HC Deb 26 March 1979 vol 965 cc7-10
6. Sir Anthony Meyer

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what changes in the organisation of his office he now proposes in view of the rejection of the Wales Act by the people of Wales.

9. Mr. Nicholas Edwards

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what future plans he has for the devolution unit at the Welsh Office.

Mr. John Morris

Redeployment of the few staff in the devolution division to vacancies elsewhere in my Department is now taking place.

Sir A. Meyer

Would it not be a good idea to redeploy the staff into a new unit established to discover the views of the Welsh people to ensure that the Welsh Office does not foist upon the Welsh people unwanted schemes such as the State direction of pension funds or the nationalisation of agricultural land?

Mr. Morris

Those are not matters for civil servants.

Mr. Edwards

One of the principal arguments advanced by the Secretary of State and his colleagues during the referendum campaign was that under the exising arrangements they were incapable of governing Wales with competence. What does the Secretary of State propose to do about that?

Mr. Morris

The hon. Member must be drawing upon his imagination. The record of the Government, Ministers and myself is incomparably higher and better than that of any past Conservative Administration and better than any future Conservative Administration could achieve.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

In view of the firm opinion held by Opposition Members and by my hon. Friends that the whole structure of local government in Wales should be examined carefully before it becomes too deeply entrenched, will my right hon. and learned Friend reconsider the deployment of this expert staff? Will be instruct those involved to conduct preliminary studies into the structure of local government in Wales with a view to producing a substantial paper which will enable the House to come to a conclusion in due course?

Mr. Morris

I hope that the reform of local government is a matter of concern in all parts of the House. We are, of course, paying the price for the mess that was imposed upon Wales by the previous Conservative Government. I hope very much that in the forthcoming talks we can have some interesting suggestions, and apologies from the Conservative Party for the mess that it imposed upon Wales.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is no good reason for not changing local government immediately? We do not have to wait for the setting up of an Assembly. We could go ahead with this without delay. In those circumstances, will be ensure that all levels of government are considered at the same time, unlike the situation in 1972–73 when bits of local government were considered in isolation from government on an all-Wales level, which resulted in the mess which he described?

Mr. Morris

I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that in every part of Wales there is concern about the present system of local government. Even the Welsh counties believe that there should be changes, and the district councils' organisation—the Council for the Principality—believes strongly that there should be other changes, although, regrettably, in different directions. Therefore, we should pause and ensure that this time there is an examination which does not repeat the mess that was imposed upon Wales by the previous Conservative Administration.

Mr. Michael Roberts

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman deny that during the referendum campaign he and his ministerial colleagues put forward the argument that the Welsh Office was incompetent and inadequate to deal with the affairs of Wales?

Mr. Morris

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman can produce any supporting evidence for that statement. There was never any suggestion of that nature. I said that I believed that some of the subjects now handled by the tremendously increased Welsh Office could be better handled by a democratically elected Assembly. That is what I said, and that was what my colleagues said.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Although I recognise that the decision taken by the people Wales was in their best interests, I believe that the Wales Act addressed itself to certain problems that still remain. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at the suggestions that have been made to him to democratise the nominated bodies, which seems to be a feature that was put forward by everyone during the debate on the Wales Act?

Mr. Morris

My hon. Friend has put down a question on that subject. It is certainly a matter of concern in Wales to ensure that the bodies which operate there are made as responsive as possible to democratic opinion. I should have thought that such a suggestion could not be entirely repugnant, even to Conservative Members.

Sir Raymond Gower

Does not the Secretary of State recognise that, in many respects, the rejection of the Wales Act amounted to a massive rejection of the Government's views about the need for local government reform in Wales, and that many life-long Labour Members participated in resisting the Government's proposals for local government?

Mr. Morris

If the hon. Gentleman, with his long experience, believes that, he will believe anything. I remind him of the representations that I received only last week from the Council for the Principality, which suggested substantial and radical changes for its responsibilities. It may well be that that matter did not catch the hon. Gentleman's eye.