HC Deb 03 April 1978 vol 947 cc8-10
4. Sir A. Meyer

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many communications he has now received from county councils in Wales regarding the Welsh devolution Bill.

Mr. John Morris

I have received seven communications from or on behalf of Welsh county councils about the Wales Bill and connected matters.

Sir A. Meyer

Will the Secretary of State say whether these communications from county councils show any more enthusiasm for the devolution Bill than is shown by his Back Bench supporters, only two of whom take the trouble to turn up to speak in its favour? Is it perhaps the case that they recognise an electoral albatross when they see one?

Mr. Morris

I think that a whole range of my hon. Friends have taken part in one way or another in the debate on the Bill. As regards the local authorities, when the Welsh Counties Committee saw me at a series of conferences that I held in Cardiff in 1974 it came down firmly in favour of the executive solution that we proposed. In the course of time the committee has become very concerned with one aspect, which is Clause 13, dealing with local government reorganisation. The hon. Member should know that there is enormous dissatisfaction in Wales with the present system of local government.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government are not so much concerned with the vested interests as with the best system of local government for Wales? Does he agree that the last reorganisation was very much a gerrymandering exercise in favour of the Conservative Party? For example, the county of South Glamorgan was purposely created to make it Tory for ever. Likewise, the county of Monmouthshire and the county borough of Newport would still be Labour under the old system of local government.

Mr. Morris

We know that right hon. and hon. Members opposite, because they supported the reorganisation and are responsible for the present sysem, are not ready to accept the liability of the albatross which has been strung around the neck of the Welsh people. But it is important now to consider what deficiencies there are, and, if there are defects, to ensure that amendments are made. There is a number of ways to do it—by appointing a commission, another nominated body, or by my civil servants, or by an elected body. I believe that the job is better done by an elected body.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, quite apart from the question of local government reorganisation, on which the county councils have made their position plain, they are equally concerned that they will be cut off from central Government in the negotiation of their own finances and the rate support grant? Is not that an intolerable position in which to place local authorities?

Mr. Morris

Certainly not. The views of the councils on the matter vary. Given the concern in the hon. Gentleman's former county of Pembroke, where people fought bitterly and deeply against local government reorganisation, I should have thought that he would have spoken for dismembering the old county of Dyfed, knowing that the county council has voted so to do.

Mr. Roderick

Hon. Members opposite are fond of quoting county councils. Can my right hon. and learned F1iend give any evidence from the district coun- cils' organisations as to their feelings on the matter? Has he any means of ascertaining the pre-1972 views of those county councillors who are vociferous in their opposition to devolution and reorganisation and whether their views are the same now as they were then?

Mr. Morris

I would not want to go too far back in history, but we all recall the attitude taken by many who are bitterly opposed to the system of local government imposed on them by the Conservative Party, which is manifestly seen not to be working to the satisfaction of the people of Wales. It is important that the system should be looked at and recommendations made to this House to ensure that the matter, where necessary, is put right.