Chapter 14

“You’re lucky, Powell,” said Llywarch after lunch. “There’s an important debate in the Senate this afternoon.”

“What about, Doctor?”

“Ever since we achieved independence, people from the Welsh diaspora all over the world have been moving back to Wales. But there are many who still haven’t come – grandchildren of Welsh people who left in your days, who have remembered a bit of their Welsh and their interest in Wales – and they’re asking for help with their travelling expenses. Many countries of the Commonwealth are not doing as well, economically, as they were when their grandparents moved there: drought, overpopulation and unemployment have pulled down living standards. Many of the Welsh who live there haven’t got enough money to buy a sea fare, let alone a plane ticket.”

“What can the Senate do?”

“The Government is presenting a measure to pay the costs for these people to travel back to Wales.”

“Does anyone oppose that?”

“Yes. Some people fear Wales will become overpopulated. The population of Wales is already three and a half million, and it’s still growing – slowly. The opposition are afraid that another million inhabitants will be more than Wales can bear.”

“Do you agree?”

Llywarch laughed.

“I’m a scientist, Powell, not an economist. Come on. We’ll go if you’re ready.”

As we arrived in the reception of the Senate house, Llywarch asked the attendant if the member for Cardiff North-West was present. The attendant looked in the book, and said that he was. He pushed a button on the videophone by his side, and within a few seconds I saw first one face, and a few seconds later another face. The second face promised to come down at once.

“This is my senate member,” said Llywarch to me when the man arrived, “Taf Howell”.

Taf Howell was a young, tall and handsome man, with bright and mischievous eyes. I noticed that he spoke with Llywarch in English. He apologised to me in a few words of Welsh that his Welsh wasn’t fluent enough to sustain a long conversation in it.

“But,” he said with a cheerful smile, “everyone in Wales understands each other, whichever of the two languages they’re speaking. And that’s ideal.”

Llywarch said to him that he and I had come to hear the debate, and Howell took us at once along a corridor, up some stairs and along another corridor to the door of the gallery. He placed us in the care of another attendant who was standing there, and having shaken hands with us, he went away.

The gallery was easily full, and everyone was talking noisily. That was one thing that struck me again and again: how much fun these Welsh people seemed to have, their cheerfulness, levity and spirit. Over there were the men of the Press – I assumed that was who they were – turning pages and thumbing through papers. Behind me were two women talking in Welsh, and it was obvious from their conversation that they had someone dear to them in Australia who wanted to come back to Wales to live.

The seats of House filled up below us with the senate members. Llywarch explained to me that there were over a hundred members in all, and it was obvious that most of them were here. Immediately, the members and everyone in gallery rose to their feet, and I noticed that a door had opened underneath the Press Gallery. The Prime Minister came in, with the other ministers following him. After they had sat, the House Moderator came into the house, and sat on a throne-like seat at one end of the hall. The Chaplain climbed into a small pulpit alongside, read a few verses and offered a prayer. Then, having whispered to one or two people around him, the Moderator rose and set out the nature of the debate to be had, then called on the Home Secretary to open it. Charles Emrys stepped forward to the rostrum and started speaking. I remembered straight away that Llywarch and I were to go to his house for supper that night.

It was a strange experience to see a Welsh Parliament at work. The parliament that I had campaigned against, and rubbished. I hadn’t believed that Wales could afford its own parliament, nor that it would be a good thing to have even if we could afford it. But here I was watching it go about its business, and it was no different from any other parliament. A number of men and women, varying in age and ability like the members of every country’s parliament, but taking their job seriously while laughing at one another’s jokes. Tegid would be pleased when I went back to tell him.

Charles Emrys had spoken in Welsh, but the Leader of the Opposition answered him in English. During the two hours that I was there, some spoke in Welsh and some in English, yet I never saw or heard anyone translating. It was obvious, as Taf Howell had said, that everyone here understood both languages but preferred to speak publicly in whichever one was their first language.

The long and short of the debate was that the Government recommended giving a grant to every person of Welsh descent in any country of the British Commonweath who wanted to come to Wales to live, if they were able to prove that they couldn’t afford the fare themselves. The Opposition disagreed, as Llywarch had said, because they were afraid of Wales becoming overpopulated. The Deputy Home Secretary rose to say that the immigrants would not be allowed to settle in the large towns or industrial districts. They had carried out a detailed survey, and concluded that there were parts of rural Wales that could bear a doubling of their population. The population was still very sparse across the Denbigh Moors, the Berwyns, the Brecon Beacons and the area around Plynlimon, despite the policy of encouraging light industry in those areas. They were also too dependent on co-operative companies to farm these upland areas, instead of being able to parcel the land out to family farms. If more immigrants came in who had experience of farming, it would be possible to increase the number of upland smallholdings and have better, more productive farming. As usual, the Government would be able to give every suitable family a startup loan through the Industrial Credit Bank.

Llywarch and I had to leave before the matter was put to a vote, but I had already been given plenty to think about, and to tell Tegid about.

“Tell me, Doctor,” I said as we crossed the reception, “is it true that the big population centres of the South dominate the Northern areas in this senate? I didn’t get that impression this afternoon, for sure, but that’s one of the reasons why I and many others were against Wales having a parliament.”

“It’s not true at all,” said Llywarch. “Did you hear anyone speak of ‘the North’ or ‘the South’ today?”


“’North’ and ‘South’ have disappeared to all intents and purposes today. People are still very loyal to their counties and districts, and you hear people talk proudly of how they were born in Gwynedd or Powys or Dyfed or Deheubarth[1].  But Wales is one country, or – if you prefer – a large collection of towns and districts. It’s true that towns like Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham have a lot of seats between them, along with other populous districts like Rhondda, Rhymney, the Swansea Valley, Bethesda and Deeside. But the population is spread more evenly across the country nowadays, so the towns don’t dominate the countryside in the way they did in your day. And even if they did, we have the Second House to ensure fair play.”

“The Second House?”

“Yes, yes, didn’t you know? Would you like to see that? It’s sitting as well this afternoon.”

We went to another part of the Senate building, and found a place in that gallery. There were fewer people watching this House at work, but the Press were here as well. This chamber was a little smaller than the other, and was furnished in a very pleasant shade of blue. Llywarch explained that the representatives in this house were nominated by the county and town councils, the trade unions and the marketing boards, but there were also representatives from the main industrial, educational and religious institutions. Additionally, there were a large number of smaller organisations and movements that had the right to send observers and to send memoranda to be debated here.

That afternoon thee Second House was discussing the agenda for the Annual Gathering of the Celtic League. Politically, Wales was a member of the British Commonwealth, and the Prime Minister and Home Secretary attended the Commonwealth Council in London each time it met. In addition, it was a member of the Celtic League, an alliance between Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany, which had been established to promote economic and cultural cooperation between those countries.

Llywarch explained that the agenda for the Gathering had been before the First House some days ago, and the Second House was discussing the recommendations that were made there. All measures passed by the First House had to be discussed in the Second House before becoming law, and that, explained Llywarch, protected all the people of Wales. It was true that the Second House’s veto could only last for a year and a day, and it was very rarely invoked, but once or twice it had prevented laws from being made which could, in their original form, have done more harm than good. 

The most interesting thing for me in this sitting wasn’t so much the rather heavy discussions of the members – a rather less electrifying group than those of the First House – but hearing the Vice-President of the Celtic League, who was an Irishman, addressing the House in perfect Welsh. I had heard Irishmen speaking Welsh in my own age, but I never heard one speak Welsh like this one. There was no hint of an accent, and every mutation and construction was flawless. And I remember the end of his address:

“Our nations are two ancient nations. We were in these islands before the Roman, the Saxon or the Norman. According to some, we’ll still be here when they’ve gone. (Laughter.) But one thing is certain: today we are more alive, more prosperous, and more cultured, than we have ever been. And through cooperating and directing our gifts on a common trajectory, we can lead the world towards a freedom of thought and a unity of spirit, the like of which has never been seen in all of history.”

[1] It’s worth remembering that, although all but one of these names were attached to County Councils in the 1974 reorganisation, at the time this book was written they were just historical regions that had had no official status since the Middle Ages. Deheubarth was the region roughly corresponding to what later became Glamorgan and Gwent; the region that became Clwyd in 1974 had historically been split between Gwynedd and Powys.

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