"Devolution has strengthened the United Kingdom, not weakened it, as opponents once claimed." - Peter Hain, Better Governance for Wales, June 2005
Asymmetric devolution, by which three nations gained national parliaments to shout for them while a fourth did not, was never going to strengthen the United Kingdom.
So, according to Peter Hain, what are the prospects for our strengthened Union now that the Tories are intent on restoring a semblance of symmetry?
“The implications of this cannot be overestimated. I think it would hobble the Union, and possibly destroy it.
“This is a blatant fix by the English Tories. They know the only hope they have of winning consistently is to separate Wales and Scotland from England.
“The whole principle that underpins the Parliamentary system in the UK is that all MPs have equal status. If Welsh and Scottish MPs were not allowed to vote on matters that superficially seem only to relate to England, that principle would no longer apply and MPs representing seats in Wales and Scotland would have an inferior, second class status.
“If that happened, there would be no question of any MP from Wales or Scotland ever becoming Prime Minister again. There would be no more Lloyd Georges or Jim Callaghans. This wouldn’t just affect Labour politicians – if the brightest and best Conservative MP happened to represent a seat in Wales, they would never be acceptable as a leader of their party."
You're already inferior and second class, Peter, it's just that your voting privileges haven't yet been altered to reflect that fact.
The obnoxious Peter Hain has a new project: Refounding Labour
The consultation document asks:
Despite devolution to Wales and Scotland which Labour delivered, our Party structure has not adjusted. Is there a case for direct Welsh and Scots representation on the National Executive Committee? Are any other reforms needed in the NEC?
What about English representation? Why is it right for the Labour Party to use the slogans "Scotland Forward Not Back", "Wales Forward Not Back" and "Britain Forward Not Back" when it would never dream of using the slogan "England Forward Not Back"? Is it not time that the Labour Party addressed the cancer gnawing at its flesh by tackling its institutionalised anglo-phobia?
A Scottish divorce (along with a Welsh and English divorce) would seem to me to be the correct route.
Wales United: Partnership for Progress by Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan (September 2007)
Devolution in Wales has been an unquestionable success. Whatever the fears that voters had in Wales at the time of the referendum ten years ago, our economy has been transformed, with employment at record levels. Education standards have risen while crime levels have fallen, Wales is a more self-confident and outward looking nation, and power rests more firmly in the hands of the people.
We have proved our critics wrong. Devolution opponents in the 1997 referendum cried that devolution would lead to the break-up of Britain, but instead the settlement has modernised the constitution to make it fit for the 21st century. The over-centralised nature of government in the 1980s and 1990s has been replaced by a system that reflects the diverse nature of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom, with models of devolution that represent the specific needs and aspirations of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish people.
Ten years on since the referendum in Wales, we can rightly celebrate both the successes of devolution and the economic, social, cultural and political ties that bind together the countries of the UK – which are stronger than ever before. But we also need to champion, defend and reassert the principle on which Labour’s vision for devolution rests: that, while respecting the different nations and identities within the United Kingdom, we must preserve the advantages enjoyed from being united. Labour supports devolution within the Union, cherishing and strengthening both the diversity found within the nations and regions of the UK and our shared values and interests.
This message is now more pertinent than ever. The Tories’ renewed commitment to ‘English votes for English laws’ threatens the unity and equality of the House of Commons – and therefore of the United Kingdom itself – while Plaid Cymru’s new role in the Welsh Assembly Government has not at all dented their separatist aspirations.
Labour is unashamedly a party both of devolution and of partnership. The path we offer is one which builds on the early success of devolution and aims to go on creating a new Welsh self-confidence and modern identity by deepening the devolution settlements. We have delivered devolution and devolution has delivered for Wales. The Tories’ plans would serve as direct encouragement for those who want to see the United Kingdom broken up into its separate parts. That is why they must be rejected emphatically.
We are crystal clear that devolution within the Union is the only serious answer to effective and successful self-governance for Wales. We now need actively to communicate the reciprocal, two-way nature of Wales’ role in the Union – how we benefit and how we contribute. That Welsh identity is flourishing as never before in a United Kingdom based on shared values of equal opportunities, toleration and social justice. That the historic bonds between the countries of the UK are deepening to an extent that makes separation irrelevant to the daily lives of thousands of Welsh residents.
This argument has been made powerfully for Scotland by Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander and we believe that the same principles apply to Wales.
The devolution settlements are among our Labour Government’s proudest achievements, and go to the heart of what Labour should always aim to achieve: putting power back into the hands of those it serves. By devolving power we shape democratic institutions around the values of the electorate, and by giving people a greater say over the decisions that affect their lives we strengthen representative democracy.
And for Welsh Labour the devolution settlement carries forward a tradition begun by those that created our party.
Keir Hardie, a founder of our party a hundred years ago, our first Welsh Labour MP, our first leader, and a passionate supporter of devolution – or “home rule all round” to use the language of the era – was a Scot who first represented the East London seat of West Ham South before becoming MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare in Wales at the time the Labour Party was founded. He embodied the Welsh labour movement’s British dimension from its earliest days, and the values Keir Hardie and his fellow Labour pioneers held dear remain so for Welsh Labour today.
Half a century after Keir Hardie’s death, it was Labour that first created the Cabinet post of Secretary of State for Wales in 1964 and established the Welsh Office as a separate Department of State. It was Labour that was elected in 1997 on a manifesto commitment to give the people of Wales an opportunity to vote for a new democratic Assembly. It was Labour that led the Yes campaign to victory in the 1997 referendum. It was Labour that legislated for a Welsh Assembly to be established in 1999. And it was Labour that steered the 2006 Government of Wales Act onto the statute book, giving the Assembly enhanced legislative powers and settling the constitutional argument in Wales for a generation or more by putting into place a process for attaining primary powers.
And so, as Britain’s leading pro-devolution and pro-Union Party, it can only be Labour who makes the case that, alongside a national minimum wage, record levels of employment and record economic growth and prosperity, the devolution settlements must be considered our finest achievements.
Partnership for Prosperity
As citizens of the United Kingdom we enjoy great prosperity thanks to the historic economic partnerships between the UK’s constituent nations; partnerships which helped to turn us into a world power. The economic integration of the United Kingdom has been and will continue to be central to the economic growth of both the individual nations and the UK as a whole.
The contribution of Wales to the industrial revolution, for example, was enormous. Two hundred and more years ago, it was Merthyr Tydfil where the most productive ironworks in the world were found, and the where the world’s first railway steam locomotive was developed. A century ago, Cardiff was the world’s largest coal-exporting port, handling the production from the massive South Wales coalfields, and the city where the world price of coal was set.
Today, Wales’ economy is making great strides and recent economic growth and development has been dramatic. With 72.3 per cent of the population employed, there are approximately 146,000 more jobs in Wales now in 2007 than there were in 1999 - a faster growth-rate than the UK average and above any one of the nine regions of England. Coming from a period during the 1980s when the aftermath of the pit and steel closures left the Welsh economy reeling and many believed that neither Wales nor Britain would ever see anything approaching full employment again, the last decade has seen a remarkably well-sustained turnaround.
There remains a long way to go to put right the social damage inflicted by the mass unemployment era of the 1980s – numbers of incapacity benefit claimant households are disproportionately high in Wales, for example – but progress has been admirable. Labour’s unsurpassed record of macroeconomic stability, with the longest run of continuous noninflationary economic growth since records began, record inward investment, low interest rates and low inflation, has resulted in Gross Domestic Product increasing to £41 billion in 2005 – compared to £28 billion in the last year of Tory government – while the proportion of Welsh families in ‘workless households’ has fallen to a record low.
Including the block grant from UK Treasury Welsh public spending amounts to almost £1,000 per head (or 14 per cent) higher than in England, which reflects our historically-high levels of ill-health and economic deprivation, in part a function of our industrial legacy. With our Labour Government, the budget of the National Assembly has doubled over the past eight years, from £7 billion to £14 billion. And as a result of the decisions made by the Welsh Labour-led Assembly Government, we now have 500 extra doctors, 8,000 extra nurses, 1,700 extra teachers and 5,700 new teaching assistants in Wales, as well as record investment in school buildings and new hospitals to raise the standards of public service delivery across Wales.
The close economic relationship between Wales and Britain is due to our Governments’ shared social and economic objectives: to reactivate the labour market, reduce social and economic deprivation, combat social exclusion, strengthen social cohesion and to reduce poverty, in particular child poverty. Partnership between the UK Government and the Assembly Government is essential to delivering the policy answers to meet these objectives. Wales benefits from playing a part in UK Government programmes to combat unemployment, child poverty and pensioner poverty - the New Deal, child tax credits and the statutory national minimum wage have had a huge impact on Wales and have raised the standard of living for thousands of low-paid Welsh workers and residents.
The New Deal has helped over 46,000 unemployed young people in Wales back to work, as well as thousands of older long-term unemployed people and lone parents. The programme was financed by a British-wide levy on the windfall profits of the privatised British utilities, and is continuing to develop through a combination of British-wide incentives and opportunities linked to Wales-specific and local initiatives. This reciprocal relationship is at the heart of our Union’s strength.
A further illustration of the advantages for Wales of inter-linking Labour governments in both Westminster and Cardiff can be seen in the UK Miners’ Compensation Scheme for emphysema and Vibration White Finger, which has paid out well over £600 million in compensation to ex-miners or their dependants in Wales. Another would be the pension credit; Wales has a higher than average number of pensioner households and the pension credit benefits over 160,000.
Wales plays its full part in UK-wide, British policies, because co-ordinated action between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government is the only way of meeting some of our more ambitious targets. We have set, for example, the goal to eradicate child poverty in the UK by 2020. Already, 50,000 children in Wales have been helped out of poverty, and it is only through schemes led by administrations both in Wales and at Westminster – whether free school breakfasts, or increases in child benefit – that we will be able to build on this.
In many instances Wales is better placed to meet its social and economic demands and objectives acting within the collective Union. To take a recent example, the extra one-penny increase in National Insurance introduced by Gordon Brown in 2003 to provide further funds for the NHS has been delivering hundreds of millions of pounds of extra public investment for Wales each year. Through National Insurance we each contribute to a system of social protection against sickness, incapacity and bereavement for any insured family or citizen in every part of the UK. This is only made possible by sharing risks across a UK population of 60 million and is a far more effective way of combating poverty and securing social justice than sharing risks among just three million people in Wales. It is perhaps no coincidence that it was a Welshman, Jim Griffiths, who laid the foundations for our modern system with the National Insurance Act of 1948. Drawing on his experiences of the deprivation suffered by South Wales miners and their families in the 1930s, he noted that “a unified and comprehensive scheme covering the whole nation” would be most effective at tackling the poverty he had witnessed. The same remains true today.
Such a unified approach was apparent in the effective negotiations by the UK Labour Government in Europe that brought Objective One funding for the two-thirds of Wales that lies in West Wales and the Valleys. This has been and continues to be of huge significance in helping the large swathes of Wales for so long behind in economic prosperity to catch up with the more prosperous areas of East Wales, the UK and the European average. Funding in the 2000-2007 period was £1.3 billion, with total project value well over £3 billion, boosting investment and job creation.
This hugely beneficial deal for West Wales and the Valleys was first made at the EU Summit meeting in early 2000 and then repeated in December 2005. Had the UK failed to find an agreement here the West Wales and the Valleys region would have missed out drastically. There may be no more crucial an illustration of how an effective partnership between the Labour Government in Westminster and the Labour administration in Wales can and will deliver for Wales and the less well-off two-thirds of Wales in particular.
Economic development in Wales will further progress by Labour continuing to implement a dispersal policy for civil service jobs out of London and the South East of England to Wales, with the assistance of the Assembly Government in co-ordinating the process.
Following the precedents set by the Labour Government in the 1964-1970 era, when Jim Callaghan determined to relocate the Royal Mint to Llantrisant, and Barbara Castle set up the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea, the relocation of the headquarters of the Office of National Statistics from Central London to Newport, the Shared Service Centres of the Department for Transport in Swansea and of the Prison Service to Newport have brought thousands more jobs to Wales. The Lyons Review will lead to further public sector jobs being relocated in Wales as a direct consequence of Government policy to spread such employment from the South East of England across the United Kingdom.
The Government’s recent announcement of its largest ever investment in Wales, the £16 billion Defence Training Academy at St Athan, is perhaps the best example of this. This is a 25-year contract with the Metrix consortium and when completed late in the next decade will bring 5,000 jobs to South Wales, with great benefits to the local and regional economy. The Westminster Government and the Assembly Government are working jointly to make this project succeed; the Ministry of Defence is the customer who is in the process of awarding the contract to the Metrix consortium and the Assembly Government is the landowner and the key partner in the scheme.
Projects based on UK partnership of this nature and scale are central to Wales’ economic development and highlight how Wales’ economy is playing an increasingly important role in that of the UK as a whole. Airbus’s plant at Broughton in Flintshire, for example, is at one and the same time Wales’ and the UK’s largest factory. The plant draws its huge workforce from a staggeringly wide catchment area from Colwyn Bay to Manchester - of the 6,000 employees in Broughton, 62% live in Wales and 38% in England. It is the jewel in the crown of the Flintshire economy, the Welsh economy, is highly important to the UK as a technological base, and is critical to the European economy, reinforcing the economic reality that the Welsh economy is part of a wider British and international economy.
Wales’ economy is increasingly global by nature - in 2006-07 Wales attracted projects from overseas that will create nearly 3,400 jobs, although it remains firmly inter-linked with the UK – over 3,100 jobs will be created in the same period by investment projects from within the UK. Wales’ largest trading partner has long been England, and we should all be clear that Wales’ economic future lies within the UK. Wales now hosts world-class high technology business operations like GE Healthcare, General Dynamics, Logica CMG and EADS, developing intellectual property in Wales to make Wales fully engaged in the knowledge economy. The foundation of this success is the stable macro-economic climate resulting from decisions made by the UK Government since 1997. Independence to the Bank of England and maintaining fiscal discipline have given rise to 10 years of continued economic growth, providing the right climate for sustained investment in technology and machinery as well as in skills and people.
If Wales is to have a truly international role, competing with the likes of China and India in a globalised economy, we must do so together, through partnership between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, as we have been doing successfully up to now. As demonstrated, Wales derives significant advantages from being part of a Member State which plays a full and positive role in the European Union and international economic community. Wales was in at the beginning of globalisation and as this process deepens and intensifies Wales should have full confidence in its ability to compete in the globalised 21st century economy.
A recent survey found that Swansea University has attracted more public and private sector funding for collaborative research with industry than any other university in the UK, forging links with companies such as IBM and Motorola. It is as a member of a collective union of nations that Wales is progressing fast and is best placed to gain the world class investment so vital for future prosperity and success, and so necessary to address the challenges of the 21st century. Through this partnership Wales is progressively developing expertise in research and development, and in high-tech manufacturing such as biotechnology and aerospace, contributing increasingly to the overall success of the UK economy.
The Welsh higher education sector will have a vital role to play in developing our knowledge economy in this new global environment. Recent figures show that in 2005-06 nearly 29,000 students came from other parts of the UK to study in Wales, and that nearly 21,000 Welsh students sought university education in other parts of the UK in the same period. Such crossborder exchange of information, skills and experience irrevocably deepens cultural, economic and social ties throughout the UK. Current and future generations will live in greater prosperity thanks to Wales’ role in the UK, and will have their formative years shaped by the opportunities provided by the Union, rendering separatists’ arguments increasingly eccentric and disconnected from the realities of people’s daily lives and experiences.
Welshness and Britishness – A Sharing of Values
Partnership within the United Kingdom is far more than an economic arrangement; it rests on the shared values of social justice and equality.
The sharing of these values throughout the UK means that today personal and family ties are stronger than ever before. In the decade to 2003, for example, 85 per cent of people migrating into Wales were from the rest of the UK, and over the same period 87 per cent of those migrating out of Wales went to another part of the UK. Around 600,000 people born in England are now living in Wales – more than one in five of the entire Welsh population – and there are almost the same number of people born in Wales living in England.
Wales’ history of migration, coupled with our strong trade union tradition, demonstrate the roots of the common identity and solidarity which run through the United Kingdom. Welsh trade unionists joined their fellow union members in England and Scotland to fight for rights at the workplace, realising workers needed decent pay and conditions whichever side of Offa’s Dyke they resided. Through cross border solidarity and, over the past ten years, partnership with our UK Labour Government, Welsh workers have secured major improvements in employment rights; entitlements which apply right across Britain and are therefore more entrenched as a result.
Key to modern Welsh political identity is that the indissolubility of these links within the labour movement, in business and in the labour market, lies comfortably alongside a deepening recognition of the value of a Welsh political institution, the Assembly, elected by and democratically accountable to the people of Wales.
Today, a common British identity is very much a reality, and is expressed by institutions such as the NHS, and the BBC. These show us what we have achieved together, how deeply Britishness is ingrained in our shared values, and how Wales has helped define a modern British identity.
The NHS embodies the essential values of solidarity, care and community, expressing a progressive sense of Britishness probably better than any other institution. The NHS came out of Wales, defined by Welsh experience of ill health for the many under private care. Its architect, a Welshman Nye Bevan, as a UK Cabinet Minister drew on his experiences growing up in Tredegar to establish arguably Britain’s most progressive institution; one which remains a model for the world.
The BBC embodies the values of inclusion and fairness, with Welsh produced success stories like the BBC’s Doctor Who and Torchwood showing not just what Wales is contributing to Britain but how Britishness contributes to Welsh success and helps elevate that success globally. This would not have happened without a deliberate decision of the BBC to outsource these programme productions to Wales, with Welsh multimedia talent benefiting UK television, and the BBC’s UK and global reach benefiting Welsh talent. Again this highlights the reciprocal benefits to both Wales and the UK that result from the shared values that lie at the heart of Britishness and Welshness.
The BBC also provides output for S4C, the Welsh-language public broadcaster. Both the Welsh language and the Welsh economy have benefited from the work of S4C, which is supported through an annual grant from the UK Government. S4C broadcasts a majority of Welsh language programmes, but also Channel 4 content which is shown across the UK.
The Wales of today is a Wales which, far from shrinking into isolation, is stronger because it is partly British, European and internationalist too. For example, whilst people in Wales are passionate about our rugby and football teams, they have found no contradiction in travelling the world to support the British and Irish Lions to cheer all their players, not just Welsh internationals like Scott Gibbs, Martyn Williams and Gareth Thomas. They have stood in the heat of the Australian summer or the damp of an English summer, with Welsh flags and cheered the “England” cricket team, not just Simon Jones. They urged on every member of the European Ryder Cup golf team, captained by Welshman Ian Woosnam, to their magnificent victory over the United States in 2006. And a recent survey has shown that support for the 2012 London Olympics is higher in Wales than in any other part of Britain.
The cultural boundaries between England and Wales have long been porous. People watch the same television programmes, read the same books, watch the same films, read the same national newspapers, all the time remaining loyal to the cultures of their home nations and towns. There is in many ways a strengthening common culture in which British and Welsh identities are shared and cross over on a daily basis.
The vast majority of people in Wales feel part of their local community, and they feel Welsh, British and increasingly European too. Loyalty to one should not mean denial of the other.
Comparing Scotland’s relationship to the rest of the UK ‘south of the border’ and Wales’ relationship with the rest of the UK is instructive, partially because the equivalent phrase of ‘east of the border’ is virtually unknown in Wales. That is not to say that there is no such thing as clear Welsh identity – there obviously is. It is just different. Modern Wales combines a deep respect for its ancient language, literature, eisteddfodic traditions and heritage, with strong pride in its early industrialisation and absorption of globalised trade and cultures.
What makes the Welsh national identity special is its diversity. For example, the degree of integration of the eastern half of Wales with adjoining regions of England is very high indeed, especially North East Wales with North West England, where the Airbus plant is a notable example of practical day-to-day integration of the labour market. Conversely it is arguable that, linguistically and culturally at the very least, the western half of Wales is more distinct from the homogeneity of Britishness than most other parts of the UK. The Welsh identity spans both of those widely differing degrees of integration, and this divide leads to distinct political identities between the east-facing and the west-facing halves of Wales, as was very evident during the devolution referendum 10 years ago.
But when Wales enjoys success – for example beating another nation at rugby or football – we all share in the sense of exhilaration. There is nothing wrong in celebrating national achievement, a common national culture and a sense of national pride and identity. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in identifying with your common culture of nationhood. We should all be proud to be Welsh - and proud to be Welsh patriots. Our Welshness is self confident and secure.
Patriotism is a noble value. But true patriots are also internationalists because they respect others’ patriotism too. And whereas patriotism cannot be confused with jingoism and national chauvinism, separatism can. Whilst we welcome and encourage the increasing sense of Welsh identity in the post-devolution climate, our new sense of Welsh citizenship is not based upon a sense of inferiority or superiority but upon the inclusive, egalitarian principles that define twenty-first century multiracial, multi-cultural Britain.
These principles that define Britishness have always been a hallmark of Welsh society. Wales has one of the UK’s oldest multi-ethnic communities in Cardiff, where Somali, Yemeni, Chinese and Indian seamen were drawn from the mid 19th century onwards to work in the thriving docks or as merchant seamen.
So let us celebrate our cultural differences and the fact that modern Wales is made up of so many different cultural strands that together richly enhance the life of the community. But let us never fall into the trap of claiming superiority over others, based on where you live or where you are born, what language you speak, what if any faith you hold, what your skin colour or sexuality is, or whether you have a disability. Socialists have a progressive vision based on our common humanity as citizens of the world which defines us; separatists a regressive and reactionary vision of nationality.
The essence of a progressive Union is a democratic, devolved framework in which we can express our diversity, take decisions for ourselves, and at the same time work together for the common good, recognising we are stronger together within the UK than isolated and alone.
A Political Union
Labour delivered devolution to Scotland and Wales in settlements designed to reflect the individual and specific circumstances of each country, implemented in 1999 after successful 1997 referenda. As a result of the devolved administrations’ increased political freedom to innovate we have since seen political cultures and identities flourish and in turn renew political integration across the UK, which had been severely jeopardised by the centralised English dominance of Tory government in the 1980s and 1990s. The truth is that our political union is stronger than ever before, and today no-one – not even erstwhile Tory opponents of devolution – credibly suggests that we should go back on these historic settlements.
The devolved administrations’ freedom over policy has seen the emergence of distinct cross-border policy differences coupled with more active UK-wide exchanges of ideas. Policy ideas that arise in constituent UK nations are now often borrowed and developed elsewhere - if Bill Clinton’s America had ‘fifty living laboratories’ the UK, perhaps, now has four. This process enables different administrations to learn from each others’ experiences to the ultimate benefit of individual UK countries, at the same time as strengthening the sense of political partnership across the UK. The Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government pioneered, for example, the creation of a Children’s Commissioner and free bus travel for the over 60s which were soon copied in England, whilst Wales has learnt from experience in England of how to reduce waiting-times for hospital treatment. This flow of political innovation across the UK has also led to new channels of political interaction and dialogue opening up, like the regular Finance Ministers Quadrilateral Meetings, and we must continue to strengthen the links between MPs, AMs, MSPs and MEPs.
Wales’ diverse, modern culture impels us to look outward and play our part on the international stage. Wales has a strong internationalist tradition, influenced by the outlook of the labour and trade union movement. In the 1930s, poor mining communities across Wales raised huge sums of money to support the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, and volunteers from the Welsh Labour movement fought with distinction against Franco’s fascism. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Welsh activists were prominent in the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The best way to further our desire to see justice and human rights upheld across the globe is as a partner to the UK on the international stage. It is as the UK Labour Government that we have more than doubled Britain’s overseas aid and led the international drive for debt relief and trade justice.
Today the UK sits on the UN Security Council, the top tables of the European Union, Nato, the World Bank and the Commonwealth. Wales alone would be without such influence. This point was aptly illustrated recently when the Foreign Office Minister and MP for Pontypridd, Kim Howells, chaired a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the Middle East peace process. He was supported by Sir Emyr Jones Parry, then the UK’s Ambassador to the UN. Both men were brought up in the same South Wales valley, both are fiercely Welsh yet equally internationalist.
Devolution within the Union has allowed Welsh Assembly Members to utilise the levers in place to exercise their political will and design Welsh specific policy, alongside Welsh MPs shaping policy around Welsh interests in Westminster. It is critical that hand-in-hand with increasing the legislative scope and freedom of the National Assembly of Wales we weaken in no way at all the key linkages between Wales and the UK Government at Westminster.
Wales’ representation in Cabinet by the Secretary of State for Wales ensures that Welsh interests are fully taken into account in Government. 40 Welsh MPs give Wales a strong voice in Parliament. Responsibility for Home Affairs and the Justice system resides with Parliament and is not devolved in Wales unlike the Scottish model. There is no case at all for reducing the total number of Welsh MPs.
Strong representation for Wales at Westminster is vital to safeguarding and promoting the interests of the people of Wales, in particular in relation to the legislative programme and the Welsh budget. Calls to reduce Welsh representation in Parliament would jeopardise Welsh influence over key decisions over finance, defence, energy, foreign policy, pensions and welfare so vital to Welsh citizens.
Welsh political influence and representation has come under assault from another and constitutionally even more dangerous direction, with David Cameron the latest Tory leader to advocate dividing up MPs’ voting rights according to the territorial impact of legislation. Essentially Cameron wants to place a limit on Welsh and Scottish MPs’ voting rights with his badly judged and opportunistic proposal to introduce so-called “English votes for English laws”. His blatant opportunism is underlined by his refusal to place Northern Ireland MPs under the same strictures, possibly because the majority of them are unionists and have historically sided with the Tories. It is up to us to take this argument head-on. ‘English votes’ is a deceptively seductive idea for many, and in a recent poll for Newsnight 61 per cent of English voters questioned said they were in favour of establishing an English Parliament’. In a campaign initiated and led by Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, our Government plans to expose the myths surrounding this proposal and underline its potentially disastrous impact on our Union.
The Tories’ idea is neither new nor innovative, and whenever explored in depth has without exception been declared complex to the point of being completely impractical. It was first introduced in the Government of Ireland Bill in 1893, and it was Gladstone who remarked that devising an ‘in and out’ solution for MPs “passes the wit of man”. The 1973 Royal Commission on the Constitution declared the idea “unworkable”, but, despite this, a commitment to ‘English votes’ formed part of William Hague’s 2001 manifesto, which remained official party policy under Michael Howard, and is now being pursued by David Cameron.
This may be more to do with Tory marginalisation in Scotland and Wales than any high-minded sense of English parliamentary nicety, but it has very serious implications for the future constitutional stability of the Union.
Because we stand as both a party and a government for the Union, Labour must remain unreservedly committed to a United Kingdom Parliament: the UK is a single state and its Parliament must remain sovereign on all matters, representative of the nation as a whole.
It can only be so if each MP is equal, whether from Wales, Scotland or England. If at any point Welsh or Scottish MPs became second class within Parliament, Wales and Scotland would become second class nations within the Union; a virtual incitement to separatism.
There is a clear assumption by Conservatives that legislation can be simply carved up into purely English, Welsh or Scottish categories. In an interview for the Western Mail in July 2007 David Cameron said: “I don’t think it is complicated... it’s relatively straightforward to look at a piece of legislation and ask if it only affects English constituencies, or which bits of it only affect English constituencies.”
This highlights once again David Cameron’s reliance on unplanned statements of intent and the disregard for detail that questions his fitness for government. Proper examination of the practicalities of allocating voting rights on specific areas within a Bill to the MPs whose constituencies are affected reveals hugely problematic and complex technical issues and significant unanswered questions.
The Education and Inspections Act 2006, for example, shows how flawed Cameron’s judgement is, and his casual disregard for the disruptive damage to the parliamentary process.
The Act contains 116 Sections that are England-only, 57 that apply to England and Wales, 6 that are Wales-only, and 10 that are UK-wide. How, then, would the Public Bill Committee process work, when specific clauses of a Bill are considered in detail? On average 18 members sit on a Bill Committee, their numbers broadly reflecting the party composition of the House. How would the Cameron proposal reflect the territorial impact of this Bill? Would there be separate Committees for the separate Sections of the Bill – in this case four separate Committees to look at different Sections?
In the case of England-only clauses, would the Committee reflect the party balance amongst England MPs only? And would Report stage – where the House considers fresh amendments – be confined to only those MPs whose constituencies were affected by the Section under discussion at any one time?
To carve up the Committee process in this way would be hideously complicated to the point of generating parliamentary gridlock. Although there may be practical ways to overcome this, such as changing drafting practice to more strictly define territorial coverage, this would likely result in more bills, more time and resources, more votes in an already packed parliamentary schedule and less time for proper legislative scrutiny on the floor of the House.
Dividing legislation in this way is virtually impossible to do in the case of the Welsh devolution settlement. The Government of Wales Act 2006 retained powers to pass primary legislation for Wales in both devolved and reserved areas at Westminster, and in general England and Wales have a common statute book which means that often legislation designed to apply exclusively to Wales commonly also extends to England. The result of this intricate cross-over is that you often have elements within a single Section of a bill which relate to one country but not another. In this case, who would be eligible to debate the subsections? Do you create separate Committees to debate subsections of a bill, of which there can be hundreds?
Shaping the process of parliamentary debate and scrutiny according to the territorial extent of legislation results in what has been described as “legislative hokey-cokey”. We prefer John Major’s assessment of it as causing “constitutional chaos”.
But this just scratches the surface of the troublesome issues posed. For example, there are numerous cases where Welsh MPs representing constituencies close to the border will have constituents using public services in England. NHS foundation trusts based in England, for example, already provide health care to Welsh citizens living in border areas. Would the Welsh MPs whose constituents were users of this service be able to participate in deciding over this policy area? Could Welsh MPs whose constituents are affected continue to table Early Day Motions or ask Questions; the Cameron logic suggests not, in which case those constituents would be disenfranchised. What about the position in reverse where Welsh provided public services are used by English residents?
The duty that would be placed on the Speaker to identify whether or not a Bill can be considered national, or who would appropriately vote on it and who not, would inevitably weaken the independence of the role and risk the politicisation of the Office.
Furthermore, if the principle underpinning ‘English votes’ is that only the MPs representative of constituencies directly affected by proposed legislation should be entitled to vote, would we suggest that in future only London MPs should participate in votes such as that on the Greater London Authority Act 1999? Surely MPs from the rest of the UK have a right to determine what powers are ceded to London? And at what point does all this stop?
Presumably in a completely balkanised Parliament. Advocates of ‘English votes’ have not thought through the detail or consequences of their dogma.
They have also overlooked the system of funding for the devolved administrations, which again highlights fundamental flaws in their arguments.
Due to the Barnett formula, which allocates devolved administrations a proportion of planned UK Government spending according to population size, any legislation that impacts on the expenditure of UK Government Departments in England proportionately impacts also on expenditure available to the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish administrations. In essence this means that virtually all legislation passed in Parliament must be considered UK wide. Even if a policy applies, for example, only to schools or hospitals based in England – seemingly making it a piece of ‘England-only’ legislation – there will be a cross-border impacts on funding and taxation.
Good examples are the bills on foundation hospitals in 2002-03 and higher education in 2003-04, both of which have been used by the Tories as examples of English and Welsh-only legislation that Scottish MPs should be excluded from voting upon. Both, however, had funding implications for Scotland, making them UK-wide, and it was right, therefore, that they were treated as such, with all MPs in the national Parliament in Westminster given the opportunity to vote.
‘English votes for English laws’ would fundamentally reform how our parliamentary democracy functions and would have potentially fatal implications for the Union of the United Kingdom. English MPs would be elevated in status and power compared with their Scots or Welsh counterparts. To introduce a system that gave Members varying functions and limitations would be to fundamentally undermine the principle of equality that should run through Parliament.
The result would be Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish legislatures, an English Parliament, and essentially an overarching federal parliament in charge of national issues such as defence and the economy. What would happen when a government had a parliamentary majority including Scotland and Wales but not in England? A UK Government which could not carry English legislation could not effectively govern since without a majority in the House Prime Ministers may well be forced into unstable, minority coalitions dependent on where their majority was held. This would profoundly alter the whole basis of our constitution, potentially sidelining Welsh and Scots from being able to influence the composition of the Government whilst at the same time leaving what would be tantamount to an ‘English Government’ without a majority across the whole House.
Representing about 85 per cent of the population the resultant ‘English Parliament’ would not just be numerically dominant as English MPs have obviously always been, but all-powerful. Our Parliament would no longer be truly ‘national’, but fractured and forced to follow where the newly created English Parliament led. Instead of a partnership between nations of the Union, there would be a two-tier parliamentary system which would irreparably damage the unity of the United Kingdom. Playing to the populist gallery of English nationalism opens up a constitutional Pandora’s Box.
What future would people from the Celtic nations see in the United Kingdom if they were barred from full citizenship? Denying the people of Wales full representation in Parliament would hardly be helpful or healthy for the future of the United Kingdom and would prove a constitutional disaster.
Revealingly, when the Ulster Unionist parties supported the Conservatives in 1964-1967 in opposing the nationalisation of the steel industry, although the measure would not affect Northern Ireland, there were no protests. The then Shadow Attorney General, Peter Thorneycroft, said of an ‘in and out’ solution: “every Member of the House of Commons is equal with every other Member of the House of Commons, and that all of us will speak on all subjects”. Conservative outrage at the current constitutional set-up can perhaps best be understood as a partisan response to their limited appeal to the electors of Scotland and Wales.
Our Union is strongest when based on devolution and decentralisation, with policies to bring decision-making close to people in England too, and not just Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Gordon Brown has launched a wide-ranging programme of constitutional reform to reinvigorate our representative democracy. This includes, critically, creating Ministers and Committees of MPs for the English regions, and initiating a national debate on developing a British statement of values in modernising our constitution.
Labour’s commitment to regional government across England must be part of our answer to the ‘West Lothian Question’. Most English regions are larger than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and indeed deserve more powers than the government offered in the North East referendum in 2004.
It was apparent then that the strongest negative was the cost of more politicians in a regional structure that had insufficient powers – nothing like London’s, still less Wales’ and certainly not Scotland’s. Without a structure of universal unitary local government, like in Wales, it was also hard to dispute the charge of adding an ‘extra layer of bureaucracy’. Labour needs to remain committed to English regional government with more resources and powers, though it would be sensible for this to evolve organically and not necessarily either uniformly or on the same boundaries.
Decision-making on issues such as skills, transport, planning and housing can be decentralised to regions and local authorities, which need to adopt flexible, innovative and incremental approaches to strengthening democratic accountability.
The devolution discussion currently revolves around power between the nations of the United Kingdom. By giving executive roles to Regional Ministers, increasing the responsibilities of Regional Development Agencies and by setting up fully functional Regional Select Committees to oversee their work, we can bring together local and national government to form a sub-national tier of devolved governance which will give English voters a stronger voice in Parliament. This is the alternative to the Tory proposal to balkanising Parliament, and the next natural reform in Labour’s programme of devolving power.
Devolution has delivered for Wales and United Kingdom. Our constitutional reforms have given newly formed national governments the freedom to tailor political solutions around the needs of their electorates while enhancing the bonds at the heart of UK partnership.
Economically Wales is flourishing, with the Assembly administration working closely with the UK Government to make the economic decisions to realise their social objectives and attracting record investment, ever-developing Wales’ role as a true partner in the international economic community. Socially, the values of solidarity and equality which underpin the pride felt in both our patriotism and our partnership are as strong as ever. And politically, the Assembly’s freedom over policy development contributes to a more diverse and innovative but equally intertwined United Kingdom.
There can be no compromise with those who propose to turn this process backwards or threaten the deepening of these ties. Our task now is to face up to the challenge of the 21st century, not to revisit the old arguments of past centuries. The challenges of climate change, of international terrorism, of poverty across Britain and abroad, require a full Welsh contribution working across different tiers of government. That will involve ever closer co-operation.
We need to concentrate on delivering the people’s priorities; increasing employment, improving our health and education services, and tackling crime.
Whatever other political parties may offer as solutions, we are clear that Wales gets the best of both worlds from devolution. Wales – as a partner in Britain – is economically fit, culturally vibrant and politically confident, increasingly global and must now be looking outwards towards the future.
The past ten years has been a period of unprecedented success, not least the huge constitutional changes in the United Kingdom, of which devolution for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London are among the main advances.
The United Kingdom constitution is based on shared values of tolerance and democracy, community and solidarity, of equality and diversity. Within the framework of devolution and decentralisation, we can self-govern yet work together for a common purpose – a Wales United to ensure advancement for all based on those shared values.
The Telegraph has published the Welsh Devolution Wikileak in full. It reveals that the Americans consider Welsh devolution important because of the destabalising effect it could have on Westminster:
Why is Welsh Devolution Important? ---------------------------------- Welsh devolution poses a particular challenge. If the Welsh vote for their own parliament, the Welsh, Northern Irish, and Scots will continue to send MPs to Westminster to vote on legislation affecting all of the UK. However, the English, who represent approximately 84 percent of the UK,s population, will not have any voting rights on devolved issues in the other three home nations.
Astonishingly Peter Hain emerges as an even bigger knob end than we knew him to be previously.
Political colleagues and opponents alike haven’t failed to be impressed by the audacity which Mr Hain has shown by presenting himself as the valiant white knight on topics which, curiously, hadn’t seemed to have driven him much before.
The obvious first example is Hain’s great passion for the referendum on further powers for the National Assembly. If it were down to him he’d hold it this afternoon, so keen is he to get going.
He’s claimed that Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan’s “handling of the whole issue now means that even a March vote could be in jeopardy”.
That would be the same Peter Hain, then, who was Welsh Secretary for much of the time the legwork for a referendum should have been put in, but apparently he couldn’t find a pen in the Wales Office in order to get down to work.
If he was anymore two-faced he'd be cast in the next Batman film.
Equally curious is his fury that the UK coalition Government – in office for four months – have not scrapped the Barnett Formula, the brain-scrambling mathematical equation which decides how much cash gets sent to Wales each year.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg have shoved “much-needed change to the Barnett formula into the long grass after an election five years away”, he fumes.
How “much-needed” are the changes to the Barnett Formula? Well, not enough for the last Labour Government – in office for 13 years and of which Hain was a prominent member – to do anything about.
And perhaps he could have a word with the politician who, last year, said that “the level of funding delivered by the Barnett Formula is more or less fair” and added: “Those who are saying get rid of Barnett, throw everything up in the air and see where it lands, have got to understand there are consequences for the English regions as well.”
The name of that politician? Er… Peter Hain.
Not that we should be surprised at any of this, after all it was the same Peter Hain, lifelong supporter of CND, who backed Gordon Brown's decision to replace Trident when he was keen to be Brown's deputy. He also lied on national TV. Peter Hain is, and make no mistake about it, an horrendous little shit.
My mate Greg Mulholland has raised the English question during a debate on the Conservative's proposed boundary changes:
I accept that the Bill is not the right place to deal with the next issue that I want to raise, but it must be addressed. The missing bit of devolution-the English question-is not in the Bill. I am pleased that the Deputy Prime Minister suggested that it would be considered. That must happen, because the English are currently represented only by MPs whereas the Welsh and the Scots have Members of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly Members. The matter must be tackled so that the English are no longer the poor relations.
Well done to Greg. And he's right. Although most of the complaining is predictably coming from outside England, it is England where the reduction in representation will be felt most acutely because among the nations of Britain it is only England that does not have additional representation provided to its people by politicians elected to its own national parliament.
Cretins like Peter Hain complain that Wales will lose 25% of its Westminster MPs due to this boundary change (compared to England's 7% reduction in MPs). Good. The Welsh have their 60 Assembly Members to represent them on devolved issues, so frankly who cares? Where Tango man does have a valid point, I think, is in his complaint that Scottish Lib Dem constituencies have been excluded from this reform:
In Wales the impact will be most savage of all. Wales will lose three times the proportion of MPs as the average for the UK: a reduction of fully a quarter, from 40 to 30. Whereas in Scotland, three geographically large, Liberal-held constituencies are conveniently excluded from the reform, in mid- and west Wales where there are many thousands more sheep than people, four geographically large seats will become two monster ones. Former coal-mining seats will be merged, forgetting the elementary verity of the Welsh valleys – that you cannot communicate with the next Valley by the shortest route (over the top of the mountain), you have to travel either to the top or bottom and go right around.
I wonder why Greg didn't raise that question; why didn't he ask why Scotland should still be over-represented at Westminster, even though it has its own legislative parliament?
Well worth a read is 'Concern mounts over plan to cut number of MPs' in the Western Mail. It shows how Peter Hain and the Welsh Labour Party are really bricking it over these proposed reforms. Increasing Westminster's "Englishness" by disproportionately reducing Scottish and Welsh representation at Westminster, will reduce non-English influence in the governance of the UK and will weaken the Union. It is a reform that English nationalists should support, if only because it makes England even more electorally important for all three main parties.
Having sat through Peter Hain's disgraceful attempts to justify his government's lies over the Iraq War, I didn't find this exchange particularly surprising.
Question Time Audience member: You mention the devolving of policing and justice, but shouldn't we first bring up the question of the West Lothian Question - that's still unanswered and unsolved.
Peter Hain: Well, no I don't think it has been unsolved or unanswered.
Why would anyone vote for that abomination of a man?
Marsha Singh MP (Labour) has tabeled an Early Day Motion:
That this House calls on the Government to make St George's Day a public holiday.
Adrian Sanders (Lib Dems) has put forward the following amendment.
leave out from `Government' to end and insert `not to make St George's Day a public holiday until the potentially greater benefit to the UK tourist industry of an autumn public holiday, possibly around Trafalgar Day, has been fully assessed.'.
And then Ken Purchase (Labour) has followed up with this:
at end add `; but notes that the dragon had devoured a number of working-class young women and it was only when a princess was threatened that George thought it worthwhile taking action.'.
Whilst we're on the subject of sneering contempt for England, Peter Hain has a new blog. The 'About Us' section tells us this:
ANEURIN Glyndwr is a brand new political website launched by Peter Hain MP, Eluned Morgan MEP and Alun Davies AM.
Its logo depicts Welsh Labour hero Aneurin Bevan and Welsh warrior Owain Glyndwr, together representing the authentic voice of Wales.
This is the same Peter Hain who rails against "playing to the populist gallery of English nationalism".
To celebrate the fact that Gordon Brown is about to have his arse kicked by the SNP in the Kingdom of Fife I thought I'd write a belated reply to one of Peter Hain's pen-pushers.
Dear Mr Burchill,
My apologies for the inexcusable delay since our last correspondence. Doesn't time fly!
Do you happen to know if Peter Hain, the former - now disgraced - Secretary of State, still believes that devolution has dealt nationalism a severe blow and secured the future of the United Kingdom?
If not then what does the current Secretary of State think?
----- Original Message -----
From: "Burchell, Matthew"
Sent: Thursday, March 02, 2006 4:44 PM
Subject: RE: Devolution and English Nationalism
Thank you for your email. Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying.
The Secretary of State believes that, far from fuelling Welsh and Scottish nationalism, devolution for Scotland and Wales has dealt it a severe blow, and in doing so, has secured the future of the United Kingdom. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that support for separatist parties in Scotland and Wales has declined since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales.
The Government does not support the Lord Baker's private members bill because it would undermine the fundamental constitutional principle that all MPs are equal and would lead to constitutional uncertainty.
Once again, thank you for taking the opportunity to write.
Where's Peter Hain now that the Labour Party and the Union needs him?
Wonderful news that Peter Hain has stepped down in order to spend more time with his parole officer - another anti-English bastard out the government, hopefully for good. Of course, almost every Labour MP has 'issues' with England, but the really obnoxious former ministers, listed in the axis of evil below, are finding that their political influence is on the wane. Or gone altogether.
|De facto English First Minister. A disaster for railways, local planning, fire service, Dome, public probity, and destroyer of greenbelt and architecture. Champagne socialist and philanderer. Retired in disgrace.|
|PM without mandate, unelected in England or Scotland on his priorities 'Education, Housing and Planning'. For ten years he has formulated his ideas on a 'Britain of nations and regions'. Can barely conceal his visceral hatred of England. Repugnant NuFascist
|Blair's former flatmate elevated to a position of power beyond his ability. Unelected Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs who supports devolution for Scotland but, passionately, not England. Sidelined|
|Jobsworth lickspittal, jilted bitch of John Prescott at the ODPM. Cold and calculating Minister for Regions who rode roughshod over local democracy. Irrelevant|
|Horrendous little shit. Used his position as Secretary of State for Wales (and Northern Ireland) to argue that there should never be a Secretary of State for England. Like Brown he can barely disguise his contempt for English history and tradition. Stepped down|
|Constitutional attack dog of the Scottish Raj. Old radical -now a part of the furniture- increasingly bogged down in a constitutional mire undertaking interminable green papers, reviews and committees. Famously described the English as 'very violent'. Out of his depth|
|Understudy to the lickspittal Raynsford at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Did what he was told, and liked it. Pimped out to the NLGN. Lost his seat.|
|First Minister of Wales thanks to a cottaging scandal. More enthusiastic about regionalising England than governing Wales. Beaten by Plaid.|
|Probably did England a favour for so obviously being an anglophobic twat, though even then he may have just been playing to the crowd. Beaten by the SNP.|
|Gordon Brown has been using him as a sounding board for his ideas on Britishness for a decade. The new Raj? Simpleton.|
They are my personal top ten, ordered by magnitude of their hatred for England. I'm sure you will have others, you may disagree with the order, and I'm sure many of you will be surprised at some of the omissions. Tony Blair isn't in there because, although undoubtedly bad for Britain, I don't think he was anti-English. He was never a great fan of regionalisation, he didn't really care either way, it was just a concession he made to the Europhiles and Marxists in his party in order to command their cooperation in 'Blairism'. Similarly with the Barnett Formula; sure it was unfair but he didn't have principles so why rock the boat. He didn't hate England, it just meant nothing to him. He was a man without a national identity; not English, not Scottish, not even British; one foot over the Atlantic, the other in Iraq or Brussels, his arse on Britain.
People like Des Browne and Alistair Darling, although members of the Scottish Raj, were just puppets. Admittedly Darling, as Secretary of State for [English] Transport, was a particularly high-profile Raj-ist he never deliberately antagonsied the English. 'Dr' John Reid (Secretary of State for [English] Health) is a similar case in point, though unlike Darling in possession of a backbone.
John Prescott is above Gordon Brown if only for the scale of his incompetence. It defies belief to even begin to imagine the amount of taxpayers' money wasted on his various failed projects - and nothing that he turned his hand to was a success. His complete and utter uselessness and buffoonery endeared him to some people. But not to me. For me he will always be an evil and incompetent cunt. I can only thank God for his incompetence, if he'd been competent he would have been dangerous.