HC Deb 17 August 1991 vol 195 cc376-412
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

I have to announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.55 pm
Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I beg to move, That this House condemns this Government's failure, in its Green Paper 'The Structure of Local Government in Wales, a Consultation Paper' to respond adequately to the wishes of the people of Wales to secure a more sensitive and efficient structure of local government, to establish, on an all-Wales level, elected democratic control over the existing tier of Government currently administered by the Welsh office and nominated bodies, and to provide direct links between Wales and the emerging institutions of the European Community; further notes the political danger that other areas comparable with Wales in the rest of Europe all have directly elected government structures, while Wales does not; asserts that, in order to create coherent and lasting structures of government, all three dimensions need to be considered together and that a prerequisite must be the determination of the appropriate level and mechanism of democratic control over each function of government, in accordance with the European Community principle of subsidiarity; that thereafter methods of funding should be established and only then can sensible propositions be made for boundaries, which should reflect communities of interest; and calls on the Secretary of State to launch the fullest consultation in Wales in order to bring before the House, at an early date, proposals for the future structures of government in Wales which reflect the aspirations of the majority of the Welsh nation. I have to make a confession. I was a Member of the House for many years before I discovered what my problem was. Whenever I got up to speak in the Chamber, I felt distinctly uncomfortable. On reflection, I realised that I had to stand up without having anywhere to put my papers. If one is a Government or Opposition Front-Bench Member, it is possible to hide oneself behind one's papers. Speaking from these Benches, one has to jump up and down to pick up papers and to refer to them. That is especially disconcerting now that we are on television.

I have here, as I have had for many weeks, my own draft copy of the European treaty of union, to which I want to refer. I say that to give the Secretary of State early warning of what I shall talk about. As I am unlikely to speak from the Dispatch Box in this House, I shall have to make do with jumping up and down when I refer to my papers.

The title of our debate refers to the plural—"structures" of government in Wales. That is because we take a plural and, dare I say it, pluralistic approach to the government of Wales. In that, we are at one with the Secretary of State for the Environment. When opening the original debate on the reorganisation of local government and the community charge, he made the clear statement that, from the point of view of his political theory, he was a pluralist. I do not know whether his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is a pluralist. I am not sure whether his recent behaviour and the way in which he has treated local government reform proposals for Wales smell of pluralism or of autocracy. We shall see as the debate progresses.

We take a pluralistic view not only of the way in which politics in Wales should be conducted, but of how government in Wales should function. There can be no unitary authorities applying to government. I know that the Welsh Office uses the phrase "unitary authorities" in reference to local government, but to conceive of government as something that happens at one level alone or, to mix metaphors, in one place alone controlling one space, is a total misunderstanding of the complexity of modern government. No hon. Member who has any knowledge of the administration of the education service, of the social services, of the planning service, or of industrial or economic policy would imagine for one moment that the idea of a unitary form of decision making —a unitary form of controlling space—is acceptable.

We regard the relationship between power, government and society as inherently pluralistic and non-unitary. There are places in which one does certain things for other places and there are certain places in which one does other things.

The United Kingdom has suffered for too long from the problems caused by operating within the straitjacket of a unitary state. It is significant that, during the fateful week when federalism was the F-word and the Welsh Assembly was the A-word—or perhaps the other way round—a United Kingdom Minister was rejecting federalism in the European Community while, in the Chamber, a Welsh Office Minister rejected federalism, too.

Accountability, answerability and the problem of the democratic deficit were not addressed at either level. At European Community level, United Kingdom Ministers said that there could not be an ever closer union, which must mean federalism—although they could not speak the word "federalism". Similarly, Ministers said that we could not have an elected Welsh Assembly, making that level of government accountable, because it would undermine the operation of the unitary state.

The Secretary of State made the startling announcement that scores of Minister Presidents throughout the European regions wanted to be members of the United Kingdom Cabinet. Perhaps I have got that wrong; perhaps he meant that they wanted to be members of their federal state Cabinets, or of their state Cabinets. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to confirm—I am sure that he will tell me this again, as he has told me before, both privately and publicly—that he really meant that the Minister Presidents wanted access to his own level of decision making. But I do not think that any of them would trade in the level of representation enjoyed by a Secretary of State in the Cabinet of a member state if it meant losing the elected regional authorities that they all have—I know that they would not do so, because some of them have told me so. That is why our motion deliberately refers not only to the reorganisation of what is called local government in Wales but to the European dimension, too. As I have already said, we see all those levels of government as interrelated.

The Secretary of State's arguments are set out in a nicely designed document—it is more pleasantly designed than the Scottish document—

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

It is empty of content.

Dr. Thomas

I was talking about the design features, not the content. This is a post-modern political document; it is all up-front, in the design.

I must correct an error in the document. I was deeply agitated when I saw that the first map—I do not know whether it was drawn by the officials or by the Under-Secretary of State himself—portrays the old and dearly beloved Meirionnydd county in 1974 with at least a third of its electorate missing. I speak with affection, because for many years I represented that extra bit. My area stretched closer to the English border than appears on the map. That small error of cartography is only one of the up-front errors in the document.

In paragraph 1.6 of the Green Paper, the Secretary of State sets out the arguments on the fundamental principles for local authorities. Those arguments apply equally on an all-Wales level. I am deeply interested in semantics and the meaning of words, because that is how I was trained, but for the purpose of the debate, we accept, as we do in our motion, that Wales is an historic nation but also a European region. Its political function and structure has to approach that of a European region. I shall therefore use the word "regional" with reference to Wales, although some of my colleagues outside the House might not be happy to hear me do so.

I shall apply the term "regional" to the fundamental principles of local government set out in paragraph 1.6 of the Green Paper, where the Secretary of State says that local authorities should be democratically accountable to their electorates". We say that regional authorities, too, should be accountable. The Secretary of State argues: local public services should be responsible to the wishes, needs and circumstances of local communities". The same principles should also apply to regional public services—by which I mean primarily the £5 billion spent by the Welsh Office and its 4,000 civil servants.

The Green Paper goes on to refer to the need for local authorities' responsibilities for service delivery to be clearly understood by local people". Clearly, the same argument on fundamental principles applies to the all-Wales regional level. The document also speaks of "community loyalties" and the high quality and efficiency of public services". That, too, applies more widely.

The Secretary of State may intend to deploy the argument that a regional assembly for Wales would cost too much, as he apparently said this morning elsewhere in the House. I should reply that the Welsh Office already has expenditure of £5 billion and that the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of £50 million—that was the old estimate of the Leader of the Opposition, updated by the Welsh Office—represents I per cent. of that expenditure. One per cent. of the total would be spent on scrutinising that expenditure, and we must consider that cost in terms of value for money and democratic accountability.

There is an argument within Wales for democratic scrutiny and accountability of the non-elected tier of regional government. There is also an argument that the Welsh Office should review local government, or sub-regional government, in Wales. My hon. Friends will pursue that idea in greater detail later if they catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is a clear argument that the sub-regional level of government should be comprehensively reviewed. The problem that faces us as we consider the Green Paper is that there is no fundamental review.

I shall mention three or four areas of concern. First, there is the question of sub-regional, or indeed all-Wales, strategic planning. If there are to be unitary planning authorities, even within the present overall Welsh Office guidelines that are only now being developed, will they be able to deliver effective strategic planning and land use functions? Secondly, now that we are to have unitary small authorities, are we to have national park boards? I should welcome that, and if that is the Government's view it should be made known.

The third area is the delivery of education and social services. Is the implication of the Welsh Office's taking on further education and of organising higher education through another new funding body that local authorities will care for education policy only for the under-16s? If that is Government policy, we should be told.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said so far. Does he share my hope that the Secretary of State will tell us today that local government in Wales, when reorganised, will retain almost all its present functions? Perhaps the Secretary of State should have saved his comments for the House rather than making them elsewhere before his speech in the debate. If all the functions of local government in Wales were retained, we should not have to face the prospect of yet more nominated boards, which have become something of a disease in Wales.

Dr. Thomas

I am grateful to my hon. neighbour. The Secretary of State has heard what he said and no doubt will answer him, either inside or outside the House.

Social services functions need to be integrated in terms of all-Wales priorities. As a result of the creation of so-called unitary authorities at approximately the level of the present districts, will policies on all the aspects that I have mentioned be concentrated in the Welsh Office? Will there be a proliferation of the quangos referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile)? If so, how will the Secretary of State's fundamental principles on accountability in local government apply at the all-Wales regional level?

That is the democratic deficit that stares us full in the face, including hon. Members who are members of quangos, or might hope to be. Some of my hon. Friends might want to be members of quangos—[HON. MEMBERS: "Are you volunteering?"] No, I am not putting my name forward for anything. Clearly, I would be unacceptable because of my political tendencies.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)

indicated dissent.

Dr. Thomas

The Secretary of State dissents, and I am grateful to him.

The democratic deficit at the all-Wales level stares us in the face, as does the democratic deficit at the European level, not least because of the relationship between the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers, although that is not the issue on which I wish to concentrate. I propose instead to discuss the nature of the government of Wales in relation to comparable authorities or areas in the rest of Europe.

The structure of regions in the rest of Europe is defined in the constitution of the Assembly of European Regions, set up in 1985. In that context, the term "regions" refers to the level of government immediately below the central government with political representativeness"— it is obviously a translation from the French— guaranteed by the existence of an elected Regional Council, or failing this"— this was underlined for the benefit of Wales— by an association or body constituted at Regional level by the local authorities at the level immediately below. That is what we have now. The whole of Wales is represented in that regional body through the Assembly of Welsh Counties. But all the other members of the Assembly of European Regions are themselves representatives of directly elected regional authorities. It is at that level—despite the existence of the Secretary of State and the United Kingdom Cabinet, and the arguments that we have heard both inside and outside the House—that Wales is missing out in terms of its political structure.

This is not some nationalist fantasy—the pipedream of someone who imagines a Welsh nation state. I never imagined a Welsh nation state, but I certainly imagined an elected Welsh polity, and I certainly imagined a Welsh democracy related to other comparable levels of democracy throughout Europe. The danger now is that we are moving into the 21st century with that vital part of our national life as a European region not in place.— [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State is muttering. Would he like to intervene?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Bennett)


Dr. Thomas

He must be preparing his reply, then.

That dimension of our political life is missing. It is in that context that we need to consider the debates within the Assembly of European Regions and, indeed, the draft treaty of union, which now recognises far more scope for the role of regions.

The principle of subsidiarity is argued for strongly in European Community discussions these days. Here, it tends to be applied to the relationship between Community institutions and member states. I see that the Secretary of State is nodding. But for the overwhelming majority of other member states, the principle also applies across or down—or whatever spatial metaphor one wants to choose.

Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

Hear, hear.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)

Hear, hear.

Dr. Thomas

I am grateful for the support that I have received for many years from my Clwyd colleagues on this issue.

Mr. Alex Carlile

They are all leaving.

Dr. Thomas

Yes, we are all retiring. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery may also be retiring, for all I know.

In other member states, the principle of subsidiarity applies throughout the structure of government. It means that nothing is done in Brussels that could not better be done in Westminster—although I have some difficulty in imagining what that might be. I have no difficulty, however, in imagining what might be done better in Cardiff than in Westminster, and certainly no difficulty in imagining what might be done better in Newtown—the great capital of mid-Wales—than in Cardiff or in the community of Llanelltyd than in Dolgellau or Caernarfon.

The principle of subsidiarity is regarded as a thorough-going, wholesale approach, involving the devolving, decentralising or federalising of political power. That is precisely what the European regions are aiming for. They are also aiming for representation within the Council of Ministers on relevant points, and they have achieved that in the draft treaty of union, article 146 of which states that representatives of each member state at ministerial level are authorised to take binding decisions. That includes representatives from the regions if they are recognised as Ministers within their regions and within the member states. I look forward to the day when the Secretary of State, his Minister of State or even his Under-Secretary can take binding decisions for the United Kingdom within the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

Or a Minister of another Government.

Dr. Thomas

Or a Minister of another Government.

The other important part of the draft treaty of union is the amendment of article 198a, which sets up the Committee of the Regions. As the Secretary of State and the House will know, that committee will be parallel to the Economic and Social Committee and will include 24 members from the United Kingdom. That body will be a much strengthened successor to the previous consultative regional body, and its establishment therefore represents a clear attempt by the EC to provide for the regional level of government throughout Europe in its draft treaty.

From our point of view, it is important that Wales is seen as an active region, not as a passive part of the United Kingdom structure. This is not just a matter of structure or theory: it has specific implications for funding. I know that the Secretary of State referred to this matter earlier in the Select Committee. The big block to the relationship between the funding mechanism of the Commission and the regions within the United Kingdom is the additionality policy as applied by the United Kingdom Government. It is high time that the Secretary of State and Welsh authorities recognised the implications of the Treasury block on public spending in Wales and on direct relationships between European Community programmes within Wales. The additionality principle operated by the Government creates a block.

Under the current capital finance rules of local authorities, additionality at the local level is denied, whatever the Secretary of State may say. If local authorities wish to proceed with European Community grant-aided schemes, they must first find credit approval cover from other sources for the full project. The position of local authorities in Wales is being undermined by the fact that the member state Government—the United Kingdom Government—is operating a system of allocating regional funds from the Community which is preventing regions from actively taking part in their own development projects and from setting their own priorities.

We see the structure of government in Wales as pluralistic. We see areas of decision making and centres of powers servicing Wales from within the country but, as a European region, we see Wales relating to a whole range of similar regions throughout Europe.

That is not to deny the validity of the United Kingdom's role in the history and politics of Wales over many years, but circumstances have changed. If we are to be a European region, we must participate directly at that level. As long as we are merely represented by nominated bodies or non-elected, non-democratic levels of government, we cannot possibly take advantage of our full potential within Europe.

5.18 pm
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the publication of the Consultation Paper on The Structure of Local Government in Wales; considers that it provides a sound basis for further public debate on local government structure in Wales; approves of the continuing development of the partnership between Wales and regions of Europe under the present constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom; reaffirms the position of Wales as an integral part of the United Kingdom; and therefore rejects arguments for an elected Welsh Assembly, the creation of which would undermine the present arrangements for the direct representation of Wales in the Government of the United Kingdom.'. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) for his most interesting speech and for giving the House the opportunity to consider the future structures of government in Wales.

Hidden from the House and the world outside is any mention in the motion of the Welsh Assembly. Although the hon. Gentleman referred to it several times in his speech, it finds no place in the motion. I wonder whether that is, indeed, the hidden agenda and whether we shall now perhaps hear of some other idea from his party. I welcome its move in that direction.

There can hardly be a subject of more importance to the people of Wales than the structure of the government of Wales, so I welcome this opportunity to outline the Government's views. I also look forward to learning, in rather greater detail than has been available so far, exactly what the official Opposition are proposing. So far, silence has reigned supreme.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)


Mr. Hunt

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

As I understand it, the motion invites the House to condemn the Government's opposition to a regional executive assembly for Wales, on the grounds that it would weaken Wales's voice in Europe and that the lack of such a tier of government offends against the principle of subsidiarity. The motion concludes that all the dimensions of local government should be considered together, and calls on us to launch the fullest consultation in Wales on proposals for the future structures of government in the Principality.

Our amendment, on the other hand, points out that I have already launched a full-scale consultation on local government structure in Wales; that Wales's links with Europe are developing apace and that the proposed assembly would weaken Wales's position within the United Kingdom.

Mr. Wigley

In case there is any misunderstanding, I rise to clarify the fact that our motion refers to the need to establish, on an all-Wales level, elected democratic control over the existing tier of Government". Let there be no question of the fact that we are pressing for an elected all-Wales body, although the word "Assembly" does not appear in the motion.

Mr. Hunt

I should have thought that if this is a serious debate and the hon. Gentleman's party is seriously proposing a Welsh Assembly, that word should appear in what is a lengthy motion.

I welcome the pro-Europe stance of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. It is not all that long since I used to stand on platforms on which members of Plaid Cymru would argue strongly against membership of the European Community. The fact that they are now so effusively in favour is a great testimony to the Conservative Government who took us into the Community and to the fact that it was a Conservative Prime Minister who signed the Single European Act.

Although the hon. Gentleman said that he was deeply interested in semantics, that did not show through in his speech, which was an interesting academic analysis of some of the arguments with which I should now like to deal. Deeply entrenched in all this is the question whether our existing structure, and especially the role of the Secretary of State, should continue. I have never been quite sure—it has not been clarified beyond all doubt—about Plaid Cymru's proposals for the role of the Secretary of State for Wales in the United Kingdom Cabinet.

On 17 June I told the House that I could not accept the proposals for a Welsh Assembly, which are being advanced with decreasing enthusiasm by the Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts, but with increasing enthusiasm by the Labour party and by my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan). I believe that the establishment of an assembly is incompatible with the maintenance of the office of Secretary of State for Wales, who has a broad range of functions and a seat in the Cabinet. As I have said again and again, the interests of the people of Wales are best served if they are directly represented at the table at which the important decisions are made.

Mr. Raffan

Is my right hon. Friend enunciating official Conservative party policy and saying that, in the event of there being an Assembly in Wales or a Welsh senate—call it what one will—as a party we would be against having a Secretary of State for Wales? If so, that would not be in keeping with our previous devolution policy for Scotland, which the present Secretary of State for Scotland supported at the time, although he has done a volte face since. Is my right hon. Friend stating official policy? If so, where was it passed and when was it decided—democratically, I hope?

Mr. Hunt

I have not yet explained why the position of Secretary of State is so crucial in the present circumstances, but I shall do so now. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), who was in the Chamber a few moments ago but who is no longer in his place, has said that under his proposals there would continue to be a Secretary of State for Wales, even though the Welsh Assembly would have assumed all his executive powers. According to the Labour party's policy document, which I have read carefully, that person is to speak for Wales in the Cabinet, to arrange for modification of parliamentary legislation where appropriate, and to promote Welsh interests outside the United Kingdom. That does not sound to me like a job description for a member of the Cabinet, so let us examine it a little further and suppose that that amounted to a significant role.

Ministers with important roles to perform require advisers, civil servants and officials. However, under the hon. Gentleman's plans, Welsh Office civil servants would serve the Assembly. That leads me to wonder whether his plans would require the recruitment of a duplicate set of civil servants to assist the Secretary of State. If so, what would be the cost? If the hon. Gentleman does not envisage the recruitment of more civil servants to advise the Secretary of State, how powerful a voice would the Secretary of State have as he speaks for Wales in the Cabinet"? I have another question. Under the present arrangements, the Secretary of State negotiates directly with the Treasury for resources for Wales for the policies that are being pursued. What would be the position under the hon. Gentleman's plans? Is it seriously suggested that, without any influence on the policies to be pursued by the Assembly and unable to account for the expenditure involved, the Secretary of State would still be able to negotiate a proper level of resources for Wales? If the resources obtained do not meet the Assembly's requirements, would not that create conflict between the Assembly and the Secretary of State? How could that be in the interests of the people of Wales? I very much hope that those questions will be answered during the debate.

Mr. Rowlands


Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)


Mr. Hunt

I shall give way in a moment, after I have analysed the question of who decides. The potential conflict arises in the following way. An Assembly of one political persuasion or of a variety of political persuasions, which is without the power to levy funds—that is intrinsic to the proposals—would be ranged against a Secretary of State of another party who would have total control of the purse strings. That is the proposal. Where does legitimacy reside in that? Where is the accountability? Labour's fudge would not work.

I am, however, deeply interested in one of the statements made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. He said that there are 4,000 civil servants in Wales. In fact, there are 2,140. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman made a Freudian slip. Even if I count all the civil servants in outlying offices, I have a total of 2,294 —not 4,000. I contend that the hon. Gentleman's proposals entail doubling the number of civil servants because his figure of 4,000 is almost a doubling of the present number of civil servants in Wales. Is that his intention?

Dr. Thomas

My calculation included all the officials who service all the quangos and all the existing Departments of State, including the Department of Social Security, and all other official servants in Wales who are employed either directly or indirectly by central Government.

Mr. Hunt

I am sorry. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was referring only to the Welsh Office. Now that he has clarified the position, does he accept that it is legitimate to say that, on my analysis, his proposals would result in a substantial increase in the number of civil servants? My favourite quotation is, Words without thoughts never to heaven go. The Labour party should come clean. Either it means to have a powerful Assembly or a powerful Secretary of State. I am not prepared to countenance or endorse proposals that would mean that the Secretary of State became an empty suit in a non-job. I am not prepared to subscribe to that.

Mr. Rowlands

The right hon. Gentleman is raising aunt Sallys only to knock them down, but that is up to him. Our point is that Westminster would remain the main legislative body—the main body for taxation, for determining general economic policy management and for determining benefits for the whole of the nation. The Secretary of State would have a powerful and important role in fighting for and defending the interests of Wales in a United Kingdom context. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman does not do that now, but our future Secretary of State would.

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman says that I am raising points to knock them down. But I am quoting from the Labour party document. In the previous debate I was told that 1 should read "The Future of Local Government in Wales" published by the Labour party and sold at a cost of £3. I have now studied it. I will quote it directly to the hon. Gentleman. In analysing the role of the Secretary of State, apart from fighting for resources for Wales—I have pointed out the potential conflict there—it says in paragraph 43: We would thus recommend that the Secretary of State shall continue to scrutinise Parliamentary legislation, consider its relevance to Welsh interests and arrange for its modifications where it is appropriate. It suggests that that is a key role for the Secretary of State, but it is a third of the job. That is okay unless one reads on to paragraph 46, which says: Often, of course, Parliamentary legislation and statutory regulation will require no modification in their application to Wales. I had a job for a minute and, whoops, it has gone.

Mr. Michael

What about quoting the rest of the paragraph?

Mr. Hunt

I am coming to that. I am not prepared to countenance making the position of the Secretary of State an empty suit in a non-job.

The reality of the matter is that there is a choice. Either we have a powerful Secretary of State or we have a Welsh Assembly cut off from the real centre of power. I do not believe that it is possible to have both.

Mr. Michael

May I give the Secretary of State the opportunity to admit that he is quoting partially and inaccurately from our good document on the future of Government in Wales? The paragraph to which he referred says that some Parliamentary legislation and statutory regulation will require no modification in their application to Wales". It goes on to give an illustration. It says that we would assume, for example, that Social Security regulations and national agreements approved by Parliament for the salaries of teachers, the police and nurses should be the same as in England, and … regional government would be unlikely to wish to amend them. It seems that, as usual, the Secretary of State has shot himself in the foot.

Mr. Hunt

No. It says: The regional government would be unlikely to wish to amend them. One finds similar phraseology in the Labour party's proposals for regional government in England. The Labour party has said that it does not propose to introduce a Welsh Assembly as an early priority, but would introduce regional governments. It would introduce a regional government in Wales at the same time as a regional government in England. Labour party speakers have come to Merseyside and said that the Labour party would establish a regional government for Merseyside. They have been to the north-east and said that they would do it there at the same time as in Wales. I am not prepared to subscribe to a policy which places Wales in anything other than its rightful position as a Principality, proud of its heritage and tradition and in the unique position of having a Secretary of State for Wales in the Cabinet.

The job of Secretary of State for Wales is either a non-job or a job for a political contortionist. I suppose that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) should not so much call for a Houdini as call out for who did it to him—who dropped him in it and landed him with the non-job of defending a non-policy. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) will put matters in more explicit terms. I hope that he will.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy dealt largely with Europe. I was delighted about that. As a strong European who entered politics because I wanted to see Britain join Europe in a positive way, I recognise that the European concept is vital for Wales. It is sometimes alleged—the hon. Gentleman did so this afternoon—that Wales needs an assembly because it would enable Wales more easily to participate in Europe. I do not accept that argument for a moment.

Our present constitutional arrangements enable us to enjoy the benefits of direct involvement with the key regions of Europe, such as the four motor regions of Baden-Wurttemberg, Catalonia, Lombardy and RhoneAlpes, and yet retain all the advantages of direct participation in the central Government of the United Kingdom. That is a particularly privileged position for Wales and one which we should do nothing to imperil.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Let us forget detail for a moment and the policies advocated by the Labour party. Let us go back to principle. As a good Welshman, will the Secretary of State give his personal view? Is he in favour of the principle of giving home rule to the people of Wales—the nation to which he belongs? That is what the people of Wales want to know. Does he agree that Welshmen who believe that a Tory Government and Unionist party will ever give Wales its own government are living in cuckoo land?

Mr. Hunt

As the hon. Gentleman has posed the specific question, I will tell him that I am against home rule for Wales. I make that absolutely clear. I have four proposals which strengthen the Principality. [Interruption.] It is no use Opposition Members shouting against me. I suppose that it is a fault on my part that I agree so fundamentally with the approach of the Leader of the Opposition who, when he was on the Back Benches, wrote an article which said: What a time to tear our nation apart! I have no need to read on. The arguments were similar to the arguments that I am making here. They came from the hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock)—now the right hon. Member. He said on many occasions that devolution and a Welsh assembly would tear Wales apart.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Wales for giving way. I noticed that he said that he personally felt that the United Kingdom should remain as one unit. I was struck by the words "and therefore" in line 7 of the Prime Minister's amendment to the motion. One must read that in the context of the previous sentence which moves that the House reaffirms the position of Wales as an integral part of the United Kingdom; and therefore rejects arguments for an elected Welsh Assembly". My reason for seeking clarification of the attitude of the entire Government to the matter, leaving aside the desirability of an assembly for Wales, is to find out whether the Government feel that an elected assembly is inconsistent with membership of the United Kingdom. I ask that because it seems to me that the Government's policy has changed since last month when, with Cabinet approval, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that Northern Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom and needed an elected assembly.

Mr. Hunt

I do not intend to trespass into the politics of Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman has made his point. I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to respond to the hon. Gentleman's point.

To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Wales has an active programme of intra-regional and inter-regional links based on the four motors group. Of the four, relations with Baden-Wurttemberg are ahead of the rest since the signing of the agreement in March last year. Although the work is largely long term, there have already been several practical results, including the university of Wales mission, which is leading to joint research projects in fields as diverse as micro-electronics, agriculture and health management. Staff and students will attend a four motors language course. Seminars have also been attended on social services, the environment and the motor industry. Several deals have been signed which involve some of the most innovative Welsh companies.

All those results were achieved before a top-level recent bilateral which drew up an impressive list of joint activities in areas to which we are now committed. As for the other motors, letters of intent have been signed with Lombardy, talks are under way with Catalonia, and we are working with Rhone-Alpes in several other specific areas. I wish to see those relations develop very much along the lines of those with Baden-Wurttemberg. I know that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy strongly supports that.

Wales is playing a leading role on the European stage. Our success to date proves that there is no lack of focus in the Principality for those who seek to work with us.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

No matter what the Secretary of State says about the European dimension or what attempt he makes to demolish the problem of a Secretary of State in a devolved assembly, does he or does he not accept the proposition of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) that there is a democratic deficit at the all-Wales level and a void which should be filled by either a corporate structure involving the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress, an indirectly elected council of Welsh local authorities or an assembly? However the void is filled, there is a void at the all-Wales level at present.

Mr. Hunt

I do not accept many of those arguments. They are misconceived. Why should it be suggested that the Secretary of State for Wales is peculiarly unaccountable? My presence in the Chamber today is proof that, like all my right hon. Friends, I am accountable to the House and the elected representatives of the people of Wales. Furthermore, the House has entirely adequate machinery to investigate the activities of agencies, such as the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales. This morning, I had the privilege of giving evidence to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs on those agencies and of being interrogated on the affairs of Wales for two and a half hours.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)


Mr. Hunt

Interrogated means being asked questions. I was asked questions and I hope that I gave responses. The agencies are making an important contribution to the economic regeneration of Wales. I am accountable here, in the mother of Parliaments, for all that happens in Wales under my responsibility.

Dr. Thomas

Just for the record, does the Secretary of State agree that he happens to be here this afternoon because there is an autonomous political party representing Wales in the House that had a Supply day?

Mr. Hunt

I would not wish to interfere in that commercial break.

I now come to the structure of local government in Wales. The consultation paper has been widely distributed and is being actively discussed. It is too soon to predict the outcome of the consultations, but the positive response from much of local government to my proposals reinforces my view that we are on the right lines.

All parties in this House agree that the way forward lies with the creation of unitary authorities. I hope that I have been able to stimulate debate about the appropriate size and number of such authorities. The context of that debate is that the future of local government as an institution is secure. I fully intend that the present level of functions should continue. It is not a question of whether we should have local government; it is how that local government is to be organised.

That is not to say that the service responsibilities and the techniques of service delivery should not be subject to reappraisal. We have made it clear that we are committed to the concept of the enabling authority, in which a clear distinction is to be drawn between those who plan, guide and stimulate local services and those who directly manage the delivery of services. That perspective will enable and increasingly require members to develop new skills of strategic planning of services for their areas, of award of contracts and of monitoring performance. That new way of proceeding may require changes to the internal management of authorities. I shall shortly publish a further consultation paper for Wales on that topic.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

Many of us agree that the unitary authority idea is a good one. That means that county councils as well as district and borough councils will go. Where do the community councils fit into all that? If we are merely to have unitary authorities, they cannot and should not deal with everything. Yet the Secretary of State's document says little about community councils. Does he propose strengthening their powers and putting them on a better basis?

Mr. Hunt

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has read my document. Paragraph 6.6 is headed "Community and Town Councils" and sets out exactly that point. I say: The Government believe that community and town councils can play an important role in the maintenance of a healthy local democracy. Proposals for a reorganisation must take into account the role of community and town councils. I go on to say: It may well be that they could play an even greater role under the new structures. I hope that all those involved in community and town councils will consider the extent to which they would like to see progress in this area. Of course, I am willing to meet the Association of Community and Town Councils in Wales. I have already met the association and shall do so again to discuss how we can move forward.

Mr. Denzil Davies

I accept that the Secretary of State says that in the document, but does he have any ideas on how power and responsibility will be divided between the new unitary authorities and the community councils? Is he putting forward proposals to that effect?

Mr. Hunt

In my document on internal management I have to consider how matters are managed and organised within the unitary authorities. It may be, as a result of consultation, that I shall receive representations from the community and town councils on how they would like to proceed. I did not have detailed proposals before I issued the consultation paper, but I had received detailed proposals from the Assembly of Welsh Councils and the Council of Welsh Districts. I am perfectly willing to consider the matter. I have an open mind on how we should proceed. At the end of the day I should like to produce a local government structure or structures in Wales which better reflect the needs and aspirations of local communities.

Mr. Carlile

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for reinforcing what I understand he said this morning in the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. I am not a member of it, so I was not aware of his remarks. I am interested in what he said about requiring local authorities to change their management structures and attitudes. Can he go a little further? Is he expecting local authorities in the new structure to be required to combine with neighbouring local authorities to provide some of the functions which are now provided by local government? Is there not a danger that local authorities will be forced by economic considerations, particularly short funding by central Government, to take decisions to form what effectively would be management boards, rather than the Government taking those decisions?

Mr. Hunt

I am a little nervous of going too far down that road because I want others to participate in the debate. By way of clarification, I said that the new way of proceeding may require such and such; I did not say that the Government would require it. I shall lay that out in the internal management consultation paper. I have decided that we should have a special paper in Wales which I shall publish as soon as possible. Obviously, I want to explore ways in which we can improve service delivery. The hon. and learned Gentleman is asking what funding may or may not produce. The local authorities never mince their words with me. I have an effective Wales consultative council on local government finance and we discuss the issues there. That is the appropriate forum.

This is an important debate. Those who argue for a Welsh Assembly must now make it absolutely clear what role they envisage for the Secretary of State. Is he to be a member of the Cabinet with a broad range of functions, able to influence central Government and to secure resources for Wales? Or are we to have an Assembly cut off from the real centre of power and depending for resources on a broken-backed Secretary of State without any role? That is the choice.

It is not so long ago that we had a publication, appropriately against a green background, called, "Keep Wales unified with Britain: Vote No to the Welsh Assembly". I am talking about the campaign in which the Leader of the Opposition played such a leading role. That document makes absolutely clear and contains many of the arguments why I am so wholly opposed to a Welsh Assembly.

I recognise that in the 1960s public opinion polls in Wales showed a majority in favour of an Assembly. As late as May 1978 there were 40.8 per cent. in favour and 40.8 per cent. against an Assembly in a poll published on the BBC. Then, when we had the referendum, 243,000 voted for and 956,000 voted against a Welsh Assembly. They voted against it because of the arguments rehearsed in great detail in this pamphlet, "Vote No to the Welsh Assembly", and because they were worried about the costs which the Leader of the Opposition had estimated. He put the cumulative costs for an Assembly over 21 years at £1,000 million—that is the updated figure. I am not prepared to countenance such an expensive white elephant for Wales. I want Wales to endorse, enhance and strengthen its position within the United Kingdom and within the European Community.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State is right in saying that there is a lot of pressure from hon. Members who want to speak in the debate. Short speeches from now on would be appreciated.

5.49 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

It is a pleasure to take part in a debate in which we learnt that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) has discovered his problem. I hope that Hansard records that correctly because in the recent report of the Welsh. Grand Committee it quoted me as congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his knighthood. Today the hon. Gentleman showed more moderation in his normal habit of praising the Conservative party, which is what might have led the editor of Hansard to believe it likely that he would have been so honoured. I welcome that moderation.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy was right to say that government does not happen in just one place. We could well echo the words of Aneurin Bevan who described his search for the levers of power and the location of power within the United Kingdom.

I wonder whether I can be partisan in respect of the party that has initiated the debate. In view of some of the remarks made, perhaps that party will rename itself the Welsh regional party. That does not have quite the same ring about it. I must chide that party gently for not recognising in its motion the leadership given by the Wales Labour party on this issue. [Laughter.] In view of that response, I shall show no further restraint. After Screaming Lord Sutch obtained more votes than the Welsh Nationalists combined with the Green party could achieve in Monmouth, it becomes clearer than ever that only the Labour party has any claim to be described as the party of Wales.

The motion is right to criticise the Government and to say that the starting point for deciding the structure of local government should be communities of interest in each part of Wales. People recognise the communities in which they live and they know best what suits them whether they live in Port Talbot or Cardiff, Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant or Penarth. We should recognise the sense of identity that suits local people when designing the local government that will represent them.

It would be logical for the motion to go one stage further and to support the Labour party proposals. The amendment tabled by the Government is rather crass to suggest that the Government's consultation document, as it stands now, is the sound basis for further public debate, except that it is merely a debating document. The amendment suggests that the House reaffirms the position of Wales as an integral part of the United Kingdom". It does not follow, however, that the Government should then reject the need for a regional Assembly.

The Secretary of State was sunk by the honourable exocet, the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan). The right hon. Gentleman had the cheek to refer to what he described as the silence of the Opposition, but he then read from our published document, which sets out the Labour party position. That was another example of the right hon. Gentleman shooting himself in the foot. The Labour party document is widely recognised as far more significant and substantial than the document published by the Secretary of State.

Our document was published after real discussion and consultation throughout Wales. It is now in the hands of the public and is being treated to more serious consideration than that produced by the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman would do well to re-read and study our document and he should accept the policies contained in it. In doing so the right hon. Gentleman would reflect the lemming-like speed with which the Prime Minister has accepted Labour party policy after Labour party policy in a desperate search for electoral popularity, without demonstrating any real commitment. We have that commitment to the document on which we have consulted and have now published.

The right hon. Gentleman also had the cheek to talk about the role of the Secretary of State for Wales. I suggest that he is not carrying out some of his functions in relation to some of his responsibilities when, on important policies such as education and health, his policies simply trail in the wake of those set by his English colleagues. His policies do not reflect the aspirations of the people throughout Wales. Perhaps to question our policies is the means by which he can cover the emptiness of his own proposals.

The right hon. Gentleman has also indulged in scare-mongering on numbers and cost. He has misrepresented the case for a Welsh Assembly. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a hidden agenda, but his hidden agenda is dictated by the fact that the Tory party would never be able to control an elected Assembly in Wales—even at the time of its greatest popularity. He would not be able to control that Assembly in the way in which he now has powers to dictate policies for Wales. His criticisms of an elected Assembly and Labour party policy is an argument based on his own self-interest.

We look for an effective Assembly—one that is accountable to the people of Wales for many functions. At the moment the Secretary of State is technically responsible for those functions, but neither he nor his non-elected quangos act in an accountable manner. That is the failure of the present system.

References to regional government in England are appropriate. We do not believe that those regions should be deprived of the opportunity for accountability through regional government. However, it appears that that view is not shared by the Secretary of State. In Wales we have many of the mechanisms in place and ready for the work of an elected, regional Assembly. That gives us an advantage, so too does our sense of national identity in Wales. Those advantages make it appropriate for Wales to have such an elected Assembly.

The Secretary of State read out the bits from the Labour party document that he wanted to criticise. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should pay attention to paragraph 42, which illustrates the shortcomings of the present position of the Secretary of State and the need for a Secretary of State to be free from administrative detail and responsibilities. He should be able to apply himself more specifically to representing the general Welsh interest in Cabinet and Parliament, in the European Community, and through economic and other contacts worldwide.

Mr. David Hunt

I am intrigued at that argument. The hon. Gentleman said that paragraph 42 of the Labour party document reveals some of the deficiencies of the Secretary of State's position, but that paragraph states: At present the Secretary of State has a very difficult role, in that he has responsibility for a multiplicity of functions. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that I should give up some of those functions? I have spent most of my time securing more responsibilities because I believe that that is in the interest of Wales.

Mr. Michael

No, of course not. The Secretary of State is simply seeking to misrepresent what I said. At the moment the Secretary of State not only has a multiplicity of functions, but he has responsibility for all the detail, from the top to the bottom. He has responsibility for matters on which he cannot and does not properly account to Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman may answer questions, but that does not represent full accountability. At present, Wales does not enjoy such proper accountability.

Is it the Secretary of State's intention to legislate in the coming Session? Is the Government's document meant to be his considered view on what should replace the present pattern of local government in Wales? His proposals for local government boundaries are a mockery and they show the depth of thought of a Jeffrey Archer novel. It appears that those proposals are intended more to divert attention and to create argument between the existing local authorities than to offer a real way forward for local government in Wales. The proposals are a recipe for competition of the worst sort—conflict between existing local authorities.

In the case of Cardiff and South Glamorgan, there is an invitation to those local authorities to argue. We need a single tier authority that is appropriate to that area. It should not necessarily be formed according to the existing Cardiff boundaries or the existing South Glamorgan boundaries. That single authority should not be established as a result of a fight between two local authorities that now do their best to serve the interests of their people. The Secretary of State's proposals are a recipe for conflict as people seek survival in the present institutions.

The second part of the right hon. Gentleman's hidden agenda is based on the fact that he wants the people of Wales and the local government bodies to tear each other apart rather than to have a constructive debate. He wants that because his document does not contain a vision of the role and function of future local government, but that is what we need. There is no real vision of accountability at local or Welsh level. After he has given his excuses for the Conservative party getting it wrong in the last reorganisation, paragraph 22 of the Secretary of State's document says: the decrease in direct service provision has diminished the relevance of these arguments"— that is the arguments for the present structure— and there has been considerable criticism of the present county and district structure. The Secretary of State also spoke of creating enabling authorities. The Labour party wants active, effective authorities rather than limited, enabling authorities, to represent the Welsh people. His hidden agenda includes stripping away local government activity. It is closer to the agenda of the No Turning Back group, which wants to strip away— [Interruption.] An exponent of that group is present and will take part in the debate later. It will be interesting to see whether the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will admit that his personal hidden agenda is to try to destroy the functions of local authorities in Wales.

The Government want functions such as health to fall into the hands of their friends. They want to give unelected and unaccountable bodies responsibility for such important elements and services as education, housing and social services. That was implied by the Secretary of State's remarks, which were reported earlier today, that he will consider secure accommodation for young people in Wales being provided by private companies. He has not answered the real question whether he will provide local authorities in Wales with the resources to do a proper job in meeting the needs of young people and the communities. It costs £78,000 a year to place someone in a leading secure accommodation establishment. Just think of the good use that a local authority could make of that money. It could be used in the public interest rather than put in one place, because local authorities can look at the whole picture in their areas.

The problem for the Secretary of State for Wales and the Conservative party in general is that they do not believe in local government or local democracy any more than they believe in regional democracy or accountability.

Mr. Rowlands

I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend's flow. He is right to say that the Government do not believe in local democracy. The classic case, in terms of restriction, is local education and sixth form colleges. That essential provision for local students will now be governed by appointed governing bodies and funded by a quango appointed by the Secretary of State. If that is local or democratic—

Mr. Michael

I commend my hon. Friend for pointing to an excellent example of the Government's policies. In my area we greatly resent the theft of Coleg Glan Hafren, which has successfully increased the participation of local youngsters in further education and training from 34 per cent. to 49 per cent. The college also resents the Secretary of State's attempt to thieve an institution that valuably serves the community in my constituency. He cannot claim that his attempt of theft is supported by the college, because it simply is not true.

For the past 15 years, the Labour party has advocated the creation of a single tier of multi-purpose local authorities in Wales. We believe that the creation of multi-purpose authorities would yield enormous benefits in terms of integrated functions. They would be more identifiable and accountable to local people and would provide a more cost-effective method of delivering local services. The fear remains that, given the Government's past record and their current proposals to further weaken local government through such measures as the centralisation of education for 16 to 19 year-olds and, the extension of the CCT to white collar services, their attitude on the future structure of local government will be determined only by short-term electoral considerations. Little consideration is given in the Government's document to the function of those authorities or their relationship with other Welsh institutions. The consultation document is seriously flawed because it gives no clear description of the purposes and functions of the new authorities. It is impossible to discuss the structure of an organisation without prior agreement on its functions. The Labour party has addressed those issues in its document.

In January 1991, the Secretary of State announced that he was inviting comments from Welsh local authority associations and others about the future finance, structure and functions of Welsh local government. He has now published a consultation paper on both finance and structure, but the question of functions appears to have been passed over. The consultation paper on structure makes only a veiled reference to other matters, such as the scope for improving the internal structure of local authorities, as being the subject of future consultation.

The Labour party has made positive recommendations, such as our recommendation to introduce a quality commission to widen the scope of facilities to help all local government organisations to aspire to the highest standards. The Government, especially the Under-Secretary of State, offer local government only insult, criticism and complaint. The Under-Secretary specialises in doing that, as exemplified by the irresponsible and outrageous way in which he dealt with secure accommodation reports recently.

The Labour party wants a meaningful reform of local authority structures that does not extend to the sanctioning of a quick-fix solution or back-of-an-envelope redrawing of local authority boundaries, as indicated by the Government's thinly argued proposals.

Like the Council of Welsh Districts and the Assembly of Welsh Counties, the Labour party is in favour of establishing democratic control over Government institutions at an all-Wales level. Consequently, we wish to establish an elected body for Wales to deal with certain Welsh Office functions and those functions that are presently carried out on an all-Wales basis by nominated bodies. The principle of such a reform would take power from Whitehall rather than from local government and would give a Welsh focus to the planning of housing, transport infrastructure and the economy. The transfer of many Welsh Office functions to a regional government and the multi-purpose authorities would free the Secretary of State for Wales to concentrate on representing Welsh interests in the Cabinet, Parliament and the wider world.

The Secretary of State's refusal even to consider the establishment of some form of elected all-Wales authority as part of the present consultation process flies in the face of prevailing trends in Europe, as many of my hon. Friends have said. Every other EC nation has some form of regional government structure, as do the four motor regions of Europe to which the Secretary of State referred in his remarks. Those are Baden-Wurttemberg, Catalonia, Lombardy and the Rhone-Alpes regions, which the Secretary of State says he is keen for Wales to imitate in other respects.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said recently: there can be little doubt that in the decade ahead we are going to see the national boundaries of Europe diminish in importance while regional and local identities and decisions grow in significance. That recognises the reality of the present position. The Labour party has made its constructive and positive proposals about the government of Wales and local government within Wales.

The Welsh Office's consultation document contains at least four major flaws. First, it makes no analysis of the future role of local government or of the functions of the proposed unitary authorities. Secondly, the proposed number and size of the unitary authorities do not take full account of local identity, tradition, population density or topography. Thirdly, it makes no analysis of the cost of reorganisation or—this is extremely important—consideration of the need to maintain the morale and protect the interests of local authorities and their staff during the transition period. Fourthly, the Secretary of State rejects the concept of an elected all-Wales body out of hand, disregarding all the representations that have been made on that topic.

We should not allow interest in local government reorganisation to deflect attention away from other Government policies that are harming local democracy, such as the encouragement of primary and secondary schools to opt out of local education authority control, the transfer of 16 to 19 education to central Government, the extension of compulsory tendering, the extension of capping to all Welsh councils and the nationalisation of the business rate. More starkly than ever before, those policies demonstrate that the future of local government is no more safe in the hands of the Tories than is the future of the national health service. Real progress will have to await the election of a Labour Government, to which the Welsh people look forward with an ever-increasing sense of enthusiasm and urgency.

6.9 pm

Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, Central)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's consultation paper on local government. He will know that I believe that, in South Glamorgan, it is futile to try to divide the city from the rest of the county in the vale, and that there should be a single, unitary authority, perhaps called "Cardiff and County".

This debate causes a remarkable feeling of deja vu as we traverse the barren land of devolution and constitutional crackpottery. The reason is simple—the Opposition are not fired by any seething public unrest about our constitution; Labour and Liberal policies on the issue are met with ill-disguised boredom. Denied office for so many years, and fearful that they could continue to be denied power, the Opposition parties have idly turned their hand to tinkering with the constitutional machine for want of anything better to do.

The Opposition should have learnt their lesson in 1979, and listened to their constituents. It is a mark of how little they have learnt in opposition that they have returned to this issue, which brought them down last time, like a dog to its mess. Plaid Cymru, which initiated the debate, is of account only because the present system allows local disaffections or loyalties to be represented in this place, unlike a number of proportional representation methods, such as those involving the list, which would deny such representation. However, the rest of us are proud and pleased to represent our constituents in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The two Opposition parties stand for policies that would weaken the House and, in the case of Labour, weaken the Welsh link to Westminster, as that would surely be the effect of the proposed Welsh Assembly. It is the awareness of that fact that is responsible for the less than enthusiastic endorsement of that policy by the Leader of the Opposition. In response to the then Mr. Cledwyn Hughes, who said that the devolution policy had been well ventilated, the Leader of the Opposition said that that policy had been shot as full of holes as a colander—one of his better quips. The Leader of the Opposition will know how impossible it will be to maintain a Secretary of State for Wales in the Cabinet if he is to be the lapdog of the Assembly, as proposed by the Welsh Labour party.

Paragraph 44 of Labour's document on the future of local government in Wales states: It will be important however for the regional government itself to have an opportunity to scrutinise any Parliamentary legislation and regulation with relevance to Wales so that it may make appropriate representations on them to the Secretary of State and the Government of the day. Equally, it shall be a duty of the Secretary of State to consult the regional government". The document states that the consultations must take place on a regular basis and that the Secretary of State must give particular attention to the view of the regional government. Of Welsh language the document states: It will be the duty of the Secretary of State, after consultation with the regional government, to initiate any Parliamentary legislation or statutory regulation which it"— the regional government— may consider necessary". If that is not the description of a lapdog, I do not know what is.

Mr. Michael

Does the hon. Gentleman really think it so wrong that the Secretary of State for Wales should be required to consult those elected by the people of Wales? Does he think it wrong that an organisation elected by the people of Wales should expect to have its views considered by Parliament?

Mr. Grist

The hon. Gentleman muddles legitimacy of election and accountability for a policy. We are talking about the legitimacy of an elected assembly, but the carrying out of the legislation would lie in another's hands. That person would not be responsible for the legislation that he introduced—a most extraordinary proposal.

What sort of person would want to be placed in such a humiliating position? How would they be viewed by their Cabinet colleagues, and how would they be viewed in Wales? They might be seen as an outpost of the Treasury, because it is certain that they would have to deny some of the wilder demands of the Welsh Assembly. How could they be responsible for the central Government funds allocated to the Assembly? If the Secretary of State is not responsible for the allocation of those funds, who is to be responsible? Is the Welsh Assembly simply to be one among many in the United Kingdom? Is the United Kingdom to be split up into so many free-wheeling irresponsible, or only semi-responsible, organisations?

We are told that the Assembly would organise itself on a council basis—by committee—rather than on a parliamentary method. But we are then told that those committees would take over the responsibility and functions of the Welsh Arts Council, the Welsh Sports Council and the Welsh Tourist Board. We are told that, on the basis of a committee of elected representatives, the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales will be accountable to the Assembly. Will they be funded by the Assembly, as they are responsible to it? I am sure that hon. Members agree that that is extraordinary.

There will be 76 people in the regional government, but the document allocates 26 spheres of responsibility to that government. Therefore, there will be 26 chairmen out of 76 members; they will have a busy time spending the money raised by central Government. We will continue to have 38 Members of Parliament at Westminster. Are the English likely to put up with that any more than those north of the Scottish border will put up with the same representation for Scotland if they are given their own regional government? People north of the border should recognise that. What would we do when we were here? Who would we question about the expenditure of money in Wales? Who would be accountable—the Secretary of State? No, it would be the regional government—the poor son of a bitch.

It can scarcely be thought that such an Opposition policy has been given any consideration by those with a basic level of understanding of Parliament or representative government. The same applies to the Labour party's proposals for the Upper House and the so-called proportional representation row. We hear a lot of talk, but we are afraid that it will all end in tears at the end of the day.

Were Labour Members to be sitting on the existing Government Benches following the next general election, between breaking the vast majority of their spending pledges and running to the International Monetary Fund to rescue the country from the inflationary explosion that they would have set in train, they would plunge this place and the country into a dog's dinner of constitutional argument, late nights, and wasted energy and time, as they did in the 1970s.

If they do not junk that barrowload of rubbish smartish, they will find themselves spending even longer in opposition than they have already spent since they lost office on St. David's day in 1979. One mistake that they do not seem to want to repeat is to hold a democratic referendum, on which the Leader of the Opposition was so insistent from 1975 until 1979. It seems that, today, the Leader of the Opposition is not so minded to trust the judgment of the people of Wales.

6.18 pm
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)

This is an historic opportunity for the House to consider constitutional reform for Wales. We are in danger of losing this opportunity, and shall not get another chance for a while. It is logical—each part of Government needs executive powers at a European, United Kingdom, Welsh, single-tier authority and community and town council level. That is entirely logical within a federal structure and should be welcomed. The position in which we find ourselves today, with two hours to discuss the entire reorganisation of local government in Wales, is an absolute disgrace.

Mr. Raffan

Does the hon. Gentleman share my surprise that, in view of the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the importance of accountability to the House, this debate was not held in Government time over a full day? Is it not surprising that the Government did not do that in view of my right hon. Friend's great belief in the accountability of the Secretary of State to the House? That is particularly true as the document states that all consultation should be finished by 31 October. Should not Ministers tell us whether there will be a debate in the House after we return from the summer recess and before the end of October? There should be such a debate.

Mr. Livsey

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), who is correct in his analysis. This is a totally inadequate way to debate the subject; we have not been given enough time.

The 1974 reorganisation of local government was, at the time, thought to be a great strategic reform. It was thought to be more effective in terms of planning and that districts, and especially the counties, would be more viable as they would contain more people. At that time, natural geography was largely ignored. In the case of new counties it seemed that bigger would be better. The county of Powys runs from Llanfyllin to Ystradgynlais in the Swansea valley. That is 130 miles, which is equivalent to the distance from the Severn bridge to the Hammersmith flyover. It does not make sense. Dyfed fared little better, with councillors in Llanelli trying to take decisions based on what was happening in Aberystwyth, and vice versa, and that did not make sense.

It is necessary to return to single-tier authorities. The present structure leads to artificial splits between functions. Planning takes place at county and then again at district level. Education went to the counties and housing to the districts, thus splitting the means of integrated planning for communities. One result has been the closure of village schools. That happened because the lack of a proper structure for decision-making in local councils led to inadequate house building. That has resulted in the artificial aging of populations, especially in rural areas where populations are out of balance. For more than 20 years no houses have been built in many areas.

Fortunately, this mid-20th century experiment in local government engineering is coming to a halt, and not before time. All parties agree that a single tier of local government in Wales is the best way to deliver services in rural and urban areas. All functions must reside under one roof and there must be much more co-ordination. I do not think that such a statement is controversial. The only questions remaining are what functions will the single-tier authorities perform, how many authorities will there be and what areas will they cover. We heard the expected answer from the Secretary of State for Wales concerning an Assembly because, of course, no Conservative Secretary of State would ever give us a Welsh Assembly.

Mr. Grist

The hon. Gentleman speaks about rural unitary authorities. It has always worried me that in thinly populated areas it might be difficult to recruit enough local authority officers of the requisite quality. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about that?

Mr. Livsey

I do not. Many small local authorities have high-quality officers who perform efficiently and effectively.

The Secretary of State's document fails to spell out the functions of the unitary authorities. I am glad that he has confirmed that education will remain with local government. That is essential, and the Welsh Office should not attempt to centralise it. I take it from what the Secretary of State said that all the functions currently carried out by local authorities will remain with the new single-tier authorities. Elected representatives must have democratic control of all those functions.

We certainly favour the proposals in map 4 for 24 local authorities rather than 20, which is the Secretary of State's option in his reorganisation proposals. That adheres more to natural local communities rather than to communities that are put together artificially. I am campaigning for separate local unitary authorities in Radnor and Brecon because two separate authorities there would be the best way to proceed.

The Secretary of State, who has just returned to the Chamber, is wearing the tie of the Welsh Cricket Federation, presented to him by the president of that august body at the West Indies v. Wales match in Brecon on Monday. We both enjoyed that match. Is he prepared to visit Radnorshire to discuss with that authority the possibility of its becoming a separate unitary authority? I should also like him to return to Brecon to discuss the possibility of a separate unitary authority, because support for that in the area is unanimous.

A Welsh Assembly would be the true test of Welsh Office accountability. Without it, local government and the Secretary of State are diminished. It is rubbish for the Secretary of State to say that a Cabinet post would be lost. A Secretary of State for Wales will remain and could take and develop further powers from central Government. He could take powers from the Department of Employment and from the Home Office and could have other economic powers. His relationship with the Welsh Assembly would give him a more effective role. There would not necessarily be a clash of interests, even if the ruling party in a Welsh senate had a different political complexion from that of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State works perfectly well with Welsh local authorities, which are certainly not of his political persuasion, and he is able to represent the interests of Wales in Cabinet without impediment.

Mr. David Hunt

Welsh local authorities have revenue-raising powers. Therefore, they have the right to ask people to contribute to the cost of local services. The proposed Assembly would not have such powers and the Secretary of State would totally control the purse strings.

Mr. Livsey

That may be the Labour party's proposal, but we certainly believe that there should be revenue-raising powers not only for local government but for a Welsh Assembly. It is a question of responsibility—no taxation without representation.

There are more than 70 quangos in Wales and they must be made more accountable. The number of civil servants in the Welsh Office has been the subject of debate. I always thought that there were 3,000. However, there are many thousands of civil servants there and they must be made democratically accountable. There should be closer examination of the £5 billion that is spent by the Welsh Office. The setting up of a constitutional commission to consider these issues is a matter for legitimate debate.

The principle of subsidiarity in the context of the European Community should also be subjected to wide-ranging debate. By keeping to himself the decision on local government reform, the Secretary of State has not indicated what objective tests he is applying before deciding on the preferred option. No costing is involved and we have not heard about a cost-benefit analysis of the alternative plans. That makes it difficult to judge which of his plans will be best from all points of view.

The Secretary of State is currently removing powers from local government. He is taking away the careers service and considering the removal from local government of waste disposal functions. We have already had references to higher education being removed. Community and town councils must be strengthened by being given more powers, especially for looking after their local environments and for assuming responsibility for their areas.

The ideal solution for Wales from grass roots level upwards is, first, strengthened community councils. Secondly, there must be 24 to 26 single-tier authorities which are largely based on the old councils. Thirdly, we need a Welsh senate with elections by proportional representation to give true accountability to the Welsh Office and to decide its priorities. Fourthly, we would still need a Secretary of State within the Cabinet; and, lastly, there is the European dimension which is becoming increasingly important. Only in that way will Wales be properly and logically governed within the context of a democratic Europe.

I congratulate Plaid Cymru on bringing this necessary subject forward for debate. We are in danger of having decisions thrust upon us by a party which is in the brake van of constitutional reform. It should throw that shackle off and get us into the 21st century as soon as possible.

6.30 pm
Mr. Ienen Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

I have listened carefully to the debate and, at the expense of embarrassing my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), I would like to thank him for his outstanding contribution to the debate. His speech raised it to the appropriate level, looking at the structures of Government from the top to the bottom. That was in stark contrast to some of the later contributions, which returned to the old, sterile, futile debates of the 1970s which surely we must now put behind us.

We are now talking about a new Wales; a new relationship that Wales has to have with the EC and with the House. The debate shows that at least one party in the House has moved on from 1979 and has recognised that we are now in a completely different ball game. That is another reason why parts of the debate about the government of Wales should not be taking place here but should have a Welsh dimension in Cardiff.

Some of the arguments are completely outmoded in today's context—arguments such as the one about what a Secretary of State would do if there were a Welsh Parliament of a different political complexion. What does the Secretary of State now do if he has to deal with Cardiff city council or South Glamorgan council, which are Labour-controlled? What does he now do when he has to deal with so many other local authorities which are not Conservative-controlled? It is hard to find a local authority in Wales which is Conservative-controlled. Yet he says that Wales needs to have local authorities. He accepts that he has a relationship with local authorities which he now seeks to deny at an all-Wales level.

That old sterile debate needs to be put way behind us. We must now look at the new relationship which is developing between Wales and the EC. The Secretary of State was gracious enough to say that he now welcomes Plaid Cymru's great contribution to the European debate, and he welcomes the new relationship that Wales has with the kind of regions that he mentions, such as Baden-Wurttemberg and Catalonia, which have their own regional governments. They are within the new framework of European regions about which we have been talking.

Why would there be particular problems in Wales if the right lion. Gentleman sees none in Catalonia or Baden-Wurttemberg? Why does he think that the Government of Wales would be weaker, when some of the strongest economies in Europe are so decentralised? All the strong economies of Europe are based on the concept that all decisions that should be taken at the lowest level are taken at the lowest level. In all those regions, there is a regional level of government which is responsible for the region.

Mr. David Hunt

In all those regions, whose leaders I have spoken to, there was general surprise that I, as Secretary of State for Wales, sat in the United Kingdom Cabinet. The Prime Ministers of those regions said that they would give anything to have a similar position in their national Cabinets.

Mr. Jones

They would not give up their Governments in order to have that facility.

We in Plaid Cymru have recognised that Wales has a major contribution to make to the Europe of tomorrow, and we want that contribution to be made on an all-Wales basis. The whole European debate has given our policy such an outward-looking dimension that we want to build that new relationship with Europe to enable our business communities, situated as they are on the very edge of the EC, to be at the heart of the decision-making process. That can be accomplished only if we have the structures of government which allow a Welsh democracy on an all-Wales basis.

6.35 pm
Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)

After the massive discharge of fire by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist), the Welsh Assembly is about as full of holes as the proverbial colander. None the less, I still believe that it would be a mistake for the Conservative party to paint itself into a corner by refusing that proposal. In the first place, if we are to have 20 or more single-tier authorities in Wales, which I think is the right solution, there has to be some body which can debate their activities and the activities of the quangos at an all-Wales level. I do not believe that that body can be, as at present seems to be suggested, a partly or wholly nominated one.

The second argument is the federalist one. I make no apology for using the F-word from the Conservative Benches. The fact is that, for the overwhelming majority of people on the continent of Europe and for a growing minority in Britain, federalism is seen not just as the most effective structure for combining close co-operation with the retention of local autonomy and national character, but also as the structure most favourable to the development of democratic and parliamentary control. Whatever the House may choose to believe, the EC will be a federal structure and Britain will be a part of it. The only alternative to that is that it will be a centralised bureaucracy. The logic of events dictates that, in due course, that federal structure will extend downwards within each individual country.

There is one further argument. It is just possible, though I am sure unlikely, that the Welsh people at the next election will show themselves as ungrateful as the people of Monmouth were for the colossal efforts that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made on their behalf. If that were so, and if the Conservative party in Wales, like the Conservative party in Scotland, were to fail to increase its representation in the House, it would be difficult for a British Government, dependent almost entirely on an overwhelming majority in England, to provide acceptable government for the United Kingdom. In those circumstances, they would find it hard to resist demands for devolution going as far as full federation. "Never" is a word better not. used in politics. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be careful not to use it.

6.38 pm
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) on Europe, but he has summed up the matter admirably. I could not agree more with his analysis both in respect of the effect of Europe on the constitution of the United Kingdom and of the need to have some democratic control over nominated bodies in Wales.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State did not make a serious speech. He usually does. Whatever the differences between us, he is a sincere Minister. However, he did not address the problem. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) is to reply, but if he is, that really is a sign that those on the Government Front Bench do not take the subject seriously.

It is clear from history that the Conservative party has never instituted any institutional or constitutional changes in Wales. It opposed the creation of the Cabinet post of Secretary of State for Wales, in the form of my famous predecessor Jim Griffiths, but today the right hon. Gentleman defends that office down to the last trench, bayonet, and piece of barbed wire. The Conservatives opposed also the establishment of the Welsh Development Agency by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). However, today that is an oasis of Keynesianism in a desert of monetarism.

The Conservatives also opposed the establishment of the Land Authority for Wales, which was part of the betterment levy and the development land tax that, unfortunately, I had to take through the House. The Conservatives retained that as well, as another outpost of interventionism in the Welsh economy. When there is a Welsh Assembly—and there will be, one day—the Conservative party will eventually defend it to the last trench, bayonet, and piece of barbed wire. That is why one cannot take the Government seriously.

The Secretary of State is concerned about the prospect of a Welsh Assembly that was not under Conservative control. The President of the United States does not seem too concerned that Congress is controlled by the Democrats. If he can cope with that situation, I fail to understand why the Secretary of State cannot entertain a comparable state of affairs.

The views of the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist) on Europe are similar to those of the Secretary of State and of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West, who spoke about devolution. I voted against the original attempt to take the United Kingdom into the Common Market, and I will oppose also the union that is to follow. I will not use the word "devolution" but "subsidiarity". It is all right to use that word, because it was invented by a German theologian, so everyone is happy with it. Let us no longer use that terrible word "devolution", but speak of "subsidiarity" instead, with each tier deciding which level of government is best suited to perform certain functions.

If the Secretary of State, who is in the vanguard of the Conservative European movement—or he was—is really concerned about the effect on the United Kingdom constitution of a little Assembly in Cardiff controlling the Arts Council of Wales, he ought to read the draft treaty on European economic and monetary union that the present Government, or perhaps even the next Labour Government, will have to sign soon, albeit with a few amendments. The Government are prepared to hand over the control of this country's monetary policy, interest rates, and money supply to unelected bankers in Frankfurt, but that is not seen as threatening the British constitution.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not want to be a Secretary of State without a suit—or perhaps he said he did not want to be just a suit without a Secretary of State inside it. If he reads the draft treaty, he will find that not only he but the Chancellor of the Exchequer and all the other members of the Cabinet will be without a suit. It is absurd to argue that the minor measure of setting up a Welsh Assembly in Cardiff to control funds will suborn the United Kingdom's constitution, especially when the Government are about to sign a draft treaty that will transfer chunks of power from the House to the Commission and a central bank. That really will affect this country's constitution.

The time will come, because of what is happening in Europe now, when there will be Welsh evolution and subsidiarity, and I am sorry that the Secretary of State did not address himself to that aspect. Such a Welsh Assembly will fit into a proper system of governance for the United Kingdom.

6.43 pm
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

We have been enlightened by the views expressed by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the Chamber, including the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer). If the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) had been called, I am sure that his contribution also would have been worth while.

We must structure for the 21st century a form of government that is appropriate to all our needs, by deciding which decisions are best taken at what level. Some decisions may have to be taken at a European level—particularly those affecting the economy. The Secretary of State says that his primary role is to ensure that Wales has a voice when critical decisions are taken. If so, why does he not sit in European institutions on behalf of Wales, rather than concentrate entirely on his role in the British Cabinet?

It is ironic that in the same week as the Green Paper on the future of local government was published, Mr. Bruce Millan in Brussels was presenting his ideas for a European regional council. That concept might develop into a second chamber of the European Parliament, to counterbalance the centralised forces of the European Parliament's directly elected first chamber.

The Green Paper totally fails to address the functions appropriate to different levels of government, in respect of the bodies that the Government propose and others. How can anyone reach a judgment on boundaries if we do not know what are the functions within those boundaries? Are we to assume that everything now done by district and county councils will be undertaken without change by the new multipurpose authorities? The Secretary of State did not say that that would be the case.

The Secretary of State introduced those proposals because there is something approaching a consensus between Welsh councils and districts on a change to all-purpose authorities. However, the apex of their proposals is a directly elected all-Wales democracy. Plaid Cymru supports in principle one main tier of local authorities—above a community council, which would have more powers, and below an all-Wales elected Government.

The Secretary of State made a weak contribution to today's debate. He should realise that the people of Wales are looking for a new form of democracy. He argued that an all-Wales body would cost £50 million a year. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman usually gets his figures from the Leader of the Opposition. It is interesting if he does so in other contexts. Is he unaware that the cost of running the Houses of Parliament in the vote that we approved a few months ago is put at £44 million" The Secretary of State claims that it will cost £6 million more than that to run a Welsh Assembly. We can do without that kind of nonsense.

Government thinking is far from clear. A report in The Guardian on 29 March said: The Government is actively considering setting up some form of national assemblies for Scotland and Wales as part of its reorganisation of local government … Sir Wyn Roberts, Minister of State for Wales, said plans to reorganise local government, including the possible establishment of unitary authorities, opened up the prospect of executive assemblies for both nations, but he refused to be drawn on details. It would be interesting to know why the Minister of State is not present for this debate.

Mr. David Hunt

Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was taken ill this afternoon, but I hope that he will recover quickly. He asked me, if his absence was mentioned, to apologise for his non-attendance.

Mr. Wigley

If illness is the reason for the right hon. Gentleman's absence, we all hope that he will be much better soon.

The report in The Guardian continues: At the weekend, the Prime Minister spoke of the need for the party"— that is, the Conservative party— to recover lost ground in Wales and Scotland, and said the promise of some form of national assembly, albeit without tax-raising powers, might lure back the voters. The Government have turned their backs on a Welsh Assembly because of the fear of their supporters in Wales that they could never win a majority in a directly elected all-Wales body. That is an indictment of a system of Government that allows a party to maintain undemocratic control because of its fear that it might lose power.

The Secretary of State emphasised the possibility of seats being lost in the Cabinet. May I quote what was said some time ago by a Northern Ireland Minister of State? Will a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland be retained after devolution? The answer is 'Yes'. The Secretary of State's responsibilities would be retained under both partial and complete devolution because he would continue to be responsible for excepted and reserved matters. The matters that are devolved will become the responsibility of the devolved Administration and Assembly."—[Official Report, 28 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 933.] It was no surprise to read the comments of Mr. Roy Bradford in a Belfast newspaper on Monday. Mr. Bradford referred to a brutal demolition job by one Cabinet Minister"— the Secretary of State for Wales— on the stated policy of his colleague. The Government have got themselves into a complete tangle.

We need to address the functions of local government. We must look beyond its current functions, many of which, in Wales, have been taken away: the old relationship between the medical officer of health and the county councils has gone; housing, to a large extent, has gone to Tai Cymru; further education has been centralised and there is a possibility that refuse disposal services will be taken over by quangos. What is lacking is democratic answerability.

We should also be considering broader issues. Many people in Wales believe that the health authorities should be more accountable. The same applies to the water companies; at present, there is taxation without representation. The police services, too, need to be more open and answerable, and the tourist industry should work more closely with local government, as well as with the quangos. All those services cry out not simply for a relationship with local government, but for a strategic, all-Wales approach. That also applies to economic planning and the development of a transport infrastructure.

The Green Paper does not address the work load that will be imposed on individual councillors in the new all-purpose authorities. For a couple of years, I was a member of Merthyr Tydfil borough council, one of the old all-purpose authorities. I was on 22 committees: the only two committees of which I was not a member were the finance committee and the industry committee— the two subjects that I knew something about. The work load was enormous. We must bear in mind the ward sizes that will be appropriate if councillors who are not retired people are to undertake a reasonable work load.

It is worth considering whether different councillors should be elected to perform different functions, such as education and social services, with a common secretariat serving the two, as happens in other countries. We must take a radical approach. Our ideas must be much clearer before we decide on the boundaries. We need democratic answerability on an all-Wales level, and we need a direct link with the European Community.

The Tories have never had a parliamentary majority in Wales. That, I believe, is the basis for their fear of Welsh democracy. We are talking not about the creation of a new tier of government, but about the most appropriate division of functions between existing tiers. We want democratic answerability for the tier of government which, patently, already exists.

6.53 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Bennett)

This has been an interesting and worth while debate and some important issues have been raised. It is worth noting how much agreement there has been about the move to unitary authorities in Wales. The great advantage of such authorities is that people know who is responsible for services. The confusion between county and district councils can be avoided. I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey), who talks of the importance of bringing local government down to levels at which people can relate to what is happening.

It is strange that, having supported the idea of unitary authorities, the Liberals, Labour and Plaid Cymru have asked for another tier of government. My hon. Friends and I want less government and real devolution. That is why, when we present our paper on the internal management of local authorities—as we shall do very shortly—we shall take into account some of the points made by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) about the importance of streamlining local authority work. There should not be 22 different committees; local authorities must become enabling authorities, tackling the important issues but not necessarily carrying out all the work themselves.

Real devolution is very important, and the Government are committed to it. We have already seen it in education; schools have been given local management, and we have introduced grant-maintained status. We have given parents more information about exam results and about what schools offer. As for housing, we have sold some 80,000 council houses in Wales to the people who live in them, thus giving them direct financial control over their lives. The Government will soon present the citizens charter, which will give people still more direct control over their lives. Ownership of property and wealth is what gives people real control over not only their own lives, but those of their families.

Labour Members have talked of quality commissions and other quangos. We know that the Labour party does not believe in giving people real control over their own lives. It has opposed every piece of legislation that the Government have presented in the past few years to give more power to the individual. It has been against every attempt at decentralisation—the sale of council houses, increased freedom for parents and schools and devolution of the health service through NHS trusts. Now, Labour wants another tier of government—costing some £50 million—which would mean more bureaucracy, more civil servants and more control over people's lives. We shall not hesitate to reject that proposal.

It is interesting to note that, in the days when he opposed the idea of a Welsh Assembly, the Leader of the Opposition said: For the price of an Assembly, we could have a new hospital or six miles of motorway or 10 comprehensive schools every year. When it comes to spending money, we should ask the people of Wales whether they want to spend £50 million on a useless added tier of bureaucracy, or whether they would rather spend it on improving their lives directly.

We should also be concerned about the bias that the assembly might have. Let me quote the Leader of the Opposition again. He said: I will tell the hon. Member what will happen in a Welsh Assembly which, even on a rough proportional basis, will be dominated by people representing the English-speaking industrial proletariat of South Wales."—[Official Report, 15 November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 472.] I would not use that phrase myself, but I see his point. We should not have a Welsh Assembly that would inevitably be dominated by south-east Wales, telling the people of rural Wales—the people of Pembrokeshire, Gwynedd and the like—what to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist) spoke about the Secretary of State and the Cabinet. It cannot be right for the Secretary of State to lose all his powers, yet continue to sit in the Cabinet, forced to argue for more money for Wales but with no accountability for how that money is spent. That is not the job description of a Cabinet Minister; it is a job description for a shadow Secretary of State, such as the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). He would like such powers; he would like to be simply an empty voice, unable to do anything for Wales—merely going through the platitudes, pretending to have some power.

It is a recipe for conflict. According to paragraph 45 of Labour's document, the Secretary of State will have the duty, after consultation, with regional government, to initiate any parliamentary legislation or statutory regulation which it may consider necessary for the execution of such responsibilities and for which it is prepared to provide the necessary funding. Are we to have a Conservative Secretary of State who is told, possibly by a Labour-dominated assembly, what he must do and how much money he must raise? The document has not been thought through; it is nonsense.

What about the role of Members of Parliament in the House? I was elected by my constituents in Pembrokeshire to represent them in a national Parliament. I was not sent here as a mere delegate, unable to speak on important issues affecting my constituents because power had gone to Cardiff. Does anyone really believe that English Members would be prepared to allow Welsh and Scottish Members to decide legislation in England, without having the same power for their own countries? That was the West Lothian question that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked in 1978. We have had no reply, but that is the fundamental contradiction in Labour's proposals.

We should heed the words of the Leader of the Opposition, who said in 1978 that we should—

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 32, Noes 200.

Division No. 216] [6.59 pm
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Livingstone, Ken
Beggs, Roy Livsey, Richard
Beith, A. J. Loyden, Eddie
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Maclennan, Robert
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Canavan, Dennis Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Salmond, Alex
Corbyn, Jeremy Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Cox, Tom Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Cryer, Bob Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Howells, Geraint Wallace, James
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Wigley, Dafydd
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Johnston, Sir Russell Tellers for the Ayes:
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Mrs. Margaret Ewing and Mr. Andrew Welsh
Leighton, Ron
Adley, Robert Boscawen, Hon Robert
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bottomley, Peter
Allason, Rupert Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Amess, David Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Amos, Alan Bowis, John
Arbuthnot, James Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Arnold, Sir Thomas Brazier, Julian
Ashby, David Bright, Graham
Atkins, Robert Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Atkinson, David Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Budgen, Nicholas
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Burt, Alistair
Bellingham, Henry Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Carttiss, Michael
Benyon, W. Cash, William
Bevan, David Gilroy Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Blackburn, Dr John G. Chapman, Sydney
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William McCrindle, Sir Robert
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Conway, Derek MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Maclean, David
Couchman, James McLoughlin, Patrick
Currie, Mrs Edwina McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Dicks, Terry Malins, Humfrey
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Mans, Keith
Durant, Sir Anthony Marland, Paul
Dykes, Hugh Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Emery, Sir Peter Mates, Michael
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Evennett, David Meale, Alan
Farr, Sir John Meyer, Sir Anthony
Favell, Tony Miller, Sir Hal
Fenner, Dame Peggy Miscampbell, Norman
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Fishburn, John Dudley Mitchell, Sir David
Fookes, Dame Janet Monro, Sir Hector
Forman, Nigel Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Moss, Malcolm
Forth, Eric Neale, Sir Gerrard
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Neubert, Sir Michael
Fox, Sir Marcus Nicholls, Patrick
Franks, Cecil Norris, Steve
Freeman, Roger Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
French, Douglas Oppenheim, Phillip
Fry, Peter Paice, James
Gale, Roger Patnick, Irvine
Goodhart, Sir Philip Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Goodlad, Alastair Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Gorst, John Porter, David (Waveney)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Powell, William (Corby)
Gregory, Conal Price, Sir David
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Rathbone, Tim
Grist, Ian Rhodes James, Sir Robert
Grylls, Michael Riddick, Graham
Hague, William Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hanley, Jeremy Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hannam, John Rowe, Andrew
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Harris, David Sackville, Hon Tom
Haselhurst, Alan Shaw, David (Dover)
Hawkins, Christopher Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Hayes, Jerry Sims, Roger
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Skeet, Sir Trevor
Hayward, Robert Skinner, Dennis
Heathcoat-Amory, David Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Hill, James Speed, Keith
Hind, Kenneth Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Steen, Anthony
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Stern, Michael
Hunt, Rt Hon David Stevens, Lewis
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Irvine, Michael Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Jack, Michael Summerson, Hugo
Janman, Tim Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Temple-Morris, Peter
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Kirkhope, Timothy Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Knapman, Roger Thorne, Neil
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Thornton, Malcolm
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Knowles, Michael Tredinnick, David
Knox, David Trippier, David
Latham, Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Lawrence, Ivan Viggers, Peter
Lee, John (Pendle) Walden, George
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Lightbown, David Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Lord, Michael Wells, Bowen
Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard Wheeler, Sir John
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Whitney, Ray
Widdecombe, Ann
Wilshire, David Tellers for the Noes:
Winterton, Nicholas Mr. Timothy Wood and
Yeo, Tim Mr. Tim Boswell

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No.30 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 197, Noes 102.

Division No. 217] [7.12 pm
Adley, Robert Goodlad, Alastair
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Gorst, John
Allason, Rupert Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Amess, David Gregory, Conal
Amos, Alan Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Arbuthnot, James Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Arnold, Sir Thomas Grist, Ian
Ashby, David Grylls, Michael
Atkins, Robert Hague, William
Atkinson, David Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Hanley, Jeremy
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Hannam, John
Bellingham, Henry Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Harris, David
Benyon, W. Haselhurst, Alan
Bevan, David Gilroy Hawkins, Christopher
Blackburn, Dr John G. Hayes, Jerry
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hayward, Robert
Bottomley, Peter Heathcoat-Amory, David
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Hill, James
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hind, Kenneth
Bowis, John Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Brazier, Julian Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Bright, Graham Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hunt, Rt Hon David
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Budgen, Nicholas Irvine, Michael
Burt, Alistair Jack, Michael
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Janman, Tim
Carttiss, Michael Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cash, William Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Chapman, Sydney Kilfedder, James
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Kirkhope, Timothy
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Knapman, Roger
Conway, Derek Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Couchman, James Knowles, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina Knox, David
Davis, David (Boothferry) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Dicks, Terry Latham, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lawrence, Ivan
Durant, Sir Anthony Lee, John (Pendle)
Dykes, Hugh Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Emery, Sir Peter Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lightbown, David
Evennett, David Lord, Michael
Farr, Sir John Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Favell, Tony McCrindle, Sir Robert
Fenner, Dame Peggy MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Fishburn, John Dudley Maclean, David
Fookes, Dame Janet McLoughlin, Patrick
Forman, Nigel McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Forth, Eric Malins, Humfrey
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Mans, Keith
Franks, Cecil Marland, Paul
Freeman, Roger Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
French, Douglas Mates, Michael
Fry, Peter Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gale, Roger Meyer, Sir Anthony
Goodhart, Sir Philip Miller, Sir Hal
Miscampbell, Norman Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mitchell, Sir David Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Monro, Sir Hector Steen, Anthony
Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter Stern, Michael
Moss, Malcolm Stevens, Lewis
Neale, Sir Gerrard Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Neubert, Sir Michael Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Nicholls, Patrick Summerson, Hugo
Norris, Steve Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Oppenheim, Phillip Taylor, Sir Teddy
Page, Richard Temple-Morris, Peter
Paice, James Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Patnick, Irvine Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Thorne, Neil
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Thornton, Malcolm
Porter, David (Waveney) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Powell, William (Corby) Twinn, Dr Ian
Price, Sir David Viggers, Peter
Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Walden, George
Rathbone, Tim Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Rhodes James, Sir Robert Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Riddick, Graham Wells, Bowen
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Wheeler, Sir John
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Whitney, Ray
Roe, Mrs Marion Widdecombe, Ann
Rowe, Andrew Wilshire, David
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Winterton, Nicholas
Sackville, Hon Tom Yeo, Tim
Shaw, David (Dover)
Sims, Roger Tellers for the Ayes:
Skeet, Sir Trevor Mr. Timotny Wood and
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Mr. Tim Boswell.
Speed, Keith
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Canavan, Dennis
Allen, Graham Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Armstrong, Hilary Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Corbyn, Jeremy
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Cox, Tom
Barron, Kevin Cryer, Bob
Beggs, Roy Darling, Alistair
Beith, A. J. Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dixon, Don
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Dunnachie, Jimmy
Blunkett, David Eastham, Ken
Boyes, Roland Edwards, Huw
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Flynn, Paul
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Gordon, Mildred
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Michael, Alun
Hardy, Peter Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Haynes, Frank Morley, Elliot
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Home Robertson, John Patchett, Terry
Hood, Jimmy Pike, Peter L.
Howells, Geraint Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Primarolo, Dawn
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Quin, Ms Joyce
Janner, Greville Redmond, Martin
Johnston, Sir Russell Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Rowlands, Ted
Lambie, David Salmond, Alex
Leighton, Ron Skinner, Dennis
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Lewis, Terry Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Litherland, Robert Soley, Clive
Livingstone, Ken Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Livsey, Richard Steinberg, Gerry
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Strang, Gavin
Loyden, Eddie Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
McAvoy, Thomas Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
McCartney, Ian Wallace, James
McKay, Allen (Bamsley West) Walley, Joan
Maclennan, Robert Wareing, Robert N.
McWilliam, John Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Madden, Max Wigley, Dafydd
Mahon, Mrs Alice Winnick, David
Marek, Dr John Wise, Mrs Audrey
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Martlew, Eric Tellers for the Noes:
Maxton, John Mrs. Margaret Ewing and
Meale, Alan Mr. Andrew Welsh.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the publication of the Consultation Paper on The Structure of Local Government in Wales; considers that it provides a sound basis for further public debate on local government structure in Wales; approves of the continuing development of the partnership between Wales and regions of Europe under the present constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom; reaffirms the position of Wales as an integral part of the United Kingdom; and therefore rejects arguments for an elected Welsh Assembly, the creation of which would undermine the present arrangements for the direct representation of Wales in the Government of the United Kingdom.