Secretary of State for Wales (Responsibilities)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19 November 1964.

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

Photo of Mr Roderic Bowen Mr Roderic Bowen , Cardiganshire

To ask the Prime Minister if he will define the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Wales.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

With permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I will now answer Question No. 19, which has been put down for Written Answer.

As the House knows, the interests of Wales are now represented in the Cabinet by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend will have a Welsh Office in Cardiff, which will be adequately staffed, and a small Ministerial Office in London. He has already taken over responsibility for all issues affecting Wales which do not fall within the responsibility of any other Department. He will now take over virtually all the executive responsibilities of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in Wales. In particular, my right hon. Friend will be responsible for housing, new towns, town and country planning and the organisation of local government. In view of the close link between policies on urban planning and on road planning he will also take over from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport responsibility for roads, including trunk roads, in Wales.

In the vital field of regional planning my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will co-operate closely with my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and his Department will provide the Chairman of the Planning Board for Wales. The formulation and implementation of the plan for Wales will be done in conformity with the overall national policy for which my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State is responsible.

With reference to the work of other Government Departments, the applica- tion of national policies in Wales will be for the Ministers centrally responsible; but my right hon. Friend will have oversight within Wales of the execution of national policy by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Education and Science, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Transport, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour. For this purpose my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will maintain close and regular contact with the heads of the Welsh Offices.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford

On a point of order. This seems to be something of an innovation, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I should like your guidance on the matter. It is surely something of an innovation that the Prime Minister should be answering a Written Question orally. The difficulty we are in is that if we have no notice that this is to be done—it apparently never having been done before—how can we anticipate its being done so that we can be ready to ask supplementaries?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Although what I am saying is certainly an innovation, the position is that I had intended to ask your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to make a statement on this subject today in view of the widespread interest in it and the requests that I have had from hon. Members on both sides of the House that a statement should be made.

Having decided to ask your permission to make a statement, I found that this Question was on the Order Paper, and I thought it only courteous to relate the statement to that Question.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I can answer the point raised by the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis). No point of order arises. If he will look at Erskine May he will find that Written Questions have been answered in this way before. I would refer him to the latest example, on 8th December, 1952, when the then Foreign Secretary answered a Written Question in this way.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford

On a new point of order. Is the hon. and learned Member who is concerned with this Question in the House? I cannot see him in his place.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

That is not a point of order.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Notice was given to the hon. and learned Member, but he could not be here. Perhaps I may continue.

As regards Parliamentary Questions, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will deal with all those relating to his executive responsibilities and with those arising out of his responsibility for regional planning. In addition, by arrangement with the Ministers concerned he will answer in the House on matters of special concern to Wales arising out of the work of other Departments.

Consideration is being given to improving arrangements for the discussion of matters concerning Wales, both in Welsh Grand Committee and in the House. My right hon. Friend will review the present arrangements for the publication of information about the activities of Government Departments in Wales.

These changes achieve the object of giving Wales a strong voice in Government counsels and a strong hand in her own administration.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

Is the Prime Minister aware that while my right hon. and hon. Friends wish the Secretary of State well, and only want that form of administration which is best for the people of Wales, and will watch with care and interest the results of these proposed changes, a number of questions arise on what the Prime Minister has said?

First, can he tell us whether the Welsh Office will have a separate Vote? Further, can he tell us what lies behind the difference between what he has said today and what appeared in "Signposts to the New Wales"? As I understand it, the only difference in executive responsibility for the Cabinet Minister responsible for Wales is that he will now be responsible in an executive way for roads and trunk roads in Wales, while the Ministers concerned with agriculture, health, transport and labour will remain, in the executive sense, responsible for their Departments' activities in 'Wales. This contrasts strikingly with the pledge, in "Signposts to the New Wales", that the new Secretary of State would have executive responsible for education, health and agriculture, in addition to housing and local government.

Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether there is any difference whatsoever in what he has proposed on the economic, power and industrial side? He has said that the Secretary of State will have close collaboration with the Minister for Economic Affairs. Will he tell the House in what possible way that differs from the previous arrangement? Finally, can he say whether, under his Administration, there will be any Minister who is resident in Wales, as was the case in the last Administration?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Perhaps I may answer the last point first. As was the case in the last Administration, there is a Minister of State who is a Member of this House, and will be responsible to this House. He is not a Member of another place. I believe that he is, in fact, resident in Wales, and it is intended that he will spend as much of his time as possible in Wales, subject to the demands of this House upon him.

As for the question of a separate Vote, a statement will be made in the House in due course. Where there is separate expenditure, this will be the subject of a separate Vote.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the good wishes that he has expressed to the Secretary of State, and I can say that after spending a great deal of time on this, to get the right degree of devolution in Wales without breaking up existing Departments where that would have been inimical to the interests of Wales, I think that we have got about the right answer here, but we shall be prepared to change it in any direction if we find that changes are needed.

As for the change from the previous situation, in the first place we have a Secretary of State for Wales in the Cabinet. In the past, the right hon. Gentleman was there in another capacity. Wales was tacked on to fulfil a rather meaningless election pledge in 1951. It so happened that the then Minister of Housing was discharging housing functions in Wales as well as in England, but that was only an accident, because he was Minister of Housing as well as Minister for Wales. The Secretary of State for Wales will now have a very wide range of functions, in which he will be able to express the voice of Wales and put pressure on English and Welsh Departments to see that Wales gets a fair crack of the whip.

Photo of Mr Ness Edwards Mr Ness Edwards , Caerphilly

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us are a little apprehensive about the transition which is taking place and that we are not clear whether or not power is really going to rest with the Minister of State or the Department of the Minister concerned? Where deputations from local authorities are concerned to various Ministries will they be funnelled through the Welsh Minister, or will they have the right to see the Minister who has the power? These are matters about which we are a little apprehensive until we get them cleared up.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

This, of course, is always a problem which arises when one is trying to do under the arrangements of the previous and the present Governments what we are all, in different ways, setting out to do. I will put the point to my right hon. Friend in this way. It would have been wrong to have broken up the responsibility of the Board of Trade to have a separate Welsh Board of Trade, because the Board of Trade—to take that Department as an example, the same would apply to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—has great power to influence industrial establishments to settle in this or that part of the country.

It is right—with that national part to play in England and Wales and so far, at any rate, as the Board of Trade is concerned, in Scotland as well—that the Board of Trade should be available to influence firms to establish themselves where we want to see them. But surely it is right, within that, for local problems in Wales to be dealt with on a day-to-day basis by the Secretary of State, so that he can himself put the pressure on the Board of Trade. In fact, he will be a permanent deputation at the doors of the Board of Trade in London and he will spend much time at Cardiff handling deputations down there. I think that this is probably the best way to do it. If one went to either extreme, one would have the position of no devolution at all, or the fragmentation which my right hon. Friend fears.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

May I be allowed—in case it is thought that any discourtesy has been done by my hon. and learned Friend to the House—to explain that so far as I am aware my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) was not given notice of this procedure? I am making no complaint, but I think that I am right in saying that my hon. and learned Friend was not given notice. As a counsel, he is absent from the House because he had another engagement which, at this period, he could not break.

May I be permitted to ask the Prime Minister whether he will confirm that, in addition to roads, the Secretary of State for Wales will also be responsible for certain executive functions concerned with planning? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the new planning machinery announced by the First Secretary during the debate on the Address will come under the Secretary of State for Wales or the First Secretary? Can the Prime Minister also say whether we are to understand that the Secretary of State will have quite different functions from the Secretary of State for Scotland, and his relations at the Welsh Office with such Departments as Education will merely be a a liaison through his colleagues in the Cabinet and that he will have no direct contact with those other offices at all?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

On the question of giving notice to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), we did try to make contact with him direct. Finding that impossible, we did what we thought was the next best thing and tried to do it through the offices of the Liberal Party, which we considered to be appropriate. We were informed by the Liberal Party, most courteously, that the hon. and learned Gentleman, most unusually, was away from his place. [Laughter.] I was not quoting, I was putting my own gloss on that.

We thought that despite that unhappy event, it would be wrong to keep the people of Wales waiting for a statement which we knew they were expecting, the more so as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) has shown great interest in this and did put a Question last week. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery is away on Parliamentary business with N.A.T.O. at present, and, this again, was fully understood.

In the sphere of town and country planning my right hon. Friend will have the responsibility, as I have made clear, for new towns and other aspects of planning, and our plan for a new town in Wales.

With regard to economic planning, my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State is at the moment charged with preparing a national plan which will have regional organisation and regional plans, and the intention is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—or one of his closest associates—would be the chairman of the planning board in Wales, and would be assisted by members of the First Secretary of State's staff, stationed in Wales, for ensuring that proper regional plans are drawn up.

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's third question, I agree with him that this does not correspond to the existing system of much greater decentralisation which applies in the case of the Scottish Department.

Photo of Mr Iorwerth Thomas Mr Iorwerth Thomas , Rhondda West

We are very grateful for the announcement by the Prime Minister and the proposal for this big step forward of devolution. Having regard to the complex manner in which the matter has been presented, and although we, as Members of the House, will have the advantage of reading the announcement in the OFFICIAL REPORT, in view of the fact that it will have an effect upon the local authorities in the Principality and other interested parties as well, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he will consider setting out these proposals in a White Paper so that everybody in Wales may have the correct interpretation of what they mean?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

My statement was pretty full and longer than I like to make normally in answer to a Written Question. I have elucidated it further in the supplementary Questions which have been put. If, after that, there are any others I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister of State will be able to deal with them, whether they are from local authorities or from other interests. But this does provide a much more effective channel of communication to the central Government so far as local authorities are concerned.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

The Prime Minister has made a long statement which will have far-reaching consequences on the constutional set-up in the Principality. May I say that we also wish the Secretary of State well in his job?

May I, equally, get rid of a remark which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister used, that the former Ministers for Wales had "tagged along". On the contrary, four of them have done extremely good jobs in the Principality.

The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of questions. May I ask him this: in view of the fact that the only day for Welsh Questions is on Christmas Eve—I very much doubt whether any of the Government will be here—would it be possible to have a debate either in this House or in the Welsh Grand Committee before Christmas?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will certainly consider a request for a debate, whether in the House or in the Welsh Grand Committee. When I used the phrase "tagged along" I was referring to the accident—perhaps a happy one, people have different views about it—that the former Minister of Housing was also Minister for Wales. That is why he was able to discharge or execute housing functions in Wales.

Of course, when a previous Minister for Welsh Affairs happened also to be Home Secretary there was no one at all with Welsh responsibility discharging any housing function. That is why I used the phrase. It just happened that the Minister was in charge of another Department.

Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

He is one of the Jones boys.

Photo of Mr Thomas Jones Mr Thomas Jones , Merionethshire

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is the first Prime Minister to have recognised in a practical way the nationhood of the Welsh people?

Photo of Mr Thomas Jones Mr Thomas Jones , Merionethshire

Is my right hon. Friend further aware that for the last 60 years we have been agitating for what he has done to be done? Since this is an historical event so far as Wales is concerned, may I be permitted to say, on behalf of the people of Wales, in their own language, and in one sentence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—it will be on the record:

"Ar ran cenedl y Cymry a gaf fi ddiolch yn fawr i'r Prif Weinidog"?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would translate that for the benefit of the House.

Photo of Mr Thomas Jones Mr Thomas Jones , Merionethshire

"On behalf of the people of Wales I thank the Prime Minister very much indeed."

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Conway

So that the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) can inform his constituents, I wonder whether the Prime Minister would be good enough to answer the question posed to him by my right hon. Friend, what exactly—apart from roads—is the difference in the executive functions of his right hon. Friend and those of my right hon. Friend when he was Minister for Welsh Affairs?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

If the right hon. Gentleman will study the statement which I have made and which, no doubt, will be translated into Welsh if that helps, he will find the answer to that question. I gave a long list of Departments for which my right hon. Friend will have responsibility. The point which I was just making, and which I have already repeated, but which the right hon. Gentleman did not take, is that as long as the Minister for Welsh Affairs was also the Minister of Housing and Local Government, because of his strong Welsh connections a lot of housing functions were exercised by the same Minister, but, by the same token, there was no Minister for Wales putting pressure on other United Kingdom Ministers.

Photo of Miss Megan Lloyd George Miss Megan Lloyd George , Carmarthen

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on being the second Prime Minister to recognise the nationhood of Wales? May I also ask him to make it quite clear whether the Secretary of State for Wales will assume responsibility for the Departments of Education, Agriculture and Health in Wales?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I have already dealt with that. First, may I say in answer to my hon. Friend, and in thanking her for what she has said, that I am only too well aware that in the case of the other Prime Minister to whom she referred it would not have been necessary for my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) to translate the good wishes which he expressed?

As to the question of education and of agriculture, I have made it plain that if there had been a complete breakaway, as is the case in Scotland, I believe that Wales would have suffered, due to the fact that it would not have had full power in education annd agriculture in respect of the Principality. But I have announced arrangements under which my right hon. Friend will have a great deal more responsibility for those two Departments, subject to his not being able on his own to depart from nationally agreed policies on those two.

As for health, we are still considering one aspect of the position, on which I am not able to make a statement this afternoon, and that relates to local authority health and welfare services.

Photo of Mr Nigel Birch Mr Nigel Birch , Flintshire West

Can the Prime Minister say whether the number of civil servants engaged in Welsh administration now operating in Cardiff will be reduced or increased?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. This is a very important statement, but we must move on.