberal Democrats have a long tradition of support for devolution and—

One would think that that party would make sensible suggestions about the Bill. How long does one need to sort out one's plans?

The hon. Gentleman has implied that the majority of Liberal Democrats voted no on 18 September. What is his evidence? There is none to prove that that is so.

The areas broadly represented by the Liberal Democrats voted no. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends know that, because I appeared on a television programme with the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) until 4 o'clock on the night of the referendum. Nobody was less pleased than he was when his area's result came through.

The hon. Gentleman will remember my enormous relief that my prediction about a heavier defeat turned out to be unfounded. Would he agree that it is possible that the Liberal Democrats in those two constituencies voted yes while others may not have been persuaded?

That argument may get the hon. Gentleman to sleep at night, but it does not wash with any of us on the Conservative Benches.

The Liberal Democrats' suggestion that there should be an extra 10 seats in the assembly at an additional cost of £750,000 a year is entirely inconsistent with their claim to be a responsible, third party. It is, however, entirely consistent with their position as a high-tax, high-spend party. Perhaps those extra 10 seats would be paid for out of their mystic 1p tax rise. Never has there been a better return on a penny spent—well, almost never.

The Liberal Democrats have joined in the debate on what to call the assembly. The Scots will have a legislative body with tax-raising powers—that is called a Parliament. The Liberal Democrats want to call the Welsh Assembly, which, thankfully, will not have primary legislative powers or tax-raising abilities, a Senedd, which is Welsh for a Parliament. Let us not insult the Welsh any more than they have been insulted already. Such a suggestion is an insult to their intelligence—an assembly is what it is and what it should be called.

Let us consider the issue of proportional representation—or, rather, unproportional misrepresentation, as the proposal is neither a true system of PR nor will be representative of the wishes of the Welsh people. It will cause confusion to the masses. People will not know to whom they should bring their constituency problems. Should they write to their elected constituency Member of Parliament—a process that works extremely well at Westminster—to their constituency member of the assembly, or to an assembly member who is elected under the list system? Will those latter two representatives have the same authority, or will the constituency assembly member's word carry more weight? Can the Secretary of State tell me the answer, or has he not thought it through, as he has failed to think through so much connected with the issue?

If the proposed voting system is introduced, we will have such a complicated system of elections throughout the country and in Wales that I am sure the people of Wales will be turned off by it and utterly bewildered and bemused by the sheer variety of voting systems in use in the United Kingdom. It is almost as though the Labour party is determined to make Britain a showcase for different PR systems—for the assembly, for London, for Europe, and perhaps at local elections. I know that it is also considering the voting procedures for Westminster. Its proposals will offer a fabulous case study for political studies undergraduates and a nightmare for the man on the Clapham omnibus or on the No. 12 bus to Swansea city centre who is trying to take part in an election or write to his representative with a problem.

The Secretary of State claims that the additional member system will be good news for the Conservative party. I thank him sincerely for thinking of us when he made those plans, but if that is the case, it makes our principled stand a moral one as well. Why? Because we believe that the new system will only add to Welsh nationalism and anti-English sentiments, bringing nearer by the day the total break-up of the United Kingdom, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) feared in his speech yesterday. We will fight against that tooth and nail, for the good of the Welsh people and for the good of the people of the United Kingdom.

We already know that Plaid Cymru sees the assembly as the journey and not the destination. It is not content with the half of the cake that is currently on offer to it. It will come back for the other half soon.

We will make a number of suggestions about the proposed funding arrangements for the assembly, as stated in clause 80, which is a classic of its kind. It states:
"The Secretary of State shall from time to time make payments to the Assembly out of money provided by Parliament of such amounts as he may determine."
That's all right then, isn't it? But as Secretary of State, with his fading glory and influence, is eclipsed by every other spending Department, what real security will there be for the assembly? Yesterday, we heard in speech after speech from those on the alliance Benches about how the assembly will improve education, how it will revitalise the health service, how new jobs will flood in and how roads will be built that will make the Roman roads look like dirt tracks. Wales will become the most powerful country on the planet thanks to the assembly—and all with no extra money.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has already said that the Barnett formula will stay. The can of worms has now been opened, however, and the English regions have woken up to the formula's financial implications. Per capita spending in Wales is £4,352 compared with spending in England of £3,743—a difference of £609. If Wales were to be self-financing, the basic rate of tax would be 45p in the pound.

The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) has said that the Government must get rid of that formula and give the money to England. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) believes that London should get all the extra cash. The Barnett formula has not been enshrined in the Bill, nor is the element of needs funding. We will seek assurances about that in Committee. The last thing that Labour Members will want is for the assembly to be tempted to top-slice revenue support grant money to pay for their land of milk and honey.

The hon. Gentleman, as hon. Member for Ribble Valley, will be aware of how important defence procurement is in overall public expenditure. His constituency probably receives more public expenditure in defence procurement per head than any other constituency in the western world. He has made himself known for lobbying for more public expenditure for Ribble Valley and for his constituents who work at British Aerospace factories in the Preston area. I think that he will accept those points. Does he accept that—if we add defence procurement to domestic public expenditure—Wales receives 5.1 per cent. of identifiable UK public expenditure, whereas it has 5.0 per cent. of the population? Will he comment on those figures and relate them to the argument that he has been making?

No, because the Barnett formula was created to ensure that there was a needs formula to protect the needs of the Welsh people and the Scottish people. Since the Government's devolution proposals have come to light with the referendums, a can of worms has been opened, and English people and English Members of Parliament are asking why so much money is going to Wales and to Scotland and not to their own areas. Such a debate is bound to ensue. If there is a review of the Barnett formula, we do not know what the outcome might be, because we have no guarantees. We do know, however, that hon. Members will fight hard to ensure that they win as much money as possible for their own areas, based on the needs of those areas.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his understanding of the Barnett formula is that it is needs-based? Is that what he is saying?,

Population is used as a basis of determining need. In Committee, we will ensure that the needs basis will be continued into the future—something of which there is no guarantee. The Secretary of State is not dealing with the matter in the Bill, although he is doing so in the explanatory and financial memorandum— which, as he knows, has no status. One of the fears of the people of Wales is that, if there is a review, there could be a review downwards. What will happen then?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I am sorry to detain the House, but that is sheer gibberish. He does not understand the Barnett formula, and I urge him to study it. As he is talking about needs, I should point out that Wales's GDP is 18 per cent. less than the English average. GDP in south-east England, which he mentioned, is 14 per cent. above the English average. If there were a genuinely needs-based assessment of resource distribution in Great Britain, Wales would do very well in it.

I am very pleased that that reassures the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. I assure him that a can of worms has been opened. Has he considered the demands that will be made by the politicians who will be elected to the London assembly? They will demand a big slice of the cake. Whereas Labour and other alliance Members think only of how large their slice of the cake will be, Conservative Members fight to ensure that the cake becomes larger, so that everyone can have a greater slice of it.

Part of Labour Members' problem is their inability to answer the question of what will happen if the RSG settlement is top-sliced. We have 22 local authorities in Wales, and we have already seen—thanks to last week's announcement—a 12 per cent. council tax increase. The people of Wales will look back rather nostalgically at such increases if there is top slicing of the RSG, because the resulting shortage will be made up in only one way—in ever higher council taxes.

I should hate to fail to deal in my speech with the role of the Secretary of State. We already know that the current incumbent of that office moves in mysterious ways, but what will he do after the assembly is established? The Bill states only that he will transfer his powers to the assembly—

Yes, most of his powers.

The Secretary of State will also be able to visit and speak in the assembly. But who will speak for Wales? Will it be the assembly's First Secretary, or will it be the Secretary of State—the First Secretary's secretary? If the new leader of the assembly is Russell Goodway, relations just might be strained. If it were the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), I predict that there would be some friction. Problems would result also if the position were held by many other people. As the botched job on siting the assembly has shown, embarrassment and stalemate are a likely result.

The House must probe more carefully who will do what in the assembly's operation and ascertain more carefully its relationship with Europe. Matters that are so important that they must receive careful scrutiny include the assembly's visiting rights to important meetings of the Council of Ministers, the Secretary of State's residual powers over money, and the role of the new regional committees.

All we know about the regional committees is that they will be established in north Wales and in other areas. If such a device is supposed to calm the people of north Wales, heaven help them. The south Wales-dominated assembly will draw up the boundaries; it will determine how it is advised by the committee; and it may then ignore that advice. The committees sound like a sop, and Conservative Members will press for greater clarification in Committee.

What about clause 47, which deals in
"equality of opportunity for all people"?
It is fine to pay lip service to that goal, but, as our reasoned amendment states, Conservative Members are not satisfied that the assembly will provide an opportunity for all the people of Wales to be properly represented and protected.

Conservative Members will be looking for assurances on the £500-million question: what type of loan will it be? Will it be a recipe for the assembly to borrow on the never-never to fund its raison d'etre, buying instant popularity that will disappear in a flash as the bill lands on people's mats? We still hear concerns expressed by businesses in Wales, which are represented by the Confederation of British Industry, the North Wales Business Club and the Federation of Wales Small Businesses.

Another strong aspect of the Union from which people have benefited is the Welsh Development Agency's achievement in attracting inward investment. The fact is that 20 per cent. of all UK inward investment goes to Wales. Will Wales and the battle to channel inward projects through the President of the Board of Trade be disadvantaged by her new concordat? How will we control nationalist fervour for increased regionalisation in the United Kingdom, breaking the bond that unites us?

The assembly's merits will have to be sold to a rightly suspicious and sceptical public. Will the assembly help Welsh farmers in their crisis? No. Will it stop the £1,000 fee for students—which has resulted in an estimated 9 per cent. drop in student numbers attending university next year? No. Will the assembly safeguard a single inward investment project, reduce class sizes or put an extra bobby on the beat? No, no and no.

Conservative Members have genuine fears about the experiment, as do three out of four Welsh voters. We have a right to voice our concerns and fears, because, after all, it is our country, too. Britain has become a melting pot, in which the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish live in each other's pocket. Each of us is proud of our culture, but we are respectful of the differences that help to make Britain great. We must resist and fight anything that throws away what we have achieved or damages the cement that bonds us together.

We are the party of the Union. We remain the party of the Union. We will not let Wales and Britain down.

5.28 pm

I tell the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) that anyone with a sense of the history of this century should be impressed by the amazing role, function and achievements of the Conservative and Unionist party. Because of those achievements, I should have thought that, from that Dispatch Box, the House would have heard expressed a huge amount of humility about the way in which that party has reduced a great institution to the rump it has become over the past 18 years.

The Conservative and Unionist party is no longer a party of the Union. It does not have one seat representing a Welsh or a Scottish constituency. How can it possibly claim still to be the Conservative and Unionist party? The Conservative party—a great traditional unionist party—has managed its affairs in such a way that it has been driven out of two of the three parts of the Union. I should have thought that, if nothing else, there should have come from the hon. Member for Ribble Valley at the Dispatch Box a sense of humility, a degree of modesty and a realisation that, wherever we stand and whatever criticisms we might make of the Bill—I intend to make one or two myself—the Conservatives were totally rejected at the last election in Wales and Scotland.

In view of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Conservatives' lack of representation in Wales and Scotland and our ability to be the party of the Union in those areas, is he saying that the Labour party is the party of the Union in Northern Ireland? If so, which party in Northern Ireland represents its views most closely?

I understand that the Labour party does not fight elections formally as the Labour party in Northern Ireland and that the other parties follow the same policy, but that is not relevant to the point that from the Conservatives' Front-Bench spokesman should have come rather more humility than we heard today. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley contributed little, either to his party's cause, or to the debate on the Bill.

I have no wish to revisit the referendum result, save to say to hon. Members on both sides of the House that we should be as concerned about the fact that 50 per cent. of the population did not vote as about the 49 per cent. of those who did vote who voted no. If I heard this remark once, I heard it dozens of times during the campaign: "We did not really know enough about it—we did not understand the implications." We should all accept that, during the referendum campaign and in the preceding months, we failed collectively to get across to the public the issues and the implications of the proposals. Now, with the Bill before us, we have a chance to do just that. We should take this opportunity not only to explore the implications ourselves, but to communicate them to a wider audience—the Welsh public.

I hope that, in my next remarks, I am not treading on contentious territory for Labour, although I am happy to tread on it as far as the Conservatives are concerned. I hope to gain some measure of, if not consensus, at least understanding. I suspect that, among the 50 per cent. who did not vote and the 49 per cent. of voters who voted no, people were saying—albeit not coherently—that they were uneasy about what was going to happen. There was an air of queasiness surrounding the relationship between Wales and Britain.

The Welsh-British relationship is an enduring and important relationship—one that is felt strongly, no matter how Welsh we are. In constituencies such as mine and in other parts of the country, people were worried that that relationship would be influenced or affected negatively. During our debates on the Bill, we should hold that concern centrally in our minds. I did not hear it from the lips of any of my constituents, but I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) uttered a memorable phrase when he talked about the unbundling of the constitution. In some curious way, that was what people were trying to say—they wanted devolution, but did not want the constitution to be unbundled. It is that careful balance of devolution and remaining part of the United Kingdom that is central to our debates.

I intend to address on Second Reading two central relationships arising from the Bill: first, the assembly-Whitehall-Secretary of State relationship and, secondly, the assembly-Westminster relationship. There are other issues I care about in the Bill, but they can be dealt with in Committee.

In respect of the first relationship, I read with great interest the latest document from the Institute of Welsh Affairs. I am astonished that Conservative Members have not read the documents produced by the institute and thought about the arguments presented in them. I find that, when reading many of the institute's documents about devolution, all I can hear is the sound of axes grinding. I heard them when reading "Making the Assembly work", but I also heard the sound of a large number of pennies dropping.

The document, produced by a traditionally pro-devolution organisation, posed several questions about the relationships between Whitehall, the Secretary of State and the assembly. It asked:
"To what extent will the Assembly in practice be permitted to examine policy proposals which are still being formulated by a Ministry, since it will have no formal institutional links?"
The document continued:
"Are all Assembly members to be treated as in the same position visa vis the Government machine as Ministers who are expected to keep confidential the discussions that precede the decisions as to the exact contents of a Bill?"
Those are not nit-picking Committee points; they are questions that go to the heart of a vital issue—the relationships between an assembly and Whitehall and an assembly and central Government.

The document went further, stating:
"Against this background the Secretary of State may be drawn into the role of becoming the main link between the Assembly and Whitehall, with a consequent weakening of the direct role of the Assembly and its civil servants in negotiating on policy matters with Whitehall departments."
I shall dwell later on that serious and fundamental issue of how the assembly is to relate to the Whitehall and Westminster machinery of government. It is little wonder that the section concluded:
"With all these issues and questions we are operating in uncharted territory involving constitutional innovations that will need clarification and perhaps certain statutory guarantees."
The issue is of fundamental concern to us all: how is the assembly to relate to central Government?

When those questions are asked, and when I hear references such as I heard yesterday to concordats between the assembly and Whitehall Departments, I ask myself whether it is intended that assembly officials and possibly assembly members—who will owe an allegiance to the very different political organisation that is to be known as the national assembly for Wales—are somehow to become enmeshed in Whitehall policy making. If so, how are Whitehall officials to relate to assembly officials?

For example, if members or officials of the assembly enmeshed in the process of confidential discussions on the preparation of a Bill or a major policy decision discover things they feel are not to the best advantage to the membership of the Welsh Assembly, is it to be their duty immediately to break whatever confidentiality applies and report back to the assembly? What is the relationship to be? It is indeed uncharted territory, and it has not yet been explained in this Second Reading debate how the system is to work. I assume that it will be explained in the form of the concordats. If so, the quicker we see them, the better. This is not a marginal issue—it is a matter of fundamental and central concern.

I have been doing some thinking about the practical and political problems that might give rise to anxieties about the relationships between the assembly and Whitehall, and the assembly and central Government. My worries may seem at first sight rather prosaic.

There is, first, the question of standards in health and food safety. Section 16 of the Food Safety Act 1990 is a case in point. The statutory instruments made under that section could scarcely be called politically sexy, one might think. Hon. Members may not feel that they are the meat and drink of British politics—yet it will be under section 16 of the Food Safety Act 1990 that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will, on 16 December, ban beef on the bone.

It certainly is.

We need to know, therefore, how such an issue would be dealt with if it were re-enacted in a few years' time. What, in that event, will be the function and role of the assembly? My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli fastened on this point during an exchange late yesterday evening, which I read with particular interest since I was meaning to raise it myself. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State intervened to say:
"matters relating to animal or human health are likely to be reserved."—[Official Report, 8 December 1997; Vol. 302, c. 755.]
I have seen no such statement anywhere else. What else will be reserved to the Secretary of State? These arguments are not marginal: they are central to the relationship between the Government and the assembly.

Many of the supporters of devolution tend to oversell it. It may be thought that the difficulties facing Welsh farmers at the moment could be dealt with by powers that the assembly will have, but it turns out that certain decisions on food will not belong to the assembly but will remain to be made by the Secretary of State jointly with the Agriculture Minister. So it appears that there will be limitations to the assembly's ability to help farming communities.

My hon. Friend's last assertion is right: no one would claim that the Welsh Assembly will have the ability to deal with matters such as BSE; at least, not by statutory action. I would, however, draw to my hon. Friend's attention two important principles. First, the whole devolution construct is based on the premise that the powers that I exercise will be transferred to the assembly. My hon. Friend, on the other hand, is referring to powers that I exercise jointly with other Ministers. We have always made it clear that certain elements, especially to do with human and animal health, will have to be examined carefully.

The second principle concerns the fact that the powers that I exercise jointly, or retain to be exercised jointly or to transfer back to another Department, will be specified in a transfer order. In Committee, the House will have the opportunity to see exactly how the powers are divided up, during discussion of the transfer order.

I am glad of that statement, but these are not matters of mere detail. They are fundamental, as they define the functions of the Secretary of State for Wales at Westminster and in Whitehall and the functions that are to be devolved. That means that we shall need a list or schedule of reserved powers as soon as possible.

Let me test my right hon. Friend with a couple of other examples. The National Health Service (Travelling Expenses and Admission Charges) Order 1988 may not sound like the stuff of high politics, but it determines who will be exempt from prescription charges. is that a United Kingdom responsibility or will it be the subject of devolution? If the assembly wanted to be more generous in this regard, could it be? I assume not, but we need clarification.

Clause 41 is one of the most complicated clauses in the Bill, yet it concerns the role of the assembly in secondary legislation. I see that the Secretary of State would like to intervene again. I certainly hope for a clear statement, soon, on exactly which reserved powers will be taken by the Secretary of State and which will be transferred to the assembly.

There will be no statement on reserved powers, because the scheme that we envisage works on a transfer of powers. Before the Committee stage begins, a draft order will be prepared so that anyone who wants to see the detail can do so. It will be a hefty document, I can assure my hon. Friend, and it will describe the powers that are being transferred to the assembly.

As for my hon. Friend's example, if my recollection is correct these are powers that the Secretary of State exercises jointly. That being so, it will be a matter of judgment as to whether the powers can be transferred. In the case of national health service charges, we would want conformity between England and Wales, so it is most unlikely that such powers will appear in the transfer order.

We clearly need the list as quickly as possible. It is important to define the various roles of the Secretary of State, central Government and the assembly.

The administrative devolution that we have had in Wales for 33 years has permitted Secretaries of State for Wales to deviate substantially from UK policy, even in international treaty obligations. There was, for instance, the well known example of "Redwooditis", as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), called it. During his period of office, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) declared a free-for-all on out-of-town shopping stores in Wales, even though the Secretary of State for the Environment, whose policy had tremendous commercial importance for all planning inspectors and inquiries, believed, following the previous Prime Minister's signing of the Rio treaty on biodiversity and global warming, that we should be against out-of-town shopping centres on principle. I would not like my hon. Friend to give the impression that none of these fudged areas are to be found under administrative devolution—things can only improve under democratic devolution.

My hon. Friend prompts me to move on to a fundamental point. Nonconformity is generally to be encouraged. When I had the privilege of serving in the Welsh Office, my Secretary of State told me never to conform and always to force Whitehall to make the case for conformity. That was a wonderful remit for a junior Welsh Office Minister. Subsequently, we handled the Community Land Act 1975 completely differently and created a land authority for Wales which has survived the test of time and is now to be incorporated in the new economic powerhouse—so I have always been a great supporter of the idea of nonconformity.

A rewritten constitution has to be defined much more closely than is normal in a cohesive political administrative structure. It is much easier for Welsh civil servants to attend meetings in Whitehall because they derive their authority from the same source—they are civil servants of a set of home Government Departments and they are answerable to Ministers, at the apex of whom is a Cabinet. That will be transformed. We have to redefine the relationship that is to exist between an assembly and central Government.

I think that that is what the discussion about concordats is all about. These are not marginal issues; these are points made by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. I hope that we can be told in the winding-up speech whether the concordats envisage enmeshing assembly civil servants, who are answerable and accountable to a completely different political institution, into the policy-making processes of Whitehall Departments. If that is to be the case, I have a feeling that it will be a horrible recipe for confusion and difficulty over who will owe allegiance to what, in all respects. That is a fundamental point in the working of a constitution. It has worked well up to now because it has been part of a single whole. The Welsh Office and the Secretary of State are part of the collective of Government.

I assume that the former Secretary of State did not breach international treaty law. I do not know whether anybody sued him, but he must have managed either to persuade his colleagues or to operate the policy off his own bat without anybody complaining.

I shall give way in a moment.

We are saying that a constitution has to be clarified in a way that was not necessary hitherto. The issues raised by the document from the Institute of Welsh Affairs—I have been thinking about them myself—are very serious. Are we saying that civil servants from the assembly will be embedded in the policy-making process of Whitehall? That is the demand, and I assume that that is what the concordats will be about.

I will not weary the House now, but the Institute of Welsh Affairs makes a number of recommendations about a series of rights for the assembly and says that the civil servants of the assembly should have rights in the policy-making process of Whitehall. There is the potential for confusion of responsibility and accountability.

Surely the hon. Gentleman's perusal of what has been proposed for Wales drives him to the same inescapable conclusion as the Northern Ireland Government in Stormont was driven to many years ago. If a devolved system is to work in a unitary state, it must be run by Unionists. In that context, will the Labour party in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament be a Unionist party?

I believe that in a devolved system, which I support, Wales will be run by Welsh men and women who have been elected by the Welsh electorate. That is the simple and basic criterion.

From his experience of ministerial office over a period of years, can my hon. Friend tell me to whom civil servants owe their career under these proposals? Is it to the Welsh Office or to Whitehall? Every civil servant is human and must have in their mind where their career is coming from.

It is to the home civil service, and that is a collective. One cannot say that Welsh Office civil servants do not admirably fulfil their functions in Wales, and many might see most of their career structure to be within Welsh administration, but some people come and go. Some of the most distinguished permanent secretaries that we have had and still have come from other Departments. That will change fundamentally. The new civil service of the assembly will be accountable and answerable to a different organisation. I can see why all these problems will arise and why we need to address them. I do not believe that they are niggling Committee points; they are fundamental and central issues.

May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that schedule 2 is even more misleading than he suggests? Schedule 2 refers to clause 22 only in respect of the initial powers of the assembly. Clauses 105 to 107 can be used to grab back some or all of those powers as they are deemed to be international obligations as interpreted by the Secretary of State. Clause 22(1)(a) provides

"for the transfer to the Assembly of any function so far as exercisable by a Minister of the Crown in relation to Wales".
Does not that mean that some external policy that relates to Wales or tax-raising policy could be transferred to Wales? Does not that accord with what the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning was saying in an interview last week in The Scotsman? If the regions in England can become tax-raising authorities, is not that the route for Wales?

I would not interpret it in that way. There are other clauses in the Bill which make it quite clear that the Secretary of State or Ministers will reserve all their rights over international relations and external relations. We can check that out in Committee, but I would not reach the same conclusion as the hon. Gentleman.

I shall move on, because I know that many of my colleagues want to speak. I touched on this issue because it fundamentally affects the role of a future Secretary of State. There is one area about which I feel passionately and in respect of which I believe total devolution would be wrong. One of the great success stories of the past 20 years and more has been inward investment. The powerful combination of the Secretary of State with a budget, power and the full authority of a Minister in a British Cabinet alongside the Welsh Development Agency has achieved much in inward investment.

I agree with the critique of a number of my hon. Friends and Ministers that perhaps more should have been done to generate indigenous economic development of the character often mentioned by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the Member for Neath. It would be extremely damaging if we gave a future Secretary of State for Wales no money and no power in relation to inward investment. I do not believe that the transfer of all his functions—and the budget that goes with them—to an assembly is a good idea. I believe that it would damage the powerful mixture of the WDA and the Secretary of State. I am thinking of the problems we have now with some aspects of our inward investment.

I am passionately grateful for the interest and concern shown by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The fact that he is a British Cabinet Minister and has the powers that go with it allows him to resolve some issues. I do not think that an assembly is a substitute for that combination. If there is any room for manoeuvre, I hope that my right hon. Friend will think again about the functions and role of the Secretary of State in relation to inward investment in budgetary and functional terms. I do not want a future Secretary of State to be moneyless and powerless.

My hon. Friend's speech is, as always, tell in and eloquent. It is a welcome change from what we have heard so far from Conservative Members. I hope that this will meet my hon. Friend's point: if there were to be a dispute between a Whitehall Department and the Welsh Assembly, it would be for the Secretary of State to talk to his Cabinet colleagues and to represent the interests of Wales and the assembly in the Cabinet. That is one of the important residual functions that will remain.

I hate to tell my hon. Friend that, in all my understanding and experience of government, without Executive functions and a budget, one is pretty well ignored. It was interesting that the Institute of Welsh Affairs mentioned this, and I can remind my hon. Friend about it. I do not usually agree with the institute on these matters, but the penny is dropping in this document. It says:

"It must be borne in mind that after devolution the Secretary of State will be left with little more administrative support than a central secretariat of perhaps 20 or 30 civil servants. In the longer run too, it is questionable whether there is room for two politicians who both claim to represent and speak for the interests of Wales— the leader of the Assembly and the Secretary of State. And in any case, after devolution the Secretary of State will have lost those direct responsibilities over such matters as health and education that currently give him much of his influence in the Cabinet."
That has come from an organisation that is heavily pro-devolution.

I accept that health and education functions will be transferred—they are the heart of devolution—but I believe in the needs of the external economy of Wales, especially inward investment, where the function and budget responsibilities should remain with the Secretary of State. He, alongside the Welsh Development Agency and the assembly, can continue to play the role that has been so important to the development of inward investment in Wales during the past 25 years. I beg him to ensure that those responsibilities remain with him.

I want to touch on another relationship—that of the assembly with Westminster. It is interesting how little we have debated it. Have the House authorities told us, for example, what questions on Welsh affairs will be allowed here after devolution? When the Secretary of State's functions are transferred, his responsibilities will also be transferred from this House to the assembly. That is what devolution is all about. What will be the character and nature of arrangement that Welsh Members will have at Westminster to probe and ask questions of the Secretary of State? Will the Table Office say, "This is no longer the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales, so your question is not allowable"?

I am willing to accept that limitation because I support devolution, but we should know what will happen. We need a clear statement on the matter. I envisage a fundamental role for Welsh Members at Westminster. In a curious way, post-devolution, the reserved powers and the interesting relationship between the Secretary of State and Whitehall and central Government will mean that Welsh Members will have a vital role to play. Anything that impinges or impacts on Welsh affairs at central Government level will become the responsibility of and a matter for scrutiny by Welsh Members.

We should no longer rest on convention. We should not be told that these matters are automatic because this House is all-powerful. If concordats are to be written about the relationship between Whitehall and the assembly, there must also be a Westminster concordat. We should be told what will be the future function of Welsh Members at Westminster.

I had not intended to detain the House for so long, but the number of interventions have prolonged my remarks. I am a great believer in representative democracy and I shall take pleasure in voting for the Bill tonight. However, we cannot and must not suspend our critical judgment on its character and nature and the problems and implications in its broader sense.

Those of us who have to explain this Bill to the public want to ensure that we do not sell it in the wrong way. My plea to my right hon. and hon. Friends is that we should not claim more for the Bill and for devolution than is deserved. Disappointment and disillusionment is as dangerous to democracy as remoteness and lack of accountability. If we keep saying that the Bill will dramatically improve the social and economic inequalities from which Wales now suffers, we could disillusion and disappoint. The central case for devolution is democratic—that the whole range of administration and public life currently devolved in a variety of ways to the Welsh Office and to quangos will become more democratically accountable to a Welsh Assembly.

I have to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that the case is not economic. Democratic assemblies can make terrible decisions and do things that are wrong. At times, they can make an economic mess of matters. No one says that democracy produces perfect government. However, the quality and joy of a representative democracy is that we can sack those who make the mistakes. I do not look forward to sacking members of a future Welsh Assembly, but instead hope that a combination of Members at Westminster and assembly members will ensure that Wales is truly democratic.

6.4 pm

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) made a distinguished speech. I say that with diffidence because to praise a Welsh Member from a different tradition often causes some difficulty. Encapsulated in the hon. Gentleman's arguments were many of the genuine concerns about the proposal for devolved government for Wales.

I contrast the hon. Gentleman's speech with that of the Under-Secretary. In the months since he first argued for the White Paper, I have come to regard him as the witch hunter of Wales. He turns on people who have been elected by Welsh constituencies, and perhaps stood for the Labour party for many years, as though they are enemies of their party. I cannot conceive why trying to unpick and reason the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal should be a matter for criticism. It is a matter of pride that Wales produces fine Members of Parliament, who have brought Wales to the centre of the union in our national history.

The Under-Secretary's speech was so trivial it was shocking. He was an illusionist, as the proposal has the backing of just 25 per cent. of the vote in Wales. Those are all the people who turned out to vote for his proposals in the White Paper—[Interruption.] We must get to the bottom of this. The hon. Gentleman criticises anyone who recognises that 25 per cent. is only 25 per cent. After all, 25 per cent. voted against his proposals—and hanging over that is the 50 per cent. of the electorate who, given the opportunity to support his proposals, did not do so. There is no democratic system on earth with a written constitution that would accept that 75 per cent. of an electorate not supporting a proposal is the basis for going ahead with that proposal.

Of course, a referendum did not have to be held, except that it was included in the Labour party manifesto. It was described as strengthening the union, no less. The referendum went ahead on that basis, but by any ordinary valued judgment it failed. It is a miserable situation for the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary—that is, if he understands the weight of vote against his proposal. He did not achieve consent, but his manner tried to undermine consensus.

The Conservative party is not isolated in this matter. As has been pointed out yesterday and today, 250,000 more people than voted for the Conservatives at the general election voted against the Government's proposal. By any process of deduction, that must mean that a large number of Labour party supporters voted against the proposal. The witch hunter of Wales will have his work cut out in seeking out those who defied the manifesto that he holds up as the only authority in the matter.

What about the consensus of Plaid Cymru, which at least has the decency to admit that it is a separatist party? What was the language of its leader, the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley)? How did he seek consensus as he attacked the Conservative party? He said:
"What is sauce for the backward-looking, scaremongering, no-voting neanderthals is also sauce for the forward-looking, yes-voting alliance, which believes in democracy in Wales."—[Official Report, 8 December 1997; Vol.302, c. 703.]
No one is seeking consensus, and the truth is that the Labour Government are being ridden by the separatists.

In his trivial speech, the Under-Secretary attacked everyone who does not share his view. The process that this place is that of debate. We have heard the careful and rational trying to consider the various elements of the Bill. Will it work? That is what is being asked. Wales is very suspicious, and why would it not be? Suddenly it is going to be landed with large capital costs for the assembly which was valiantly rejected by the electorate of Cardiff, although I note that one of its leading Members, the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Administration, is already announcing that he is leaving the House to stand for the assembly should it come into existence. The hon. Gentleman's own electorate rejected the proposal, but it is to be pursued as if it is a done and settled deal.

On what evidence does the hon. Gentleman say that my electorate rejected the proposals for a Welsh Assembly?

I base it on the turnout in the city that the hon. Gentleman represents.

There are four constituencies in Cardiff, which means that there are many possibilities as to the results in Cardiff, West. My belief, based on having seen some of the boxes being unloaded, is that Cardiff, West in no way rejected the proposals.

I am told that 55.6 per cent. voted no, so it is difficult to reach that conclusion.[Interruption.] I can see that the hon. Gentleman is sensitive: his own city rejected the proposals, and it is likely that his own electorate rejected them. Notwithstanding that, he feels that the result was an endorsement for the march forward of the elected assembly.

In Cardiff, where the gravy train was expected to stop, 53 per cent. of the people did not even turn out to vote.

I quite understand that Labour Members are enormously sensitive about this. They have to get over the fact that only 25 per cent. voted for the proposals.

Order. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) spoke for 36 minutes yesterday, and has made two long interventions today; sedentary interventions on top of that are not acceptable.

I merely postulate that perhaps the Welsh electorate are rather wise. We are told that the start-up costs will be considerable, and that the annual running costs might be between £15 million and £20 million. I think that most people can see that, to use a phrase that has already been used by a Labour Member and which stuck in my mind, we are talking about a class that is trying to get its bottom on the Consolidated Fund.

The by-product of the proposals will be the creation or extension of a political class, and I am not sure what that accomplishes for Wales. All I know is that, despite the information provided by the Government in the form of a most massive campaign in favour, the proposals failed by any recognisable democratic process to achieve validation.

My concern is not based only on the particulars of the Bill or of the referendum campaign, however magnificently it failed.

As the hon. Gentleman was elected by only 36 per cent. of his electorate, does he consider that he was validly elected?

The Under-Secretary must have heard four or five interventions by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) who tried to point out—I realise that the distinction might be too fine for the hon. Gentleman—the difference between a constitutional settlement, or a validation of what is attempting to be a constitutional settlement, and the ordinary processes of democracy and the election of Members of Parliament.

Most of us can perceive a distinction, but the Under-Secretary does not. That is not a surprise. I have listened to his abuse of almost all Opposition Members as neanderthal, backward-looking and not pro-democracy—

The leader of Plaid Cymru said that.

The language is common. I pick on Plaid Cymru only because it launched into that attack. I just know that there is nothing consensual.

We need to stand back. Wales might have rejected the proposals because they are not on an equal footing with those for any other part of the United Kingdom. They certainly do not echo the proposals for Scotland. In a sense, they marginalise Wales; or are they a statement to the effect that the Welsh people are incapable of exercising powers and functions deemed appropriate for Scotland? Does the Secretary of State for Wales think that the Welsh population are lesser in their abilities or reasoning, and could not maintain a form of government for themselves?

There is a distinction between the two proposed systems of government which has to be explained more appropriately than Labour Front Benchers have managed so far. I am concerned about the Scots and the Welsh, as they are incorporating an alien system of electing Members of Parliament. I say "alien", because it is unusual. My fear is that these great developments will reduce turnouts at elections until they lack authority and we end up like the United States, where so few people voted for the president—which is extraordinary in such a major democracy. I am worried about the unbalanced nature of the constitutional changes.

Labour Front Benchers talk about regional assemblies for England, but will not deal with how to balance the Union's constitution. It is now unequal. The fact is that neither the Welsh nor the English elector will be on equal terms with the Scottish elector. Let us imagine that the Labour party wins the next general election but that its majority is formed only by Welsh Members of Parliament or, worst of all, by Scottish Members of Parliament. How can it be sustainable in those circumstances, when the inequality of citizenship is so rawly and prominently presented to us?

This is a terribly unbalanced way to go about making constitutions. It does not seek consent and has not achieved consensus, two elements that are usually deemed to be important. It has not reached out and tried to embrace the political structures of our country. There has been no attempt to form a constitutional convention to see whether we can recognise the genuine needs of our island and its form of union. The proposals are nothing but the flaunting of a political class and a Labour party in power, owing its allegiance to whom—to Charter 88? The proposals are so piecemeal that their very lack of stability will do us down. In the end, this will be Labour's undoing.

People will come to realise the inequality and the unstated, and almost unstateable, English element in this. I am Scottish-born, and represent an English constituency. I have always been a Conservative. My fear is that so many of those who now exercise power are only political activists and do not have a broad enough vision of stability and what brings us together as a Union.

None of the proposals before us reflects those things. I am terribly fearful of a brand new Parliament that has had such a change of membership and which has so many new Members who do not value the House or the system we have, partly, perhaps, because they have been genuinely disillusioned by 18 years of Conservative government. Much is made of that, and there may be some truth in it. However, we should not throw the baby out with the bath water.

As it happens, I have always believed in devolution. I believe that Westminster is a national expression, and that local government should flourish. Are the proposals for Wales a local government measure, or something more important? They have taken a local government route but, in the end, people who wish to spend money must be able to raise it. That is the element of the proposals that will do down Wales.

The Government maintain that they can for ever support the Barnett formula, which is already under attack from hon. Members representing constituencies in the north of England, who are well aware that there are inequalities in the distribution of central finance. No Government can say that, for ever and a day, they will distribute money on the basis of such a formula when circumstances have changed. As Lord Barnett has pointed out, when his rule of thumb formula—which has worked well for nearly 20 years—was devised, Scotland was at an economic disadvantage in the Union in gross domestic product per head. Now the figure is said to be comparable with that for the south-east.

How can the formula be maintained on any rational basis when Wales is at a disadvantage compared with the rest of the Union? Of course it must be up for grabs and a subject of dissection, argument or bidding every so often. The best that the Government can do is guarantee it until the end of the Parliament. The best that the Prime Minister can do is guarantee it for as long as he is Prime Minister. Anyone who looks at the formula knows that even a change of leadership in the party presently in government may result in a rebalancing of the formula to the disadvantage of those who think that they are to be advantaged.

I did not intend to attack the gallant Under-Secretary, whose extraordinary career is an inspiration to many of us. As an aside, I am appalled that a career solely as a political activist can be the basis for haranguing—haranguing—lifelong members of the Labour party who do not support the Bill or do not think that it is necessary.

I do not know whether people in Wales listen to debates in this House any more, but they know that the dissent on the Bill goes beyond the Conservative party. Some 250,000 of those who voted no—25 per cent. of those who voted in the referendum—clearly did not vote for the Conservatives in May. That 25 per cent. includes Labour voters, Liberal Democrats, or even—dare I say it?—Plaid Cymru supporters, who felt that there was not enough separatism in the measure.

I have no hesitation in supporting the arguments of those on the Conservative Front Bench. I cheer when I hear intelligent, argued, thoughtful questions about what my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) called a dog's breakfast. The Bill is incoherent and unbalanced. The proposals are not equal to those for Scotland, and they leave England in a peculiar situation. The elements for constitutional stability are missing.

6.22 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who, like me, is a member of the Modernisation Committee. I applaud many of the suggestions that he has made on the rights of Back Benchers, the scrutiny of the Government, open government and freedom of information. However, I do not agree with his speech, which included many speculative comments. We shall have to see what happens. We cannot simply predict the failure of the measure. It is up to the people of Wales and the democratically elected members of the Assembly to ensure that it is a success.

The Bill is part of the Government's programme to modernise our democracy. It must be seen in the context of the wider programme of constitutional reform to which the new Labour Government are committed, bringing decision making closer to the people who are affected. The wider programme will include reform of the other place, which has the capacity, without a democratic mandate, to delay legislation from this House. The introduction of a freedom of information Bill has been announced. The European Convention on Human Rights is to be incorporated into British law. A Scottish Parliament is to be established, following the recent referendum.

The package of reform will also include the re-establishment of a democratic authority for London. This fine capital city needs a structure for strategic decision making. Regional development agencies will be established, as well as regional assemblies in England, if that is the wish of the people in those regions. The Government will also establish a commission on the electoral system to ensure fair representation. I welcome that.

The House is also being modernised. It cannot reasonably fulfil all its functions. In addition to its role as the legislature for the United Kingdom, it has to scrutinise the Executive over a wide range of Departments. How many Select Committee reports are not debated? We need to be able to give more scrutiny to the Government. I share the commitment of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills to giving Back Benchers more powers of scrutiny, but this House cannot do that, particularly given its increasing role on European legislation. That is why there is a natural momentum towards devolution, which the hon. Gentleman commended.

The House is incapable of giving adequate consideration to Welsh affairs. Welsh Question Time has been reduced to just half an hour a month, and is largely monopolised by Conservative Members who have no real interest in Wales, but are simply trying to spike the Government's proposals for democratic devolution. The Welsh Grand Committee—which does not have to be entirely Welsh, is not particularly grand and is not even a committee—is not an adequate forum for debating Welsh affairs, never mind running the executive functions of Wales, as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills has suggested.

The Bill is part of a wide-ranging programme of constitutional reform that will help to prepare Britain for the next century. It is before us because the people of Wales supported it in the recent referendum, albeit by only a small margin. Had it been defeated by a small margin, I am sure that Conservative Members would not have said that there was no mandate for not implementing the measure. The Conservatives are inconsistent—

Does the hon. Gentleman feel that he is fully reflecting the views of his constituents, who, as I recall, voted no by a very large majority on 18 September?

I am coming to that point right now.

My constituency recorded the highest no vote in the referendum. My constituency and the local authority of Monmouthshire are not entirely conterminous. My constituency does not include Caldicott—a largish town in the south-east—

I am enjoying my hon. Friend's speech, but I hope that he will not respond to the silly remarks by the Conservatives. There are more important things to discuss than who voted for what. If the Conservatives cannot accept the workings of democracy, there is no point in responding to their silly childishness. The sooner they get to grips with examining the problems, such as those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), the better they will serve the people of Wales, although they do not represent them.

My hon. Friend makes some reasonable remarks. However, I feel that I have a responsibility to talk about the mandate in my constituency.

My constituency and the local authority are not conterminous, as I have said. Croes y Ceiliog is a major part of the Torfaen area, where the vote was pretty even. If figures had been produced for my constituency alone, they might have shown slightly more support—I put it no more strongly than that.

I must accept that there are people in my constituency who have an instinctive hostility to the proposals. However, I feel that they have an instinctive hostility to democracy. I do not have a duty to represent that. I also accept that some Labour supporters voted no. However, it was most significant that 50 per cent. of the electorate did not vote at all.

We cannot assume that people did not vote because they did or did not support the proposals. In that respect, they are the most interesting part of the electorate. I believe that many people did not vote because they did not fully understand the proposals. We have a responsibility to make our system of government more understandable.

I must therefore convey to the House and to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench some of the reservations that my constituents had about the proposals.

Indeed they did, and I shall outline some of them. Although I do not agree with them all, I understand why some people had reservations.

Many people felt that they did not know enough about the proposals for a Welsh Assembly. That is related to the fact that many people do not adequately understand the present system of government, especially in Wales, where so much power rests in the hands of one Government Department and one Secretary of State.

I represent a border constituency, where people often do not feel part of the debate and the information system that involve those who live further into Wales. Many of my constituents work over the water in the Bristol area. Their background may be from the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire or south-west England. Many of them cannot pick up Welsh-medium television or even Welsh television in general. They receive television coverage transmitted from the south-west or the midlands.

Many of my constituents are newcomers to Wales who have been attracted to south-east Wales because of the success of our inward investment. They come to the M4 corridor having been relocated to south-east Wales with companies and public bodies. In my experience, they have considerable appreciation of Monmouthshire and Gwent when they discover it. They live in south-east Wales, they bring up their families there, they work there, and they serve Wales. However, quite reasonably, they do not share a culturally Welsh identity, and we must respect that. Nor do they want to be excluded from that identity.

Essentially, the Bill is not about cultural identity; it is about democracy. We talk about having a strategic elected body for London. It is not to celebrate the cultural identity of Londoners, but to provide a democratic forum for strategic policy making. The idea that the Welsh Assembly is a celebration of Welshness or the Welsh language needs to be corrected. It is essentially about democracy.

There is a feeling that the Welsh Assembly will replicate the monopoly control that the Labour party has in local government in some areas of Wales. It is to the credit of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Welsh Office that the Bill includes an electoral system to ensure that there is fair representation. I disagree with some of my hon. Friends about that.

We have an unfair electoral system, whereby the Labour party attracts 50 or 60 per cent. of the votes in Wales but gets 75 per cent. of the seats. It is equally unfair in parts of south and south-west England, where the Labour party gained a significant minority of votes but very few seats. There is a fundamental unfairness in our electoral system. First past the post is ideal for a two-party system.

Part of the reason for my reticence about supporting my hon. Friend on that argument relates to our experience in the south Wales valleys. On one or two occasions, the Welsh nationalists have taken control and totally excluded every other political party from the democratic process. The Liberals and the nationalists talk about exclusiveness because they are in a minority, but when they get a majority, they put the screws on: there is no talk of inclusiveness then.

The phenomenon of Welsh politics is how little progress the Welsh nationalists have made in south Wales. For many of us, the Conservatives are the Opposition. I do not expect or anticipate much inclusiveness or co-operation from them, but we are used to that.

I have some sympathy with people who have reservations about the proposals. However, I do not feel that I have to represent the no campaigners who based their views on anti-democratic and anti-Welsh prejudices. If there had been a referendum in 1920 about giving women the vote, and the majority of the electorate had voted against, I would still reserve the right to represent the minority, as I believe that democratic advance must be achieved through principles.

I turn to some of the parts of the Bill that have caused concern. Sensible people—even those who opposed it—recognise that there will be a Welsh Assembly. Some of those who had reservations before 18 September are now looking forward to it. For example, the business community does not feel that it will be adequately represented in a Welsh Assembly.

This morning, the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs met representatives of the Federation of Small Business and the South Wales Chamber of Commerce. According to the chairman of the Newport and Gwent Chamber of Commerce:
"There is a fervent wish to see the Assembly work."
In their evidence to the Select Committee, the representatives said:
"The people of Wales, having voted in favour of the establishment of a Welsh Assembly, require those involved in the process of economic development to work together to ensure that it delivers the best for Wales for the future prosperity of the country."
There is some concern that the small business community will not be adequately represented, and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will examine that issue.

There is a crisis in the farming community. I can understand those in the farming community thinking that the present system is not adequate. They need an assurance that the farming interest will be adequately represented in the Welsh Assembly. At least the Welsh Assembly will give the farming community a stronger voice in Brussels.

There will be more direct representation. At present, the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) is not involved in negotiations in Brussels in the same way as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture. The Welsh Assembly will provide stronger representation in Europe. [Interruption.] It is clearly a matter of dispute. I hope that my hon. Friend is in favour of stronger representation, and will support any amendments to that end.

There are important challenges. I support the principle of a more democratic Wales through a Welsh Assembly. May I draw attention to one or two key aspects in which I have a particular interest?

First, the Welsh Assembly should have an all-Wales anti-poverty strategy. That offers a rich opportunity. Recently, I attended an excellent conference at Swansea arranged by the city and county of Swansea, which has played a leading role in the development of a local anti-poverty strategy. I hope that it will be a responsibility of the Welsh Assembly to develop an all-Wales anti-poverty strategy, and perhaps a social exclusion unit for Wales, to co-ordinate policy across the assembly's departmental responsibilities, to monitor the implementation of the minimum wage and to develop social and economic policies to attack poverty in Wales.

Secondly, there will be the important challenge of co-ordinating a more effective strategy for care in the community. Like Scotland, Wales is in a distinct position to develop a more co-ordinated strategy for long-term care and support for people with physical and learning disabilities. There has been an effective all-Wales mental handicap strategy, which was widely commended outside Wales. I hope that, under the Welsh Assembly, there will be more co-ordinated all-Wales strategies. They would be the envy of England.

There will and must be safeguards in the Bill. We must expect high standards of public conduct under the Nolan recommendations. We must have—it is in the Bill—an auditor-general for Wales to ensure efficient discharge of public resources. There will be an electoral system to give fair representation. The proposal for an electoral system with an element of proportionality is one of the radical innovations in Britain that has come about as a result of the Bill. True democrats will support the principle of fair representation. The element of proportionality will ensure that the assembly broadly reflects the popular vote for the respective parties in Wales.

A national assembly for Wales provides a new beginning, a new strategic approach, which will be inclusive and will ensure that Wales is a more democratic and better place.

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that an awful lot of hon. Members want to speak. Extremely long speeches are being made, and it would be very helpful if they were a little shorter.

6.40 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) on his speech. We very much welcome him back to the House. We are grateful for the contribution that he has already made to the debate and the cause of Wales.

I want to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—although I see that he is about to leave the Chamber. Joseph Chamberlain would have been proud of him. It was a good speech, although I profoundly disagreed with his analysis. It was the kind of speech that Chamberlain would have made in the House just over 100 years ago. It was a classic speech in defence of the Union.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills must remember why there is a growing demand in Wales for greater democracy and greater accountability. There have been occasions on which the Conservative party has not been kind to Wales. The 18 years of Conservative rule separated the votes in 1979 and 1997. During those 18 years, the kind of principles that the hon. Gentleman enunciated unfortunately meant the centralisation of power, the gradual taking away of powers from local authorities—which he applauded—and their transfer to unelected people, rather than the kind of devolution that he advocated. The then Secretary of State for Wales invariably appointed Conservatives who had been rejected by the Welsh electorate—thrown out by the Welsh people, but imposed on Wales by the Secretary of State to throw down our throats some of the things that happened over those years.

Although the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills made a classic speech in defence of the Union, he must recognise that there is a mood in Wales for change, which was reflected in the vote on 18 September. It was not the ringing endorsement that those in favour of the proposals wanted, but the difference between the votes in Wales in 1979 and 1997 was substantially greater than the difference in the votes in Scotland.

In his very interesting speech, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills criticised the proposals for being piecemeal and not part of a coherent approach. That has always been the problem with this House of Commons. It has always approached constitutional change in such a piecemeal way and never really addressed the issue throughout the United Kingdom. One of the reasons why the Liberal party split at the end of the last century was because it failed to grasp that nettle. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to agree with what many of us in Wales are saying but to recognise that things have changed and that the people of Wales want to move forward—although there was a certain reticence among some of them on 18 September.

I recognise that I have spent a little time dealing with the speech of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, but I want to deal with one more of his points. I did not take kindly to his referring to us as a bunch of separatists. If he looks back over the 23 or 24 years of Plaid Cymru Members of Parliament, he will realise the extremely valuable contribution that they have made in the Chamber, in Committees and in representing their constituents, especially since 1974. We have been part of the great change in Wales over the past quarter of a century or so. I am sorry to have detained the hon. Gentleman, but it was important to put some of the facts on the record.

The Under-Secretary of State will be aware that we have always maintained a very constructive and positive approach to the proposals that the Government have enshrined in the Bill. We all recognise that, following the result of the referendum, we have a responsibility to all those in Wales—those who voted yes and those who voted no—to ensure that the national assembly begins its work with as much good will and support as we can collectively generate.

Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) outlined some of the recent history of the battle to secure greater democracy in Wales and Scotland. That battle has gone on for about 120 years. In the 1880s, we saw the beginning of some of the debates that have culminated in the Bill. I will concentrate on three aspects of the Bill. I recognise that there are ways in which the measure can be improved, and I make my comments in that spirit.

The Bill's main weakness, as Plaid Cymru sees it, is its lack of legislative proposals. Many of the points addressed by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) could have been solved had the Welsh Assembly been given legislative powers. I recognise that there are debates about the relationship between the assembly and Westminster and the Whitehall machine. They are well understood. If one reads the White Paper and the Bill, one clearly sees that that matter needs to be addressed.

Although there are no legislative powers in the White Paper and the Bill, there are very limited powers to amend or repeal legislation under the Henry VIII reserve powers. The problem is that the Welsh Assembly will be restricted in some ways in developing policy initiatives. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the assembly wants to do things a little differently in education, health or other areas. It will not have the powers to do so. It will have only limited power through secondary legislation. The way in which we can develop legislation depends on how the primary legislative framework is prepared. It could he narrowly or widely defined. There are certain areas where we could do a great deal and others where we would be very restricted.

Recognising that the assembly will not have legislative powers, Plaid Cymru has put forward what I think many people regard as an interesting suggestion. If the assembly considers that it might be necessary for minor legislative changes, all that would happen under the Bill is that the proposal would go to the back of the queue in Westminster. We all know how difficult it is to get Bills through the Queen's Speech and into the legislative programme. Might it not be possible to accept a minor amendment to enable some fast-track procedure in Whitehall to deal with such a problem—if there were, say, a clear wish of a two-thirds majority in the assembly?

Why not revamp the Welsh Grand Committee? That proposal might find favour with some hon. Members who might have difficulty understanding the correct relationship between Westminster and the assembly. Under such a fast-track procedure, the Grand Committee could deal with Second Reading and Committee stages of legislation, and later stages could be taken in the Chamber. By that means, the assembly would not be frustrated in carrying out some of its work. Negotiations would still need to be held between the Secretary of State, the Government and the assembly about which Bills would be appropriate for that procedure, but I ask the Minister seriously to consider that proposal.

My second point is related to the debate about cabinet-style government and committee-style government. I raised that point in an intervention in the speech by the Secretary of State yesterday and he implied that the commission that he is setting up will consider the point. I have read the White Paper and the Bill again, and committee-style government is contained in the Bill virtually unchanged from the proposals in the White Paper.

The Bill states clearly that the leader of each subject committee will be appointed or elected by that committee. The leader—or secretary, as he will be called—will be the creature of the committee. Therefore, the structure will follow the local government model. That might have been appropriate when the local government model was introduced a century ago, but it does not meet the needs of a situation which requires quick decision making. If we moved towards more cabinet-style government, would that require an amendment to the Bill?

No, it would not. It would be open to the advisory committee, and subsequently the Standing Orders Commission, to make recommendations in the standing orders of the assembly which could alter the nature of decision making in favour of a cabinet-style model within the framework of the Bill. Members of the executive committee, albeit elected by the individual policy committees, could have decision-making powers equivalent to those of Ministers.

I am grateful to the Minister for intervening, and I hope that he is right. One of the aspects of the drafting of the Bill that surprised me was that the chairpersons of the subject committees will be chosen from a panel elected by the assembly, but the leader or secretary will be elected by the individual subject committee. I would have preferred that both positions were the subject of elections by the whole assembly, which would confirm that the assembly will have cabinet-style, not committee-style, government. I ask the Minister to reflect on that point, and I am sure that we will come back to it in Committee.

My third point is connected with the relationship between the assembly and Europe. None of us could claim that the provisions for the assembly will revolutionise the relationship between Wales and Europe. Some of the proposals are modest and I accept that. Nevertheless, they are very important. I wish to cover three basic aspects.

First, it was specified in the White Paper that one of the powers of the Secretary of State that would be transferred to the assembly was the right to control the dispersal of European structural funds in Wales. I can find no reference to the transfer of that power in the Bill. It may be implicit in some of the provisions; I hope that the Minister, when he winds up, will confirm that it is. In other words, does the Bill give the assembly the right to distribute structural funds in Wales? That was in the White Paper, but it is not in the Bill; it is important that that point is clarified.

Incidentally, the assembly will wish to maintain an office in Brussels. Votes in the Council of Ministers are important, but so are the negotiations that lead to the decisions. The discussion with Commission officials is part of the work of the negotiating team that goes to the Council of Ministers, and the assembly will need a strong office in Brussels.

Secondly, the assembly should have direct access to the United Kingdom Permanent Representation office in Brussels. UKREP has always had an official from the Scottish Office, and will continue to do so. On occasions, Welsh Office staff have worked there and have done an excellent job. However, we need an assurance that, once the assembly is established, one official in UKREP will always look after the interests of Wales. Whether that is through the Secretary of State's office or the assembly office does not really matter, but it is important that we have a representative.

Thirdly, the Scottish White Paper contains a provision that will allow the leader of the Scottish Parliament to represent the UK in the Council of Ministers—in other words, to exercise the UK's vote. We are told that a representative from the Welsh Assembly might have an opportunity to attend the Council of Ministers as part of the team. The Secretary of State has told us that there will be no difference in the way Scotland and Wales are treated in terms of the relationship with Europe, but there is an obvious difference in the White Paper. The Secretary of State has commented subsequently, but the House should be told whether the First Secretary of the assembly will ever have the opportunity to exercise the UK's vote in the Council of Ministers.

That important point should be clarified, because the Maastricht treaty makes provision for regional governments to represent member states on occasions, and that has happened in Germany and Belgium. We need to know whether that will happen in the case of the Welsh Assembly.

When has a Minister from one of the German lauder ever exercised the vote in the Council of Ministers? The White Paper is brutal about the influence on the conduct of Council business that the Government envisage for the Welsh First Secretary. It states:

"the Assembly should be able to keep the delegation advised of its views."
It says nothing about attending the Council of Ministers, although it will be possible for the Welsh First Secretary to attend—by invitation from the UK Government and, presumably, long so the UK position is being supported.

Representatives of the German lauder and some of the states in Belgium have represented their member state in the Council of Ministers under article 146 of the Maastricht treaty. That is confirmed in a research paper that the Library prepared before this debate. We need the issue of representation in the Council of Ministers to be clarified, because—as we understand it—the leader of the relevant subject committee would have the right to attend the Council of Ministers as part of the delegation.

I will clarify that point. At the invitation of the relevant Secretary of State, the leader of the subject committee would be allowed to participate. We would prefer that to be a right, and I hope that the Minister will tell us in what circumstances that would happen.

I am conscious of your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will finish now. We should like the issues that I have raised to be clarified in Committee, but I assure the Minister that we shall approach those subjects in a constructive manner.

6.59 pm

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me in what I consider to be a most historic debate in the House tonight. Every Welsh person will be looking to us tonight to vote for this radical Bill that will devolve power to our country and to our people.

For me personally, it is a privilege to be called to speak in this debate. In 1989, I was the chair of the Wales Labour party when we first decided to consult the Welsh people and parties—not just the Wales Labour party—on the need to reform government. It has been a long process of seven or eight years, but we have arrived tonight at that moment and I look forward to voting for the Bill later.

Today, it was brought home to me just why we need a voice for Wales and why we need to vote for the Bill. This morning, at the request of local farmers, I attended the famous Christmas market in the market town of Cowbridge in my constituency. It is usually a time of great festivity and Christmas cheer. Today, there was very little cheer, given the situation in which many farmers find themselves.

I have been politically active in my constituency for more than 25 years, and never did I think I would see the day when my local farmers would be carrying banners. They are doing so because of the debacle that the previous Government made of the beef industry—and agriculture in general—through the BSE fiasco in particular. It is not just the mess that has been created in this great industry of ours; it is the fact that the Welsh farmers did not have a direct voice because Wales has been denuded of power during the past 18 years, following the centralisation of responsibilities which were once those of local government.

It is no accident that it was Welsh farmers in Holyhead who demonstrated last week. It was a clear manifestation of the power that has been taken away from our country, systematically, in the past 20 years. If this Bill had been proposed a couple of years ago—and if we had had an assembly for our nation—those demonstrations would not have taken place.

The situation was brought home to me this morning by Bill Bassett, one of the oldest farmers in my constituency. He is a great character in the local community, and he approached me this morning and said that the industry had not been in a similar situation since the 1930s. That is what BSE and the crisis of two years ago has done to that community. We owe it to that community to ensure two things; first, that confidence is restored to the beef market in particular and to agricultural markets in general; and, secondly, in the longer term, that our farmers compete on a level playing field in Europe.

I wish in the short time available to me to refer to three small but important parts of the Bill. First, clause 6 refers to payments and salaries to assembly members. It is right that that responsibility should go to a senior salary review body. The Welsh people believe that salaries and allowances should be modest. However, if we are to attract the best in Wales—we have a duty to make the assembly work at its best—we should consider the options available to us. We should recommend a system which protects salaries so that we can invite industrialists, great academics and senior people from the voluntary sector, the trade unions and the wider community, and give them an inducement to put their names forward to enter politics in a way that they may not have considered before.

We could offer some form of protected salary, such as the Germans have; a system that British civil servants introduced to them at the end of the second world war. We should consider a voluntary code of practice for employers in the private and public sectors in Wales to allow them to consider sabbaticals and keeping positions open for employees to allow them to go forward to be considered for election.

The second point was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) and relates to the concerns of the business community. I share those concerns, and I wonder whether clauses 110 and 111 could extend the partnerships being considered by the assembly beyond local government and the voluntary sector to incorporate the business community. The business community in Wales could be our greatest ally in taking our country forward in terms of economic development when we have a voice and an assembly of our own.

It has been my experience in recent years, working in the inward investment field in Wales, that the business community has so much to offer the Welsh people. Within that community, we found that it was specifically English investors in Wales who were our greatest allies. Is there not a way of facilitating that through the assembly by creating private sector partnerships, conterminous with the regional economic committees, the training and enterprise councils and the four regions of the Welsh Development Agency? If we involve the business community, we can create a synergy to produce the best and give us access to the talent and skill that could act as a driving motor to take our economy forward.

It is true, and I do not wish to take anything away from the fact, that the WDA's track record in attracting direct foreign investment into Wales has been second to none, but our country's record in attracting our fair share of United Kingdom investment—the lion's share of all investment; more than two thirds of investment in the Principality—has been appalling. We have under-performed in attracting UK investment into Wales; we have out-performed every other region in attracting overseas investment. The closer to Wales one gets, the greater the difficulty in securing footloose investment and expansion investment.

It is easier to get investment from South Korea than it is from south Kensington. It is easier for the Welsh people to get investment from Tokyo than from Tunbridge Wells. It is easy to get investment from the other side of the world, but we cannot get investment from the other side of the Severn bridge. The assembly has a unique opportunity to ensure that people within the United Kingdom and Europe are attracted to Wales.

In a recent survey in Wales on Sunday, the senior industrial correspondents of all the major European countries were asked what they thought of Wales as an investment location. What did we see? We saw a London-centric—a Hampstead dinner party set—view of south Wales; coal mines and slag heaps. That view has been fed through from London and the south-east of England. The assembly could turn that around quickly and economically, and we should address that. It is a challenge that we in Wales look forward to.

I have been interested by the hon. Gentleman's glowing idea of what the assembly will achieve. I presume, on that basis, that he will be standing for the assembly and will be leaving this House.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. My role in this House is precious. I support this United Kingdom, and the assembly will not contradict its unity and the Union. If I have any say in it, I will try to sustain my role in the defence of this nation for some time; it is a role that I am proud to have. I see no contradiction. [Interruption.] I hear the laughter, the jibes and the quick points of Opposition Members, but I can stand here and speak on behalf of my people and my nation. I cannot see anyone on the Opposition Benches who is in a position to do so.

My final point is on the location of the assembly, which comes within the ambit of the Bill and the financial memorandum. I represent a seat that geographically is placed between the cities of Cardiff and Swansea. I have had the great pleasure of living and working in Swansea for some years and there is no finer and more beautiful city. The final decision as to location must be taken on the basis of what is in the best interests of our country and our nation.

I cannot conceive of an assembly outside the capital city doing anything other than detracting from the needs of our country. When that decision is taken we must be objective. If the assembly is to have the greatest effect—providing a voice for Wales and a new and modern image of Wales, which reflects the country as it is and not as people on the other side of the Severn bridge sometimes think it is—it must be in the administrative and commercial centre and the heart of Wales. It has to be in our capital city. I do not have any great desires as to where in that city it should go, but everyone in Wales would appreciate it if the building could be got under way in the not too distant future.

Once again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must thank you for calling me to speak. It is certainly a proud moment for me. The quicker that we get to 10 o'clock, go through the Lobby and vote yes for Wales, the better.

7.11 pm

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith), especially as I come from the wrong side of the Severn, as he would describe it. I am not Welsh and do not represent a Welsh constituency, although I am not that far off, but I wanted to take part in this debate to do my bit—it is only my bit—to try to preserve the United Kingdom and to protect it from sliding towards the great danger of becoming a set of regions within a federal Europe.

By and large, I object to the Bill for two main and broad reasons—first, because of some of the details and secondly, because I object to the general principles of devolution as they are being applied.

On the details, the introduction of a new voting system on the back of devolution concerns me. Two new things are coming in at once. Such voting systems have not been explained to or endorsed by the electorate. That form of proportional representation is alien to Britain. Under our constitution, voters vote for people and not for parties. It could be said that they vote Conservative, Labour or, occasionally, Liberal Democrat, but by and large, under our constitution, they vote for people. Also, parties have not previously had to register. Under the Bill, they will have to.

Obviously, that represents a significant and confusing shift in the way we elect the people who run our country. We are moving not to one simple system of proportional representation—if there is such a thing—but to a dual system with all the confusion that that will bring. The Welsh Assembly will have a two-tier membership: some members will have constituents and some will not; some will have constituencies and some will not; some will receive many letters and have much work to do each week, but some will not; some will be in touch with the electorate and some will not; and, some will be serving their constituents, while others will serve those who compile the lists. I do not want that system to be introduced into this country.

Such a dual system might benefit the Conservative party at the moment. We might win some seats that we would not otherwise win, but the principle is the important thing. In this Bill, the principle is confusing and very wrong.

The assembly itself is also a matter of some confusion. The Bill does not make it clear whether it will be powerful or weak. For example, the Secretary of State will be able to overrule the assembly, direct it and revoke its decisions. Does that make this new assembly nothing more than an expensive talking shop? Or will it be concerned with the government of Wales? Will it be a powerful body? Which is it? The Bill certainly does not make that clear.

We have heard much comment on the referendum. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) pointed out, the turnout for the referendum was somewhat less than when one was held in 1978. Then, 58.3 per cent. of the electorate voted. This time, it was 50.1 per cent.

The Bill is being rushed through. The referendum was rushed through while it is fair to say that the Labour Government were enjoying a fair degree of popularity. It was rushed through before the Bill was published and there was a small turnout. Even given all that, only a tiny majority was in favour of the Bill.

Is that a full mandate—a mandate sufficiently strong to break up the United Kingdom? Is it a mandate sufficiently strong to move the United Kingdom towards the Labour Government's real aim, which is a Europe of regions? If another referendum were held in 12 months, say, it could well give a different result. It is safe to assume that by then the gloss will have gone off the Labour Government. The Bill is now published and by then we will have debated it in full, and that referendum would not be influenced by the Scottish vote.

Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the United States has been broken up in some way by the existence of a federal system?

The United States is a completely different country. Some areas of the United States experience many problems that I would not want us to experience. It is not comparable.

If another referendum on the issue were held, when circumstances were different—even in 12 months' time—the outcome would be very different, especially given the closeness of the vote at a time when the Government had everything on their side.

As we have heard from Opposition Members, in most countries major constitutional change requires a minimum mandate—a threshold. When the previous referendum was held, the Labour Government required such a threshold. If they had not, Scotland would have had its own Parliament then. The fact that it was not given a Parliament then caused certain Members to bring down that Labour Government. Perhaps that is what concerns this Government—not that they are likely to be brought down in the House, but that they are conscious of the fact that they need to win the next election, and that may be worrying them very much.

Virtually every club, society and association in the land has to achieve a two-thirds vote at a special meeting to change its constitution. If that is good enough for them and for many other countries, why is it not good enough for devolution votes in this country, especially as the Bill is, I understand, to be considered in Standing Committee, not on the Floor of the House?

Did the Conservative Government have a mandate, or a two-thirds majority, to change the system of government in Wales from a democracy to a quangocracy?

The Conservative Government were elected by the legitimate electoral means, as indeed were the present Labour Government, who achieved about 45 per cent. of the vote and are moving towards breaking up the United Kingdom and taking us headlong into a federal Europe. Do they intend to consult the electorate on that? I very much doubt it.

I want to put a different historical point of view on two brief points. First, those to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, of whom I would be one, did not bring down the Labour Government, as it was not we who persuaded James Callaghan to delay the election from October 1978 until March 1979. Secondly, as I have told George Cunningham, I greatly regret ever having introduced a threshold, because it was seen as moving the goalposts and changing the rules, and the referendum result would have been much more decisive for the noes—at that time—had it not been introduced. That is the history as I see it.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that history lesson and bow to his great authority in the matter. As the United Kingdom is being broken up without any consultation of the English people, there should be some certainty before the Labour Government proceed down the road that they have chosen.

As I was saying, I regret the fact that the Bill will not be considered in Committee of the whole House. That prevents many hon. Members from taking part, including many Labour Members who may be critical of the Government's plans. Perhaps that is part of the Labour plan: silence the critics, ride roughshod over the House of Commons and introduce referendums before legislation.

That is no way to go about breaking up the United Kingdom, which as far as I can see is what this is all about. We are to have a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, and regional government in England. If that is not about fracturing the United Kingdom, I do not know what is. I do not believe that the measures can strengthen the Union; they can only weaken it.

I recognise some of the problems under the Union, but I believe that Wales and Scotland have done well and that their future cannot be guaranteed under the proposals. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley said, Wales received £4,352 per head to England's £3,743. If we go down the devolution road, that difference could give rise to English nationalism, which I would regret.

There could be a demand to reduce that allocation and the Welsh representation in Parliament. There could also be—indeed, there is—a demand for an English parliament. Some of those demands are acceptable and understandable, but I do not want a rise in English nationalism. I do not want there to be an English parliament, first because I am elected to represent constituents in the United Kingdom Parliament and secondly because I am against devolution.

I see no reason to prevent decisions from being made on a more local basis—for example, I am all in favour of strengthening the role of councils in Northern Ireland—but I see no need for bodies to be set up that create a potential for conflict. Two parliaments and one assembly in one country must give rise to conflict, as well as to duplication and confusion, not only constitutionally, in Government circles, but in the minds of the electorate.

Whom will the electorate blame if things go wrong, or credit if they go right? Whom will they contact—their constituency Member of Parliament; their constituency member of the Welsh Assembly; or their regional member of the Welsh Assembly? What on earth will they do? Will they not experience some gridlock if the Welsh Assembly, or indeed the Scottish Parliament, is of a different political persuasion from the House of Commons?

I am concerned about the Labour Government's master plan—if such it be—to create a federal Europe of regions. Do they really plan the end of the nation state in Europe? We have already had Scottish and Welsh devolution, we are to have a Greater London authority, and proposals are already being drawn up for English regional government.

Some might accuse me of alarmism, but when I hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that there is no constitutional bar to a single currency, I am greatly concerned and I want to alert the public to what is going on, because I really believe that the United Kingdom is being broken up into small regions and that each of those regions will form part of a federal Europe. The British electorate have never consented to that, and would never do so. This is a slippery slope to something that the people of this country simply do not want.

It is often suggested that the Conservative party should not engage in this debate, as we have no representation in Wales; as if that meant that we had no interest in Wales. This debate is not about Wales but about the United Kingdom. Not only are we entitled to take part in such debates: it is incumbent on us to do so, and to speak out against the Bill so that we may preserve the Union and the United Kingdom and resist moves towards a federal Europe of regions.

7.26 pm

This is an historic occasion, as it is extremely rare for politicians to be in on the making of a new political institution, and Labour Members are enthusiastic and excited about it. It is good to have the chance to get on with the job of bringing democracy to Wales, bringing power closer to people in Wales, and trying to bring prosperity to people who have been excluded for far too long. I propose to touch on three matters relating to the Bill: the committee structure; equal opportunities; and the location of the assembly.

The committee structure will be considered in detail by the advisory committee and then by the Standing Orders Commission, but I want to make some general points at this stage. Schedule 2 lists 18 wide-ranging fields of responsibility for the assembly, including agriculture, health, social services, education and the Welsh language.

It would be unwise if those subject fields were translated into individual committees, plus any other committees that the assembly may choose to set up. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), I believe that the assembly should have integrated strategies that cross all the fields of responsibility. One of the big difficulties with local government, central Government and the Welsh Office stems from the division between their various departments, which makes it hard to implement strategies that cover them all.

That is especially problematic in a field such as child care, responsibility for which is shared by education, health and social services, and which is also important to economic development. In the Welsh Office, the division is between two Ministers. In every layer of government, the division causes difficulties, and it is essential that we have strategies in the Welsh Assembly to draw together all the different threads.

It was thought that a great advantage of the new unitary authorities would be the bringing together of, for example, health and social services. However, we do not bring things together by putting them in separate committees in one body. The key to success for the assembly is to have integrated strategies for the environment, sustainable economic development, and social and economic regeneration.

We should be thinking of working in the assembly in those sorts of ways, which will tackle the particular problems of Wales. We need an imaginative, innovative structure. We need to learn from the problems that we have experienced in central and local government and in the Welsh Office in implementing such strategies.

We should consider setting up mechanisms to consider groups such as children—a children's committee. Compared with the rest of Great Britain, Wales has special problems. We have the lowest gross domestic product per head and the highest poverty rate. We have major transport problems and fewer child care places. Low pay is an issue. We have more lone parents who are not working than the rest of Britain. We need policies to which the whole assembly subscribes, and fewer, more powerful, committees that can meet the objectives of the assembly.

It is essential to establish good working structures with Government Departments. The success of the welfare-to-work policy, for instance, depends on the Employment Service and the Department of Social Security working with the assembly, which will provide the child care strategy that is essential for that policy to succeed.

I am pleased that two clauses, clauses 47 and 113, refer to equal opportunities. Clause 47 states that the assembly's business must be
"conducted with due regard to the principle that there should be equality of opportunity for all".
Clause 113 states that the assembly's functions are to be
"exercised with due regard to the principle that there should be equality of opportunity for all people."
Starting afresh, with a new body, we should be able to make certain that those principles lie at the heart of the assembly.

One of the most important ways of ensuring equal opportunity for all people is to have members who represent the range of people in Wales. That means that women should be there in equal numbers. I believe that I am the first woman to speak in this debate, which is well into its second day. We do not want to mirror that in a Welsh Assembly.

I am sorry—one female Member spoke yesterday.

The women of Wales appreciate the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell), who strongly backed the principle of equal representation in his speech yesterday. The Bill leaves the means of getting equal representation to the political parties.

I welcome the element of proportionality in the Bill. If the Conservatives get 20 per cent. of the vote in Wales, it is right that they should be represented in the Welsh Assembly. That makes for a better assembly and better government. Now that an 80-member assembly, with one man and one woman for each seat, is no longer an option, it may be difficult to achieve equal representation. Is it possible to put something in the Bill to allow political parties to take positive action to ensure that women are present in equal numbers?

The Labour party has had a drive to find how many women would be prepared to stand for the assembly. We now have more than 200 women who are interested in standing. No one will ever be able to say that women do not want to put themselves forward, as has been often said in the past. It would be tragic if the enthusiasm of those women was not translated into reality. The weight of history is against us, against women being represented in political institutions. In Wales, we have only four women out of 40 Members. The process would be helped if we could include in the Bill a mechanism for positive action to get women into the assembly.

Ensuring that the assembly's business is conducted in a way that is conducive to equal opportunities, both for members and for the public, means that the needs of men and women with children and dependents should be taken into account. All evidence shows that black people tend to be excluded from political and other activities. The last census in Cardiff showed that Afro-Caribbean people were more likely to be unemployed, to live in sub-standard housing, and not to own a car than the general population, as well as suffering from racism.

We must make specific efforts to ensure that black people have access to the assembly. As we are starting afresh, we can try to do such things. Wales is a multicultural, cosmopolitan country, especially in the towns and cities of the south. It has been strongly argued already that the assembly is for everyone in Wales, for people with every accent, whose first language may be Welsh, Urdu, Bengali or English.

The Bill is an opportunity for more open government, which we hope will involve many more people than in the past. Meetings should be as accessible to the public as possible. The assembly should able to co-opt people on to committees. It should be able to co-opt people who have experience of being disabled or of being black in a mainly white country. I respect the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) about trying to attract people from business, industry and academia, but, equally, we want to attract people who have had day-to-day experience of living in the particular circumstances of Wales..

The public should be able to put items on the agendas of committees. I strongly welcome the commitment to work with community groups and the voluntary sector, which is a huge constituency in Wales, ranging from big national organisations to the small community groups that make life in Wales function. Engaging with the voluntary sector, not only as a grant-giving and monitoring body but in consultations and as partners, is important and will enhance the assembly.

It is important to engage with young people. I support a youth assembly. There should be mechanisms, such as a children's committee, for feeding in the views of children. Many schools have schools councils. We should encourage them to look at what is going on in the assembly.

There should be no question of locating the assembly anywhere but in the capital of Wales. To start it anywhere else would cause confusion and weaken it. We need dispersed, devolved methods of communicating with people, but that is a back-up, not a substitute..

The main point is to get the strongest possible assembly with the greatest ability to take decisions and thereby earn the respect of the people of Wales. I believe strongly that it must be located where the civil servants are and where decisions can be made quickly. It should be in the capital. There is a clear message from trade unions, business, international politics, Europe and the voluntary sector that there is no alternative to Cardiff. It is the one institution that cannot be devolved or go anywhere else. Many institutions can be dispersed, but the headquarters of the assembly must be in the capital.

7.39 pm

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan), who made a thoughtful speech, full of good, common sense and some important points. It was very much in contrast with the speech by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who opened the debate on behalf of the official Opposition.

Yes, I shall have a go. It is time that someone had a go from this Bench, lest someone lump us in with your lot.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley spent a lot of time pouring out vitriol about this, that and the other. He said that the Bill had more holes than a Swiss cheese, yet he spent 10 seconds talking about them. Perhaps the Swiss cheese available in Ribble Valley is different from that which is available elsewhere in Europe. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) was right to describe the hon. Gentleman's bluster as badly lacking in humility. So it was.

That there is a lack of scrutiny of Welsh issues in this Parliament goes without saying. The Committees that consider Welsh Bills such as the Welsh Language Bill and the Local Government (Wales) Bill are packed with people from outside Wales who have no interest in what is going on in Wales, and often are there only to vote against any useful amendments. That cannot be the essence of good government. We have half an hour of Welsh questions every five weeks or so, and one day a year there is a one-day debate on Wales. That does not make for satisfactory governance in Wales.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) referred with high passion to the break-up of the United Kingdom that he says is inherent in the Bill. Those words were cheering to me, but I have to admit that, despite reading the Bill three or four times, I do not have the same impression. I should be delighted if he were right and I were wrong.

Yesterday's debate was rather an anti-climax, probably because the three political parties that have representation in Wales believe that devolution is a good thing. The so-called opposition came from Tory Members, whose party has no representation in Wales. Worse still, some Tory Members' speeches showed that they had little or no knowledge of Wales, its needs or the real nature of the devolutionary process. The quality of the speeches of official Opposition Members rendered the debate a non-event.

It is all very well for the little Englander, Eurosceptic tendency to churn out the old drivel, but it is an unedifying spectacle that does no credit to the Tory party. I believe that it would be deprecated by many sincere members of the Welsh Conservative party, who take a far more positive, proactive and sensible long-term view of the matter. I believe that it is possible to oppose a measure and remain constructive; but that view is not universally shared in the Chamber.

I shall not get into a debate about figures. We have learnt enough about the mandate or lack of mandate, and the yes-no, and so on. Suffice it to say that there was a majority in favour on 19 September.

Yes, it was. The hon. Gentleman is so predictable. Before I am interrupted again and subjected to the mantra about the thinness of the majority, I must simply say that it ill behoves a party which was in power twice for a total of 10 years on the vote of a minority of the United Kingdom electorate to try to score points in that way.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), in his wide-ranging and interesting speech yesterday, touched on many important points. We in Plaid Cymru make no secret of the fact that we want a full legislative and tax-raising Parliament in Wales. The Bill falls considerably short of that goal, but we shall continue to argue and debate and, we hope, persuade in order to achieve that end.

Lest I damn the Assembly with too faint praise, let me say that it is a welcome development. It brings government nearer to the people, and that has to be good. It also provides for rationalisation of the myriad Welsh quangos. Many will disappear, and I have little doubt that the taxpayers' money will be saved. It provides an opportunity to close the democratic deficit, and that must be welcomed by any democrat.

Furthermore, the vexed question of accountability has been a great problem in the governance of Wales. When placemen are put in places of power and authority and make a hash of things, the people of Wales want to get rid of them, but in the current situation they cannot. That is utterly repugnant and intolerable. I am sure that the Bill will tackle that aspect urgently, as it states it will and as the White Paper stated it would.

Several hon. Members who spoke in yesterday's debate stressed the need for the national assembly to be accepted by all of Wales, whether it be the populous south-east, the sparsely populated Pembrokeshire coast or wherever. We must all strive to make the Assembly fully national for all in Wales. I agree with the words of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North about involving minorities and so on to make the Assembly truly representative. Of course we must have a proper gender balance, too. That is all evident good sense, and I hope that we will see it in action in the coming months and years.

We must work to dispel the untruths perpetrated by the constructive and reactionary no campaign. We must build an assembly which is worthy of the title "national". So, while I acknowledge the need to deal with the concerns of Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham, I stress the need to deal urgently with the needs of rural Wales.

I do not say that any part of Wales deserves special pleading, but it is a plain fact that rural Wales is in decline. Given the depth of the current crisis in agriculture, the very existence of large parts of Wales is called into sharp focus. One has to ask whether an assembly would have allowed the crisis in the beef and sheep sectors to happen. I have no doubt that the assembly's sympathies would lie with the industry, but sympathy does not pay the bank interest.

Will the assembly be hamstrung and bound and gagged by the Ministry of Agriculture? The present Minister, unlike the Secretary of State for Wales, is breathtakingly complacent about the crisis in agriculture. I hope that he will wake up to the crisis sooner or later and certainly before it is too late.

Is there not a genuine problem in that the very real difficulties of Welsh agriculture, which we all know about and some of us entirely accept, will be solved only by action by the Council of Ministers? The Welsh Assembly will not be represented in the Council of Ministers. When it comes to a question of power, how are the problems to which the hon. Gentleman rightly refers going to be solved?

I know that the hon. Gentleman is an expert in these matters, but it is my understanding that a representative of the Welsh Assembly will be able to attend the Agriculture Council with any delegation. I am sure that Welsh needs can be dealt with in that way. I fully accept that there will not be official ministerial representation, and I regret that. That is one aspect that my party will seek to redress as the Bill proceeds. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point, but there will be some voice, albeit that of a delegation.

Many members of the farming fraternity have asked about the powers and obligations of the assembly towards agriculture. Agriculture in Wales is quite different from that in England, with 80 per cent. of the land mass classified as less favoured. The assembly must be able to take real decisions about agriculture and make and amend policy as it is received from the European Union. I accept what the hon. Member for Linlithgow has said about that.

I sincerely believe that the problems facing agriculture and their knock-on effect on the rural economy strengthen the call for an agricultural and rural affairs committee of the assembly. Those matters are inextricably linked, as the current crisis has shown.

The National Farmers Union has taken a constructive approach to the Bill. In its short but helpful briefing, it refers to clause 33, which places a duty on the assembly to support and enhance aspects of Welsh cultural life. The NFU points out that the duty to enhance rural life is extremely important. I am pleased to note that the Bill includes a duty on the assembly to protect the Welsh culture and its language.

I also agree that there should be an explicit duty on the assembly to promote and sustain the interests of rural areas. That is not without precedent. For example, the Environment Act 1995 places a duty on the national park authorities to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities, and to co-operate with public agencies whose functions include the promotion of economic and social development in rural areas. Furthermore, the English Countryside Commission does a great deal of valuable work in co-ordinating efforts to sustain rural areas. Therefore, there are lessons to be learned from over the border.

Given the current disastrous state of agriculture and the need for urgent action given the forthcoming changes to the common agricultural policy, there has never been such an urgent need for a strategic all-Wales approach to rural life and matters rural. I believe that the assembly could be just the vehicle for that.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Stormont parliamentary system had control of agriculture in Northern Ireland. If it was still in existence, does he believe that Northern Ireland would have got out of the mess created by BSE, or would it have been caught by the general ban on United Kingdom beef products?

I am not sure about that particular aspect, but, with great respect, the Welsh Assembly will be based on good will. For historical reasons, the hon. Member's country is different from mine—

That may be the case, but probably the answer is no. That is the answer he is looking for. I believe that there will be a far greater spirit of co-operation in the assembly and when those who were previously doubtful have been persuaded to support it, we will make it a strong powerhouse for Wales.

When adequately planning any strategy for rural areas, one must consider the infrastructure and the remoteness. Any solutions will have to consider matters such as the sparsity factor. We in parts of north and mid-Wales feel particularly vulnerable at the present time given the announcement that the Development Board for Rural Wales will be subsumed into the new powerhouse.

We must ensure that the decades of experience and expertise built up by the board are not dissipated, and that the rural affairs do not become an small adjunct of that new powerhouse. I am sure that the Secretary of State has already received many representations about that and I am sure he will bear them in mind during the passage of the Bill.

Hon. Members will be aware that I have campaigned with other right hon. and hon. Members across the House to ensure that the lion's share of inward investment is not always tempted to the east of Wales. The announcement of a moiety of spending to be assured to the west of Wales is most welcome. I hope that the new body will pick up where the DBRW and the Welsh Development Agency left off. I also trust that its progress will be closely monitored by the national assembly.

I hope that the new powerhouse will actively assist the rural areas and that its remit will be extended to assist agriculture and related projects. That is extremely important, bearing in mind the future for the industry.

I reiterate the concerns about health that I expressed at the most recent sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee. With the greatest respect, I cannot understand why there is such an unseemly rush to reconfigure the health trusts before the assembly is up and running. To do that a matter of days before the establishment of that assembly is almost bizarre.

In the Grand Committee, in answer to a specific question about that, the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), said that it would be right for the Welsh Office to
"start that agenda, to get the changes under way, and then to give the Welsh Assembly the opportunity review matters."—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 18 November 1997; c. 3.]
Exactly what will it review? Will it review something that had been reviewed a few days before? That does not make a great deal of sense, and that decision should be reconsidered. If the assembly were perverse, it could reverse everything that had been done a few days previously. What would happen then, I wonder?.

I support everything that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North said about the voluntary sector. She is absolutely right. I am pleased that the Bill lays a responsibility on the assembly to launch a scheme to promote the interests of all those voluntary organisations that are so important in everyday Welsh life.

As I understand it, the scheme will specify how the assembly proposes to provide assistance to and monitor and consult with the voluntary agencies. In due course, the assembly will provide financial assistance for such voluntary organisations in Wales. The role of such organisations is becoming more and more important in the delivery of core services, and I trust that their voice will be heard loudly and clearly and that their views will be brought into the heart of Government decision making. I welcome the fact that that is referred to in the Bill.

The importance of links with the European mainland have been highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys MÔn (Mr. Jones). It is vital that those links should be strengthened. I should like them to include observer status in the Council of Agricultural Ministers. I would prefer to follow the Scottish model, and I am sure that there will be a considerable debate about that in due course. As the benefits accrue to Wales from having a regional voice in Europe, there is no doubt that that will make it far easier for us to be heard in Brussels on a particular matter, and to have the right to hear early on about what is proposed there.

The lander have benefited greatly from such an arrangement, as I witnessed a few years ago when I visited the lander parliaments and Catalonia with the Welsh Grand Committee.

It is equally important that Wales is seen for what it really is—a nation, or region in Eurospeak. An enhanced presence in Brussels is extremely important. An expanded Wales-European centre would be most welcome so that Wales enjoys a level playing field when encouraging inward investment from other parts of the European Union.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys MÔn has flagged up the idea of the fast track legislative system. That could be of great assistance to the workings of the assembly. I hope that it will be accepted by the Committee which will discuss the Bill.

As the Bill receives its Second Reading and proceeds into Committee, I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will look upon it as an opportunity to deliver a better form of government for Wales, which is more accountable and which will, ultimately, stand it in good stead as we approach the millennium and beyond.

7.58 pm

I am proud to speak in a debate on such a truly historic and momentous occasion, because we have the ability to vote for a national assembly for Wales. As a Labour Member, I should like to devote my speech to putting the cultural, patriotic and national case for a national Welsh Assembly. I realise also that there is a very strong, even overwhelming, democratic case and even—on this I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands—an economic case for establishing an assembly. It is essential that we develop a class of politicians and civil servants who will concentrate on developing a strategy for economic regeneration in Wales.

I will confine my remarks to the cultural case for a Welsh Assembly. Putting the Bill into its historical perspective, it bears comparison with such momentous dates in Welsh history as the statute of Rhuddlan, in 1286; the Act of Union of 1536; such developments in Welsh culture as the Bible's translation into Welsh—an act that has some geographical significance for my constituency; developments in the 18th and 19th centuries leading to administrative devolution; and, in recent years, establishment of the Welsh Office.

The Bill is part of a sequence of events and marks a change in the relationship between Wales and Britain. Given the unitary nature of the British state and the fact that we do not have a written constitution, it would be idle to pretend that the work of reforming the relationship between Wales, Britain and the other countries of the United Kingdom will not be a difficult task. Awkward issues will be raised.

In the right spirit—a spirit of confidence which the assembly will engender—there is no reason why we cannot overcome the practical difficulties and awkward questions that were so eloquently asked, in such a penetrating manner, by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies).

If I have a quarrel with my two distinguished hon. Friends—bearing in mind that I share with my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli experience of the legal profession, as we are both barristers—it is that I normally confine my worst points until after the jury delivers the verdict. Surely there was a case for confining comments on awkward and perhaps intractable questions until after the verdict had been delivered by the Welsh people. Nevertheless, I accept that they have promoted a principled debate, and the questions that they and others have asked will have to be answered in Committee.

Devolution has been an important aspect of Labour party policy for many years. Keir Hardie himself promoted the idea of home rule. We have heard in this debate that the Liberal party and David Lloyd-George progressed the idea of home rule through the ill-fated Cymru Fydd movement. In recent years, S. 0. Davies and Jim Griffiths—Labour Members' predecessors—were proponents of devolution.

It is essential that a national assembly is established so that Wales is recognised as a distinctive cultural and historical community. A nationalist and patriotic case can be made for an assembly, but it is nationalism that is positive and not mutually exclusive. Establishing an assembly is a recognition that different nations inhabit this island, and that Britain is a state, not a nation.

Establishing an assembly is part of a move towards a decentralised model of Europe. Is it not heartening that Wales will have the opportunity to be in the vanguard of that movement? Wales—the cradle of the industrial revolution, the Labour party and the national health service—will now be in the vanguard of the movement towards democratic decentralised government. The Welsh national assembly will be established one whole year before a similar body is established in Scotland.

We will have a magnificent opportunity to raise both Wales's profile and our confidence as a nation. Much has been made of the prosperity gap between Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom, and one of the assembly's great priorities will be to address that disparity. There is also a confidence gap. The historical fact, however, is that we will soon have a Welsh Assembly—the ultimate symbol of Welsh national identity.

I should like the national assembly to foster a self-confidence that is not elitist or based on language. There is also much room for improvement in Wales—I speak as a Welsh speaker—in democratising some Welsh institutions which are too beholden to the vested interests of the Welsh-speaking elite. I should like the assembly to attack that type of democratic deficit in Wales. We have an opportunity to forge a new sense of citizenship, in partnership not only with local authorities but with the people of Wales.

Cardiff is a truly European city. We also have a magnificent university, which is unique in its federal structure and its history. It was built by the workers of Wales, over many years, on the basis of voluntary contribution. We also have a language that is among the oldest in Europe. We must create a culture of bilingualism which is not exclusive, and a sense of ownership—in both English-speaking and Welsh-speaking communities—of our language.

Our film and television industry is flourishing, as is our popular music. In Mold, we have Theatr Clwyd, a national theatre of Wales, which I hope will go from strength to strength. Culture in Wales is flowering, and the symbolic act of establishing the assembly can only assist in continuing the process.

It is significant that, a few weeks ago, no less a person than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport addressed a London conference on the importance of culture—in its widest sense—in fostering a creative economy and a sense of citizenship. Many aspects of national life depend not on material well-being but on a feel-good factor in its broader sense. Ability to participate in the arts should be available across the board. Much can be done, and a great opportunity is before us.

On a point of detail, clause 22 and schedule 2 do not provide for responsibility for broadcasting to be transferred to the Welsh Assembly. Although there are undoubtedly practical difficulties in such a transfer, I should like S4C to be made the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly. We should be moving in Wales towards becoming a more mature democracy and a truly bilingual society, in which people are not oversensitive to the prospect of such institutions—which many would say hold an advantageous position—being the responsibility of our national assembly. I do not believe that there is anything to lose from opening the process of democracy, even in Welsh language broadcasting.

Wales has had some great sporting achievements. Glamorgan won the county championship this year, for example, and the rugby world cup will soon be held in Wales.

I have not yet mentioned the more traditional aspects of Welsh culture—such as our eisteddfodau and our magnificent literature, in both Welsh and English. Welsh literature dates back to the 6th and 7th centuries, predating Chaucer. Although those aspects of Wales and Welsh culture have not received much prominence in this debate, they should be mentioned. We have a strong patriotic and cultural case for a Welsh Assembly.

I shall conclude on two personal notes. Like many Welsh people, was brought up in England, and I salute the work of the Welsh communities in Liverpool and London who have for so many years kept alive the flame of Welsh culture and political identity. Together with millions of Welsh people, many involved in extractive industries such as coal mining and slate quarrying—that was my family's background—my family moved over the border to England. We had to—we had no choice. Surely the assembly will sound the death knell of the old saying, "If you want to get on, you have to get out."

Finally, I, like many people, was very emotional on the night of the referendum. We knew that it was going to be close and it was. I accept that the groundwork had not been done: we should have had a constitutional convention like the Scottish one to iron out the difficulties. That was not done, but the Government are doing the best that they can in a spirit of pragmatism and reason to overcome the awkward practical questions, and I feel confident that they will succeed. Around 3 am, my seven-year-old daughter, on her way to bed, asked "Ydi'r bobol na am ennill?", which means "Are the no people going to win?" At that stage, the fate of Wales hung in the balance, because it was not clear whether or not we were going to win.

There is room for saying that, if we had lost that vote, the future of Wales as a distinct cultural entity would have been in doubt. When my daughter awoke the following morning, I was pleased to be able to announce that there was a new dawn—the yes people had won. Wales has for the first time in its history an opportunity to have an elected body—a truly Welsh national assembly. I welcome the Bill and, together with my right hon. and hon. Friends, I shall vote yes in the Lobby tonight with alacrity.

8.11 pm

There will be those who are somewhat surprised to find an Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament taking part in this debate, but I speak as a United Kingdom Member of Parliament. I also speak as a Member of Parliament representing the one part of the United Kingdom that has experience of a devolved institution.

I was further incited to take part in the debate by the comments of the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). I trust that the Welshmen here will excuse my pronunciation of the hon. Gentleman's constituency—I am inclined to get Welsh pronunciations as far wrong as they get the Irish ones. I try occasionally to pronounce Welsh place names, but I fear that all I do is send the Welsh people listening into gales of laughter. I hope that I will be excused if my pronunciation never gets quite up to the mark.

The Minister of State said in a recent speech in Northern Ireland that he believed that
"the new context created by devolution in Scotland and Wales can be very helpful to us. We need to take account of the new institutions there in our thinking. We have a great deal to learn from what is happening there.
Given that it was a chap from Pembroke called Strongbow who did a great deal to set off some of the problems in Ireland, it is always welcome to have another Welshman—albeit one of Irish extraction—offering us advice in the modern age.

The whole question whether it is possible to have devolved government in a unitary state is not new, and we in the Ulster Unionist party have a strong attachment to devolution. However, judging by some of the remarks made this evening, there seems to be some confusion as to the difference between a devolved parliamentary or administrative system within a unitary state and a federal system. The two are poles apart. I have often thought that if we had had a more equitable distribution of the population between the four component parts of the United Kingdom, we might have considered a federal structure. It is, unfortunately, an historical fact that England's population is so overwhelmingly large in relation to that of the rest of the UK that it is not possible to create a sensible federal structure in this country.

We have made various efforts to have devolution in Ireland and elsewhere, but it is interesting to note that each of those efforts has had a different basis. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 kept a few powers and devolved everything else, whereas the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 devolved some powers and kept the rest and as a result very different sets of powers were devolved on each occasion. I am always surprised at how those who debate matters such as this appear to be adamantly opposed to looking across the Irish sea to the experiences and lessons lying open and evident to all. I sometimes wonder whether people are not deliberately closing their eyes; if they opened them, they might become more clearly aware of the consequences of their policies.

In the island of Ireland, we have had both devolved institutions and complete separation. I appreciate that the UK Government have always been concerned about the western seaboard of Great Britain—the geopolitical needs of this country were such that they always wanted to keep a toehold in Ireland. That is a consideration of centuries-old standing and I do not believe that it has changed to this very day. Eventually, however, they failed to keep all of the island within the UK, and the Republic became a separate state.

Far too many people forget that originally the 1920 Act set up two devolved institutions—one in Dublin and the other in Belfast. The Dublin one met but once; it never came back because it was taken over by the revolutionary Dail Eireann, which has existed from that day to this. The way in which the Republic gained self-governance was totally different from what happened in Belfast. Belfast was intent on remaining within the kingdom, and the Unionists there made it their business to ensure that they used the devolved institution to keep themselves within the kingdom.

Despite all the glowing remarks about devolved institutions and about separation bringing prosperity, the Republic of Ireland failed socially and economically. Anyone who looks at it cold-bloodedly will accept that. Only in recent years, when its Government were able to get a large amount of money on an annual basis from the Common Market did the Republic improve its social and economic position. The Republic made good use of the money that it received—of that there is no doubt. It is no part of the Unionist creed to want an impoverished Irish Republic—we would prefer to see it prosperous and wealthy, because then some of the difficulties we have experienced might disappear.

I believe that when we look at how devolved institutions were used in Northern Ireland to keep it within the United Kingdom, we can only assume that we will see a steady development towards a time when politics in both Scotland and Wales will become more constitutional in nature than has hitherto been the case. That is the fundamental division in Northern Ireland—the question asked is, "Which nation do you belong to?" Eventually, we will see unionist and nationalist politics in both Scotland and Wales.

In those circumstances, the remarks of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) will become more relevant, because he described the sorts of fistfuls of grit and filings that can be tossed into the machinery. No one need think that this is going to be an easy passage.

I bear no ill will towards Plaid Cymru or the Scottish nationalists; indeed, I get on well with both groups. I am under no illusions but that they are nationalist parties, just as I am under no illusions but that the sister party of the Labour movement, the SDLP, is a nationalist party. The long-term objectives of all these parties are very different from mine. We should clearly understand where these people are coming from and to what they aspire. They will use every weapon put in their hands to gain their objectives.

That is why I have asked three times in the House—once of a Welsh Office Minister, once of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and again today—a question that has not yet received an answer, but which must be answered by word or by deed. It is a simple question: in these devolved institutions, will Labour members believe in the unionist cause? Will they put the Union first, just as the people of Northern Ireland, no matter what their social class, have had to put the Union first? To do that, they have had to submerge the social and economic divisions in their communities.

The Minister may think he can escape that question; the Labour party may think that it can escape it. Labour may do so during the passage of this Bill, but once Labour members are elected to the assemblies, they will not be able to escape the question. What they are will rapidly become apparent to those who elected them.

The same will be true of all party members, including Conservative party members.

There would be no devolved assemblies if there were no nationalists demanding them.

That is quite unhistorical. The first demands for an all-Wales collective body were made back in the 1880s by Joseph Chamberlain, a Birmingham Member of Parliament and a prominent Liberal. Surely the hon. Gentleman realises—the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) will correct me if I am wrong—that the Welsh nationalist party was not even founded until the 1920s, some 40 years later. His proposition is therefore absurdly unfactual.

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman, given the Liberals' reputation for supporting nationalism in Ireland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. By responding to nationalism in Ireland, the Liberals were attempting to square the constitutional circle. They realised that, to make logical sense of their proposals for Ireland, they would have to offer assemblies also to other parts of the UK. The hon. Gentleman's initial assertion was thus perfectly correct.

This is rapidly turning into a "one man against the rest" type of debate—possibly with one exception.

The Liberal party has an honourable record of democracy. The Liberals were not just pursuing the Irish question in the 1880s and 1890s. They wanted home rule for Scotland and Wales too, albeit in the context of the United Kingdom. Had those policies been pushed through, and had Gladstone not been thwarted at the time, these islands would have been far more peaceful than they have been.

It is evident that the Liberal party has learnt nothing from the passage of time. Liberals have never really understood the driving force behind Irish nationalism and republicanism.

The Labour party, by contrast, has at least learnt one or two lessons from Ireland. The electoral system that Labour is setting up makes it quite clear that there will be majority rule, notwithstanding the checks and balances being built into the system. Labour is also making it impossible for those completely opposed to the continued existence of the UK to sit in the assembly, by means of the oath that is to be introduced. I was glad that Madam Speaker took a strong line recently with the two gentlemen who were elected to this place but who have chosen not to come to here. I am glad to note that the Labour party supports Madam Speaker's decision.

Labour Members should, however, remember that there are also those who have been prepared to take the oath, or to affirm, in Northern Ireland bodies with what they have described as mental reservations. I dare say that there will be others in coming years who will have similar mental reservations.

Neither the Government nor this House has fully absorbed the implications of proportional representation. Minor groups—which will use the iron filings I mentioned before—will get elected and will grow in size as time goes on.

It seems that the Labour party is intent on keeping firm control over who gets elected. The list system is an excellent way of keeping people firmly in line. The problem is that we will end up with assembly members carrying completely different sets of responsibilities, regional and individual. That will lead to difficulties.

Many questions remain unanswered, not least why the Conservative party is so much against devolution for Wales and Scotland and so much in favour of a disruptive and divisive form of devolution for Northern Ireland.

We need to discuss how this devolved body will fit into the economic union with Westminster. Will it be possible for the assembly to be dissolved or dismissed? After all, 75 per cent. of the Welsh population are either not in favour or did not think it worth voting. Has the House considered the possibility of an elected majority in the assembly deciding to vote it out of existence, or just resigning, as happened in Northern Ireland in 1972? The whole subject needs debating on the Floor of the House.

I shall have great pleasure in supporting the motion that calls for that to happen, but given the Ulster Unionist party's long history of attachment to devolution, we will not go along with the amendment this evening. There remains much to be discussed, and I favour a long period of discussion on the Floor of the House. We can all learn a great deal from each other and from our experiences. The more we learn, the more likely we are to come to sensible conclusions.

8.26 pm

I take great exception to any suggestion that I support the break-up of the Union. I am sure that all Labour Members agree that that is not our intention at all. The Bill will strengthen the Union, by virtue of the fact that one of the main threats to democracy in our country has been the feeling that people have been disfranchised for the past 20 years in Wales. Consequently, they have failed to turn out at elections, except for general elections, because they have felt that their voice has not been heard. This Bill will redress that grievance and give them a real chance to feel that they are part of government.

I want to reinforce the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) for culture. It tends to get forgotten in these debates. I was born in England but have gone to live in Wales. In sixth-century Britain, in a place called Cartraeth, the Welsh poet Aneurin wrote about a family of 24 brothers who went to war while their one sister stayed at home waiting for her brothers to return. It is all described in a famous Welsh poem. When I learned Welsh, it was brought home to me that Welsh history is also part of my history as an English person. The place is now known as Catterick, in Yorkshire; in the sixth-century, everyone in Britain spoke Welsh. It is the Brythonic language from which the very word Britain comes. It may be that Opposition Members feel that that gives their contributions to the debate more substance since none of them represents a Welsh constituency. Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor dynasty, was born in Wales. That may come as a shock to Conservative Members.

I want to refer to the comments of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd).

May I add to the Britishness of the issue raised by my hon. Friend? She has been talking about the first recorded Welsh poem, "The Song of Aneurin", which dates from about 600 AD. There are two curious facts about it. First, not only were England and Wales Welsh-speaking at that time—so was lowland Scotland. Aneurin was born and based in Edinburgh. The court he had left in order to fight the invading Anglo-Saxons at Catterick was in Edinburgh, because, as I have said, southern Scotland was Welsh-speaking. It is that Aneurin after whom Aneurin Bevan is named because David Bevan, Aneurin Bevan's father, was interested in early Welsh poetry.

In the approaches to the Pennines, which is the area from which I originally come, farmers have a system for counting sheep which uses specific words. Those words are almost identical to mediaeval Welsh, lending support to the fact "that much of Britain owes a great deal to Wales.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills was rather scathing in his comments on the Minister's lifelong commitment to political action. I became politically active 25 years ago when I was a parent with three young children. I was tired of seeing middle-aged men in pinstripe suits making decisions that had absolutely no bearing on what I wanted for myself or my family. Looking at the Opposition Benches today, one could be forgiven for thinking that nothing has really changed.

It seems that the hon. Lady is lamenting the fact that, over the centuries, most of Britain has been swamped by a European culture of one sort or another—the Saxons, the Romans, the Danes, the Flemings and the French. I am afraid that Britain is a multicultural society, but Wales is a welcome part of it.

Indeed, we are a multicultural society. I was not referring at any stage to invasion from abroad; I was simply trying to impress upon Conservative Members the debt that they owe to the Welsh nation for what England, and Britain generally, has become.

On a more serious note, among the submissions that I have received about this Bill, the one from the Welsh Local Government Association makes a fundamental point. It says:
"Let there be no doubt, the success of Wales depends on the vitality of its local democracy. It is only through democracy that people in Wales gain the experience of sharing in the control of all those circumstances that affect them as individuals and as communities."
I am pleased to say that clauses 110 to 114, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan), will go a long way to address those fears, but there can be no greater condemnation of what has happened in Wales during the 18 years of Conservative government than the fact that local democracy was whittled away and powers were centralised or handed over to unelected bodies full of Secretary of State appointees.

I will not give way at this stage.

Many appointments made by the Secretary of State were of people who had been firmly rejected by the Welsh electorate in local and parliamentary elections. A prime example was the appointment of a former Member for Cardiff, Central almost immediately after his defeat at the 1992 election as chairman of the local health authority. One might say that that is jobs for the boyos. Such action demonstrated a blatant disregard for the will and opinion of the people of Wales. The establishment of the assembly will, at last, provide the means for those opinions to be translated into open and accountable action.

The Welsh people have always shown a great commitment to public service and to public services. For example, community hospitals have been established throughout Wales, libraries have been set up in mining communities and local education authorities provide nursery places for more than 90 per cent. of four-year-olds. No special funding from the Government has been allocated to nursery provision; provision has been made because of a local commitment to education. That local choice and prioritisation was ignored and overruled centrally by the previous Government in their determination to put in place nursery vouchers throughout the United Kingdom—robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Under the current Government plans for the Welsh Assembly, the £7 billion allocated to Wales from central Government will be distributed by the people of Wales for the benefit of the people of Wales, according to their priorities. It will not be the same as under the former Government, when it was distributed by a Secretary of State for Wales who did not even represent a Welsh constituency. It was done behind closed doors according to criteria set by the Government, often ignoring the wishes and aspirations of the 2 million-plus people who live in Wales.

It has been accepted by everyone in the House—and it was acknowledged in yesterday's debate—that there has already been significant administrative devolution to Wales. When Welsh Members ask about health, education, agriculture, roads, planning and the environment and employment and economic development initiatives, they are directed to Ministers at the Welsh Office rather than to their centralised departmental counterparts at Westminster. However, Opposition Members may not be fully aware of that, since none of them represents a Welsh constituency—or a Scottish constituency for that matter.

There is a specific Welsh dimension to all those policy areas, not least because we are a bilingual society. That is acknowledged in the administrative devolution. What is lacking—the Bill will finally establish this—is democratic devolution to accompany that administrative devolution. That is important to address the concerns of organisations such as the Welsh Local Government Association and to meet the needs of areas such as mine in Pembrokeshire where, often, we feel peripheral and forgotten.

That peripherality has been accentuated during the past two decades with the former Government's dogmatic insistence on market forces ruling the day. During the past few years, different areas of the United Kingdom have, within the context of unregulated markets, been effectively like hyenas round a carcase. Those nearest the carcase get the largest bite, while those on the outside are left with the remnants, if anything. The establishment of the assembly and the restoration of democracy to Welsh decision making at strategic level will address that deficit for Wales in general and for rural areas such as Preseli, which I represent.

At the beginning of my speech, I quoted from the Welsh Local Government Association which said:
"The success of Wales depends on the vitality of its local democracy."
Nowhere is that more evident than in employment and job creation. As democracy has been removed during the past 18 years, so there has been a slide in Wales's gross domestic product as a percentage of the UK average. Pembrokeshire provides, yet again, a graphic example. In 1984, Pembrokeshire's GDP per head was 84 per cent. of the UK average; in 1994, it was just under 72 per cent.

In practical terms, that means that one in four males of working age in the town of Milford Haven is without work. Oil refineries and Ministry of Defence establishments have closed. We have had to watch the impact of a catalogue of disasters for farmers, including BSE and unfair treatment by the former Government compared with that given to farmers in England. Admittedly the former Government put in place a west Wales task force to attempt to address the Ministry of Defence closures. That body was given a title but, unfortunately, it had no significant funds to tackle the unemployment problem. Despite the noble efforts of its director, it was labelled the west Wales task farce.

For west Wales, the assembly offers the chance for a real voice and positive action. The new economic powerhouse, under the auspices of the assembly, will have a remit to address our specific problems. Not only will it finally give our area the benefit of the expertise of the former Development Board for Rural Wales—which, unfortunately, did not cover Pembrokeshire—the new body will have a greater remit to assist indigenous businesses. That is vital, as it is those indigenous businesses which provide real hope for sustainable economic development and the resulting job creation.

The Country Landowners Association has made clear its view that the Assembly offers
"great opportunity to provide better government in Wales and a strong voice for Wales in Britain and in Europe."
That reinforces my point that there are more microbusinesses in rural than in urban areas. There is evidence that, until now, those businesses have been, as the CLA put it, ill served by the bodies set up by the previous Administration. The CLA has 6,000 members in Wales, the majority of whom own 100 acres or less, but they account for more than half of the rural area of Wales and they are active participants in the economy of rural areas.

In January, a group called the business forum on devolution—whose members include the chairman of an independent television company, the chief executive of a large construction company and the head of one of Wales's largest international haulage companies—came out firmly in support of devolution. It campaigned for a yes vote in the referendum on the basis that a Welsh Assembly would offer real hope for improving Wales's economic position, which has suffered such a decline during the past two decades.

Those examples—from local government, small rural businesses and the larger business sector—demonstrate the considered opinion that a Welsh Assembly will give Wales a necessary economic boost, prepare it for the future and ensure that it is not trapped in a time warp.

Talking of time warps, I remember listening to the radio when the date of the general election was announced and hearing, with some amusement, that Scottish Members remained Members for a couple of days longer than either Welsh or English Members once the writ was moved. I recall being told that it was because time had to be allowed for a messenger on horseback to ride from Westminster to Edinburgh to deliver the writ—a rather amusing parliamentary example of a time warp, which there may or may not be moves afoot to Change.

Whatever, the process of government evolved. It did so in the past and will continue to do so in future.

That is reassuring.

The process of government will continue to evolve if it is to meet the changing needs of the people of Britain. Unfortunately, Conservative Members have demonstrated their reluctance to remove themselves from their own particular time warp and work positively and practicably towards meeting the needs of all the people of Britain.

For the people of Wales, the establishment of a Welsh Assembly will provide the means finally to get up off our knees after 18 years of deprivation and marginalisation. It will prepare us to tackle the demands of the 21st century.

8.43 pm

I shall enjoy this opportunity to put the Conservative party's case, as we have been vilified for two days. I am part Welsh: my mother's family comes from Wrexham, my house looks across the border and I cross into Wales every day.

I do not recognise the Wales that has been described by Labour Members. I have known the town of Wrexham since I was four. It has been transformed in the past 20 years. The simple truth is that the last Labour Government and the following four Conservative Governments were faced with the fact that the two main pillars of the economy—coal and steel—had collapsed.

The institutions brought in by the Conservative Government and especially by a decisive, strong Secretary of State have produced huge dividends. It is ironic that President Chirac has today welcomed the largest automobile investment into Europe since the Labour Government came to office, but it has gone to Valenciennes, not Britain. Last time Toyota was looking at this country, David Hunt went in person to Tokyo and met Dr. Toyoda himself; he played a crucial role in bringing Japanese investment to this country. That should not be dismissed.

Wrexham has been transformed, new industries have developed and prosperity will follow. It will take time, considering the very low depths to which Wales fell following the collapse of its old industries. There is no public support—no general feeling in the parts that I know in north-east Wales and on the border—for devolution to a distant talking house, probably somewhere in south Wales.

Shropshire, Powys, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire have similar economies. There is commonality in the activities of those areas. It seems to be the nationalist areas and the great and the good of Wales who are driving the devolution project. If hon. Members went to Oswestry market they would not find anyone who wanted a far away assembly; they want lower taxes and lower business rates, as we have heard today. That was reflected in the referendum.

I know that raising this point grieves Labour Members, but the referendum was a fiddle. It is outrageous that a move that will irrevocably alter the United Kingdom's constitution should be pushed through without consulting 85 per cent. of the population.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, Parliament being sovereign, it did not dictate that there should be a threshold for the referendum? In those circumstances, is it not a case of put up or shut up?.

No, it is not. The constitution of the United Kingdom belongs to all the people of the United Kingdom. Labour is desperately hanging on to the tiddly widdly majority it achieved and ignoring the real result. The eastern side of Wales voted overwhelmingly against an assembly—for example, Monmouthshire at 67.9 per cent. and Vale of Glamorgan at 63.3 per cent. I will not list all the areas, but I cannot resist mentioning Cardiff—the capital city where the gravy train will spill forth even though the negotiations have gone wrong—where there is not overwhelming support for an assembly.

I declare an interest as I sit on the Welsh Affairs Committee. We have interesting meetings. The consensus appears to be that those who are in public life in Wales and those who are involved with the great public institutions are in favour of an assembly, but the nearer we get to the coal face—the people in the real world trying to earn a living—the more different is the view.

The chairman of the Welsh Confederation of British Industry, Mr. Ian Spratling, said:
"Devolution will overburden business with costly bureaucracy, which will slow down and politicise important economic decisions."
That quotation appeared in The Guardian in August. Last week, Dr. Elizabeth Haywood, the regional director of the CBI, said:
"There is no economic imperative for establishing a Welsh Assembly."

Does the hon. Gentleman recollect that, during the referendum campaign, the CBI was split over whether to support a Welsh Assembly? It therefore decided to take no specific line. That is a matter of record and he should take account of that.

That is a pretty feeble endorsement.

When I asked Dr. Haywood whether a Welsh Assembly would be good value, she said:
"It has not been proven to us that it is good value."

As a colleague on the Welsh Affairs Committee, I remind the hon. Gentleman that I pointed out that part of the evidence given in public by Dr. Haywood was incorrect. She raised the issue of planning permission for a new power station in the Pembroke area and said that she believed it to be a planning issue. If fact, the matter would have been determined by the Department of Trade and Industry under the Electricity Acts. I found that disconcerting and said so. If that is her level of understanding of the responsibility of an assembly, it is difficult to take account of opinion based on that misunderstanding.

As the hon. Lady's constituents voted no, I shall speak for them. I also speak for business, having spent my whole career in business.

Dr. Haywood continued:
"It has not been proven to us that it is good value …Many businesses see it as an overgrown local authority, a large county council. It is very difficult to see why that is going to be beneficial."
We have heard much about quangos today. Dr. Haywood also said that quangos
"delivered very good value for money in most instances".

The recent history of western Europe shows that we need less government, thus fewer politicians and bureaucrats, which would mean less tax and less interference. One of the biggest blasts of fresh air on the Welsh Affairs Committee was a visit from the Federation of Small Businesses. They made it clear that the federation did not see salvation in another tier of government or in more interference. The federation wants less government and less tax.

The assembly will present the average constituent with a problem. If he has a grievance, to whom should he go? Should he write to his district councillor, his directly elected assembly man, or one of the party hacks who is in post because of proportional representation, which has been exposed for what it is by Conservative Members? Should he go to his Member of Parliament who, apparently, will have plenty of time on his hands? He could even go to his Member of the European Parliament. There is going to be a muddle. The proposals have not been thought out. It is not even clear what the great panjandrum himself—the Secretary of State for Wales—will get up to. That is sad, because the past few years have shown that having a decisive Secretary of State has worked well and provided real advantages.

Clauses 39, 80 and 107 contain real grounds for conflict. Let us move away from the starry world that we are now in—a world where there is a Government formed by one party with a large majority, who will probably also get a majority in the assembly. Let us read those clauses again, imagining a coalition in this Parliament and a hostile assembly—possibly a nationalist-dominated assembly, with one of the members of the coalition as Secretary of State. Those clauses do not make good reading in such circumstances. When one makes major changes in business, one has a duty to exercise due diligence and to consider the worst case. I do not believe that the Bill takes account of the worst case.

Quangos have been much criticised. They were created by Parliament and could have been reformed by Parliament. There is no reason why the nature of the quangos could not be brought back to the House for reform.

I must mention the English, who have not been much discussed. I used to go to Czechoslovakia a great deal just after the wall came down. Whenever I went, the Slovaks were pushing for more from the Czechs and in the end the Czechs' patience snapped. It would be tragic if that happened in this case.

Looking at the issue from Shropshire, I believe that the Barnett formula is beneficial for Wales. There is a fiscal deficit in Wales: according to the Library, £15.6 billion has been spent and £9.9 billion is raised locally, which gives a deficit of £5.7 billion. However, £609 more is spent on every Welshman than on every English person. That is accepted as long as the Union continues, but I already detect rumblings in England.

In Shropshire, the council tax for a band D property was £665.69 last year. Over the border in Powys—a similarly sparsely populated rural county—it was only £426.29, or nearly £240 less, yet spending on education in Shropshire was £331.35 per head compared with a massive £474 in Powys.

I am genuinely worried that the talk on the Labour Benches is divisive and will hype up English nationalism, which is currently dormant. This exercise depends on the acquiescence of the English. I urge Labour Front Benchers to be very careful, because everything will come tumbling down if the English do not acquiesce.

There is a starry-eyed belief that 60 new assembly men, who will probably be former county councillors, will have wonderful powers. The powers of the assembly have been grossly exaggerated; for example, it has been suggested that the problems of the health service will be sorted out.

I submit that the £100 million that it will cost to set up and run the assembly in the first four years could be spent in other ways. You could buy a district general hospital, fully equipped; you could buy 25,000 hip replacements; you could buy 2,000 ambulances; and with the £20 million annual running cost, you could pay for another 285 consultants or for 1,000 nurses. There has been much talk about improving care for the elderly. Suddenly, the 60 wonder men—this is the panto season—will come with their magic wands and sort out care in the community. I would rather see the £20 million annual running costs spent as follows: you could keep 1,130 people in a nursing home or 1,750 people in a residential home—

Order. The term "you" refers to the occupant of the Chair and implies that the hon. Gentleman is drawing me into his argument. Perhaps he could refrain from doing so.

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Finally, farming is in crisis in Wales. Surely the £100 million could be spent on farming rather than on what I believe will be a talking shop. I think the assembly will be divisive and begin to break up the United Kingdom. It will be a distinct disadvantage to my constituents in that secondary legislation in the assembly will have a direct effect on them but I will have absolutely no influence on having it changed. I believe that we are creating a Europe of regions. I shall vote against the Bill.

8.56 pm

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), I can claim no Welsh connections, but the part of Cornwall that my family comes from yields to no Welsh valley in the depth and strength of its Celtic roots. I have lived in Cornwall long enough to know how people on the periphery of our United Kingdom can feel neglected and misunderstood by central Government, whatever the reality of their situation. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) spoke of the Unionist perspective, and I speak from the perspective of another region of the United Kingdom. The Bill is about more than Wales. With respect to some hon. Members who have spoken, I have to say that the Bill is about how we represent every part of this great Union of ours.

Shortly after I was elected to Parliament this spring, I received a timely reminder of the damage that can be done if the representation of the far reaches of our country is mishandled. In 1497, a Cornish smith called An Goff roused his fellows and marched all the way to London to protest about the treatment of the Cornish tin miners and others. On the way, they made a strategic stop at Guildford. This summer, 500 years later, we re-enacted the skirmish that took place in Guildford between An Goff s men and the horse of Henry VII, in which, I am glad to say, the Cornish were victorious, as they were this summer. To commemorate the event, we unveiled a granite monument. As a result, there is a corner of Guildford that will be for ever Cornwall.

Sadly, after their successful skirmish in Guildford, Goff s Cornishmen went on to London to take on the Government, where they were hanged, drawn and quartered. After my political skirmish in Guildford this spring, it was with some trepidation that I came here to take on the Government. However, times have changed and we do not resort to such violent methods.

That march had a political message. I cannot fail to notice that at no time during the past 18 years did we see anyone marching from Wales to demand that the previous Government give them a Welsh Assembly. We have not seen a single banner unfurled in Hyde park saying, "Give Wales gender balance in politics." Some people have marched from Wales to Hyde park this summer. They were there to say, "Listen to us," because the new Government are not listening to people from Wales or any of the more distant regions.

Indeed. If people had felt strongly about devolution during those 18 years, they would have marched to Parliament to protest. [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger) knows better.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

There has been little evidence of support for the Bill. We can tell even more from the apathy that was shown in the referendum on 18 September. As has been pointed out, it was in many ways a false vote. It is fair to say that the new Government bought the result. They refused to provide money for both sides to put their case, as has always been customary in elections. The disparity between the spending of the yes and no campaigns was accentuated to the point of invalidating the result. Some £170,000 was spent on sending propaganda putting the Government's case to every household in Wales. The Government were frit at the prospect of the no campaign also having a chance to put its case to every household in Wales.

I am glad that the Secretary of State has discovered that not everyone can be bought. Cardiff city council cannot be bought. That is a good lesson for him. I understand that he is offering it only £3.5 million. We should keep that in perspective. The Government are renowned for their extravagance. The wallpaper in the Lord Chancellor's apartments is to cost £60,000. That £3.5 million would barely cover the wallpaper bill when the new crowd came to redecorate Cardiff city hall. I do not blame the burgers of Cardiff city council for treating it as a piffling offer. I wish them well in their efforts.

There is a more sinister way in which we fear that the Secretary of State plans to buy the future government of Wales, as he tried to buy the result of the referendum. I refer to clause 16, which provides that in the first instance the Secretary of State will set the level of salary for the new Assemblymen, many of whom will have been selected under the invidious party list system. There has been some debate about whether we should have a part-time or a full-time Assembly. With respect to our Welsh cousins, judging from the length of speeches that we have had in this debate, there will be no possibility of a part-time Assembly: debating in the new Assembly will definitely be a full-time occupation.

I now turn to a worrying aspect. We heard from the Secretary of State that the party list system will be open and that the candidature selection will be open handed on the part of the Labour party. No doubt it will be as open-handed as the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman treated the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) when they had a famous disagreement. The truth is that it will not be a people's assembly, but a party assembly. It is very much the intention of the Labour party that it should be a Labour party assembly.

In case that does not work, the powers of the assembly are very restricted. Clause 107 says quite explicitly:
"If the Secretary of State considers that any action proposed to be taken by the Assembly would be incompatible with"
certain obligations,
"he may by order direct that the proposed action shall not be taken."
It continues:
"he may by order direct the Assembly to take… action"
that he feels is required by other obligations of government and
"he may by order revoke…legislation."
So much for devolution—the Secretary of State is not elected by the people of Wales. He is an unelected head of Wales and he is verily the viceroy of the valleys.

I predict that the Secretary of State will build himself not an assembly, but a veritable viceregal palace. When he has ordered the wallpaper, I hope that when he orders the fabric he will consider the textile industry in Wales. I know a little about the textile industry in Wales as I used to order products from it. I have a very strong fear that the introduction of the minimum wage will cause severe job losses in that industry.

There are rumours in Oswestry that the carpet will cost £125 per foot. Is that good value?

It is not good value in Oswestry. I have been to Shropshire and the people there have a savvy sense of good value. Nor will it be good value in Wales, particularly for those who lose their jobs. Earlier this year, when I asked the Minister about the effects of the minimum wage on employment in the clothing industry in Wales, he could not give me a single figure. Perhaps he will be able to do a little better tonight.

If the people of Wales object to the level of the minimum wage, they will be able to do nothing about it in the Welsh Assembly. They will have to march on London to make their protest. We can well imagine the frustration that that will cause.

We have heard many complaints about the previous Government, but we should not forget that a Conservative Home Secretary—the former Member for Penrith, Lord Whitelaw—instigated Welsh language television. The previous Government did not ignore Welsh culture.

Having moved to a system of unitary authorities, the real effect of the Bill is to reinstate a second layer of local government. Let me make a point on behalf of the people I know in Cornwall and the people I represent in Guildford. If the people of Wales choose to have a super county council instead of county councils, that is their decision, but I ask the Government not to impose regional government on England as a result. People in Cornwall do not want to be dominated by Devon and Dorset, and people in Surrey do not want to be dominated by the much larger counties of Sussex and Kent.

9.8 pm

I am grateful for the chance to take part in what is undoubtedly an historic debate. There is no doubt that anyone glancing through "A Voice for Wales" will find it superficially attractive. The Prime Minister talks eloquently about the opportunity for the people of Wales to have control back over their own lives. The Secretary of State waxes lyrical about it being an opportunity. The rhetoric in the document is high, but its reality is low and its logic is deeply flawed.

For members of my party, after not an astounding victory on 1 May, a little humility becomes us. After 18 years, it took us quite a long time to get quite so arrogant and quite so out of touch. Those qualities have come in just a few weeks to Labour Members. None the less, we should acknowledge that no constitution is perfect. Our own is far from perfect. Change is something that we should always acknowledge. Our constitution should continue to evolve.

If we look at our nation state, we can recognise instantly that it is no natural phenomenon. It has arisen over hundreds of years; it is an historical achievement. The sadness that I feel today is due to the fact that in a few moments we shall almost certainly begin to unravel that great historical achievement.

Yesterday the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) spoke of the relevance of the United States. There is indeed such relevance in remembering how our constitution has evolved and the historic achievement. It was a row in the 18th century about a legal framework—a reaction to Britain's centralising authority—that led to the separation of the colonies of the United States from Britain. We are now two very different countries. I fear that today we are beginning on a path that may lead to the separation of England from Wales in the distant—or even not too distant—future.

The purpose of the assembly, it is claimed, is somewhat symbolic: to give Wales a national identity. Although I do not agree with that, why not go the whole hog and give Wales the same as the Labour Government would give to Scotland? Where is the logic in denying to Wales what the Government are giving to Scotland?

We could discuss such matters in greater detail if they were to be taken in Committee on the Floor of the House, but that has been denied to hon. Members. We might ask why. I suggest one reason: if one begins to examine the Bill in detail, one begins to realise that the Bill, like the White Paper, wants to look both ways. It wants to say to the people of Wales, "Yes, you may have a voice," but it provides no meaningful mechanism by which that voice can be delivered.

At the same time, the Secretary of State for Wales said only yesterday:
"This United Kingdom Parliament is sovereign. The provisions of the Bill do not challenge that sovereignty in any way—nor could they."—[Official Report, 8 December 1997; Vol. 302, c. 671.]
How can he say that? How can the Bill on the one hand be a voice for Wales and yet on the other not affect the sovereignty of the House? We find a clue to resolving that question in the Bill. We find the power for a Secretary of State to dismiss the voice of Wales at the behest of an English house in Downing street when the Prime Minister so demands.

If the assembly is a voice for Wales, what right should Westminster have to question that voice? If Wales is to have a voice on its economy, should it not be allowed to decide its own economic policy? If Wales is to be allowed to decide its economic policy, why should it not be allowed to set its own level of minimum wage? After all, inward investment is directly related to the idea of a minimum wage. Yet it seems that Wales will be denied that, even though rhetorically it is told that it will have a voice.

If Wales so wishes, why should it not be allowed to maintain the maintenance grant for students? Will the students of Wales be allowed such a voice? No, they will not. Will Wales be allowed to set its own level of taxation, as in Scotland? No, it will not. Where is the logic and consistency? Where is the argument that will convince the people of Wales that the Bill is workable and fair?

Many hon. Members have mentioned Europe. The Bill and the White Paper talk about the people of Wales sharing the benefits. However, the people of Wales will not be invited to the table to decide how those benefits will be constructed. They can come to the table only by special invitation from Ministers. Are the people of Wales not good enough to come to the table? Why will they not be allowed a proper representative voice that is enshrined constitutionally in the Bill? What is wrong with the people of Wales?

The Bill has an inherent flaw. It contains the idea of taxation without representation, and we know where that will end. It is an end that I do not wish to see. The Bill is dangerous. It weakens—it does not strengthen. It offers a prospect, as the Secretary of State said yesterday, but it offers no mechanism to deliver that prospect. The Bill will breed, along with discontent, dissent.

What will happen in the future when a Labour Government at Westminster make decisions about resources for the Welsh Assembly? What will happen when the Welsh Assembly is not controlled by a Labour majority? Will the people of Wales still be sure of getting the same resources that they have at the moment—20 per cent. more on average than the people of England have enjoyed for the past few years?

The Bill raises questions about resources, but the people of Wales will find no comfort in clause 80. The Secretary of State is obliged only to make payments to the assembly
"from time to time…as he may determine."
The White Paper speaks of the Barnett formula; yet it is only mentioned in the explanatory and financial memorandum of the Bill. Why? The people of Wales have a right to know today why the Barnett formula is not enshrined in the Bill.

I am not against change—a state without change has no ability to conserve itself. However, I am against fraudulent claims and damage, and the Bill is wilfully damaging to our constitution. It is disingenuous. It will weaken us and undermine the strength of our country, our institutions and our sovereignty. It will dissolve the bonds of our Union. It promises a better tomorrow, but it does not provide the means to deliver it.

The Bill will nurture discontent and dissent. It will lead, as hon. Members have said, to demand from some for separatism. If we vote for the Bill today, we shall encourage a canker in our constitution. The sadness of this historic night is that we shall begin to unravel the sovereignty of this great institution. We shall begin to separate the bonds of our Union and if the Bill receives a Second Reading we shall transfer the sovereignty of our country from certainty to a short-term lease.

9.18 pm

We have enjoyed several excellent speeches in the debate, including that from my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward). He spoke with passion, and it has been striking that passionate defences of our constitution have been greeted with derision and contempt by the supporters of the Bill. Never let it be said that there is no place for adversarial politics in post-Marxist Britain, because there is a deep divide between the pros and the antis in the devolution debate in Wales.

Two speeches will live most in my mind. One was that of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who made an outstanding speech today. The other was that of the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), who asked a prophetic question: will the members of the assembly put the Union first? That is at the heart of the debate. The present constitutional arrangements have provided Wales with stability, and everyone must fear instability above all.

In the Bill, the Government have failed to provide a framework for the future stability of Wales, for stability within Wales, which has been left so divided on devolution, for the stability of Welsh finances, upon which public services, the Welsh Development Agency and reasonable levels of local taxation depend, and above all for the stability of Wales within the UK rather than as one of many regions of a federal Europe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) mentioned in his thoughtful comments.

The Secretary of State referred to the supremacy of this Parliament, and said that it was sovereign. When he says that everyone recognises the sovereignty of this Parliament, he is not correct. During his speech yesterday, the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) sidestepped the issue of the sovereignty of this Parliament. He says that sovereignty rests with the people in a democracy. It is true that, if the people wanted to overthrow the sovereignty of Parliament, they could do so, but it should not be our purpose to enable that to happen by mistake or by constitutional sleight of hand.

The Government are technically correct in saying that the legal supremacy of Parliament is not affected by the Bill, but it may be affected by the events which follow as a result of the legislation. Sovereignty has a political quality. At a time when the Government are pressing through legislation that could pave the way for the separation of Wales from the rest of the United Kingdom, a clause reinforcing the ultimate supremacy of Parliament would cost nothing but would make the intentions of Parliament absolutely clear. If the Government believe so strongly in the Union, why should they be reticent about having that expressed in the Bill?

As my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) pointed out, we can only surmise from the Government's reluctance that the Secretary of State dares not confront the nationalists to whom he has sold his political soul in this endeavour. I agree with the hon. Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell), who told the House that he could not understand why his Government had got into bed with the nationalists. The Government are laying the foundations for confusion about the very basis of the United Kingdom's constitution.

That confusion will not be the least resolved by loose comparisons with other nations. The hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) invoked the example of Spain. Spain should be a cautionary tale to reckless constitutional reformers. It is a seductive comparison for British regionalisers, because in Spain powers have been devolved progressively since 1978 to varying degrees and to different regions, as proposed in the United Kingdom.

Spain is not a federation, but this rolling decentralisation has taken on its own momentum, with different entities seeking to reassert their differences from other provinces. Eight regions have established autonomous departments to conduct their own external policy. The Catalans, the Basques and even the Galicians have become ever more demanding of more autonomy. The lesson of Spain is clear: a rolling programme of devolution generates a process of inter-regional competition, leading to precisely the instability that we should all fear. Yet such a rolling programme is the very essence of the Government's devolution policy. The Secretary of State confirmed this when he said yesterday:
"devolution is not an event, but a process."—[Official Report, 8 December 1997; Vol. 302, c. 677.]

What is most striking about this debate is how many speakers have referred to—or made varying interpretations of—the referendum. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West intervened several times with force to explain that there is a difference between an ordinary election and a decision about a major change in our constitutional settlement. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge—Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) also spoke with eloquence and passion on this issue.

Many hon. Members who support the Bill seem touchy on the subject. None of the supporters seems to want to acknowledge that many of the people who elected them probably voted no. The hon. Members for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Ms Lawrence) and for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) all consign the half a million no voters to the status of non-persons in their Orwellian world of pro-assembly political correctness.

Even Ministers should feel some pangs that the enthusiasm of Welsh people for this Bill is less than convincing. For the Secretary of State to say, as he did yesterday, that the referendum
"did not produce a decisive decision, but the people of Wales gave a clear decision",—[Official Report, 8 December 1997; Vol. 302, c. 672.]

suggests that he has a shaky grasp of the English language as well as of the principles of democratic consent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) was right to describe the vote as false. The Secretary of State is fond of assuring us, as he did last week at Question Time:
"75 per cent. of the people of Wales did not oppose the creation of the Assembly".—[Official Report, 3 December 1997; Vol. 302, c. 338.]
I invite the House to consider how much happier he would have been had the turnout been, say, only 40 per cent. with only 20 per cent. of the electorate voting yes. Using the sort of democratic logic of which Saddam Hussein would be proud, the right hon. Gentleman would cheerfully claim a yet bigger mandate for his plans—that 80 per cent. of the people did not oppose the creation of an assembly.

Now that the text of the Bill is before us, nothing can detract from the brutal realities to which our reasoned amendment refers. The morning after the referendum, the Prime Minister promised
"to allay the fears that were expressed by people."
Why did he bother? Nothing in the Bill and nothing that we have heard in the last two days' debate has provided a crumb of comfort to those who declined to support the Government's proposals for a Welsh Assembly on 18 September. That is the basis of our reasoned amendment. Our contention remains that Wales has little or nothing to gain from devolution, but everything to lose.

We heard much about money in the debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire described, each of the assembly's enthusiasts has the same idea—that money will become available for their priority. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey), spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, is determined that the assembly should put right what he describes as the third-world road communications system in Wales. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) rightly asks where all the money is to come from. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) ably demonstrated how, when it comes to money, the assembly will be the poodle of Westminster. Money is likely to be at the heart of the disagreements between the majorities and the minorities in Wales, as well as a constant bone of contention between Whitehall and the assembly.

Let us look again at Spain to see how they argue about money. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and others pointed out, the security of Welsh public spending so lavishly advertised in the White Paper is simply and altogether lacking in the Bill. Only now that the Bill has finally been published are the people of Wales allowed to know that, contrary to the assurances of the White Paper, the totality of the assembly's financing will be at the complete discretion of Whitehall.

What does that mean in practice? It means that every spending programme and decision can be second-guessed by Whitehall. As now, public services in Wales will depend on an annual public spending settlement—a round negotiated in the Cabinet—but with one crucial difference: whereas today the Secretary of State sits at the Cabinet table as an equal, he will be but a cipher of his former self once he has devolved all his powers to the assembly. It is one thing for the Treasury to negotiate with a Minister who has all the levers of policy at his disposal—he can adjust his departmental priorities as a concession to the Treasury in return for securing the funding that he needs—but it is quite another for the Secretary of State for Wales to be faced with the new and unparalleled challenge of negotiating with the Treasury as a spending Minister with no policies under his control, and therefore no concessions to make.

Money for any programme that does not meet the Treasury's requirement can be held hostage: a particular inward investment project, a new hospital or school, a road scheme will have to be bartered for, without any effective final appeal to the Cabinet where real Ministers with real jobs will be able to argue their case so much more effectively than the spending eunuchs from Scotland and Wales.

Herein lies the most potent danger for Wales and its economic stability: as Wales loses its voice when it matters most, at the very moment when expectations have been so raised by the illusory prospects of devolution, what Furies will be unleashed in consequence and what plots will be hatched by nationalists eager to exploit the discontent? They will be the ultimate beneficiaries of any consequent disappointment or despair.

Against that background, it is quite something to produce a Bill which provides for a national assembly for Wales and yet neither specifies precisely which powers are to be devolved nor does anything to reaffirm the supremacy of Parliament. The Bill makes no reference whatever to any means of restoring constitutional order in the event of breakdown. It appears to represent the reverse.

The Bill provides for the transfer of any—I emphasise any—function exercisable by Ministers of the Crown in relation to Wales. Is that devolution without boundaries? Will the Minister confirm that the Bill establishes a one-way street for such transfers? There appears to be no balancing power in the Bill to restore the powers of Westminster if necessary.

That bears out the foreboding of Government Members who have spoken of devolution in terms of the Balkanisation or unbundling of Britain, and have warned that we are embarking on a constitutional magical mystery tour. Their prescience before seeing the terms of the Bill was admirable. The chill of their words is now all the more striking.

If there is to be devolved government for Wales, we want a scheme that will work. To achieve that, it must be clear, practical, have some prospect of stability and enjoy the broad and informed consent of the people. The Bill satisfies none of those criteria. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) was right to say that it was the start, not the end, of many years of argument.

Far from giving Wales a voice in Britain and in Europe, where so many of the key decisions affecting the future of Wales are made, the Bill looks set to cut Wales off from the main stream of European and British politics, leaving the Welsh to voice the concerns of their now divided nation to nobody but themselves. Look what happened when Northern Ireland was given Stormont: the long tradition of politicians such as Castlereagh, who played a leading role in the governance of the United Kingdom, was directly ended. Northern Irish politics drew in upon itself, and the parties and politics ceased to have much to do with Westminster. Is that the new destiny for Wales? The Conservatives in Wales are determined to avert such a disaster.

We shall fight for sense and certainty in Wales, whatever constitutional contraptions the Labour party is determined to create in pursuit of its sectional interests. Wales has played a long and vital role in the history of the United Kingdom, and it has benefited accordingly. That must continue. I should have thought that Ministers would assent to that proposition.

We shall argue long and hard for the improvements that the Bill needs in the interests of Wales. We hope that the Government may yet find the humility to listen and to accept that their creations are not beyond perfection. Then we shall once again put our shoulder to the wheel of elections in Wales, to ensure that sensible voices are raised in the assembly for the benefit of Wales. That is our pledge to the House, to Wales and to the United Kingdom as a whole.

We have set out our concerns and sought reassurances. The Prime Minister said that those reassurances would be forthcoming in the Bill, but none has emerged. That is why I invite right hon. and hon. Members to support the reasoned amendment and to decline to give the Bill a Second Reading.

9.34 pm

We have had another day of wide-ranging, interesting debate. It is striking that the Opposition have played the same old gramophone, which does not enable them to face reality. The reality is that there is not a single person on the Conservative Benches who can stand up as an elected Member from Wales. All we had was a diatribe against the general election result in May and the referendum result on 18 September. [Interruption.]

I thank Labour Members for their contributions. I also thank the hon. Members for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). While I see little prospect of the fast-track procedure becoming reality, it is at least something that can be considered, a constructive contribution to the debate. All we have had from the Tories is a look back to the old British empire and the way in which the Union was organised in the 19th century.

The turnout argument was repeated. We must consider it in the context of the fact that 80 per cent. of the people who voted in the general election voted for parties committed to a referendum on a Welsh Assembly. In the referendum, it is true that almost 50 per cent. of the people did not vote. It can be argued that those people were content and did not feel the need to take part, that they were bemused and did not feel they had enough knowledge to vote, or that they had full confidence in the Labour Government to deliver an assembly. The overall impact is that only 25 per cent. of people voted against having one.

It is the job of this Parliament to carry through the White Paper, which had a majority, and to take account of the issues that have been raised. I am pleased that my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith), for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan), for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) and for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Ms Lawrence) all tried to advance positive proposals to improve the Bill.

The Welsh electorate were directly asked whether they supported the Government's proposals. Only 25 per cent. said yes and 25 per cent. said no. As for the 50 per cent. who did not vote, every constitutional arrangement from that in ancient Greece onwards has accepted that that does not represent support for a proposition. That is the reality.

The reality is that the House enacted a referendum Bill that set the rules. Those rules were met, and however much the hon. Gentleman may be disconcerted by the result, and upset that we did not set the sort of thresholds that he recalls from ancient Greece or wherever, the fact is that this House enacted a Bill to which the Welsh people responded positively. We are now moving forward.

The point is that the Bill will give the people of Wales what they have lacked for so long. They will have proper controls over matters that closely affect their lives. It is about giving the assembly the wide-ranging powers of the Welsh Office, which have up to now all too often—this is what upsets Conservative Members—enabled a Secretary of State who has not been elected by Welsh constituents and who represents a minority party in Wales to have his way with the Welsh electorate. We have seen how Conservatives have abused their position. As my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Ms Lawrence) pointed out, all too often they stuffed those people who had been defeated in elections in Wales on to Welsh quangos that ran Wales when they had no mandate to do so. So let us remember these things and let Conservative Members, who do not have a single Welsh Member, approach the subject with a little humility and recognise the result of the election.

We want to make sure that the power which was previously concentrated in London and Cardiff is given to the Welsh people and that the Government are responsive to their needs through the elected assembly. The assembly is about bringing the pervasive network of Welsh quangos under democratic control for the first time. It is about ensuring that they work efficiently to serve the needs of Wales—the whole of Wales. The assembly will replace secrecy and the threat of corruption with openness and transparency. It is about creating a national assembly for Wales and for all its people, whatever their background, whatever their views, and wherever they live in Wales.

The assembly is a new form of government, which will draw the best practice from both national and local government, but it will also innovate where there is a need for greater accountability and greater ownership by the people of Wales.

If the Minister is so confident of the case for the proposal, why did his Government not provide any money for the alternative argument put by the no campaign, so that the result of the referendum was accepted as fair by everyone?

Because we gave no money for the yes campaign, either. The truth of the matter is that each campaign had to provide its own resources.

In a moment. I want to deal with another point.

Some interesting points were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). He dealt with a number of details on constitutional relationships, transfer orders, concordats, where the sympathies of civil servants would lie, and so on. The civil servants in the assembly will serve the elected members of the assembly. They will not be servants of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will have his own small office of civil servants to provide for his role at Westminster and in Cardiff. Nor will they be servants of other Ministers in Whitehall, any more than the Welsh Office civil servants owe their loyalty to another Department now.

As for concordats, they will be voluntary matters. It will be for the Departments and the assembly to determine and agree them, but they will both have an interest in good communications. The implementation of primary legislation will depend heavily on the secondary legislation and administrative action of the assembly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhynmey raised several issues in the context of the Institute of Welsh Affairs report and its concerns about the relationship between civil servants, the assembly and Whitehall, which, I have to confess, rest on a rather old-fashioned view of policy-making. In the past, the influence of Wales was confined to a secret world. We know that, in future, such influence will not be exercised solely by the Secretary of State at the Cabinet table, as used to be the case, when Welsh Office civil servants were confined to confidential meetings in Whitehall.

That is not the Government's view of policy making. Unfortunately, there were leaks in the press today about the way in which we hope to open up government. It is the Government's view of policy making that, although concordats will provide for good communication and consultation, they are not the whole story. The assembly will not be bound by the Cabinet's collective responsibility. Frankly, if there are differences between Wales and London, they can be discussed openly.

The civil servants of the assembly and the Scottish Parliament will owe their allegiance to their elected members just as civil servants in Government Departments owe their allegiance to the Government of the day. There is no difficulty in principle with that. Those officials cope today with disagreements and negotiations between Departments. In future, the difference will be that there will be no need for the fiction that such conflicts do not exist. Civil servants are used to serving different masters; after all, they did so before 1 May. Under the Bill, they will continue to be governed by the civil service Order in Council and accountable for maintaining traditional civil service standards and neutrality.

Would the hon. Gentleman confirm that a concordat for inward investment was never going to be necessary unless there was to be devolution of the nature proposed in the Bill? Will he also confirm that the WDA and Locate in Scotland are complaining bitterly about the new restrictions that that will mean for their activities? That concordat was specifically requested by the Prime Minister—Sir George Russell, the chairman of the Northern development corporation, must be extremely proud of one of his local Members. Does the Minister agree that it is likely that those restrictions will hamper the performance of the WDA because it will now have to work to explicit rules, outside the normal collective responsibility of Cabinet Government?

The WDA and any other regional development agency in the United Kingdom will be bound exactly by the same rules that cover everyone else. There will be no essential difference; everything that Wales and the WDA have done so far has been within the rules which exist at British Government and European Union level.

Why, then, does the Confederation of British Industry fear delay in decision making from the WDA?

One or two members of the CBI have said that, but let me make it clear that many other business people in Wales take exactly the opposite view. It is all right for one Member from north Shropshire to call in aid one or two members of the CBI, but there are dozens of others who take an opposite view. [Interruption.] I am quite confident—

Order. There is far too much noise from both sides of the Chamber. Only one Member should be addressing the House.

Given the commitment in the Bill to consult business interests, I am quite confident that the Welsh Assembly will be able to help the WDA and other organisations committed to economic development in Wales to ensure that we are successful. Let there be no doubt about that.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. Would he care to comment on the recent remarks made by the Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry? She told the House:

"but it is essential that devolution should not undermine the UK's position in the wider world."—[Official Report, 3 December 1997; Vol. 302, c. 311–12.]
That was the reason she gave for the creation of the concordat, but it will inhibit the flexibility that the WDA has always enjoyed as part of the apparatus of government directly responsible to Cabinet.

The WDA will not be inhibited in its role, and it will continue—in the catching phrase used by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—to bat for Britain. Let us be clear that there will be no restrictions on the way in which the WDA works after an assembly is created.

Hon. Members are slightly intrigued by those concordats; undoubtedly we will see them in due course. Will there be a concordat between the Welsh Assembly and the Treasury? If there is such a concordat, will my hon. Friend give an undertaking that the Barnett formula will be written into it?

I am glad that my right hon. Friend raised that issue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh?"] It is all part of the same thing. We need to be quite clear about the Barnett formula. Concordats agreed between the assembly and any Department will be matters for them to decide, and there will be no compulsion about them. It will be a question of seeking agreement, to ensure that the machinery of government continues working smoothly.

The explanatory and financial memorandum clearly explains that the Barnett formula will continue to be used. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) did not even understand how the Barnett formula works, or that— [Interruption.] I remind the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward), who is shouting from a sedentary position—

Mr. Deputy Speaker