HC Deb 20 July 1972 vol 841 cc1095-116


Mr. Barry Jones

I beg to move, Amendment No. 580, in page 214, line 17, column 2, leave out 'The administrative county of Flintshire'.

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment it will be convenient to discuss Amendment No. 581, in page 214, line 23, at end, insert: Flintshire The administrative county of Flintshire.

Mr. Jones

For those who do not know, the County of Flint is small. It lies in the north-eastern corner of the Principality. I express my views in the knowledge that local government reform in Wales is a package deal. If others are to move to seek independence for their local authority, it is legitimate that I briefly make my case.

For some years there has been an omnibus debate over local government reform in Wales. I would hazard a guess that not even an alliance of, for instance, King Solomon and the most respected Mr. Victor Feather—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Flintshire is a very important county.

Mr. Jones

An alliance between King Solomon and Mr. Victor Feather could not satisfy all of us in Wales as to precisely what sort of reform in local government we should ultimately have.

12 midnight.

In support of my case I will refer to the population figures and use them as a pointer to the future. Currently Flintshire has 175,000 inhabitants, but it is projected that by the end of the century there will be an additional 250,000. According to advance analysis of the 1971 census, 25 per cent. of the population are under the age of 15 years and four months.

From 1961 to 1971 the Welsh population increased by the relatively small figure of 104,000. During those 10 years, Flintshire, the smallest county in Wales, supplied 28,000 people. That is an indication of the accelerating population in Flintshire.

Flintshire lies adjacent to Greater Merseyside, and everyone knows it as the gateway to Wales. It borders the Wirral, which we all know is the constituency of the current Mr. Speaker. It is a prosperous and thriving community, albeit not without one or two problems. It is, too, an increasingly sociological partner of the North Western region and Liverpool. I have noticed in the last five years a great mushrooming of housing development in my constituency, and in particular large and quickly built new housing estates where people from the Wirral, Birkenhead and all over the North West have set up their first owner-occupied homes. They travel from the new estates to work in the car factories near Ellesmere Port.

There is no doubt that housing in Flintshire in comparison, for example, with Cheshire is much cheaper. There can be a saving of several thousands of pounds. That indicates that more and more people from England will come into Flintshire and set up home in the years ahead. They will be very welcome to come to the Principality and to Flintshire.

Flintshire has increasingly come to be regarded as a well administrated county. Nobody would disagree that the chief executive and clerk of Flintshire County Council is pre-eminent in Welsh local government circles. Under his leadership we have seen over the last few years a new and effective style of administration of a large and growing authority.

One of the happy things which occurred recently in Flintshire was that the Government decided, albeit at a late stage, to give the county the status of an intermediate development area. This reinforces my case, because it will be a stimulus to industry. We have already seen signs of this. We expect in the near future to see new technological industries come to Flint, making a greater attraction for more people to come and live there.

We learned today that the Central Electricity Generating Board, for the time being at any rate, will not be allowed to build a nuclear power station on the banks of the River Dee at Connah's Quay. Some of us appreciate that there is now an increasing possibility of there being a crossing between the Wirral and Wales. That would further emphasise my point about the likelihood of a continuing great population explosion.

Still in the planners' mind there is the prospect towards the end of the century of something like a new town appearing on the Welsh side of the Dee.

A county like Flint can stand on its own feet in any system of local reorganisation in North Wales. We are an area of remarkable and phenomenal growth and explosion in population. There is no doubt that in 10 years' time the wisdom of these remarks will be acknowledged at least in my county. I should be grateful for the Minister's observations.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) has not in any except the purely formal sense moved his Amendment; because, were he to press it to a Division, I should be unable to support it.

I agree with every word the hon. Gentleman uttered, but this is one of the mergers which is acceptable to all concerned in the future county of Clwyd and which will establish a prosperous and viable and go-ahead county. Much as we all admire the magnificent achievement of the Flintshire County Council in building the new civic centre, that centre is of a scale more appropriate to the enlarged county of Clwyd than to the county of Flint by itself.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Thomas): The effect of the Amendments would be to take Flintshire out of the new county of Clwyd and to make it a separate county under the name "Flintshire". My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) and the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) agree with me that Flintshire is a very effective authority. I accept most of what the hon. Gentleman said about the county. However, the alternative he suggested would be much less satisfactory than the proposal in the Bill, which is that the county of Flint should be com- bined with the county of Denbigh, with the exception of a small part of a vale of Conway which is to become part of Gwynedd and that, in addition, there will be a small part from Merioneth—the rural District of Edeyrnion. The combination is almost identical with the combination proposed in 1968 by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas). It was also the combination proposed in the 1970 White Paper.

The county of Clwyd, or rather the combination of these two counties, is a suggestion which goes back much further than that. It was recommended by the Boundary Commission in 1887–88. The four county patterns were put forward by the 1947 Boundary Commission. Those four patterns had, as a common feature, a merger of these two counties. The final proposal of the Local Government Commission for Wales in 1962 was for a combination of the two counties and the views expressed to me, since I made the final proposals, by the two counties are that both Flintshire and Denbighshire, while submitting they are effective authorities which could stand on their own, nevertheless accept these proposals.

The first reason why I submit that the hon. Member's alternative is not as satisfactory as the Bill is the size of population, which the hon. Member mentioned. The population of Flintshire is 175,000, as he said, but that is substantially below the figure of 250,000 which the Government adopted as a desirable minimum for authorities responsible for education and personal social services.

I accept from the hon. Member—and it is true—that Flintshire has recently grown rapidly in population and rateable value. In the last 20 years, the population has increased by about 30,000 and I have every hope that this trend will continue. Even so, it is likely to be well beyond the end of the century before Denbighshire and Flintshire both achieve populations above the minimum figure of 250,000. Setting on one side the question of a Dee Crossing, that figure may not be reached by Flintshire before the end of the century and much later in Denbighshire. I emphasise that it is not sufficient to consider Flintshire alone, because if that county remained separate, Denbighshire would also have to remain separate.

The fact that their populations are expanding means that the responsibilities of local authorities are expanding. The county council responsible for this area must be as strong as possible. It would make no sense to drop the proposal for Clwyd with its population of 358,000, to set up two new counties, each of which would suffer the handicap of small size.

The second reason relates to boundaries, and anyone who knows the general geographical nature of Flintshire knows that one has a part of Flintshire—Maelor—which is away from the rest and Marford and Hoseley which are within Denbighshire. It would be odd, at the end of 25 years discussion on local government reform, to set up a new county consisting not of one or two pieces but of three unconnected slices of territory. There can be few, if any, counties in England and Wales more afflicted with territorial anomalies than Flintshire, and the proposal of the Bill has the effect of removing these anomalies. Every independent commission which has considered the county boundaries has recommended union of these two counties, from the Boundary Commission 1887–88 down to the Local Government Commission for Wales. It is indeed an historical accident that the two counties were not united in 1889.

12.15 a.m.

I think it fair to say that of all the county amalgamations incorporated in the Bill, this is the one which has met with the most widespread local acceptance. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment because I could not possibly accept it. There is no doubt in my mind that the union of these two counties will be a very successful and effective marriage. That is the view of most of the people who are actively engaged in local government there. It has given me great personal pleasure to see the co-operation which exists between the two counties, particularly among the administrative leaders of the counties, one of whom, Mr. Haydn Rees, has been mentioned. They are working well together and are determined to make this an effective county. As they are working in such harmony, I hope that no element of discord will be introduced by the Amendment.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes(Anglesey)

Without going into the substance of the argument, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain how he justifies calling all these important commissions in support of his rejection of the Amendment when he totally disregards the recommendations of the commissions in relation to Glamorganshire?

Mr. Peter Thomas

Everybody who has looked at the local boundaries over a very long time has felt satisfied that the proper result in the re-organisation of Flintshire and Denbighshire would be amalgamation. The view of the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes), expressed in his White Paper of 1967, differed from the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) in his White Paper of 1970, and there has been constant argument about Glamorgan, whereas as far as Flintshire and Denbighshire are concerned there has been agreement and harmony.

Mr. George Thomas

The only reason I do not propose to pursue what the Secretary of State has been saying is that I think it utterly disgraceful that at this time of night we begin our discussions on the biggest upheaval in local Government in Wales for 80 years. I believe that we are being treated with the maximum of disrespect. I want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to know that we would have had plenty to say on this argument, but he knows the difficulties under which we labour.

My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) has heard the argument of the Secretary of State and I know that it is possible for him to shoot the right hon. and learned Gentleman down in flames. But I think that perhaps my hon. Friend should now leave his Amendment to the mercy of the House and not continue it at this stage.

Mr. Peter Thomas

As my proposal for the county of Flint almost coincides with the proposal of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) in his White Paper of 1970, if the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) were to shoot me down in flames the right hon. Gentleman and I would frizzle together.

Mr. George Thomas

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is talking through his hat because I proposed unitary authorities whereas he is proposing a very different scheme.

Mr. Barry Jones

I did not think that my innocent Amendment would provoke so many sparks. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) for his forceful intervention, and to the Secretary of State I would say that I think he knows me well enough to know that I never want to shoot him down in flames.

Mr. George Thomas

I would.

Mr. Jones

I would at times prefer to reserve for the right hon. and learned Gentleman a slower and more lingering fate. But in order to co-operate with my right hon. Friend, I will confine myself to a few brief questions. Will there be a crossing of the River Dee in the near future? Can the Secretary of State tell me whether there will be a certainty about the border between Flintshire and Cheshire so far as the River Dee is concerned? Is Shotton steel works likely to receive a £50 million capital investment programme in the near future?

Mr. Peter Thomas

The hon. Member has asked three important and pertinent questions and the answers to them will undoubtedly emerge in due course. It would be inappropriate for me to say anything today, quite apart from the fact that any answer I might give would have no relevance to the remarks I made as to the appropriateness of the union of Flintshire and Denbighshire proposed in the Bill.

Mr. Barry Jones

I think I can claim to have shot the Secretary of State down in flames. In view of the lateness of the hour, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not out of order on Report for a Minister to speak two or three times in a debate without asking the leave of the House to do so?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

It is in order.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)

I beg to move Amendment No. 183, in page 214, line 22, column 2, leave out ', Carmarthenshire and Pembroke' and insert 'and Carmarthenshire'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With it we are to discuss sub Amendment (a), before the first 'Carmarthenshire', insert 'counties of Cardiganshire'.

and the following Amendments:

No. 1190, in page 214, line 22, column 2, leave out 'Carmarthenshire'.

No. 661, in page 214, line 23, at end insert: Cardigan The administrative county of Cardigan.

No. 1191, in page 214, line 23, at end insert: 'Carmarthen The administrative county of Carmarthen'.

No. 193, in page 215, line 27, at end insert: Pembroke The administrative County of Pembroke.

No. 198, in page 217, leave out lines 11 to 25.

No. 208, in page 220, line 28, at end insert:

PK 1 In the administrative County of Pembroke: —the Borough of Haverford west; the Urban Districts of Fishguard and Good wick, Milford Haven and Neyland; the rural districts of Cemaes and Haverford west.
PK 2 In the administrative County of Pembroke: —the Boroughs of Pembroke and Tenby; the Urban District of Narberth; the Rural Districts of Narberth and Pembroke.

Mr. Edwards

The effect of the Amendment would be to remove Pembroke shire from the proposed new county of Dyfed and to allow it to exist as a separate county. Early in April I and some of my constituents presented a petition to the Secretary of State signed by 55,562 people over the age of 18. That figure is more than 78 per cent. of the electorate and is more than all the votes cast for all five candidates at the last General Election. The petition asked that the Government should change their mind and accept the proposal we are now debating. In a local opinion poll in 1969 on the similar proposals of the last Government, 79.4 per cent. expressed their disapproval. Opposition to Dyfed has been strongly-held, consistent and long-sustained.

The county council, borough and district authorities have expressed their opposition. Virtually every local organisation has passed resolutions of a similar kind including the Conservative and Labour Parties, the National Farmers' Union, the Farmers' Union of Wales, the teachers' unions, NALGO branches and many of the parish councils. All five political candidates at the last General Election gave undertakings to oppose the scheme which was first advanced by the Labour Government and was taken up by the Conservatives.

One of my first actions on entering the House was to tell my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State that if he persisted with it I would oppose it. I have done so consistently ever since. Government spokesmen defending the Bill in Committee have spoken in somewhat contemptuous terms about the way in which public opinion has been expressed or measured. They have belittled the polls and given greater weight to the views of the local authorities. In this case there can be no doubt. The people and their elected representatives are as one. If the Government persist, they will be building a system of local Government on the foundations of its total rejection by local democratic opinion.

The proposed county of Dyfed, the source of our hostility, is by any standards very large—nearly 1½ million acres spread in a triangle with two sides of 60 miles and one of 80. It represents almost 28 per cent, of the land mass of Wales. It is among the two or three largest authorities proposed for the whole of England and Wales and, unlike those other very large counties, it has no historic unity or great town or effective communications system that draws it together.

In the south there are two quite independent industrial areas separated by over 30 miles of countryside. The Port of Milford with its four refineries, BP jetty, pumping station, bases for oil prospecting and power station, has nothing in common with South Carmarthen but is an important independent growth centre in its own right. For a county with a population of just over 100,000, its con- centration around the Haven at the centre of a natural communications harbour is an advantage of very great importance. The total population rises to over 150,000 for a large part of the year and to a peak that may be nearer 200,000 during the height of the tourist season; so that the resident population and the tourist invasion are growing steadily and are likely to be given a substantial boost by the arrival of M4 in three or four years from now.

Pembrokeshire's rateable value is already about £4½ million. By the time that the present construction projects are completed it is expected to be over £5½ million. It would provide a rateable value per head in excess of £55, which is high by the standard of any local authority in England and Wales. Already the county is reaching the point where it is completely independent of rate support grant and these estimates take no account of the exciting prospects opened up by Celtic Sea Oil exploration.

The removal of Pembroke shire from Dyfed would leave Carmarthen and Cardigan together as a new county which by size, rateable value and population would be virtually a twin of Gwynedd.

In giving the House these basic facts, I have laid emphasis on the size of Dyfed and the distances involved. The bus service has virtually ceased and cannot be treated seriously as a link between the counties. The railway service is restricted. The roads are acutely congested in summer and travelling times are so considerable that they will be an immense handicap to councillors, making virtually impossible representation of a kind that we would all like to see in local government. I find it hard to believe that it is conducive to good local government that councillors in North Cardigan should be involved in the affairs of Angle 90miles away by road, more than the distance from London to Salisbury or from this House to Coventry.

The area then is very large. The distances are great. But I freely concede that those factors may by themselves be not decisive and the Government can point to other examples which are at least comparable. Size and distance become critical when they are reinforced by other causes of division—in the case of the Isle of Wight, for example, by the problem of communication across the water. When such additional causes of division exist—and they exist in West Wales—we are in danger of creating not a new unity but something which is inherently unstable and has within itself the seeds of its own destruction.

The Government wisely observed in their English White Paper: Local authority areas should be related to areas within which people have a common interest through living in a recognisable community, through the links of employment, shopping or social activities, or through history and tradition. The Scottish White Paper added patterns of education to that list, and pointed to a coherence of interest around the main centres of population by reference to which the top tier authorities should be defined.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Senior, in his dissenting Memorandum to the Redcliffe-Maud Report, elaborated and gave emphasis to the same theme when he said in para. 206: What this means is not that the distance between the furthest corner of the unit and its administrative centre should be kept within a predetermined mileage but that its administrative centre should be in the same place as the shops and offices with which nearly every citizen is likely at some time to have occasion to deal". or, as he said of the social services: …where the patterns of settlement, communications and activity have treated a coherent town district embracing anything over 100,000 people, the sacrifice of that unit's convenience and democratic viability by its amalgamation with a neighbouring unit, merely to obtain a predetermined population size, is unlikely to be compensated by any greater efficiency… I go further. I believe that such an amalgamation may have within it the seeds of catastrophe, not just because there will be waste, inconvenience and the competition of different interests—though all these will exist and will be damaging—but because people will blame every weakness in performance, every decision with which they disagree, on those in the remote centre where they have no contact. To inconvenience and waste will be added distrust and anger.

How right the Minister for Local Government and Development was when he said on 17th April: What we want is interest in the area in which people live and work and participation in the affairs of government in the area. For that purpose we must look to the past trend of development and how the area will develop in the future…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1972; Vol. 835, c. 170.] There is no common interest between Carmarthen and the main population centres of Pembrokeshire. There is no recognisable community. There tre virtually no links of employment, shopping or social activity. History and tradition drive us apart. Our industrial future, as the Welsh Council has advised the Government, is destined to be separate.

For most of us in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthen is a traffic jam on the way to somewhere else, or a railway station on the route to Swansea, Cardiff or London. Soon, it will be just another town—a very charming and delightful town—off the bypass to the M4. In a real sense, Swansea outside the boundaries of Dyfed is a more natural centre.

By the Government's own criteria, the scheme is an absurdity. Local Government is being taken from the people at a time when increasingly they demand that it be given back. The manner in which it is being taken was brought home to my constituents with a vengeance by the Home Office consultancy document on representation, which revealed that the representatives of Pembroke and Cardigan, even if they stand together, will always find themselves in a minority outvoted by those from Carmarthen.

The Government may argue that we must stop thinking ourselves separate and become a unity. But that idealistic concept defies the reality of our differences and ignores the strength of long established attitudes and loyalties. The fact remains that the main population mass of Pembrokeshire is widely separated from that of Carmarthen but will be controlled by it.

I have been dealing with the personal involvement of the people, but common interest and convenience are no less important for administration, and I turn to the principle on which the Government have hung the whole of their case, the need for a minimum population of 250,000 or so. If we accept that as a reasonable general principle for most parts of the country—and I do—we must none the less ask in each case whether it can be achieved without creating other disadvantages more weighty than any benefits which it may confer.

Once again, Mr. Senior has made the point effectively. In paragraph 342 of his Memorandum of Dissent, he said: If a minimum population of (say) 200,000 is needed for the economical employment of (say) a specialist adviser on the new mathematics, can such an adviser be economically employed at all in a part of the country where that minimum population cannot be reached without creating a unit so extensive that he would have to spend most of his time in travelling? And if he can, would the marginal disadvantage from the chief officer's standpoint of not having the full-time use of that adviser's services outweigh the very substantial advantage to councillors and citizens alike of haying a local government unit with a comparatively accessible centre?". In the following paragraph: The simple truth of the matter is that there are educational (and other) disadvantages inherent in sparsity of population. They can be remedied only by increasing the population of the areas affected. They cannot be remedied by joining sparsely populated districts together. The Government themselves have accepted the point in their Scottish White Paper where in paragraph 51 they defend the decision to create a Borders region with a population smaller than that of Pembrokeshire by saying: Although the population of the region falls below the level suggested by the Commission for the provision of the major services, these levels, as the Commission themselves accepted, were only a general guide, and population is not the only, nor always the most important, factor". Having made that profoundly important admission, the Government very sensibly went on to point a way out of the dilemma: Some of the least populous regional authorities proposed in Chapter 4 may not be able to provide at their own hand the full range of educational and social work services, for example in further education or in certain disabilities. However, the Government have no doubt that suitable arrangements for such provision can and will be made between those authorities and their neighbours". I have no doubt that such provision can be made in West Wales and I challenge my right hon. and learned Friend to tell me why it cannot.

It is right that I should explain to the House why Dyfed is an administrative nonsense in which the creation of a population minimum of 250,000 involves far too big a sacrifice. In Dyfed we should inevitably have people like Mr. Senior's specialist adviser on mathematics. Certainly in the organisation of our education and social services we shall face the need for the duplication of staff and we shall suffer from time and monies wasted on unnecessary travel. Either duplicate departments will be kept going, or there will have to be superimposed on top of the existing departments a completely superficial and unnecessary top hamper.

It is a matter of fact that the county planning officer of Pembrokeshire and his opposite number for Carmarthen find it necessary at present to meet not more than two or three times a year. The two counties have no common planning problem of the type that calls for day-to-day co-ordination. The industrial area of South Carmarthen is an integral part of the South Wales industrial belt and between it and the great oil port of Milford lie some 30 miles of open countryside.

The need for broad planning policies covering the whole area is not made out and it is strangely anomalous that the structure plan for the Milford area should be the responsibility of a county authority most of whose representatives will come from outside that area. Much worse are the difficulties likely to arise from the tripartite division of responsibilities between the county authority, the district authorities and the national parks committee in an area where the national park, occupying about one third of the county, is a fragmented strip quite heavily populated and with no clearly defined boundary in physical terms, a park which, incidentally, is entirely within the boundaries of Pembrokeshire. I find it hard to believe that the work of the planning committee and the national parks committee will be made easier.

I have taken the example of the planning department, but we have other hard earned experience to guide us. A previous Government, following exactly the same principal and with advisers convinced that scale and centralisation were the key to good administration, built a district general hospital at Carmarthen to serve the people of West Wales. My right hon. and learned Friend, perhaps still more my hon. Friend the Minister of State, knows the consequences full well. Doctors and patients were forced to spend unnecessary and often painful hours in travel, and the cost in discomfort, inconvenience and fares produced a public outcry, to which the Government had to respond by setting up a special departmental committee of doctors. Today we are to have the general district hospital we should have had in the first place. The factors which led to that situation are exactly the same as those we face in local government. We have had a trial run. The people of Pembroke have borne the burden of this unhappy experiment, and now the Government persist with the same folly of that action, and they do so though common sense indicates that personal health and welfare services should be organised in areas which can most conveniently be served by the general district hospital.

To reach this magic 250,000 the Government have thrown overboard community of interest, they have ignored administrative convenience, and they have fallen back on the feeble and unworthy argument that they do not want to create a precedent. Yet the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) reminded the Minister for Local Government on 17th April that precedents should not worry him, and he added that the Bill is riddled with precedents fighting precedents from one Clause to another."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1972; Vol. 835, c. 82.] If the Minister did not fully acknowledge that, he went far enough for me when he declared that we have pretty sound principles but will break them if necessary when it really is practicable to do so"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1972; Vol. 835, c. 87.] Of course the Government, to their credit, have done so and propose to do so again. That remark was made by my right hon. Friend when he announced a concession to the Isle of Wight, an island with a population and rateable value virtually identical with that of Pembroke. The Secretary of State for Scotland proposes to create in the Borders a region with a population of 96,000 and a rateable value half that of Pembroke, while the example of Powys with a population of 100,000 and rateable value of £2½ million is now familiar to everyone. The Borders the Isle of Wight and Powys provide all the precedents my right hon. and learned Friend needs.

I believe I have given adequate reasons already why Pembrokeshire justifies another exception, but there is one other very special matter to which I wish to refer. It is one which I think my right hon. and learned Friend will agree with me we have not overplayed. It is one which his predecessor understands as well as he. It is the problem of language.

We have not used this, as we might have done, as the keystone of our campaign—for the very good reason that it is a sensitive matter and we have been anxious to say nothing which could disturb the almost perfect harmony which exists between the two parts of Pembrokeshire—the Welsh and English. I do so now because I fear that the Government's proposals could disastrously jeopardise that harmony with consequences which could spread far beyond the borders of my constituency.

For the benefit of English Members I will explain that for many centuries, from the time the Normans first built the great castle of Pembroke, the county has been divided by a line—the landskar—to the north of which the language was Welsh and to the south English. The great bulk of the population, 75 per cent. or so, are English speaking and live in the south, but as the result of 700 or 800years of experience the two peoples have come to understand and respect each other, have learned to live together in harmony, together taking a pride in a county which they rightly regard as second to none.

There is now a fear that that delicate balance will be upset and a predominantly Welsh speaking authority will impose itself on the English-speaking south. This may not be so, but people fear that there will be an insistence on Welsh-speaking officials, and they fear the consequences upon industrial development and the population it is attracting from outside.

They fear, above all, the effects on education. At the present time out of nearly 500 primary teachers in Pembrokeshire only 180 are bilingual. In the words of a director of education to the Secretary of State: There is a real anxiety on the part of teachers in the south of the county that if Pembrokeshire is joined to what they regard as a massive 'Welsh' authority their job and career prospects will be seriously jeopardised and that they will be in danger of being driven out from south Pembrokeshire altogether.

Hon. Members


Mr. Edwards

That is the view of a responsible director of education and I think the House should hear it: This is not to gainsay the fact that Dyfed might well pursue enlightened policies in this matter, but the point is that a fear exists that only bilingual candidates will be considered for teaching appointments. There is the related point that if the declared language policy in schools of the new Dyfed authority insisted on the teaching of Welsh to all pupils there would undoubtedly be intense opposition from South Pembrokeshire. There are implications in the situation for Dyfed also and I said that if I were an officer in Carmarthenshire or Cardiganshire I would advise those authorities to keep Pembrokeshire out of Dyfed. To have within the one authority 75,000 people who are not Welsh in speech will pose problems for the new County of Dyfed and may have serious adverse effects on the future of the Welsh language in West Wales.

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

The hon. Member is tending to spoil what has been a reasonable case. Why should the English-speaking teachers of the proposed new Dyfed be at a lesser advantage than the minority of Welsh-speaking teachers in the new Clwyd?

Mr. Edwards

I am merely expressing a view of the education authorities in Pembrokeshire. It is a view not only expressed by the director of education and the teachers themselves. It is a view which has been supported by memoranda to the Government from the county associations of the National Union of Teachers and of the National Association of Schoolmasters. I do not believe that this warning should be lightly regarded.

The question of language on its own, without even the other arguments I have put forward, provides special circumstances that justify special treatment, because I do not think that anywhere else in Wales will be found this peculiar balance of population that we will have in the new Dyfed. Taken together, I believe that the case becomes overwhelming. There is so much to be lost and so little to be gained.

Pembrokeshire, with its good climate, its scenery and its coastline is a pleasant place to live and has never had any difficulty in attracting high-quality administrators. With its high rateable value, its expanding industrial heart, its growing population and tourist trade, its natural cohesion and its sense of identity, it provides a good base for sound local government. That is what its people demand. That is what I ask this House to give them.

Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)

Although I would not go along with the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Nicholas Edwards) in many of the arguments he put forward, nevertheless he must be congratulated on the force with which he delivered his case, although I felt that he marred that case by one or two of the arguments he chose to articulate.

I am reminded of the occasion some years ago when I heard a judge telling a very junior counsel who was making a plea in mitigation, "When I first considered this case I was minded to take a lenient view of it, but having heard what you say in mitigation I am bound to say that I take a totally different view." That may well be the conclusion that some of us on this side at least gained in relation to the hon. Member's speech.

Nevertheless, I believe that some very cogent arguments have been put forward, particularly the argument concerning the viability of the new county units. There can be no question of looking simply at population alone. That argument particularly is one which should be taken very seriously by every Member of the House.

I invite hon. Members on the Government side to exercise a robust degree of independence in this matter. Those Members who have stayed here well beyond the witching hour are certainly not mindless robots or parliamentary Pavlovian dogs to be summoned at the call of bells and ushered into a kennel of the Government's choice. I am sure, therefore, that the substantial arguments that were put forward by the hon. Member will not be lost to those of his colleagues who have chosen to stay with us in this debate.

As one who has the honour of representing the adjoining County of Cardigan, I support what the hon. Member said about the strength of feeling which runs the whole length and breadth of the County of Pembroke in this connection. He is correct when he says that this matter has joined those two communities—two nations as some have described them—north and south of the line of the Norman castles in a way in which very few other issues have managed to do through history.

I pay warm tribute to the sincerity, competence and assiduity with which the campaign for the County of Pembroke has been conducted. There is in Pembroke a deep sense of community, and that is something to which we should pay high regard. It does not lie within the competence of Government to create a community; all Government can do is to try to generate conditions which make it possible for a community to live and thrive. But it lies in the terrible power of Government to destroy a community.

Secondly, it is obvious to each of us that the whole concept of Dyfed stands or falls on the question of the secession of any one of its constituent elements, and clearly, therefore, if Pembroke is allowed to secede, as the Amendment invites us to accept, there would be no Dyfed. I accept that the problems about reorganisation in this part of Wales, as indeed over the whole of Wales, are difficult and complex. When this plan was mooted in 1967, I had very grave doubts whether this was the best possible grouping. The temptation which confronted me then, and the temptation to which I succumbed, was to concentrate on maintaining the unity of Cardigan as a district authority. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) conceded that very early on.

Nevertheless, I was willing to regard the concept of Dyfed against the background of what the late Aneurin Bevan described as the necessity of bringing about local government reorganisation in the knowledge that it could happen in only one way—by edict—and that there would never be a unanimous acceptance of this by each and every authority, whatever happened to it. The success, and indeed the very possibility of that operation, is completely jeopardised if we allow secession of the nature proposed by the Amendment.

If therefore Pembrokeshire were allowed to secede—and I concede that the case appeals very greatly to me, as it does I am sure to many other right hon. and hon. Members—the position of my County of Cardigan as a satellite of Carmarthen would be utterly intolerable. I do not say that in the belief that we would be unjustly treated on account of any malevolence on the part of our neighbours in Carmarthen. Nevertheless, there would be clearly an imbalance which would make such a situation of subjugation practically inevitable.

The point has been made that the totality of voting strength for Carmarthen on the Dyfed County Council would be 41. The total number of representatives from both Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire would be only 38. If one takes Pembrokeshire out, only 15 would be representing the county of Cardigan. This is not an empire-building engendered by the efforts of Carmarthenshire; this is what the Government say is a balanced way of bringing about an amalgamation of those counties. But that would be the antithesis of balance, the complete negation of any equitable and reasonable relationship between the county of Cardigan and the county of Carmarthen.

Therefore, if Pembrokeshire goes—and I am impressed by the main argument put forward by the hon. Gentleman—clearly the right of Cardiganshire also to secede cannot properly be denied. Such a right is not based upon any consideration of pique or of narrow, local chauvinism and pride. There is merit in the consideration that the county of Cardigan has a case of which the House should take cognisance. There is no community in the whole of Wales that is so distinct an entity as Cardigan—

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Except Anglesey.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

I am prepared to argue with my right hon. Friend that there is as much feeling of insularity in Cardigan as there is in the Isle of Anglesey. Cardiganshire is the product of geography and history. That little area of land bounded by the Dovey Estuary, the Plynlimmon range and the Teifi to the south was a distinctive community in the fifth century, long before the warring tribes of Wales had coalesced and federalised into a Welsh Nation. Cardiganshire is older than Wales, and I say with great respect but with great pride, it is far older than the House of Commons. That is not merely an emotional appeal—[Laughter.]—I hear noises of dissent from those who represent the more junior communities in Wales.

Running throughout the pleas made in the White Paper of 1967 and its successors and all the arguments put forward by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite is the plea that this reorganisation seeks to serve communities. This is a community which could have its whole life and future stultified by the amalgamation that is proposed under the heading of Dyfed. I do not accept that Cardiganshire alone would be unviable. There may have to be a union of certain services. But the union of services is one thing; the amalgamation of the community and the subsuming of its personality in a greater entity is a totally different matter.

No doubt some people will say that I am exhibiting a bold streak of inconsistency in my arguments, having refrained from challenging the basic theology of the matter in 1968. But the 1968 proposals were not intended to be an instrument of gerrymandering, and there was in 1967–68 a far better balance between the functions that were ascribed to county councils and those which were reserved to district councils.

I ask the question that has been voiced several times on the Floor of the House and in Committee. How can we expect to find the best calibre of candidate for district councils when we allow those authorities only a miserable rump of jurisdiction—such unsalubrious functions as control of graveyards, slaughterhouses, public convenience and little else? How can we expect to find people to dedicate their best and most fruitful years to serve on authorities which have little authority at all in the life of the community?

The case has not been made out, nor can it be made out, for the maintenance of this amalgamation in the present situation. It is an unholy trinity of disparate and irreconcilable elements and I say it should be dismantled.

1.0 a.m.

Mr. George Thomas

I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned.

It is quite clear that this interesting debate will last a long time and I think that it would be convenient to break off now and to continue our discussion tomorrow.

Mr. Peter Thomas

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this time of the morning is not the best time in which to debate matters which are of great importance to us in Wales. We all know that is not the fault of hon. Members that we are debating these matters at this hour. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is appropriate that we should adjourn now and, if he had not moved the Motion to adjourn, I would have done so.

Question put and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed this day.


Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Clegg.]