HC Deb 21 June 1976 vol 913 cc1083-5
10. Mr. Grist

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what proposals he has for the reform of the local government structure in Wales.

Mr. Barry Jones

My right hon. and learned Friend has no immediate proposals for the reorganisation of local government in Wales.

Mr. Grist

Is the Minister aware that that is a most alarming reply? Is he not aware of the deep concern that has been aroused by recent policy statements by the Welsh Council of Labour and others about the abolition of county councils and that this is seen as merely a front to introducing the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Barry Jones

What comes to my mind immediately is that the hon. Gentleman's party—when he was not a Member of the House, I hasten to add— put forward proposals for the reformed local government structure with which we are now lumbered. There is strong criticism throughout Wales of the cost and inefficiency of the system for which Opposition Members voted.

Mr. Abse

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that his reply will be received with considerable disappointment throughout Wales, particularly by the Executive of the Welsh Labour Party, which presently is distributing a memorandum emphasising the need for consideration to be given to local government reform? Is the Minister not aware that at its conference the Welsh Labour Party again put forward a resolution to that effect. Will he bear in mind that it is the unfortunate intention of the Government to put forward a Bill on devolution in the next Session and will he note that unless local government reform is dealt with in some manner and unless there is an indication of how it is to be dealt with before the Bill comes to the House, it will be inevitable that it is regarded as a Bill bringing in excessive bureaucracy and over-government throughout the Principality?

Mr. Barry Jones

I cannot anticipate the contents of the Bill, but we shall bear in mind the comments of my hon. Friends and others. The Government are not deaf to the point of view of the Labour Party in Wales, and we shall consider carefully what it and other organisations in Wales propose.

Mr. Michael Roberts

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the best interests of the children and youth of Wales would not be served by organising education on a district council level, as it is far too small to do the job effectively? If that is the case, it seems irresponsible to suggest that local government can be reformed by abolishing the county tier.

Mr. Barry Jones

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important detail, but further thought must be given to the structure of local government in the Principality. We do not want another unsatisfactory reorganisation, as was that of our predecessors.

Mr. Kinnock

Is my hon. Friend aware that without a major and radical reform of local government, in whatever form, before we have devolution—whatever form it takes, and whatever one thinks of the necessity or efficacy of devolution—we shall end with an unintelligible system of government in Wales that will generate only resentment against the whole democratic process by which we elect people to govern us, at local, national or Welsh level?

Mr. Barry Jones

It is this deep respect for the democratic processes, which I know my hon. Friend shares with me, that has impelled the Government to put before the House their proposals on devolution. What matters most is that any changes should be seen to be workable and efficient and be welcome to the majority in Wales.

Sir Raymond Gower

Is there not a point of view, which has not been expressed and which I think is valid, that what local government probably requires more than anything else in Wales—and, indeed, in England, too—is time to settle down without further interference from Governments?

Mr. Barry Jones

I do not think that the Government's devolution proposals can be construed as interference. There are many points of view on this issue. The hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) has made his opinion clear, but the Government have their view and will proceed by consulting further along the way about the proposals in their Bill.