§ Lords amendment: No. 25, in page 6, line 30, leave out Clause 12.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)
I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.
The Government believe that we have made a sensible provision here for the reform of local government and much regret that, by a narrow majority, clause 12 in the original Bill was struck out in another place. We commend the restoration of the original proposal. As Secretary of State and in a private capacity I go about Wales a great deal and have done so for a number of years. No one who goes across Wales could say, particularly in recent times, that there the people are content with the present system of local government. I put it as neutrally as I can. No one could argue that the system is working well, or is good.
Attacks are made on our proposal to set up an Assembly. It is argued that it will mean bureaucracy, remoteness and cost. One wonders whether the critics are deaf to the same criticisms, made much more loudly and to a greater degree, of our reorganised local government. We have had an increase in bureaucracy. As for remoteness, one of the larger rural counties measures 80 miles from end to end and another covers three old counties and is probably not far short of 80 miles from end to end. The problem of cost also applies.
The Conservatives are the authors of our misfortune in Wales in having the present system of local government. As they are the parents of this strange child, I can understand why they defend it. They created it, and they want to maintain the status quo, although it has not been a success. Some of the same arguments can be advanced against their reorganisation of the Health Service. There has been no overwhelming enthusiasm for their reorganisation of the water system.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
The right hon. and learned Gentleman blamed the size 610 of the rural counties upon reorganisation, but he will surely recall that the proposals of his own party for North Wales envisaged a much larger county—the whole of North Wales, including the present counties of Clwyd and Gwynedd. What we created was half the size of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman's party contemplated.
§ Mr. Morris
There certainly was such a proposal at one stage. The hon. Gentleman studies these matters very closely in South Wales, but he perhaps does not always study them with the same assiduity in North Wales. That proposal was dropped.
I am advised that Powys is 80 miles from one end to the other, and I am sure that Dyfed is, from the top end near Ealwysbach down to Angle in Pembrokeshire, not far short of that distance. They are immense distances.
I was not surprised to hear the resolution passed by Dyfed county council, but since withdrawn, that it should seek to dissolve itself. That was the measure of its confidence at one stage. I am the first to concede that thereafter it again changed its mind, but the resolution showed that there are immense difficulties in administering the present system.
No one who goes across Wales can gain a picture of enormous confidence and say that we should retain the present system without some examination.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North-West)
Did the Secretary of State notice the recent BBC poll in which 42 per cent. of the people in Wales expressed their satisfaction with local government? Does he agree that that is remarkably high for local government, or does he think that there was a golden age when people loved the Glamorgan County Council?
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman seeks to put his faith in polls. On another issue, that same poll shows the advance of the devolution case generally. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman who is very fair-minded, would not want to shut his ears to the substantial criticism—I put it as neutrally as I can—from one end of Wales to the other, varying in intensity from area to area and usually varying with the issue causing concern at a particular time.
611 I have travelled extensively in Wales during the past four and a half years and have probably been through as many communities as, if not more communities than, anyone here. One returns with the strong impression that there is a substantial degree of dissatisfaction from one end of Wales to the other with the present system. Apart from the issues that I have already described—bureaucracy, remoteness, and cost—the causes include duplications of functions. That is particularly so in some areas in South Glamorgan, especially in planning.
There is also the dissatisfaction of the old county boroughs, which have lost their powers. I am sure that during the debate we shall hear more about the carve-up, for peculiar reasons, of the old county of Glamorgan. I am sure that there will be a division of opinion tonight about the degree of dissatisfaction, but I hope that no one will contend that there is not dissatisfaction, such as to demand an urgent and speedy look at the whole system. The demand comes from many quarters—from some of the local authorities, particularly the districts, from some of the county councils, from trade unions and certainly very strongly from the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
My right hon. and learned Friend talks about the counties, but it is not a fact that although seven of them have expressed discontent over devolution and Gwynedd has expressed some acceptance of it, all eight counties of Wales are united in hoping that the House will delete the clause? Hon. Members have received correspondence from the counties about it.
§ Mr. Morris
Hon. Members have indeed received correspondence, but I draw my hon. Friend's attention to a report in the Western Mail on 24th June. It said that at the deliberations of the Welsh Counties Committee, the body where the counties of Wales meet to consider their policies, fear was expressed that the Welsh counties could becometoo identified with the House of Lords in opposing local government provisions to the Welsh Assembly legislation.The leader of the West Glamorgan county council, Mr. John Allison, was quoted as saying:I can imagine our friends in the districts saying that they have the House of Commons 612 behind them and we have the House of Lords behind us.The report continued—and this is the latest I have heard of the counties' views—It was resolved that there should be an attempt to seek to divert a clash between the Lords and the Commons on the issue by proposing a compromise amendment when the Bill comes back to the Lords. This would accept that there should be a review of local government in Wales.
§ Mr. Anderson
To be fair to the leader of the West Glamorgan county council, it should be pointed out that if my right hon. and learned Friend looks through all Mr. Allison's pronouncements on the issue of devolution and local government reform that is likely to be the only crumb of comfort that he will find from that source in terms of any of his proposals.
§ Mr. Morris
I am sure that my hon. Friend was listening with his usual care. I was dealing with the point that some local government leaders in Wales were becoming aware, late in the day, of the danger that they were being identified with the House of Lords, which has not bent over backwards in support of the Bill.
If the issue is whether or not the counties would concur with the idea of the necessity for a review, the last news that I have had, according to the report, is that it was resolved that there should be a compromise. They accepted that there should be a review of local government in Wales, but said that it should be carried out by an independent commission, which would report directly to the Secretary of State for Wales, so bypassing the Assembly. I hope that that disposes of any concern that there may be on the question whether there is an acceptance by the counties of a review such as I have indicated.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pemroke)
I have had a letter from the county councils saying that they support the Lords in their decision. That is the latest letter that I have received. A number of my colleagues have had similar letters in the last day or two.
§ Mr. Morris
I have only the report—it has not been challenged—from the Western Mail of 24th June. I was not purporting to advance it as part of my case; I was merely using it to deal with the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). I would rest my case on this fact alone, that I am confident that there is a significant demand in Wales—certainly from the districts from many communities, from the trade unions and from the Labour Party—for a review of local government. I leave the counties to one side. I do not depend on whatever views they may be sending to hon. Members, or on whatever reports may appear in the Western Mail; I rely upon the whole of the evidence that I have received in the course of my perambulations through Wales.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he was satisfied that there was a significant demand for a review of local government. I accept that from him. Is he saying that there is a significant demand in Wales that that review should be undertaken by the Welsh Assembly?
§ Mr. Morris
I shall come to the method in a moment. First, I hope that no hon. Member will suggest that there is no demand whatever, or that there is no concern about the present system of local government in Wales. It is right to start on common ground. The challenge might well be in relation to the degree of demand, where it comes from—whether it comes from districts or from counties. It is right to see whether, in an ordinary discussion of this kind, we can establish a consensus on this point.
§ Mr. Morris
I have given way a great deal. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman knows a great deal about the problems of the Principality. Perhaps he will make his point during the debate.
I come to the question: who should conduct the review? I would be the first to concede that there is no unanimity on that score. There never could be. If we had to face our betters, I am sure that we would like to choose our judges. There are some whom we would perhaps accept as more on our side and some who 614 would be more on the side of others. There are some whose track records we would know. From his long experience, the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) knows that in some cases it would be more favourable to be tried by certain members of the judiciary than by others. I am not sure whether, in the event, a great deal would turn on the decision, but we all know that accidents of this kind weigh a great deal with one. Therefore, I do not expect unanimity on this score.
What I do ask the House to consider is this: in clause 12, as originally proposed, we have laid down that the Welsh Assembly shall do two things. It is right for the House to consider the responsibility which we seek to lay upon the Assembly. First, it shall review the structure of local government in Wales and, secondly, report its conclusions to the Secretary of State. Therefore, if we succeed in persuading the House to accept our original proposals, it is laid down as a duty upon the Welsh Assembly to carry out the review and to report its conclusions. I accept immediately, although there would be no unanimity on this score, that the Assembly would be a very suitable body to carry out the review. I do so having in mind the other mechanisms that have been tried in the past.
I have said that there is dissatisfaction with the present structure. Indeed, I would say that there is dissatisfaction to such a degree that one cannot blind oneself to its intensity. But the track record of the mechanisms that have been tried in the past has not been very successful. I suppose that one could try a Royal Commission or a similar body, but there is no monopoly of wisdom in that type of body which would ensure that it devised a scheme for Wales which was both acceptable and workable. One could try a committee of civil servants, or civil servants mixed with members of local eovernment, and reporting to Ministers.
If one accepts my argument, one must accept that the last system of local government devised in Wales was not a very successful one. Indeed, a Royal Commission would take a very long time. Having failed in the past, with all the other mechanisms, to devise both an acceptable and efficient way of running local government in Wales, I believe that for a change 615 we should try democracy. We have nothing to fear from trying a democratic solution of laying the responsibility on the shoulders of a democratically elected Assembly rather than relying upon one Minister to take a decision, make a proposal to his colleagues and hope that it turns out all right on the night. That has not occurred in the past, nor is it occurring at present. Therefore, I believe that we should try democracy.
I do not believe that we have anything to fear. I believe that people from all over Wales who are elected to a body of this kind and who are aware of the conditions right across Wales will have a better chance of devising a system that will be both acceptable and efficient. Certainly they have a much higher chance of success than have all the other mechanisms which have been tried in the past.
The Assembly has a major interest in ensuring that it succeeds. If my proposal is accepted, I am sure that every hon. Member would wish it well in its attempt. I do not think that any hon. Member who is concerned at having the best system of local government in Wales would not want the Assembly to succeed. The Assembly has a very big interest indeed in succeeding, because it will be taking over from Ministers the main supervisory responsibilities relating to Welsh local government. Secondly, the Assembly will work closely with local authorities in all their main areas of activity. Thirdly, it will be responsible for paying the rate support grant and for supervising its capital expenditure.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The Secretary of State talks of the need for success. Of course, if we have an Assembly we all want it to be a success. But how will that success be measured? Will it be measured in terms of the Secretary of State's acceptance of the Assembly's submissions? Will it he measured in terms of the degree of success with which the Secretary of State gets those submissions through this House? What happens if there is a Secretary of State who is not disposed to accept the will of the Welsh Assembly? In those circumstances how can its success be measured?
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has been a long time in politics. The test of the 616 Assembly's success will be whether the people of Wales accept that it is efficient and working—
§ Mr. Morris
No, but that is not the question that my hon. Friend asked. He must not be too clever. I shall come to that point later. I was glad to hear his endorsement that if we have the Assembly it is essential that we wish it well in its plan to work out a successful system. Because the Assembly has an interest in having a successful mechanism, it will want to satisfy itself that the system it devises is sound, efficient and economical and provides a good basis for a future working relationship.
There will be people from all over Wales on the Assembly—no doubt many with experience in county councils, district councils and community councils. The Assembly will be well placed, as a body of men and women drawn from all parts of Wales and democratically elected, to produce a plan which meets the criteria of being workable and acceptable. It will consult the local government associations, the unions and other interests.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
The Secretary of State is stressing the fact that these people on the Assembly will benefit from the advice of elected people. When we legislate in this House we do not seek the advice of elected people. We seek the advice of experts. It is rather different to seek advice of elected people who may or may not be experts.
§ Mr. Morris
This House is elected, and as such is on a par with the Assembly. I spend a great deal of my time in consultation with so-called experts, and also with elected people. I talk to many local government representatives. I would find it a very strange view that there should be no consultations with elected people.
Fears have been expressed that the Assembly may abolish the county councils or district councils or attempt to expand its powers at the expense of local government. How can it? I am glad to hear the echoing voice of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). That is the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty. How can it? The Assembly is a reviewing 617 body. It is there to advise the Government. The Government will then consider its recommendations, and it is up to us to carry out any further consultation. But the actual power of decision is for Parliament. Only Parliament can legislate. The test of acceptability is the test of the people of Wales, but the test of decision-making is the Parliament.
As legislative powers remain with Parliament I cannot understand how hon. Members can have fears that the Welsh Assembly will abolish the county councils, the district councils or expand its powers at the expense of local government. It can only review and recommend—no more. It is for Parliament to take decisions and to legislate.
§ Mr. Hooson
The Secretary of State must be aware that there has been the grossest misrepresentation of the Assembly's powers in this respect. This has occurred in the newspapers and a broadcast on BBC Wales said quite baldly that the Assembly has the right to change local government in Wales. It has no such power, and it is important that the Secretary of State should make it very clear that its power is one of review.
§ Mr. Morris
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member. I am sorry that such misconceptions are shouted around Wales from time to time. I have sought to remove some of them.
§ Mr. Morris
No, I shall not give way. Time is getting short, and I must bring my remarks to a close.
The statutory provision is to review and to report. That is clear. If the House did not accept my views, the powers would still be there for the Assembly to review, either at the request of the Secretary of State or on its own initiative. But it is important to restore clause 12 to make the intentions clear. Therefore, my recommendation to the House is that we should disagree with the amendment from the other place.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
That was a remarkable speech. It was the first time I have heard the Secretary of State for Wales rely on a report in the Western 618 Mail to discover the views of local authorities in Wales. He boasted of his close contacts with the Welsh people. Can this be true, when he turns to the Western Mail to discover the opinion of the Welsh counties? That is a most disturbing revelation.
The Secretary of State made two points. He emphasised that the clause laid down the duty of the Assembly to carry out the review. It is curious that on every other topic Ministers have made the point that it would be insulting to the Welsh people and to the Assembly to tell them what to do. A possibility that we might consider is that the Assembly could reach a conclusion that what was needed was stability and a period in which local government could settle down. That might be its conclusion, but it has a duty imposed upon it by the Bill to stir up the pot.
Then we had the assertion that we were only considering a power of review. We were asked how the Assembly could take powers, and how it could abolish, but that begs the question. If one imposes a duty on the Assembly to make recommendations, what is the Secretary of State to do when those recommendations are made? He will be in a most difficult position politically if he throws them out of the window and, on this first major topic, ignores the recommendations of the Assembly.
If the recommendation tried to do away with the county councils and the Assembly said that an inevitable consequence would be that certain powers in strategic matters, such as education, might have to be transferred upwards because the new local authorities that were proposed would otherwise be too small, the Secretary of State would have little alternative but to accept that recommendation, too—or he would have to accept all the blame and consequences if the system did not work.
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) posed an interesting question in our debate on 7th March. He asked why the clause dealing with local government reform had suddenly crept into the Bill after the defeat of its predecessor. I believe that the clause was introduced, not because of any profound conviction that it was necessary, good, desirable or, as the Secretary of State suggested, urgent, but simply because it was seen as a cheap 619 way to buy votes. It is an attempt to buy popularity for an unpopular Bill by attacking something else believed to be unpopular. In my view, it is a particularly nasty act of deception. It rests on the unfounded assumption that a new upheaval will remove the causes of discontent and lead us inevitably to the hoped-for millennium.
The truth is that local government reform is something that one probably must undertake every 70 or 80 years. Whoever undertakes the task will be told that he has it all wrong. Whatever pattern is adopted will be criticised. I certainly criticised details in the proposals put forward by the previous Government, and indeed I voted against some of them, but I never questioned the need for major reform of local government, and I said so. at the time.
The truth is that there is no right and perfect solution. If the scheme had been very different the results, in terms of public opinion, would have been much the same, and the criticism just as vociferous. That they have been particularly pungent this time is inevitable in an era of high inflation, economic difficulty and substantial change in other respects. The proper approach is not a further upheaval but modification here and there in the light of experience.
Since the war a whole series of alternative plans has been advanced, by all parties, including the Labour Party. The proposals advanced by the Labour Party just before my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) put forward the Conservative Government's scheme were in all major respects, except in the organisation of Glamorgan, almost identical with the scheme later introduced by the Conservative Government.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
May I let the hon. Gentleman into a little secret history about the plan of the Labour Government before they went out of office? The local government plan then drawn up by the Secretary of State did not have the support of one Welsh Labour Back Bencher.
§ Mr. Edwards
It certainly did not have the support of Labour Members of Parliament when they thought that it would be useful to have a stick with which to 620 beat the Government of the day. They quickly decided to abandon the plan which they had previously advanced to the Welsh people, and they argued the matter pungently. Indeed, they came to my constituency and argued the matter there. As soon as an almost identical scheme was introduced by the Government of the day, they reversed their position and attacked it.
I have never hesitated to tell the people in my constituency, who dislike the pattern for the area, what I tell the House now. I believe that a further major upheaval would be madness, costly and unproductive, and would almost certainly take government further from the people and leave most people's discontent unplacated. That was the view of the Labour Government, expressed in the White Paper on England, when it said:A further reorganisation so soon after the last one would be bound to create confusion in the mind of the average elector. It is also probable that he would feel more remote from the affairs of a local government body administering services over a much wider area as would certainly be the case with regional authorities.It was the view put equally firmly by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), the former Prime Minister, who went to Cardiff to deliver a speech on the subject in January 1976, when he said:To impose yet another reorganisation would be a burden not easily to be tolerated. We will not throw the whole of local government again into the melting-pot".That was the declaration in Cardiff by the Prime Minister of the day.
The introduction of this clause was an act of irresponsibility. What matter the long-term trouble that one causes so long as one wins the immediate political objective? That seems to be the Government's approach.
Let us consider how the position appears to those who have to manage local government. As my hon. Friends the Members for Denbigh (Mr. Morgan) and Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) reminded us in our last debate on this subject, we have been considering this question almost since the war. No wonder the Welsh counties beg for mercy. They summarise their conclusions on the matter in this wayLocal government shout dbe allowed to get on with its job. An efficient organisation cannot possibly waste so much time and 621 money in repeatedly considering reorganisation. For thirty years, more or less the entire post-war period, there has been talk of local government reorganisation. Not even steel or any industry, let alone Government, has been so afflicted.What is now promised is a further period of prolonged uncertainty.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) said in the previous debate on this subject that it would be at least four years before we could see legislation. Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, speaking for the Liberals in another place, said that the review should not happen straight away and common sense in Wales would not allow it to happen for several years—and for what? His Liberal colleague in this place, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who has now left the Chamber, told us on 7th March that he did not think that there would be any great changes anyway. Those which he then proceeded to describe could be carried out quickly and without fuss by this Government or their successor without inflicting any uncertainty at all. I said that it was an irresponsible proposal.
As the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) pointed out in our last debate, the Assembly will in a literal sense be an irresponsible body if it is given a chance to carry out this proposal. It will be irresponsible because at the end of the day it will not be responsible for fulfilling its own plans or for carrying them into law and accepting blame or credit for the results. It will have all the joy of riding its own hobby-horses, but this Parliament will be faced with the burden of rejecting proposals if they appear bad. If that happens, this Parliament will be castigated for flouting the wishes of the Welsh Assembly or of carrying them into law, in which case no doubt it will be blamed for any shortcomings that occur. We have "had it" either way.
In that situation it would be interesting to observe the conflicts that would arise if the elected Welsh Members of Parliament, who also travel widely in Wales and who also are democratically elected and know about Welsh opinion, were to form a quite different conclusion on the matter from the Assembly. That is by no means impossible. What would the Government do then? Would 622 they proceed on the basis of the Assembly's proposals, against the expressed desire of elected Welsh Members?
Certainly, Assemblymen will have to be remarkably restrained if they are to view the issue with total detachment. Working within the system of subject committees proposed in the Bill, they will have a continuing powerful interest in the details of policy that affect their areas on matters such as education, housing and health. It will be perfectly understandable and not a matter for criticism if they seek to extend their influence and power at the expense of those whom they will view as subordinates. They will naturally think that their opinions are right, and they will seek to give the Government the benefit of their wisdom.
Local authorities are already to have the Assembly imposed upon them as an extra tier between central and local government in the negotiations of local government finance and distribution. Local government is caught in a two pronged attack. On the one hand, it will be relieved of responsibility for its own finance. It is regrettable that we are unlikely to have the opportunity to debate Lords amendment no. 56 on the rate support grant, but I hope that the House will vote to ensure that the amount of grant for Wales must be clearly and separately identified. On the other hand, local councils will find their very existence under threat from a directly interested body which may well be tempted to enlarge itself at the expense of real local democracy. The existence of county councils will be threatened. All the critics say that these councils are too large, and no one challenges that contention, but it is equally true that most district councils will be wiped out on the ground that they are too small.
The proposal that we hear most frequently is for 20 or 25 all-purpose authorities. Almost everyone agrees that if we are to have such authorities, some functions will have to go upwards to the Assembly. That point is made in the Government's White Paper, which says thatMany functions of the counties would therefore need to be raised to the new regional authorities and others would be transferred 623 to the districts. This would require a substantial reorganisation of the district authorities, most of which would have to be enlarged in order to handle their new responsibilities.The document of the Labour Party in Wales on local government reform confirms this judgment. It says thatIn view of the relatively small size of some of the multi-purpose authorities, it would also prove necessary for some expert and specialist staff to be employed on a basis wider than a single authority—this could either be done through the Assembly or by joint action between a number of loca lauthorities.At each level, local government would be taken further from the people. Functions in respect of such matters as housing and local planning would go from the existing districts to bigger, more remote all-purpose authorities, and responsibility for such matters as education would go from the county councils to Cardiff.
Without causing alarm on the one hand and raising false expectation on the other, we should be streamlining and doing away with some of the overlaps and confusions that exist in the present arrangements, and getting the interfering busybodies in Cardiff off the backs of local government. Let local government get on and do its job. I could produce dozens of examples of the way in which the Welsh Office insists on taking decisions that would be much better taken by the local authorities who know local conditions. For example, I had a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Wales only a day or two ago about conditions on the roads in Fishguard. We are to have a great local inquiry into what happens to traffic in Fishguard. Any local councillor could tell the Welsh Office tomorrow exactly what the situation is in Fishguard.
My constituents do not care much whether the busybodies sit in the Welsh Office or in the Coal Exchange. They just want their local representatives to be left alone to run their own affairs in their own way.
The clause that their Lordships wisely removed, far from strengthening local democracy, is likely to weaken it. Perhaps the Welsh people will vote for that in the referendum. They will be free to do so, and we must accept what they say, but they should clearly understand what is being proposed and it should be made quite clear what the possibilities are 624 before that decision is taken. I believe that as the original proposals in the Bill would take government further from the people instead of closer to them, we should support their Lordships, and I urge the House to reject the Government's proposal that the review clause should be reinstated in the Bill.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes
Unlike the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards), I am as concerned as is my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State that clause 12, which was deleted by their Lordships, should be reinserted in the Bill. It is the kernel of the devolution proposals and is one of the basic reasons that I support the creation of a Welsh Assembly.
The tragedy of the Government's proposals is that the Assembly should have been established alongside the reorganisation of local government, which was long overdue. Instead of doing that, the last Conservative Government went ahead with the reorganisation of local government, which was a classic case of putting the cart before the horse, though I agree that they have derived a considerable amount of political advantage from it, particularly because of the gerrymandering of boundaries that took place at that time.
However, the Labour Government between 1964 and 1970 bear a measure of responsibility for not carrying out local government reorganisation in Wales. A good set of proposals was laid out in the 1967 White Paper which should have been implemented. It would have met our needs.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
This is the point that I was making. Those proposals, certainly as they affected my part of Wales, were almost identical with the scheme that was implemented by the last Conservative Government, yet I am told that that was a mad, lunatic scheme. The hon. Gentleman now says that those proposals should have been implemented in full.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member was not in the House at that time so he may not be too conversant with the proposals. Those made in 1967 were markedly different from the proposals put forward in 1969. As I pointed out in an intervention during the hon. Gentleman's 625 speech, the later proposals did not have the support of a single Back-Bench Labour Member.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
The 1967 proposals were brought forward by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes). Does the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) agree that, in the main, the proposals that I put forward shortly after 1970 coincided with the 1967 proposals to a great extent, particularly in places such as north Wales and areas outside Glamorgan?
§ Mr. Hughes
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposals certainly did not coincide with the 1967 proposals in my part of Wales. In south-east Wales, where more than 70 per cent. of the people of Wales live, there were marked differences, including the big fiddle over the creation of South Glamorgan.
I regard clause 12 as a belated attempt to try to rectify what has gone before. I support its reinclusion but I consider that it does not go far enough. In Committee I tabled an amendment that, if accepted, would have had the effect of the Assembly drawing up proposals for the reorganisation of local government. Those proposals would have been based on the one-tier system of local government. My amendment was not reached because of the time factor.
I have had some experience of local government. I have served on one of the largest authorities. It is evident that the whole structure of local government needs simplyfying. The creation of an Assembly will enable that to be done. I can understand why some local government dignitaries are vociferous in their opposition to the creation of an Assembly. It may be that they can see the writing on the wall. However, vested interests must not he allowed to prevail in the great debate. It is the public good and the interests of the people that must be given first consideration by the House.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
Does my hon. Friend agree that it must be borne in mind that the Welsh Assembly may be regarded as being a vested interest in removing the tiers of government below it, as are the sections of local government that wish 626 to continue in existence? We shall not have an objective analysis from the Assembly. That will not be so when the only justification for its existence is the removal of the tiers of local government below it.
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall advance my argument for the simplification of the local government structure.
The reorganisation was carried out by the Heath Conservative Government. In Wales it was a disaster. I know that many hon. Members, including some on the Opposition Benches, will vouch for the fact that it was a disaster in many areas of England. I speak purely in a Welsh context when I say that many local identities were destroyed by the reorganisation. Many key units of organisation were undermined and mutilated.
The Glamorgan County Council was split into three parts. An argument could have been advanced for dividing Glamorgan into two. The House will have heard my response to the intervention of the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas), a former Secretary of State for Wales. I regarded the creation of the third Glamorgan authority, South Glamorgan, as an attempt to make Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, Tory for ever.
We had a county borough system in Wales. There were four county boroughs. A case could have been made for reducing the status of Merthyr, but there was nothing wrong to any marked extent with the county boroughs of Cardiff, Swansea or Newport. The boroughs should have been retained.
I know that my constituents in Newport have paid heavily for the reorganisation of local government. Incidentally, they are receiving an inferior service. That is being revealed to me day after day in my parliamentary activities. Only today I have written to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales about the roads in Newport. Despite all the problems that we have in the town, there is not one road scheme for Newport on the drawing board. That would not have been allowed to happen if Newport still had county borough status. The loss of status is one of the 627 basic reasons for Newport being neglected. We need a further reorganisation of local government.
In contradiction to the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Pembroke, I believe that the Welsh Assembly would be an ideal body to carry out a reorganisation. Many of those elected to the Assembly will have vast experience of local government. They will not be what might be called London-Welsh representatives. Their knowledge of local government will be beneficial to the people of Wales.
What happened to manpower as a result of reorganisation? Manpower is a basic but expensive commodity. We know that thousands more were recruited into local government. There were many upgradings. For example, letting officers became housing managers. Salaries rocketed and ratepayers and taxpayers paid heavily for the privilege.
As the Secretary of State has already said, there is now a duplication of functions. My right hon. and learned Friend was right to mention planning departments. The staff in those departments are essentially technical people. Many of them should be working in industry to bring about the regeneration of our manufacturing industry that is so necessary if we are to survive and compete in world markets.
Local government reorganisation fueled the flames of inflation from which we are still suffering and which the Government have fought so resolutely to combat in the past four years. Those in the party and the Government who carried out the reorganisation—namely, those in and supporting the Conservative Government—now have the audacity to call for cuts in public expenditure.
It is vital that clause 12 is restored to the Bill. The first task of an elected Assembly should be to draw up plans for the reorganisaion of local government. I am confident that the proposals that the Assembly draws up will be based on the one-tier system. Incidentally, that is already the official policy of the Labour Party.
There is a great need to thin out the bureaucracy and to bring local government back to the people It must be remembered that all Labour hon. Members opposed the system of local govern- 628 ment that is now in operation when it was being taken through the House by the Conservative Government. Even the hon. Member for Pembroke has admitted that he opposed the proposals for his own area. I hope that my hon. Friends will be equally united in asking for the re-inclusion of clause 12.
§ Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, North)
We heard an extraordinary speech from the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Evans). He said that the last reorganisation of local government fuelled the flames of inflation. Yet he called for another reorganisation. He is advocating a strange form of fire-fighting.
The hon. Gentleman looked back to previous efforts at local government reform in Wales. He rejected one in 1969 by the Labour Government. However, he liked the 1967 model because that kept Newport in being as an entity. If I remember rightly, at that time the huge Bettws estate, which served the steelworks, lay outside the bounds of Newport Corporation. It fell within the constituency of the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, who managed to lose the seat in 1966 to the now hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). By the time of the 1970 election it had been taken back into the county borough of Newport. Newport was flooding out of its boundaries. It was already out of date as a unitary authority.
The hon. Member for Newport knows full well that if the Labour Party's proposals were reproduced by a Welsh Assembly, the old Newport would not be re-created. It would be much bigger and very different from the Newport to which he longingly looks back.
The hon. Member for Newport said that reorganisation of local government was one of the principal reasons for his support of the establishment of the Welsh Assembly. Listening to the Secretary of State, one would think that it was the reason for supporting the establishment of a Welsh Assembly. That was the goody. The smile and the smirk were there. That was the promise that was to be handed out to the people of Flint, Pembroke, Cardiff, Mid-Glamorgan, or wherever it may be. Because people blame local government for their problems, the Secretary of State is saying "We shall deliver you from it, but through the Welsh Assembly. Of course. 629 we in the Labour Party know the answer because we have our own policy."
The Secretary of State said that the Government have a policy for single-tier unitary authorities. Why is that policy not brought before the House fearlessly now? Is it necessary to skulk behind the establishment of a Welsh Assembly before daring to brave the row that he knows meets every Government who want to reform local government?
The Secretary of State is in fact saying "We know what is wrong. We have the answer. But, my goodness me, I shall not make the mistake of my predecessor, soil my hands and end up on these Benches being assailed for having got it all wrong. I shall have 80 good men and true. They will be the fall guys for me. I shall come to the House of Commons and say These people are in contact with the feelings of the people of Wales, unlike me and my fellow Members of Parliament, many of whom do not live or pay rates in Wales.'" They are, as the hon. Member for Newport said, London Members who sit for Wales That was a revealing phrase.
The Secretary of State will say "We, as Members of Parliament, are clearly out of touch with our neighbours and our own local authorities. We are coming to the House with the recommendations of these 80 Local Welsh people. They say that this this and this should be done to local government in Wales. Of course, we shall agree with them. How could we do otherwise? Here is the national body of Wales speaking for Wales."
We are told time and again by the Secretary of State, by the Prime Minister on occasions and certainly by the Leader of the House that these people will be able to speak for Wales in a way that Members of Parliament cannot hope to do Therefore, what can we do but accept their recommendations? Of course the Government could refuse to accept those recommendations. But that would be the first job that the Welsh Assembly had been given.
When bodies are first set up they take a little time to settle down and find their feet. Therefore, what would be easier for the Welsh Assembly to get on with than reviewing and messing up local government? As has been pointed out, many Members of the Assembly are likely to 630 be experienced in local government. Therefore, that is one subject about which they will know something. They will approach it with all their prejudices and local loyalties. They will come with all that they have learned in their committees and local caucuses, over many years in some cases, so they will feel very much at home in reviewing local government. They will do it thoroughly and quickly. Therefore, it will be a very brave Secretary of State who will say "I am sorry. It may have been imposed on you, but it was your job. You may have given all your attention and expertise to it, but we do not like it and we shall not pass it at Westminster." That could happen.
As has been pointed out, there could be a Labour-dominated Welsh Assembly and, rightly, a Conservative Government. Is it probable that the Conservative Government would pass what might well be a Labour-inspired policy from a Welsh Assembly? If the Conservative Government refused to accept it, would it not demonstrate one of the obvious cracks in the structure of our constitution that we have warned about throughout our debates on the Scotland Bill and on the Wales Bill? It would be ruinous for local government in Wales and for the interests of the Welsh people and, in the long term, of the people of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Perhaps I may put a further refinement on that proposition. If there were a Conservative Government in Downing Street, a Labour Assembly at the Coal Exchange and a Conservative-dominated South Glamorgan council—that is, a three-tier sandwich—what would happen then?
§ Mr. Grist
I should not mind particularly in some respects, because that is my county. The hon. Gentleman has posed one of the problems that is bound to arise. It is not fantastical; it is quite probable. That is why people are being flummoxed and smokescreened. This clause is the major smokescreen in the entire debate. Otherwise, I cannot conceive why the Secretary of State should have been so gleeful in moving the amendment.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
It is interesting how the argument about local government appears to have changed during our consideration of the Bill. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) referred 631 to a question that I asked at an early stage. I felt that if an Assembly were to be created in Wales, it would inevitably lead to an alteration of the local government structure. At that time I was told that local government would in no way be affected. Indeed, reference was made to the White Paper "Our Changing Democracy" which, on page 47, states:The devolution Act will make no change in the structure of local government in Wales.I believe that, as night follows day, if the people of Wales decide to have an Assembly, the existing local government structure will be scrapped.
I sympathise with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He brought forward proposals for reorganisation in Wales which, to a large extent, had been discussed by the Labour Party. The difficulty was that he looked at the proposals submitted to Kilbrandon by the Labour Party. In the meantime, the Conservative Government came in and reorganised local government. The original Assembly proposals do not take account of the local government reorganisation that has taken place.
When I supported what was called an elected Council for Wales, I understood that would be a council for the whole of Wales with a single-tier authority underneath. That would make some sense. But the Conservative Government jumped the gun. The Kilbrandon Commission considered devolution and local government.
It could be said that there is dissatisfaction with local government. But I have a first-class county council in Mid-Glamorgan. Perhaps South Glamorgan and Mid-Glamorgan should have been combined, but Mid-Glamorgan has settled down. It is providing effective local government for that area.
Local Government reorganisation meant the the two urban district authorities in my locality were merged. It is a traumatic experience for people suddenly to find that their council offices have moved up the valley. People do not like such changes.
I can imagine why the Government decided that they did not want to touch local government reorganisation with a bargepole. I can understand why they 632 decided that the Assembly should deal with that reorganisation. But that underlines the weaknesses of the proposals.
Of course, people say that they do not want an extension of bureaucracy. But in Wales, under the present government structure, there are community councils, 37 district councils, county councils, the Welsh Office and the Secretary of Slate. For 3 million people that is not too bad when one considers that London, with 9 million people, has only the Greater London Council and the boroughs. We have a great deal of government in Wales. We are leaving local government alone but on top of that we are creating an Assembly. It could be said that we are not diminishing bureaucracy but increasing it.
It could be said that the nominated bodies might go. But that is not so, because they will remain. We should tackle the problem of quangos. As a party we must address ourselves to that problem. The danger is that the Assembly might create a "quangoloo" court. The nominated bodies will not disappear when the Assembly is created. They will continue. The only difference will be that instead of the Secretary of State being in charge, the Assembly will determine such matters.
I understand the Government's difficulties. But it is no use their coming to the House and saying that there is dissatisfaction with local government when, on top of that structure and without altering it, they are creating an additional tier of government for Wales.
I have been critical of the way in which the Conservatives reorganised local government, the health service and the water industry. The people of Wales have gone through one traumatic experience of local government reorganisation. Are they to face another so soon? The Government have said that they should not. Speaking at a local government conference in Cardiff a former Prime Minister said that we cannot tackle the problem of another local government reorganisation at this stage. But now we are planning to give to the Assembly the task of urgently reviewing local government.
What if the people of Wales decide that they do not want an Assembly? What are we to do if there is no Assembly? But let us suppose that the people, 633 unwisely, decide that they want an Assembly. What is to happen to the Secretary of State in the Cabinet? What effect will he have in the Welsh Office and on our role as Members of Parliament? Shall we be able to talk about housing, health and welfare when those matters are devolved? What will happen to the number of Welsh Members? When there was a devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland, the number of MPs from the Province was small.
If we accept, academically, that there will be an Assembly, we do not know its political complexion. A coalition may form a majority. I do not agree that it will inevitably be a Labour majority. If, as I believe, a Labour Government are elected in a General Election, there may be a boomerang effect and the people may vote for other parties in the Assembly, as they do in local government.
We do not know whether the Assemblymen will have local government experience. The Secretary of State said that they may come from the counties and the districts, but we do not know. Although improbable, it is possible that none will have such experience. It is dangerous to give them this task. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) said, there are vested interests in district councils and county councils and in this House—and so there will be in the Assembly.
In the long term, the Assembly will make sense only if a tier of local government is removed. The tragedy is that proposals which grasped the nettle and created an elected authority for Wales with a unitary authority below it would have been sensible.
What will happen to the county councils? I understand that the eight county councils of Wales are opposed to the Assembly reviewing the function of local government. I have had a letter from the Association of County Councils saying that it supports the Lords amendment and wants to delete…the objectionable clause which would have required the Assembly to review the local government structure in Wales. This open invitation to the Assembly to initiate a further reorganisation of local government so soon after the reorganisation in 1974 is utterly opposed by the Association. As you know, the clause was approved by a very small 634 majority in the House of Lords and it is the hope of the Association that on reconsideration the Government will now accept the position, or alternatively that the Commons will rejectthe clause. It was defeated in the Commons by a small majority—
§ Mr. Evans
My hon. Friend reminds me that it was seven. In the Lords, it was carried by a small majority. We should put at rest the minds of Labour county leaders in Wales, who are a little apprehensive at the prospect of being associated with the other place, by deleting the clause ourselves.
The idea of the Assembly reviewing local government is wrong. This will be a long process. The Secretary of State should set up a commission to look into local government in Wales, rather than giving that onerous task to the Assembly, one of whose main functions early on will be to work with the district and county councils. Imagine what the relationship will be if they know that this body will have that task. If we are to have an Assembly, it should not perform this difficult task. We should give the Labour leaders of county councils, who do not want this proposal, the support they require.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
This is most unusual in a debate that is subject to the guillotine. Three hon. Members are still waiting to get into the debate. There is to be a five-minute winding-up speech. There are 15 minutes left for other hon. Members. May we please have three five-minute speeches?
§ Mr. Michael Roberts
I think that tonight we saw the Secretary of State in a new light. He was all soft, sweet and reasonable. We are not used to that, and it is bound to make us somewhat suspicious.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman started by telling us that there was a basis on which we could all agree. There was, he said, a significant demand for a review and reform of local government. I suppose that he relies for that view on the strident opinions of the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes). The Secretary of State went on to say that what we 635 seek is a consensus, but he based his argument on a completely false premise. He proposed the equation that dissatisfaction equals demand for review. It means nothing of the sort, because there has always been dissatisfaction with local government in Wales.
There was dissatisfaction with the old Glamorgan county council. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must know that as well as anyone else does, coming as he does from Port Talbot. He must know that there was no love for local government in South Wales, and that there was no respect for it in Monmouth or Glamorgan. Indeed, it was thought by most people that "jobs for the boys" was one of the major considerations of those large authorities. But because there is dissatisfaction—there always has been —that does not mean that people want to change. I believe that the Secretary of State is putting forward an argument that he cannot, with honesty, sustain, and because I have only a couple of minutes in which to speak I shall put to him just one reason why there should not be a change of local government—one reason why we should not jump on any band wagon of dissatisfaction because, at a time of inflation, rates have increased.
One reason why staffs in local authorities were increased to deal with housing, for example, was that this Government urged local authorities to undertake a great housing expansion, but they then pulled the rug from under the feet of the authorities. "Bust the bank" was the argument used at the time. I am going back a few years. The local authorities were told to bust the bank and go on with expansion, but then they were told to cut back, after they appointed architects, and so on. "Bust the bank" was the phrase that Labour Members should know was used three years ago.
Anyone who knows anything about the development of social services and a social service department, or an education department, in local government knows that it is a relationship that takes years to develop. The social services department of South Glamorgan is first-class. It has been developed slowly and efficiently by dedicated professional members of the staff. What has happened has had nothing to do with the political complexion of the authority.
636 It is the same with education. It takes years to establish a relationship between the authority, the people and the parents. Such a relationship has been developing for the past four years, yet here we are, cynically seeking a justification for an Assembly. For the sake of a few votes we seem prepared to jeopardise the interests of the parents and the children. We seem prepared to do that just to make a political point.
§ Mr. Anderson
There are clear weaknesses in the present local government structure in planning and in the interface between housing and social services. All our colleagues have heard of buck-passing exercises between county and district authorities. But we have to recognise that, given the topography of Wales and given our democratic structure, there is no simple solution that will fit local government all over Wales. There are the heavily congested parts of South Wales, and there are areas of low population in Mid-Wales, and, particularly in Powys, if there were to be a unitary system there would have to be groupings of authorities to cover the wider strategic front functions. There is no simple and easy structure, and the dissatisfaction that exists against the present structure may well exist against any alternative structure which might be proposed for Wales.
If there is a degree of dissatisfaction, and if one concedes for a moment that it is worth considering whether that structure should be altered, either root and branch or by some form of organic change, is an Assembly the right body to do it? What expertise should there necessarily be in that Assembly? We do not know. Why, therefore, assign this task to a body, of the expertise, if any, of which we are unaware? Can we expect an objective appraisal of the needs of Wales from the Assembly? We do not know, but it is most likely that the Assembly will seek to secure additional powers for itself on a strategic level.
Is it likely that the Assembly will seek to decentralise to the maximum possible extent to local communities? Again, the reply to that question must be that it is doubtful. Why are the Government now proposing to include clause 12 in the Bill? As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) said fairly, it was 637 not in the original Bill. The White Paper said that there would be no effect on local government reorganisation. If, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) said, local government reorganisation is the kernel of the whole debate on devolution, why was this kernel not included from the start?
If this matter is so urgent, as we are told, why was it not suggested before? Why has it taken four years to discover that this great state of urgency exists? Quite clearly this clause is no more and no less than a sweetner in favour of voting "Yes" in the referendum. There is no necessary nexus between local government reform and the Assembly.
Perhaps I may anticipate some of the arguments that my right hon. and learned Friend and some of my hon. Friends will be using in the referendum campaign. They will be going to Pembroke—I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend has already been there— and will tell the people there that they had a good local government system in the past, and that they enjoyed the benefits of Pembrokeshire County Council. They will say that they want that sort of county council again, the avenue towards that will be to vote for the Assembly.
My hon. Friends will go to Swansea and will tell my constituents that if they do not like the idea of a new county hall in Swansea the solution lies in voting for the Asembly. That, they will say, will ensure that there is no duplication of government. They will go to Carmarthen and Cardigan and make similar statements.
The clause is unnecessary. It represents the only positive duty that the Government have seen fit to put upon the Assembly. Why should there be a duty? If the Assembly wanted to make local government proposals, it could do so in any event. Why do the Government see the need to impose a duty under clause 12 alone of all the other matters that they might have chosen? This is clearly part of the sweetening process for the referendum campaign. It is an extraneous matter which has been injected into the devolution issue at a late stage. I believe that it should be rejected for that reason, and on this occasion I shall certainly vote against the Government.
§ Mr. Kinnock
This is a clause which, from its belated conception half-way through our debates on devolution, I have always regarded as the "free offer" clause. The Government have experienced great difficulty in marketing devolution. Just like any other concern which has difficulty in selling an unsaleable product, the Government have thrown in a little bonus, the equivalent of "5p off manufacturers' recommended price", but without the manufacturer ever having said what the price was. At one time, the sale of a particular soap powder was assisted by plastic daffodils. In the context of the Wales Bill, it may be that this clause is the plastic daffodil of the Government's devolution proposals. That is all that it can boil down to.
This evening, we have heard from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State that it has all the advantages of mobilising the experience and all the other virtues that we can expect from the would-be Welsh Assemblymen. Then the Assembly will review, and then it will recommend. That it shall have no power other than the power to review and recommend is the reassurance that my right hon. and learned Friend and his associates will offer to the people of Wales as being able to demonstrate that if the demands of this Assembly, democratically elected, should become excessive or eccentric to general Government policy, or, indeed, contravene the interests of the people of Wales, as the Government conceive them to be, then the people of Wales have a further check and balance on this Assembly, so they can have their bread buttered on both sides.
Of course, the major beneficiaries of the whole promotion will be the manufacturers of these devolution proposals, in that they can go to the people of Wales, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) described, and sell the devolution policy on the basis of the fact that it offers an access to recovery from the horrors of local government reorganisation as visited upon us by the previous Conservative Government.
I would not uphold the system of organisation or disorganisation that the Conservatives gave to Wales. There are very substantial areas for change. But I hope that my right hon. and learned 639 Friend does not think that the mistakes, shortcomings, inefficiencies and excesses of this form of local government reorganisation were visited upon us by any lack of democracy. I think that they are a development of financial constraints and of demographic problems, as they exist in Wales.
No matter who or what form of organisation, review body or analytical mind sets itself to the problem of organising local government in Wales to maximise democratic representation and to maximise efficiency of management, it will come up against much the same problem as any other body ever has.
If it is legitimised by being an elected body which does that, so much the better in some respects. But it does not necessarily mean that it will come up with any more effective or more efficient an answer. It is certainly not enough ground on which to buy the very dubious product of devolution, as proposed by my right hon. Friends.
My right hon. and learned Friend says that people in Wales are labouring under misconceptions. He was supported in that view by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). The hon. and learned Member even accused the BBC of sowing fear and mistrust in the minds of the Welsh people by giving the impression that the Welsh Assembly will change local government. He was very critical of the BBC for giving that impression.
However, it is very difficult for people in Wales, including the BBC, to avoid such misconceptions. When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, with all the power of conviction that he is capable of bringing to bear on any subject, is giving the impression at successive conferences, of our movement and of everyone else's movement, on shared platforms and single platforms, that, first of all, we would not have had the horror of local government as we have it now if we had had an Assembly in the first place, and secondly, that the only means of uprooting this dread form of local government is by having an Assembly, it is difficult to avoid a misconception.
Then there is the further example of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State—all credit to him—as mentioned by my hon. Friend the 640 Member for Swansea, East, going to Pembroke, for instance, and strongly conveying the idea that the way in which the old Pembrokeshire County Council and the long-remembered and enchanted form that previously existed in that golden age to which the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Mr. Grist) referred, can be restored by will of the Assembly. But of course, nothing like that will happen.
This is the most superficial, wasteful, misleading and misconceived way in which to conduct the whole exercise of local government reorganisation, if that is what the people of Wales actually want. If that review takes place and recommendations are made, we shall have to go through exactly the process in this House that we would have to go through in order to change local government in any case, because the Assembly will not be an independent assembly. As my right hon. Friend is fond of reminding us, it will be a devolved Assembly. Therefore, we shall have to go through precisely the same procedure as that which will have been followed by the Assembly. The most entertaining prospect—at least for those outside Wales, although it frightens me to death —concerns what happens if the recommendations of the Assembly are not accepted by the Secretary of State or Parliament.
I think that it is highly unlikely that, when the Secretary of State eventually telephones or telegraphs or sends by pony express to the Assembly and says "Sorry, boys. Parliament has come to the conclusion that, although your review is praiseworthy, we cannot accept your recommendations", as one man the Assembly will say "That's all right. We don't mind. There has been a democratic review. We have only spent 18 months of our time travelling up and down Wales, looking at all the possibilities; we have only set all the wealth of experience among us at work on this; we have only mobilised all the local government officials in Wales; we have only done a full assessment; we have only written a fat volume on it—the biggest thing since the Mabinogion, and sent it off to London. Now they have turned it down, but we shall not object to that."
Of course the reality will be entirely different, and on top of the waste and duplication, on top of all the misleading 641 campaigns, on top of all the false promises, on top of all the free offers, on top of all the cut prices, will come the resentment of people who have done an earnest job and whose offer has been rebutted by Parliament and the Secretary of State who are under no obligation to take any notice of what they say.
I ask my right hon. Friend to accept that nobody with the interests of Wales at heart, however critical one is of local government reorganisation, could possibly come to the conclusion that there is anything worthy or worthwhile in putting this clause back into the Bill.
§ Mr. John Morris
By the leave of the House, I shall seek, in a matter of two minutes, to reply to some of the points raised in the debate. I was attacked for being gleeful, and for being sweet and reasonable. Perhaps I should be more aggressive.
Surely the point is that there is dissatisfaction. There is a quarrel in the House as to the degree of it, but I hope that no one will contend seriously at this time that we should leave the situation as it is without having someone to review it and bring forward proposals that would be both acceptable and more workable.
I believe that, having failed in the past with various mechanisms—failed with commissions, failed with committees of inquiry, failed with Ministers in this House—we should now try democracy. Why not? I have nothing to fear from democracy, from allowing a body elected by the Welsh people to look at the situation and report to this House.
It has ben said that we were late in the day in forming our view. That is not true. It was in our early proposals. Indeed, it was in the Scotland and Wales Bill last Session—and there is power in this Bill, even without this clause, for the Assembly, either on its own initiative or on the recommendation of the Secretary of State, to do this work. The power is there already, but we think it wise and proper to ensure that we place a mandatory duty on the Assembly, making clear beyond peradventure what we regard its duty to be, to report to this House. It will then be for this House to decide what should be done.
642 The critics of this proposal cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that the power is lost to this House and goes to the Assembly, and that the Assembly can take away this power from a county council, or another power from a district council, when they know full well that the sole power proposed is to report and to review, and for this House then to come to its own conclusion. I believe that the need—
§ It being Nine o'clock Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order yesterday, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
§ Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 278, Noes 277.
§ [For Division List No. 290 see c. 731]
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the Business to be concluded at Nine o'clock.