HC Deb 08 November 1971 vol 825 cc617-21
7. Mr. Probert

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what progress has been made in consultations with Welsh local authorities on the transitional arrangements necessary before the appointed day when the new local authorities come into operation.

Mr. Peter Thomas:

Consultations with the local authority associations on transitional arrangements, including the transfer of staff and property, have been taking place for some months and are continuing. Consultations with individual authorities in Wales will be held in due course.

Mr. Probert:

In view of the cynical disregard shown to the people of Wales by the Government in not putting before the Welsh Standing Committee the proposals for local government reform in Wales, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that he will have direct consultations not necessarily only with the local authority associations but with the Welsh local authorities, and that the Welsh M.P.s will have ample opportunity of debating such transitional arrangements as have been made?

Mr. Thomas:

I am certainly aware of the need for early consultation about the transitional arrangements. The broad principles have been under discussion with the local authority associations for some time, and these must obviously be settled first. In addition, local authorities are being encouraged to form joint committees in their new areas to begin consideration of matters of this kind.

20. Mr. Roderick

asked the Secretary of State for Wales in what major respects his proposals for local government reform in Wales differ from the proposals for England.

Mr. Peter Thomas:

The greater part of the proposals are common to England and Wales. The main differences are that there are to be no metropolitan counties in Wales; all the Welsh districts are specified in the Local Government Bill; the whole of Wales including urban and rural areas is to be divided into communities many of which will have councils; a few functions are allocated differently between county and district councils.

Mr. Roderick:

The Secretary of State acknowledges that there are differences. Will he also acknowledge that combining the Welsh proposals and the English proposals in one Bill can be interpreted only as a complete capitulation on his part to Cabinet pressures? So much for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's influence in the Cabinet. The only other possibility is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself supported the move. Whichever is the case, is this not his biggest betrayal of Welsh interests to date?

Mr. Thomas:

I do not accept any of those remarks. These differences do not override the reasons which have led to a joint England and Wales Bill. As I mentioned earlier, England and Wales are covered by the same basic code of local government law. For that reason, most of the reorganisation for both countries must be in the same terms. No Government should ask Parliament to pass two large Bills in any Session, least of all in the present Session, which largely duplicate each other.

Mr. John Morris:

As I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman just now, he seemed to be under the illusion that he had a Bill. Has not the Welsh Office been eclipsed on this matter, and will not the Bill which the right hon. and learned Gentleman claims as his own be dragged to the House on the coat tails of his right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction? Is not the real reason why there is not to be a separate Bill for Wales that any such Bill could not be got through a Committee of Welsh Members.

Mr. Thomas:

That is quite wrong. The reason why there is a joint Bill is that which I have given already.

13. Mr. Elystan Morgan

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he will frame his proposals for the reorganisation of local government in Wales in a Bill which refers exclusively to Wales.

Mr. Peter Thomas:

No, Sir, but the Local Government Bill contains express and separate provision for local government areas and authorities in Wales, for separate Welsh Boundary and Staff Commissions and for distinctive Welsh treatment of certain functions.

Mr. Morgan:

That is not a candid answer. Does the Secretary of State realise that the people of Wales will recognise this procedure as a subterfuge to deprive Welsh Members of Parliament of the right, which they would otherwise have, to comment upon this matter, which is of vital consequence for all their constituencies and for the whole future of local government in Wales?

Mr. Thomas:

That is totally wrong. It is not a subterfuge. The overriding need is to conclude the reorganisation of local government in Wales as speedily as possible and to have the new local authorities in full operation on 1st April, 1974. Because Wales and England are covered by exactly the same basic code of local government law and will continue to be so covered, most of the reorganisation legislation for both countries must be in exactly the same terms.

Mr. George Thomas:

The right hon. and learned Gentleman cuts a pitiful figure in Wales today. Does he realise that his total capitulation to his colleagues in the Cabinet is matched only by his capitulation to the Tory Party in Wales on these proposals? What steps is he taking to ensure that every Welsh constituency will have a chance for its Member to make representations on the Bill during its Committee stage? Will he give a guarantee that we shall have it on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Thomas:

No, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman is being very parochial. When he talks of "cutting a figure" in Wales, he can think no further than his own area of Cardiff. I have received from the other parts of Wales commendation for my Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not your Bill."] It is a Bill which I support. The arrangements for its passage through Parliament will be made in the usual way, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on that. Welsh Members will, no doubt, have just as much opportunity as English Members to discuss the Bill in Committee and elsewhere.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker:

Order. There are sevcral other Questions on the very same matter, which, I hope, will be reached.

28. Mr. Alan Williams

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is willing to receive further representations from Welsh local authorities about his local government reform proposals.

Mr. Peter Thomas:

I am always willing to consider anything further they wish to put before me. But only Parliament can now alter the Government's proposals.

Mr. Williams:

In view of the comments of the Chairman of the Conservative Party about a local government boundary commission which he will appoint to review the boundaries which he drew, may I ask whether that local government boundary commission will report before or after the parliamentary boundary commission which he appoints? Will he also explain why he has run skulking to a Committee packed with English Tory M.P.s to steamroller legislation on Welsh local government? Is it not gerrymandering?

Mr. Thomas:

The answer to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is no, certainly not. I have explained why there will be a joint Bill.

I certainly expect the local government boundary commission to report before the parliamentary boundary commission. Incidentally, the hon. Gentleman will have noted that the leader of the Labour Party on the Swansea City Council has said that my proposals come somewhat near to conformity to Swansea's views.

Mr. Michael Foot:

In order to repudiate effectively the charge made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams), will the Secretary of State undertake that the Committee stage of the Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House? If, by any misadventure, that were not to occur, would he indicate how many Welsh Members would sit upon the Committee?

Mr. Thomas:

The hon. Gentleman knows that it is not for me to give such an undertaking or to say what the procedure will be.