From exile in Jersey, a 92-year-old millionaire prepares to do battle for the land of his fathers

Big money is behind campaign against Welsh devolution. Ian Burrell reports
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A 92-year-old multi-millionaire living in tax exile in Jersey is attempting to block devolution for Wales by making his fortune available to campaigners opposing a Welsh assembly.

Sir Julian Hodge, a financier who grew up in the south Wales valleys, said an assembly would be an enormous burden to taxpayers, add unnecessary bureaucracy, and threaten Wales's representation at Westminster.

His announcement yesterday is the most significant setback to the campaign for a Welsh assembly since Llew Smith, the Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, said that he had been threatened with expulsion from the party if he continued to speak out against devolution.

Yet pro-devolutionists were quick to seize on Sir Julian's intervention as evidence that the debate had turned into a battle between people living in Wales and Welsh exiles.

Daran Hill, national organiser of the "Yes" campaign, based in Cardiff, said: "The `No' campaign at the moment consists of Llew Smith, the Conservatives, Viscount Tonypandy and a tax exile. It's scarcely representative of Welsh life."

Peter Hain, Under-Secretary of State at the Welsh Office, said Sir Julian's intervention was unlikely greatly to affect the referendum vote in September. "The Yes campaign has young active businessmen and women, pop stars, politicians, sportsmen and women and represents a cross-section of opinion on Wales," he said. "Whereas this seems to be a geriatric campaign."

Sir Julian, a former railway clerk who clawed himself up to be chairman of the Bank of Wales and is worth pounds 60m, was yesterday suffering with asthma and too ill to elaborate on his battle plan.

Earlier he said: "I love Wales and have done everything possible to promote it and everything Welsh, but I don't think an assembly will be good for the nation from a business point of view.

"Who's going to pay the cost of it - and what good is it going to do?"

Sir Julian ran into controversy last year when he offered to contribute up to pounds 3m towards the cost of building a new Roman Catholic cathedral in Cardiff.

The plan was rejected by Archbishop John Aloysius Ward on the grounds that the present building was adequate.

Others were more critical of the offer. The Very Reverend Administrator of St David's, Fr Bernard Whitehouse, 70, said: "Sir Julian is a generous man, I'm sure. But would it be a Roman Catholic cathedral he is proposing or a Hodge cathedral?"

Sir Julian, who is a socialist and long-standing friend of Viscount Tonypandy, the former Commons speaker, wants the anti-devolutionist campaign to be non-political.

The Yes campaign is to be stepped up tomorrow with a conference addressed by Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales. Also speaking at the conference will be Viscount St Davids, the first senior Tory to come out in favour of devolution.

Government sources said the Prime Minister would be throwing his weight behind the Yes campaign, with several visits to Wales during the coming months.

Techniques used by Labour's Millbank staff during the election campaign are also to be deployed in Wales as part of a huge publicity drive in favour of devolution.