First Day

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 6:03 pm on 6th May 1992.

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Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru 6:03 pm, 6th May 1992

It falls to me, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to congratulate you and your two colleagues on your election today. We wish you well. I trust that, unlike your predecessor, you will not have the duty of showing me the red card on occasions—although no doubt I deserved that when it happened. I shall take care not to transgress.

I also congratulate the hon. Members for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) and for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) who have made their maiden speeches today. They will feel better having got those speeches off their plates. I am sure that what they said struck a note with all hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I shall refer to some of the details of the Queen's Speech before moving on to the general political setting in which we in Plaid Cymru feel that they should be viewed. We heard the Queen's Speech of a Government who were tired before the election, and are even more tired after the election. They should now be recharging their batteries in opposition, but as they have come back into government, there are not many signs of new thinking in the Queen's Speech.

Some of the detailed proposals will cause worry. Given our memories of years gone by, it would be surprising if the proposal to privatise the coal industry did not cause worry for us in Wales.

The railway system in Wales appears to be being pared down, especially the services between London and Holyhead, as what appears to be a preparation for privatisation. We are worried about those proposals, too.

The Queen's Speech refers to standards of education, but those standards will not be improved unless substantially more resources are provided. We are aware of the Government's tight financial position, and unless they are willing to raise taxes, they will not be able to put the necessary resources into education.

We are concerned, too, about the work of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions. If that is to give the Conservatives 20 or 30 more seats, do we face the possibility of perpetual Conservative Governments, against the will of the people in Wales and Scotland—and, indeed, much to the dismay of people in many parts of England.

The proposal for a national lottery causes us some worry, too. Many of my friends in the voluntary sector, such as those involved in disability politics, are worried about the possible loss of income if a national lottery is introduced.

We now have a heritage Minister, but it is far from clear how a Minister for the so-called national heritage, in a United Kingdom context, will interact with the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland who have specific responsibilities for those two countries.

The Queen's Speech refers to community care. In less than 12 months' time the full implications of community care will be with us, and a considerable amount needs to be clarified to enable local authorities and health authorities to live with those implications. We hope that more will become clear in the next few days and weeks. Action is needed.

There is lip service to the environment, too, but our worry is that it is only lip service. Clearly, a drastic shift in approach is needed if the environmental tragedy facing not only Britain and Europe but the rest of the world is to be averted. The Government must go to Rio with a positive plan, a commitment and a willingness to co-operate with the countries that have been thinking, worrying and acting to try to meet the challenges.

We would all welcome changes to the leasehold system to help leaseholders, but that appears to be almost the only reference to housing, although housing in Wales, and in many inner cities, is in considerable crisis. This Parliament should give much greater attention to housing, and we should start this year.

Of course, we welcome the reference to a new Welsh language Act, but we shall not comment on that until we know its contents. It could represent a significant milestone, or it could mean nothing. We shall seek, at the very least, for the proposals of the Welsh Language Board to be the basis of such an Act. In particular, we shall see whether there will be a right for people who so wish to have education through the medium of the Welsh language available within a reasonable distance of their homes.

In an all-Wales context, there is as much missing from the Queen's Speech as is contained in it. In particular, it had been expected that there would be legislation on local government in Wales—the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) mentioned that a few moments ago. Only last week the Secretary of State for Wales gave an assurance that the new structure of local government in Wales would be operational by 1994. If no legislation is mentioned in the Queen's Speech, that is impossible. The Government should spell out their thinking.

If the Government intend to go back to the drawing board, to examine the implications of their proposals and to take on board some of the criticisms of the counties and the districts, if they have seen the need to consider the government of Wales in terms not only of local government but of creating democracy at the all-Wales level, securing control over the numerous quangos that run our everyday lives, and making the Welsh Office answerable, we welcome the delay. But local government needs to know where it stands because not only the future of the services but the prospects for the employees in local government are at stake. The Government need to spell out exactly what their timetable is and what their intentions are.

Aspects of employment are missing from the Queen's Speech. It is difficult to see how the Queen's Speech could have been put together without addressing the central question of unemployment which is such a cancer in so many of our communities, not least in the old industrial areas of Wales, in the old slate-quarrying areas of north-west Wales, in south-west Wales and in the industrial valleys of Glamorgan and Gwent.

The Maastricht content of the Queen's Speech will be the subject of considerable discussion. There is a need to ensure that we in the countries of Britain develop systems that mesh into the models being developed in continental Europe and that the principle of subsidiarity is applied in relation not only to the United Kingdom vis-a-vis Europe, but to the position of Wales, of Scotland, of Northern Ireland and, no doubt, of the regions of England with regard to Britain as a unit.

A central question still has not been answered. We expect clarification from the Secretary of State for Wales about who will represent Wales on the committee of the regions which stems from the Maastricht agreement. The right hon. Gentleman has denied this week that he will be the representative there. One can understand that he may not feel that he has the legitimacy to be there. He did not face the Welsh electorate at the general election, he does not represent a Welsh constituency, and he has no mandate to speak for Wales. If he has now accepted that, and if he will, as an interim step, allow representatives of the Welsh district and county councils to represent Wales on the committee of the regions until we have an elected all-Wales body, at least a shred of daylight is coming into the deliberations.

I come to the central question in our approach to the Queen's Speech and to this Parliament—the question of democracy in our country and of mandates to rule. It was interesting to listen to the Prime Minister's comments earlier this afternoon. He quoted George Bernard Shaw when he said 'all great truths begin as blasphemies'". It seems to be blasphemy here to talk of changing the relationship and the nature of the relationship between the countries of these islands. Yet until we get a change in that relationship, we shall not get the system of government which gives real democracy to Wales, to Scotland and to the people of Northern Ireland.

It is interesting to note that the Government are apparently willing to talk now about creating an elected assembly or executive in Northern Ireland as one of the possibilities while denying that possibility to the people of Scotland and to the people of Wales who, in the recent election, overwhelmingly showed their support at the ballot box for parties that advocate a move in that direction.

The Prime Minister spoke this afternoon about the need to adapt to the democratic views of the citizens across Europe. There is also a need to adapt to the democratic views of the citizens in the countries of the United Kingdom. In constructing a consensus, to which the Prime Minister referred, there is a need to ensure that consensus exists in Wales and in Scotland on the future government of our country. There is a need for change.

The Government do not have a mandate to rule in Wales. They have only 30 per cent. of the vote in Wales. In the 1987 general election, the Conservatives had eight seats in Wales; after the recent election, they have six seats in Wales. Plaid Cymru has four seats. We accept that we do not have a mandate to govern, but the Conservative party certainly has not either. The Liberal Democrat party has one seat, and Labour has 27. Clearly, what the people of Wales want in terms of government has come out of the general election. I wish that there had been 27 Plaid Cymru seats, but that was not the case. Clearly, the election was not a mandate for the Government. They do not have a mandate and they should not rule our country. They should not put policies to Wales which have been rejected by the Welsh people through the ballot box.

The election was good for Plaid Cymru. We gained a fourth seat, we almost gained a fifth, and we increased our vote by more than 20 per cent.

I pay tribute to some of the former Welsh Members who are not with us in this new Parliament. My colleague Dafydd Elis Thomas was Member of Parliament for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy for 18 years until the election. The loss of Michael Foot will be felt by hon. Members of all parties. There were Keith Raffan, who became a bit of a rebel in his own party, and Sir Anthony Meyer, who caused quite a bit of controversy and who painted his own picture of the Welsh scene.

We also note that Ian Grist is not with us. Although the political implications of that may inspire mixed feelings, he certainly made a considerable contribution as an individual. We no longer have here Geraint Howells, whose seat we gained. We had considerable respect for his contribution to the House as an individual. We no longer have Richard Livsey who served Brecon and Radnor with such distinction while he was here. The losses of John P. Smith and Huw Edwards will be felt heavily in Wales because they were already making considerable contributions. Our party welcomes our hon. Friends the new Members for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), who is a Member of Parliament with the support of the Green party, and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd).

Some 70 per cent. of the electorate in Wales voted for parties that wanted some sort of elected Welsh democracy. They wanted policies that met their social values, the economic circumstances of Wales, and the needs of the communities as reflected in the election. The democratic process in Wales appears not to allow the people of Wales to get the sort of government for which they voted.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland saying that the people of Northern Ireland must be the final arbiters. Given the stark contrast between the election results in Wales and Scotland and the overall election result in Britain, there must be some way in which the people of Wales and the people of Scotland can also be the final arbiters on what we need in our country.

Given that in recent years the Prime Minister—I am glad to see him on the Front Bench now—and other Ministers have referred to the 1979 referendum, the time has come for us again to have a referendum—for the people of Wales and the people of Scotland to have a multi-optional referendum in which the options, including the status quo, would be put and in which the Government would let the people decide. If the Prime Minister and the Government believe in democracy, that is surely something that the Prime Minister must be willing to facilitate. If we are to move forward to a new relationship—a happy relationship—within these islands, it must reflect that diversity of aspiration within these islands. If our systems cannot adjust to that, something is seriously wrong. Until that adjustment takes place, we in Wales will not get the sort of government for which we voted and which we need.