Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General 10:00 pm, 7th November 2016

It is really heart-warming to hear my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan—and I call him that—go back to the dominion status which was the lodestar of the early days of Plaid Cymru. Saunders Lewis did not want total independence; he wanted dominion status. I have no doubt that 1931 was very much on his mind at the time, having regard to the date of the statute of Westminster. I have always regarded that as totally unrealistic, requiring as it does that Wales should look after its own defence, foreign affairs, social security and so on. That is what dominion status means, and always has meant. So whereas I have always been a supporter of devolution, I rather go along with the Gordon Brown argument, which was so successful in the Scottish independence referendum, when he reminded his fellow countrymen that the United Kingdom is united because it shares risks and wealth. Those areas that are depressed at one time in history can be supported by those that are successful.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the highest wages were paid in the Rhondda valley, and as a result it attracted in the Irish and people from all over the United Kingdom. It was the Aberdeen of its day, if you like. Aberdeen has attracted people from all over and is currently suffering because of the fall in the price of oil and the possible diminution of oil resources in the North Sea. But it will be balanced by another part of the United Kingdom—and that is the important point. We are not really concerned with going back in history and talking about a British colony. I recall that Henry Tudor came from Wales and brought with him the Cecil family, who played a very big part not only in the proceedings in this House but in British history ever since. Although he had a Donald Trump attitude towards sex, he was nevertheless favourable towards Wales. His introduction into Wales of the assize judicial system and his formation of the counties of Wales was for their good, not in order to conquer them as his predecessors tried to do.

I do not go along with the idea of the English colony. As a Welshman, I do not feel, and never have felt, that I am in any way subject to the colonial oversway of the English. We have provided leadership in the United Kingdom over the years with our politicians—some great men who, as the noble Lord will no doubt recall, have held the highest offices in this country. For example, I will refer not to Lloyd George but to Aneurin Bevan. Many, many Welshmen have played their part in the governance of the United Kingdom as a whole. We have to stay with that and not go back to what I consider to be, with the greatest respect to my noble friend, the rather romantic aspirations of dominion status. I therefore support the basic proposition in the Bill that the Welsh Parliament—as I hope it will be—should have all the powers it needs but on a reserved powers model, not a conferred powers one. We should work towards that.

Although I have some sympathy for the second amendment which the noble Lord has put forward, it is our duty to try to deal with these issues here and now, as the Bill goes through, not simply kick them into the hands of a commission. That would, no doubt, be made up of great Welshmen but would sit in Cardiff or elsewhere and chunter over the provisions of the reserved powers set out in the Bill. In my Second Reading speech, I argued that we should not have 190 separate reservations. One effect of the Agricultural Wages Bill was that we became very interested in detail, whereas one could describe the powers which should be reserved to the Westminster Parliament in much broader terms, such as defence, foreign affairs and so on. I am very sorry: although I voted for the noble Lord in 1964 when he was a Plaid Cymru candidate, I cannot go along with his interesting and reminiscent arguments for dominion status.