HC Deb 18 February 1980 vol 979 cc11-3
9. Mr. Coleman

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what consultations he has had with the local government associations in Wales.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

My consultations with Welsh local authority associations naturally embrace a wide range of issues.

Mr. Coleman

In the Minister's discussions with the local authority associations, has his attention been drawn to the widespread opposition to the proposals in the Rayner report for the payment of social security benefits through sub-post offices? Is he aware of the concern of the Mid-Glamorgan county council over the way in which old-age pensioners will be disadvantaged if the nonsense proposals are permitted to go through? Will the right hon. Gentleman bring his influence to bear upon his Cabinet colleagues and draw their attention to the widespread opposition in Wales to the proposals?

Mr. Edwards

The matter is to be debated in the House tomorrow. I must disabuse the House of the notion that old-age pensioners are to be made to receive their pensions in that way. The object is to offer a wider choice to those who wish to receive payment by way of cheque.

Mr. Coleman

That is absolute nonsense.

Mr. Edwards

The Government are consulting widely on the suggestions, and no final decision has been taken.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on this side of the House also there is great concern lest the very desirable changes proposed should result in any closures of sub-post offices? What do the Government propose to prevent that?

Mr. Edwards

We have received a large number of representations on the matter. The issue is to be debated in the House tomorrow.

Mr. Anderson

Is not the Secretary of State seriously concerned about his party's tarnished image in Wales? Will he consider seeking advice from Saatchi and Saatchi so that he can convince the councils, the steel workers, the coal miners, the railwaymen and the post office workers that the Conservative Government are good for them?

Mr. Edwards

I shall continue to do my best to ensure that the interests of those in Wales are protected. I shall be content to defend the Government's policy. I have obtained from my Cabinet colleagues an additional £48 million by way of assistance to ensure that effective measures are taken in the South Wales area.

Mr. Best

If my right hon. Friend further employs the services of Saatchi and Saatchi, does he agree that its services would be better employed in pointing out the myopia of Opposition Members, who think that the ills confronting Wales have occurred during the past nine months only and are not a result of the previous Administration's policy?

Mr. Edwards

Most of the problems result from the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition, who believes that public expenditure does not count a tuppenny damn.

Mr. Alan Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the preposterous proposition by the Secretary of State for the Environment that he will take into account the speeches of members of county and district councils when deciding whether to apply financial sanctions under the rate support grant? Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to apply such a policy in Wales? If so, how does he intend to justify this curbing of the natural democratic right of councillors to express their criticisms?

Mr. Edwards

We have made it absolutely clear that councils, which attempt seriously to conform with Government policy on public expenditure will not be penalised for incurring exceptional and unavoidable expenditure, as, for example, with the recent floods.