Devolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd February 1975.

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Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock , Bedwellty 12:00 am, 3rd February 1975

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Welsh are very nice people, I could not agree more. I will not give him my reasons for saying that. I spent half my time during the General Election talking about the items to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I have not time to explore them all now. I want to shorten my remarks as much as possible. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Welsh people's facility or desire for or competence in social justice is any greater or smaller than any other nation, he is making an immense miscalculation of both the niceness and the nastiness of the Welsh people. I do not think that we are any more or less in love with social justice or practise it better or worse than any other nation. I am sure that we shall have time in future to give more exhaustive thought to the points that he has mentioned both in this House and outside.

My right hon. Friend asked us to consider the ways in which we could bring about participation in decision making and so check and reverse the growing feeling of alienation. I share those aspirations. I want to democratise our society. I want to give people more confidence in their elected representatives and form of government. The best way to give them that confidence is to make them feel that they are an implicit part of that system of government. I want to prevent completely the feeling of alienation, because the opting out of political interest tends to give more fertile ground for the development of the philosophies of the Right. The disaffection, alienation and frustration that we see with democratic government in our society now will not serve the purposes of democracy, social justice or even economic prosperity.

My right hon. Friend spelt out those aspirations. I must tell him and others who share his feelings that devolution is not necessarily the best or even an important way to contribute to resolving the problems of alienation and frustration. These problems do not derive from distance as such. If it were the case that proximity to Parliament spawned confidence and affection for Parliament, the people of Ealing, Watford and Wimbledon would feel differently about Parliament than would those who live in Cardiff, Edinburgh or anywhere else, but they do not. The alienation is common regardless of the proximity to Parliament. Therefore, the splitting up and relocation of mini-Parliaments, with or without legislative powers, is no answer to the scale of alienation which is the product more of the kind of society in which we live than the form of government under which we operate. Proximity is not the answer either in that respect or in another.

If proximity were the answer, if addresses were the answer, to this alienation, people would go to their local councillors and not to their Member of Parliament. Councillors would be the lions of liberty in the fight against bureaucracy and stupidity in the ordinary, everyday lives of citizens. To whom does the ordinary citizen go when he is in trouble, whether it is a matter of domestic sewerage or his attitude to whether China should be a member of the United Nations? He goes to his Member of Parliament, because there is not the alienation between himself and his Westminster representative that there is between himself and the local authority. We shall have to deliberate on the reasons for that state of affairs. It is a problem for local government and for the Westminster Parliament. The fact remains that devolution does not resolve the crisis in confidence in government at local level.

These questions have not appeared in White Papers, or even in the £300,000-worth of analysis by the Crowther-Kilbrandon Commission. It is this analysis that takes place at every party ward meeting, at every Saturday morning "surgery", on every occasion when we bump into someone in a pub, in a club, on the street or in a shop. He looks up and says "Politicians!"—I hope I shall be excused for saying this—"They are all the bloody same".

That is the crisis that we have to resolve. It will not be resolved, with or without legislative powers, with or without executive powers, with or without the single transferable vote, with or without new Parliaments, with or without changes of address, merely by the introduction of a constitutional Bill. It requires a different will and a different attitude to government, and not merely a change of address for Parliament.