HC Deb 03 May 1971 vol 816 cc999-1003
23. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from the County Borough of Newport concerning the consultative document on the reform of local government in Wales.

Mr. Peter Thomas

None. Authorities have until the end of the month to submit their observations.

Mr. Hughes

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this council has now agreed to the proposal that it should be reduced to the status of a parish council? Will he appreciate that that is quite appropriate and understandable after four years of disastrous control by the Conservative Party, but will he bear in mind that there may be a few changes on 13th May?

Mr. Peter Thomas

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. It is not suggested that a district council, under my proposal, should have the functions of a parish council. The hon. Gentleman is thinking of his right hon. Friend's proposal.

29. Mr. Alan Williams

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what consultations he intends to hold with Swansea City Council about his local government reform proposals.

Mr. Peter Thomas

I shall decide this in the light of its written comments.

Mr. Williams

Will the Secretary of State, if he meets the city council, explain why, other than with the object of gerrymandering, in Swansea he has included in the new boundaries Tory voting villages 10 to 12 miles outside the city while he has excluded from within the new areas villages and parts of communities indistinguishable from Swansea which happen to contain Labour votes?

Mr. Peter Thomas

If the hon. Gentleman inquires of the city council he will find that it has in the past proposed to extend the city boundaries to include areas such as the Gower rural district and a number of other areas adjoining the city. The hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends seem to be interested in the pattern of local government solely from the point of view of its possible effect on parliamentary constituencies. I think he should have more concern for the value of local government reorganisation. He talks about gerrymandering. That comes ill from a member of a Government which disreputably threw aside the recommendations of the Boundary Commission.

Mr. John Stradling Thomas

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in discussing gerrymandering we are looking at a party of experts?

Mr. George Thomas

Is the Secretary of State aware that the sheer hypocrisy of his reply takes our breath away? Has he received many compliments from the Conservative Party constituencies for the excellent job of fiddling the boundaries on which he is engaged?

Mr. Peter Thomas

That is not the view of the Conservative-controlled Cardiff City Council. Certainly it has made representations to me and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, has rejected my proposals. Therefore, it does not appear to be pleased. I am wondering what the right hon. Gentleman's attitude was to the Government of which he was a member throwing aside the recommendations of the independent Boundary Commission. Did he not think that that was gerrymandering?

Mr. McBride

Is it not singular that although not so long ago the city which my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) and I represent was accorded the status of a city, the right hon. Gentleman will now demote it to the status of a district council? Is he aware that we know of his distaste for political questions but that we are equally aware of his interest in political matters, particularly when they concern his party, and that we think that he framed this decision thus?

Mr. Peter Thomas

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads my proposals—

Mr. McBride

I have done so.

Mr. Peter Thomas

—when he will see that they will still mean that Swansea will remain a city.

Mr. Alan Williams

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the evasiveness and inadequacy of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall try to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

34. Mr. John

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will publish the exchanges with Lord Crowther as to the effect upon the present proposals for the reform of local government of the likely recommendations of his Commission.

Mr. Peter Thomas

There were no written exchanges. I had a private discussion with Lord Crowther.

Mr. John

Is it not remarkable to the House of Commons, conditioned as it is to premature disclosure of official reports, that the hon. Gentleman should have had such an assurance one year before the Crowther Commission is expected to report? Will he not consider publishing the text of those conversations so that hon. Members may judge the accuracy of Lord Crowther's assertion that his report will not affect these proposals?

Mr. Peter Thomas

The relevant point is that Lord Crowther made it clear in the private talks that I had with him that he saw no objection to the proposals for the reform of local government being put forward before the Royal Commission reported. He told me that I could say that was his view.

Mr. William Edwards

But surely the point is that it is not so much what Lord Crowther thinks about the situation hut what local authorities in Wales will think if the Crowther Commission brings in a report which takes away from those authorities some of the power which they already possess after they agreed to a reorganisation on the basis of keeping those powers.

Mr. Peter Thomas

Obviously, I do not know what the Commission will recommend about Wales but, having regard to the terms of reference, I cannot see how its recommendations could affect substantially the structure proposed in the consultative document.

Mr. John Morris

Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether Lord Crowther was speaking for himself or for the Commission as a whole?

Mr. Peter Thomas

No. I asked Lord Crowther's view, which he expressed, and I took it that he was expressing his personal view.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Since the Crowther Commission from the very start laid great emphasis on the value of taking evidence and holding discussions in public, is there any good reason for believing that those remarks could not have been published in a formal form?

Mr. Peter Thomas

I have discussed many matters with Lord Crowther. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] This was one matter which Lord Crowther said he did not mind being made public.

Mr. Michael Foot

Does not the right hon. Gentleman regard it as an extraordinary development that such discussions should take place between the Minister and somebody in charge of a Commission of this nature and for the House of Commons to be left in the position that we do not know what the exchanges were? Could we be given the precedents for such discussions between a Minister and a head of such a Commission? Will the Secretary of State now agree that the matter is so serious that he should lay before the House some detailed documents on the outcome of these discussions which we can discuss?

Mr. Peter Thomas

What I did was to let Lord Crowther know in advance and in confidence some of the proposals that I was thinking of putting forward for local government reorganisation in Wales, because I valued his judgment and his advice. Having told him what my proposals were likely to be, I asked him whether there was any objection to those proposals being put forward before the Commission had reported.

Mr. John

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.