Welsh Assembly

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:09 pm on 25th July 1997.

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Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda 1:09 pm, 25th July 1997

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane) on his maiden speech. I am sure that he will represent his constituency with great force.

Bearing in mind what has gone on over the past couple of months, there seems to be a Welsh national newspaper that is a broadsheet for the Welsh Office. Those of us who happen to have a different view about the Welsh Assembly from other colleagues in the Labour party might well be in favour of devolution. I am strongly in favour of it, but I am not in favour of the Labour party's proposals as encapsulated in the White Paper. A fundamental reason for not believing in them is that I do not want subsidiarity. At the same time, I do not want devolution to stop at an all-Wales level.

I happen to be a strong proponent and supporter of local government. It is an institution that we take for granted all the time. Selfless people spend their lives—many of them prejudicing their careers—to serve others at a local level. They undertake fairly awesome responsibilities. When I was involved in local government I participated more in the democratic process than I feel that I have ever done in England, where the Executive runs the state and where Parliament has little say.

Local government is the largest employer in Wales, and it spends more money than any other organisation in Wales. For the life of me, I cannot understand why, if they wanted to abolish quangos, the Government did not first restore to local government the powers of those quangos. It was the Tories who took the powers of local government and handed them to the quangos that they set up.

That is what happened over the past 18 years. The Tories could not govern Wales. Indeed, they could not govern England. They never won local elections. We know that they were hammered at that level. So what did they do? In London, in other parts of England and in Wales, they took powers from local authorities and gave them to unelected quangos, where they could put their placemen. That has been the pattern of politics in Wales.

We should not fall for the false nationalistic answer to the problems of democracy and accountability. Surely we should first undo what the Tories have done. It was the Tory party that created bad government in Wales. That is why I, and some of my hon. Friends who hold a different view from others in the Labour party, resent the imputation that there is a move to get into bed with the Tories.

I happen to come from what many people in the valleys of south Wales refer to as the heartland of British socialism. The very thought of collaborating with the Tories would get me kicked out of the House by my constituents and by my family, right through to those who would rise from their graves at the very thought of it.

I and my hon. Friends the Members for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) are prepared to fight against the Tories all the time. We also fight against the nationalists because we think that they present a false road for the Welsh people to travel down.

Our patriotism and our love of Wales is not based on resentment of the English. We are not fighting for a Wales in Europe. We do not trust the French, the Germans and those from Luxembourg any more or any less than we trust the English. If we have to be part of a pattern of government, I would rather be within the pattern of government of a British state, of Great Britain, rather than following Plaid Cymru's policy of a Wales in Europe. I will not go down that road, because it does not serve my constituents. Let it be understood that we are all here to serve our constituents.

I see my colleagues in the Chamber, and I see no one who is an absolutely dogmatic politician. We must all realise that politics is often the art of the possible. Our surgeries are not full of people who fly to the stars on great political philosophies. They are full of people who are concerned about their rents and their welfare payments, because the ravages of the Tory Government decimated our communities and collapsed our industries. The Tories did that purely out of selfish spite against coal miners. We fight for those people every day.

I am not hung up on any particular structure of governance in Wales, but I want good government for my constituents, and quite frankly I am not convinced by this White Paper. My right hon. and hon. Friends have already made some of the points that I was going to make, but I want to raise one issue in particular. It has been suggested that, if we had had a Welsh Assembly, we would not have had the ravages of Thatcherism, and that somehow Toryism and Thatcherism would have stopped at the Severn bridge or at the border by the A5, near the constituency of that English nationalist, the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson).

There is a railway bridge in Nelson that the Secretary of State and I know very well, from when we were both campaigning for a no vote in 1979. I have seen written on that bridge, "We voted Labour and we got Thatcher." That is true—we had Thatcher and she hammered our constituencies—but an Assembly will not save the people of my constituency from poverty, it will not cure the sick, and it will not put the unemployed back to work.

A previous Labour Government felt that the best way to regenerate the Welsh economy was to establish a Welsh Development Agency, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney gave. It was decided that we needed something outside the normal organs of government that could energetically pursue investment in Wales. By and large, the WDA has worked.

The issue of accountability has been raised. When the Welsh Development Agency did not work and performed badly, it was made accountable. Tribute was rightly paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) for his work on the Public Accounts Select Committee. I can go back a little further. When I was a member of the Public Accounts Select Committee, we considered the Parrot Corporation and its relationship with the WDA. I feel that such accountability will be missing under this proposal.

I have been elected to make such bodies accountable, and if they are not, it is my failure and the failure of every hon. Member. We have the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, the Welsh Grand Committee, the Public Accounts Select Committee and the Chamber, and, if democracy has gone from Wales, it is our fault. We may not have been diligent enough. We fought the Tories, but they had a majority and were able to railroad proposals through. That is greatly to their shame.

It is the fault of Conservative Members that we are in this mess. If there is a break-up of the United Kingdom, as is quite possible as a result of this slope that we are sliding down, people should not blame my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench.