Welsh Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 26th February 2009.

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Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 5:00 pm, 26th February 2009

My right hon. Friend tempts me: I came into politics as the secretary of an organisation to set up Welsh language schools in Gwent in 1969, when my late daughter came home from school and announced that she had learned her first ever Welsh song. I asked, "How does it go?" She said, "It goes like this: 'The land of my fathers is dear to me'." "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" was being taught in English in Newport at that time. We have made huge strides, and I think that there are now six or seven schools that teach in the Welsh language. The Conservatives are right to take pride in the Education Reform Act 1988, which means that conversational Welsh can be spoken in English medium schools. Certainly the Labour party, Gwent county council and other Welsh councils have a lot to be proud of.

My final point about the LCO is that I am concerned about what we are creating. The Welsh Affairs Committee is doing a prodigious amount of work on it, on top of all the other work that it has been doing successfully for years, but it is not the right body to be, as it has been described, a "revising chamber" for the Welsh Assembly. If such a thing is desirable, as it may well be, we should have an organisation that reflects the democratic votes of the people of Wales, which the Committee does not. More than a quarter of its members are Conservatives, and one of them does not represent a single Welsh vote. There are 25 Welsh Labour Members who do not have a voice on it at all.

There are two organisations that represent all Welsh MPs. One is the Welsh Grand Committee, which I am afraid was set up as a sop for devolution many years ago and is mired in failure and futility. It is not thought of as a serious body at all. However, there is another body that should be re-exhumed: the Welsh parliamentary party. It was set up in 1888, and for the period between 1892 and 1906 held the balance of power in the Chamber. It could have taken over and acted in the same way as the Irish parliamentary party did at the time.

The Welsh parliamentary party has gone through long periods of hibernation and been revived each time. The most recent revival was by a Conservative Secretary of State when the Conservatives wanted the Welsh Grand Committee to go to Wales. The Welsh parliamentary party put a condition on that, saying that the use of the Welsh language should be allowed, and that a monolingual Chamber here should not import monolingualism into Wales. That was the last time that the party met. The current situation is similar to the one in the 1930s, when Members of all parties decided that the challenge was so serious that it needed the input of all Welsh MPs, regardless of party affiliation. I believe that we should revive the Welsh parliamentary party, because it would be the ideal vehicle to deal with LCOs in a far more acceptable way. We cannot just have the Welsh Affairs Committee taking on that extra burden and becoming a revising chamber by default. We should decide what is the ideal way of doing things, and the best way is to have a body to revise LCOs that is open to every Welsh MP.

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