HC Deb 03 May 1966 vol 727 cc1567-85

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Monmouth)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Newport (Monmouthshire) Order, 1966 (S.I. 1966, No. 120), dated 4th February, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th February, in the last Session of the last Parliament, be annulled. It is unusual, if not unprecedented, for a maiden speaker to attack an Order of the Government which he supports. It is also, I understand, traditional for a maiden speaker to be non-controversial. I cannot expect that my Prayer tonight will move mountains, or that it is likely to excite much interest in the country as a whole, but if my hon. Friend were to go to the area affected—and it is, indeed, only to part of the Order to which I wish to object—and if he were to go particularly to the Christchurch area, he would realise just how much controversy has been aroused there as a result of the Order. I am confident, too, that the Order raises certain fundamental questions about the interpretation of the Local Government Commission Regulations, 1958, and is, therefore, a useful test case for examining these Regulations.

Before proceeding, however, to the substance of my argument, I should like to pay a well-deserved tribute to my distinguished predecessor, who served in several high governmental positions, being, in turn, President of the Board of Trade, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Minister of Aviation, Minister of Defence and Secretary of State for Defence. He served the constituency for 21 years, and, indeed, was a Member of this House before I was born. One thing I have always admired was his political courage in resigning from a high governmental position when he disagreed with the policy of the then Government.

It is traditional, too, in a maiden speech, to describe the diversity of one's constituency. I am very tempted to do this, to describe the contrast between the farming in my constituency and the Spencer Steel Works, the new communi cations, the Severn Bridge, the M4, the delightful valleys of the Wye and the Usk, but I shall limit myself to illustrating that diversity by examining in detail the controversy aroused by this Order.

To sketch in the background very briefly, the Local Government Commission for Wales, set up in 1959, following the Local Government Act, 1958, published its draft proposals in May 1961. It proposed to transfer from the County of Monmouth to the County Borough of Newport not only the area on the south side of the Christchurch ridge—that area, indeed, which was agreed by the county council, although hotly disputed by the Caerleon Urban District Council—but also the area to the north of the Christchurch ridge, that is, the area including the Christchurch Estate.

The Commission argued in paragraph 788 of its Report that the county's offer—that is, the area only to the south of the ridge—would have split the village of Christchurch, although really only the church room and the vicarage would then have been on the wrong side of the boundary, hardly a substantial argument, I think, for not drawing the boundary in that position on the crest of the ridge which most geographers would imagine the most suitable physical place for drawing the boundary. As I hope to show later, the present boundary halfway down the hill leaves very much to be desired.

The final Report of the Commission was published in December, 1962, and a public local inquiry confirmed its proposals in April, 1964. The reason for the urgency of this debate is that as a result of the negative procedure a Prayer must be raised against this Order before 6th May.

What, then, are the objections of my constituents to the Commission's proposals? First, it is difficult to reconcile the proposals with the Local Government Regulations, 1958, which state quite clearly in Regulation 11: Before proposing the inclusion in a county borough of an area comprising or forming part of a county district … the Commission shall consider, inter alia, …

  1. (a) The question whether the area, if already built-up, is not only substantially a continuation of the town area …"
and this is the important thing— but also has closer and more special links with it than those which necessarily arise from mere proximity: …
  1. (c) The question whether … there would be a balance of advantage in the change, having regard to the interests of the inhabitants of the county borough and the county district …"
The Commission's Report concludes, in paragraph 785: The land south of the ridge is cut off physically from Caerleon town and in every respect except local government administration can be considered to look towards Newport. It does not attempt to make such a case for the area to the north of the ridge, that is the area in dispute, the area containing the Christchurch Estate. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, I am confident that the ridge is the best physical boundary, and that at the moment the boundary lying as it is drawn half way down the hill really means that the county borough is encroaching towards the River Usk, and there seems no valid reason now why this should not be continued, why the county borough should not take in that area which is Caerleon Village which lies on the same side of the river as the Christchurch Estate, and which adjoins that estate.

The Welsh Office has not attempted to make a case either for the inclusion of the Christchurch Estate, that is, the area to the north of the Ridge Road, in the county borough. In its letter of 15th July, 1965, to Dr. Tranter of the Christchurch and Coldra Residents' Association, the Welsh Office wrote: In arriving at his decision the Secretary of State … had no doubt that the areas were physically part of Newport and concluded that the balance of advantage is in favour of the proposed transfer. Thus, the residents were again given reasons which I maintain were not valid under the terms of the 1958 Regulations.

Naturally, many residents of the Christchurch area seek employment and entertainment, and do their shopping in the County Borough of Newport, but, as interpreted in this case, I believe that the Regulations are so loose as to invite large urban units to gobble up those county districts immediately adjoining them, and are not in tune with the times. People are willing to travel very far to their place of work, and thus many local authority boundaries are becoming increasingly unrealistic.

Where is the evidence to show that there are such special ties as mentioned in the Regulations, in this case between Newport, the county borough, and the district of Christchurch? Certainly the inhabitants of the Christchurch Estate do not feel such special ties with Newport. Indeed, they bought their houses there in the expectation that they would be living in a county district, in a rural area though, as I say, relatively close to the County Borough of Newport.

If my hon. Friend were to stand, as I did last weekend, in Oldhill Crescent, on the Christchurch Estate, and look towards Newport on the horizon on one side, and then look down to Caerleon, with Caerleon Village, just adjoining the Christchurch Estate, and the town of Caerleon proper on the other side of the River Usk, he would understand why the residents do not feel this identification with Newport as they do with Caerleon, in which urban district they are at present sited. If there are such special ties between Christchurch and Newport, do not they apply equally forcefully to Caerleon, or at least to Caerleon Village, which, with Caerleon proper, the Commission has seen fit to leave within the county area?

The second main objection of the residents of the Christchurch Estate is that obviously the decision on Christchurch must have been very closely balanced. In the penultimate paragraph of his Report on the Public Local Inquiry dated 31st July, 1964, Sir Ralph Hone concluded: It seems to me that the decision to be reached must depend to a large extent on the weight which the Minister attaches to the wishes of the inhabitants which, on the evidence, are clearly strongly against incorporation with Newport. Certainly over 90 per cent. of the residents of this estate feel no identification with the borough of Newport in the way that the residents, for example, of the Bettws Neighbourhood Unit feel with the county borough. Over 90 per cent. of the residents were willing to contribute to a fund to defray the cost of legal representation at the public local inquiry.

In order to override such strongly-held objections of the local residents, powerful arguments need to he produced, but the only valid reason which has so far been given appeared in paragraph 819 of the Commission's Report, which said: We are convinced that this area is to a large extent indispensable to the Borough Council in solving their housing difficulties and is in any case closely associated with Newport. Mere close association is not in itself a reason for incorporation into the county borough. The Malpas farm area, of 57 acres, was not, as a result of the inquiry—although originally proposed by the Commission—transferred to the county. Would not these 57 acres in Malpas go a long way towards compensating the county borough for the loss of Christchurch? Are we really to believe that the 80 acres of buildable land in the area is indispensable to a county borough with an acreage approaching 10,000?

If, as the county at one stage suggested, the line were to be drawn at the new trunk road, this would effectively cut off the Christchurch Estate from the area which can be built up, and so would give the county borough what it wanted while still giving the residents of the Christchurch area what they want, which is to retain their position in the Caerleon urban district.

Sir Ralph Hone concluded his Report in paragraph 96 by saying that it does not appear to me that this"— that is, the 80 buildable acres in Christchurch— represents any 'loss' to the Corporation for which they should be compensated". Thus, this argument about the housing needs of Newport is very debatable. The residents feel that they are the innocent victims of geographers, playing with coloured pieces on maps, and that although the formal machinery for safeguarding the private citizens' interests appears very impressive on paper, in fact their wishes have not been heeded at any stage.

Paragraph 7 of the 1958 Regulations states that the wishes of the inhabitants should, among other things, be heeded, yet in paragraph 29 of its Report the Commission seems to doubt even the possibility of obtaining an impartial view of what the residents really want. It says That any presentation aimed at securing an expression of the wishes of the inhabitants could have been really impartial we find it impossible to accept. If this is so—if it is quite impossible to obtain an impartial view of what the residents really want—should not the Government give clear guidance to future commissions on how to set about, in an impartial way, finding out what the residents of the area really want? This section of the Commission's Report, in paragraph 30, ends on a very presumptuous note. It says: The wishes of the inhabitants are, we repeat, important. The paramount consideration is their well-being. I mistrust authorities which tell me what is in my interest.

In any case, why make the decision now on this question when the whole future of local government is in the balance, not only as a result of the Royal Commission on Local Government, which we hope will report in two years' time, but also as a result of the report commissioned by the Welsh Office on local government in Wales? I understand that is a very comprehensive report, dealing with areas, functions, finance—the lot.

If we are to get that report from the Welsh Office very shortly, why take a decision now on these relatively small points concerning changes between county boroughs and counties? Some of us, certainly on this side of the House, hope that the whole pattern of local government, and the relationship between county boroughs and counties will be looked at radically. Is there not a case for a standstill on minor changes of this sort in advance of the conclusions of these various learned bodies which are at present considering the future of local government, not only in Wales but in the country as a whole?

The third main objection of my constituents is that the Commission is meant to propose changes: in the interest of effective and convenient local government. It is difficult to see what the decision in this Christchurch issue has to do with effective and convenient local government. What is to be the benefit to the residents of Christchurch? Having been shown their new rate demands by some of the residents, I am sure they are not very much aware of the benefit at the moment. What is to be the benefit to Caerleon Urban District Council, which, as a result of this Order, loses four-fifths of the rateable value of Christchurch Ward whilst retaining four-fifths of the area of the ward? Caerleon U.D.C., is already considered by some not to be a viable local government unit. On the housing side, what is likely to be the benefit, at least substantially, to the County Borough of Newport?

Because the reasons in favour of this change have appeared so slight, in my conversations with the residents of the area I heard the view expressed again and again that they were the innocent victims of a simple land bartering arrangement. It was said that, because the County of Monmouthshire received the new Spencer Steel works at Llanwern, with all the rateable value which comes from that steel works, the county had to make some sacrifice to the county borough which at the time was hoping to have the new steel works sited within its enlarged boundaries.

On this point, the allegation that a land bartering arrangement was involved, the local newspaper, the South Wales Argus, wrote on 14th April: If there is even a half truth in this, it shows a completely cynical disregard for the fundamentals of local government re-organisation and for the needs of the people involved. … a direct denial of the ordinary rights of communities to be regarded as important in themselves and not merely as pieces of negotiable property. … Indeed, the Welsh Office may well regard this allegation as important enough to justify some form of inquiry. … the Government must see that they are made fully aware of the reasons for any action, or lack of it. There is a completely new team at the Welsh Office and, if I may say so, a very able team of which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is a part. This team is not honour bound to accept the decisions and recommendations of its predecessors. I hope they will consider the issues raised by this Order and raised by the great concern of the residents of Christchurch sufficiently important to warrant some reconsideration of the Commission's recommendations.

I should like to pose to my hon. Friend three questions which have not, so far as I can see, and certainly so far as the residents of Christchurch feel, been answered as yet. First, what are the links between Christchurch and the County Borough of Newport which are closer and more special than those which necessarily arise from mere proximity? Secondly, how could the Minister reconcile the existence of these links with the near-unanimous opposition of the residents of the Christchurch area? Thirdly, is the Minister prepared to state unequivocally that the change is not by way of compensation to the County Borough of Newport for the siting of the steel works outside its boundary, but is in the interests of efficient and convenient local government in the area?

It is the man who proposes a change and not the man who defends the status quo who must give reasons for his proposals, the authorities who must justify their proposals to the aggrieved citizens. So far such cogent reasons have not been given, and I hope that tonight, for the benefit of the residents of this area, my constituents, the Minister will give the reasons.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

It is a privilege for me to congratulate the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Anderson) on his first speech in this House. It must be a long time since an hon. Member of this House made his maiden speech on the occasion of a debate on an Order of this kind. Those of us who have heard his speech tonight can well understand the reasons which motivated the hon. Member in choosing this occasion, and I think hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel that, whatever their views about the matter under consideration, he has presented his case with clarity, confidence and ability. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Indeed, I would suggest that he has made such a persuasive speech that the Welsh Office should have second thoughts about this matter.

It is not a pretty picture to see county boroughs trying to abrogate control over areas adjoining their jurisdiction. The hon. Gentleman made that quite clear. Those of us who know the countryside around Newport and love it and those of us who have read the poems of the famous W. H. Davies——

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Gower

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) is obviously as familiar as I am with that poet. He has lived in Newport for a long time. Those of us who love the poems of W. H. Davies know how he dwelt upon the beauty of places like Caerleon, Llanwern and Llantarnam. Indeed, it seems to many of us that it is an indication of progressive administration to draw into a county borough the sort of place that Caerleon, or part of Caerleon, is. It is highly desirable that this should be left under its present kind of three-tier administration in the county of Monmouth.

The hon. Gentleman paid a charming tribute to his predecessor, Mr. Peter Thorneycroft, and it seems a cruel fate that, so soon after his great achievement in winning the constituency of Monmouth, his right hon. and hon. Friends should seek to tear away part of his constituency in this way. [Interruption.] That is a fact, and it seems a poor reward for services well done. The Government are doing serious harm to the hon. Gentleman's constituency and serious harm to the County of Monmouth of which it forms part.

I shall try not to be partisan, but I hope that the Welsh Office will have second thoughts about it. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State is familiar with the area of Caerleon. We are all aware that it is in proximity to Newport, as the hon. Member for Monmouth admitted, but, on the other hand, it is also the gateway to that lovely countryside which leads up to Usk, Raglan and Monmouth. I submit that there is no real purpose in transferring it in this way. There can be no question of increased efficiency. If the Minister at the Welsh Office takes the view that Labour-dominated authorities are better than others, there are Labour-dominated authorities in both directions. The Monmouth County Council is a Labour-dominated authority, and it is admittedly an authority with a splendid record of administration fully equal to the County Borough of Newport.

The Minister must give a cogent reason why this part of Caerleon will fare better under the County Borough of Newport than under the County of Monmouth. I see with some nostalgia the reference in the Order to St. Bride's Wentlooge in the rural district of Magor and St. Mellons, and I hope that the part in- cluded in the plan under St. Bride's Wentlooge is very small indeed. As the hon. Member for Monmouth knows, there is no part of the coastline there which is less to be reconciled with the town of Newport than the village of St. Bride's Wentlooge, and, although he did not refer to that particular part, there might be equal objections to its incorporation in the county borough.

There are other objections to this procedure. All sorts of subsidiary results arise. To give a simple example, the police authority for the County of Monmouth embraces the village of St. Mellons as well as the village of St. Bride's Wentlooge, and it is far more convenient for that police authority to deal with matters arising in St. Bride's than it is for the County Borough of Newport police authority.

I submit that there are serious objections which the House ought to consider in the future if it is intended to make important changes of this kind by such Orders as this. These are matters of such importance that they should be embraced in a Bill brought before the House and debated in detail. It seems to me that the mere acceptance or rejection of an Order of this kind is not an adequate procedure to deal with matters of such moment to the people residing in the areas affected.

For those reasons, and others which I cannot elaborate in the time available tonight, I support a great deal of what the hon. Member for Monmouth said. This is not a matter to which we should adopt a partisan approach. It is one on which hon. Members on both sides can feel deep sympathy. The hon. Gentleman presented a powerful case, a case which deserves a cogent answer setting out very sound reasons. On the face of it, those reasons are not to be found in the Order.

10.35 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ifor Davies)

It causes me great personal pleasure to have the opportunity tonight to be the first hon. Member on this side of the House to extend congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Anderson). I endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower), that my hon. Friend put the case very clearly and very powerfully, and I am sure that I carry the whole House with me when I say that we look forward very much to hearing him in our future deliberations. I congratulate him, too, on the ingenious way which he has chosen to deliver his maiden speech on this Prayer. It has proven that he has the concern of his constituents at heart. He has chosen this very clear opportunity to put before the House the anxieties and fears of his constituents.

As the hon. Member for Barry said, my hon. Friend was gracious enough to make a reference to his predecessor. We all recognise that. He boasted of the glories of his constituency. We all recognise, not only in the House but far and wide, the glories of Monmouth. Perhaps he was too humble to boast of his great victory in the last election. I congratulate him heartily. We noted the gesture which he paid.

I believe that every hon. Member when he delivers his maiden speech utters a silent prayer, but tonight my hon. Friend has prayed loud and strong in connection with this Prayer. The Order now before the House is one of a number which have been made under the Local Government Act, 1958, for the extension of a county borough. This is the first such Order in Wales and Monmouthshire and. although it is unique in that respect, in others it follows the familiar pattern of consistent objection from the area to be taken into the county borough.

Let me remind the House of the sequence of events in this story. The Local Government Commission for Wales was set up and charged with the task of reviewing the boundaries of counties and county boroughs in Wales. The procedure set out in the Local Government Act, 1958, required that the Commission after its initial investigations should first publish draft proposals, and after considering objections to these, it prepared its final proposals. These, too, were published and, indeed, a public inquiry was held into the objections. The Secretary of State then came to a final decision based on all this material, and the Order now before the House puts into effect his decision on the boundaries of Newport County Borough.

The procedure has been a long one, and I assure my hon. Friend that it has ensured that the people concerned have had ample opportunity to make their views known. My hon. Friend's case is directed mainly to the proposals as they affect the Christchurch area, a small but certainly a very important part of the total area being transferred to the county borough. One of his main points is that Christchurch has no real links with Newport. This, of course, is not a new point. It was made to the Commission when it visited the area to see for itself and it has been made at every point of the proceedings. The Commission did not accept this view. The Commission concluded that Christchurch had links with Newport other than those of, mere proximity, and the Secretary of State was satisfied that this was so.

But this was by no means the sole issue before either the Commission or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and it should not be forgotten that the Secretary of State also had in mind the need of Newport Borough for building land. The Commission was convinced that this area was to a large extent indispensable to the borough council in solving its housing difficulties and at the inquiry into the Commission's proposals the county borough council maintained that insufficient housing land would be available to it and it asked for more. The Secretary of State did not accept that the housing requirements of Newport were such that additional land over and above that recommended by the Commission was needed, but, equally, he did not feel that he would be justified in reducing the recommended added area.

It has been suggested, too, that the amount of land at Christchurch likely to be suitable for building is insignificant in relation to the borough council's housing programme. At the least, there seems to be sufficient building land in the added area, in the opinion of the county planning officer, to accommodate more than 1,000 dwellings, hardly an insignificant number at a time when we need to make the best use of every acre of building land in and around our towns. I would acid that a boundary alone the line of the new bypass, which has also been suggested, would very much reduce the available building land since, I am assured, much of the land south of the road would not be suitable for building.

Another point which my hon. Friend made was that the wishes of the inhabitants of Christchurch have received insufficient attention, a very important statement. I must emphasise that the facts are that the closest attention was paid to the objections of the inhabitants of the area. They have made their wishes known at every possible stage. This, of course, is not a simple matter. If Parliament had intended that the wishes of those being transferred should be the only thing that mattered, it could have provided for each boundary change to be settled by simple referendum, but this, of course, would have been absurd. The Regulations make it quite clear that the wishes of the inhabitants is only one of the factors to be taken into account. The Regulations refer to many other factors, such as the extent of development and expected development, economic, industrial and geographical characteristics, financial resources and communications, in addition to the wishes of the inhabitants.

In the ultimate, it is a matter of weighing the balance of advantage in changes of this sort, as is also stated in Regulation 11(c) of the Local Government Commission Regulations, 1958, which directs that consideration shall be given to the question whether (after taking into account any related proposals which may be in contemplation) there would be a balance of advantage in the change, having regard to the interests of the inhabitants of the county borough and the county district. The Commission came down in favour of including the area in Newport and the Secretary of State agreed. He was satisfied that before coming to a conclusion about Christchurch, the Commission had carefully weighed all the factors which it had had to consider. He agreed that the residents' view deserved the greatest respect, and I assure my hon. Friend that he meant that. But he felt, nevertheless, that, despite the inspector's comment, as quoted by my hon. Friend, the evidence reported by him served only to strengthen the Commission's recommendation. Indeed, the inspector, as I remind my hon. Friend, has also made it clear that the general impression he had was that Christchurch seems to be physically a part of Newport.

It is my experience that, in nearly every instance where a recommendation is made to incorporate within a borough a built-up area or an area containing some kind of existing community, the views of the inhabitants of that area are overwhelmingly against the proposal and they almost inevitably express themselves satisfied with the status quo and are adamant that there will be no material benefit to them in the transfer.

Clearly, if county borough extensions are ever to include partially built-up areas, there must be circumstances in which other considerations must be taken into account as well as the views of the residents. Such circumstances, I submit, exist in the case of Christchurch, where my right hon. Friend considered the views of the inhabitants most carefully but concluded that they did not override the Commission's reasons for recommending the inclusion of this area within the county borough.

My hon. Friend made a very important reference at the end of his speech. He referred to rumours which he had heard to the effect that this decision was the outcome of some questionable deal. If there are such rumours, then I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised the matter, thereby giving me the opportunity to say, with all the emphasis that I can command, that there is no truth whatsoever in such an allegation.

Indeed, I deeply regret that any such suggestion should have been made. The Local Government Commission for Wales was a body held in the highest regard in Wales and tribute has justly been paid to it from all quarters. It discharged an unenviable task with courage, fairness and integrity and it would be quite wrong of me to let any of these rumours pass without challenge.

In conclusion, I can assure my hon. Friend that the inhabitants of the transferred areas will be served—and this is in reply to the hon. Member for Barry as well—by a progressive county borough council able to provide the whole range of local government services on an integrated basis under the control of a single council. For them, the impact of an increase in rates has been softened by a provision in the Order for differential rating. They should have no fears, however, that the community spirit they have enjoyed in Christchurch will be lost. I therefore ask the House to reject the Motion.

10.49 p.m.

Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)

Before the Under-Secretary of State sits down, perhaps I could add a few words from this side with reference to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Anderson). It is many years since the House heard a maiden speech from an hon. Member for Monmouth and I am sure that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) said, the way in which the present 'hon. Member made his speech and his reference to his predecessor were very much admired.

The hon. Member said that he was being controversial. All I can say is that he was controversial in a very pleasant way and we look forward to hearing more contributions from him both in this House and in the Welsh Grand. Committee.

I want to put two points to the Under-Secretary of State. The first is one that the hon. Member did not put. Why were these areas not removed from Monmouth until the date they were? Why were they not removed earlier? Was there some particular working of the machinery of the Order that it had to be delayed until April? My second point, to which I am sure the Under-Secretary can reply, is whether this type of change-over is always to be incorporated in an Order rather than a Bill. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows the answer to this.

I put these two questions shortly to the House, and as this is the first opportunity during this Parliament when we have discussed Welsh affairs, perhaps I might be allowed to say to the triumvirate who sit on the Front Bench opposite that we look forward to many encounters in the weeks and months ahead.

Mr. Speaker

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that this was not an intervention under the traditional expression "Before the hon. Gentleman sits down"? It was a speech. It was a very gracious speech, but it was his speech for the purpose of this debate.

10.51 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I, too, join is the congratulations to the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Anderson). It is traditional that in a maiden speech one talks about one's own constituency, but the hon. Member certainly broke away from tradition tonight in choosing to make his maiden speech on a Prayer on his own constituency. Not only did he break away from tradition in that way, but he chose to attack his Front Bench in his maiden speech, and that showed enormous courage.

The hon. Member paid tribute to the courage of his predecessor. He has, I think, inherited it. He has inherited, too, the fluency of speech and the clarity of explanation of his predecessor. We shall certainly enjoy hearing him many times in the House, and I forecast that he will be creeping down the benches opposite to steal a position from the triumvirate, whom I also congratulate.

I was in great agreement with the hon. Member for Monmouth when he asked why we do not wait for the Report of the Commissions which are considering local government before bringing in piecemeal Orders of this sort. My point on the Order is a narrow but important one and, therefore, I will refrain from following the hon. Member in that wider argument.

I want to question whether the Secretary of State—not the right hon. Gentleman now sitting on the Front Bench, but his predecessor—had the power to make an Order which includes an Article about compensation for loss of employment by local government servants. This appears in Article 54 of the Order. It has always been a matter for national negotiation and not one for any particular area of the country. For that reason, this was excluded from the functions given to the Secretary of State in the Order under which tonight's Order is made.

The recital to the Order shows that it is made under Sections 23(1), 38 and 60(1) of the Local Government Act, 1958. That Act itself gave no power whatever to the Secretary of State for Wales to introduce an Order of this sort. The Secretary of State relies upon the Secretary of State for Wales and Minister of Land and Natural Resources Order, 1965, which is recited at the beginning of tonight's Order.

If one refers to that 1965 Order to find what functions have been transfered to the Secretary of State for Wales, one finds from Article 2 that The functions of the Minister of Housing and Local Government under the enactments specified in Part I of Schedule 1 to this Order, in so far as those enactments apply to Wales, are hereby transferred to the Secretary of State. This is the power under which the Order we are now discussing was made. Therefore, one has to turn to the Schedule to that 1965 Order to find exactly what functions were transfered to the Secretary of State for Wales. Amongst those in the list is the following: The Local Government Act 1958, except Part I, section 60(2) and Schedules 1 and 2. Schedules 1 and 2 deal with the general grants, and that function was obviously not transferred. Section 60(2) of the Act is that which deals with compensation for loss of office by local government servants.

This was not transferred to the Secretary of State for Wales. Section 60(2) of the Local Government Act, 1958, deals with the provisions which can be made, by such Minister as determined by the Treasury, for the payment of compensation in respect of persons who are holders of such place, situation or employment as may be prescribed and who suffer loss of employment or loss or diminution of emoluments by reason of an Order made under that Section.

It is quite clear in the Explanatory Note to the 1965 Order that there was a very good reason for not transferring to the Secretary of State for Wales the power to make Regulations concerning compensation for loss of employment by local government servants. The Explanatory Note to the 1965 Order makes specific reference to this fact. It says: The broad basis of transfer That is the transfer of functions from the Minister of Housing and Local Government to the Secretary of State for Wales, … is that all the Minister's functions under those enactments are transferred except functions which consist of the making of major regulations and other instruments affecting England and Wales as a whole". It has always been recognised that negotiations between local government servants, that is to say, between those bodies representing local government servants, and the Government, have been a matter of national concern, and not of any local concern. That was the reason why Section 60(2) of the Local Government Act, 1958, was excluded from the functions transferred to the Secretary of State for Wales.

I am sorry if I have risen to my feet after the Under-Secretary has spoken and have put this problem to him. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Wales is here and if he can answer my question and satisfy me on this I shall be only too happy. On the face of it, it looks as if Article 54 of the present Order was outside the powers granted to the Secretary of State under the 1965 Order. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to satisfy me and I hope that he has not been ultra vires. It is the duty of Members of this House to study the Orders which come before them in this way and if there is doubt, if it is questionable whether a Minister or a Secretary of State has exceeded his powers, then the point should be raised.

Mr. Ifor Davies

By leave of the House, I would take the opportunity of replying, first to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt). May I thank him for his generous remarks about my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself and may I return the compliment and congratulate him on his appointment as spokesman for Welsh affairs. If I may use an expression with which I think he is familiar, because he is a cricketer, I would remind him that he will have to bowl very fast to bowl out my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

He asked why the Order is coming in on 1st April and not sooner. The answer is that it comes into force on 1st April, the beginning of the financial year, and it was not ready at that date in 1965. That is the first point. The second is his question, why produce an Order rather than a Bill? The answer is that the procedure for the implementation of the proposals of the Local Government Commission for Wales is prescribed in Section 23 of the Local Government Act, 1958, and these proposals are implemented by way of an Order by the Secretary of State, which is subject to negative Resolution. That is laid down.

We welcome very much the contribution of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). He was quite right in saying that Orders of this kind must be the subject of the closest scrutiny of the House, and I would say on behalf of my right hon. Friend that we are quite satisfied regarding the position. I would add that Article 54 is made under Section 38 of the Local Government Act, 1958, and I would refer the hon. Member to Section 38, which puts the position clearly, and I hope to the satisfaction of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Anderson

Though not entirely satisfied with the answer given by my hon. Friend, for some of the reasons given by hon. Gentlemen opposite, I beg to ask leave——

Mr. Graham Page


Mr. Anderson

—to withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Graham Page

With the leave of the House perhaps I may speak again in reference to the answer which I have received from the Under-Secretary of State on Section 38 of the Act. Section 38 only allows certain ancillary and transitional provisions. It certainly does not over-rule the very clear Section, Section 60, of the Act.

This has happened on many more occasions than one when Prayers have been brought before the House at this time of night and matters have been raised about the power of a Minister making an Order. It happened on no fewer than three or four occasions during the last Parliament. On each occasion, at this late hour of night, when it is difficult to continue to question a Minister, a matter was brushed aside with the remark, "We are quite satisfied this is all right" or "We have been advised that it is all right".

I assure the Minister that Section 38 is not the answer to this at all. It cannot possibly overrule the fact that in Section 60 the powers for providing for compensation for local government servants are embodied, and nowhere else in the 1958 Act, and it is that Section 60 which is deliberately the one Section excluded from the transfer of functions to the Secretary of State. I cannot feel—that is why I interrupted when the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Anderson) sought to withdraw the Prayer—that this is a satisfactory answer to the problem which I put to the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and negatived.