§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on local government in Wales.
The Government have already explained to the House our new arrangements for further reductions in community charges. The people of Wales will be delighted to know that, although average charges in Wales were substantially lower than elsewhere in Britain, I have been able to secure exactly the same reductions as those offered to English and Scottish charge payers: Welsh charging authorities will reduce all charges by £140, and Wales will receive £300 million in additional resources.
The remarkable consequence is that, taken with my announcement last January on the community charge reduction scheme, the average charge in Wales before the award of community charge benefit will be £95. As nearly £1,170 per charge payer will be spent by Welsh local authorities in the forthcoming year, it is an astonishing good deal for Wales.
We abolished domestic rates and we intend, from the earliest possible moment, to abolish the community charge and replace it with a new local tax that will be linked to two essential elements of a household—the number of adults, and the value of the property. I propose to consult in Wales on the basis of that proposal. I should make it absolutely clear that I am prepared to consider a system whereby the balance between the two elements—the property element and the element attributed to residents—may be different in Wales from that elsewhere. That balance, and other matters, will be the subject of consultation. I look forward to receiving the views of hon. Members, among others, and I very much hope that the Opposition can be persuaded to make a constructive contribution to the debate.
I have received representations from Opposition Members and from the local authority associations that we should move towards a system of unitary authorities in Wales. I can see some advantages in such a structure, but before I could commend any new system to the House I would need to be satisfied that whatever is proposed represents the best deal possible for the people of Wales.
In reaching conclusions on that matter, I must pay particular regard to the views of the local authority associations. Both associations have pressed on me the case for unitary authorities, but as yet there is no agreement between them on the appropriate size or number of authorities. I have suggested that they should seek to establish common ground on the future structure of Welsh local government. I am therefore pleased to hear that they will meet on 5 April to consider that further, and I have informed the chairman of each association that I shall not reach final decisions until I have had the benefit of further discussions with them following that meeting.
I should, however, like to make two further points. First, community councils play an important role, especially in rural areas, and I shall need to consider the merits of any proposals for change. Secondly, I shall consult on how the decision-making process of local authorities can be improved. I shall try to build on the excellent work that Welsh authorities are undertaking with the efficiency initiative.
450 We must look at the problems of finance, functions and structure together. No institution, even one as important as local government, can remain unchanged for ever. I shall consider whether the present range of local government functions is appropriate and what should be the balance between central and local responsibility.
In that context, I can tell the House that I intend that the further education and sixth form colleges in Wales should become independent from their local authorities from 1 April 1993. The legislation which we will introduce for Parliament's approval will provide for the colleges to become independent corporations, owning their own assets and employing their own staff.
The colleges play a vital role in producing the well-educated and well-trained labour force which Wales needs. They will work closely with the training and enterprise councils. The colleges could, however, increase their contribution still further by recruiting more young people to their courses. The proposals which will be set out in the White Paper to be published shortly will give further details of how that can be achieved.
I intend establishing a Wales funding council through which the colleges will be funded. The council will be appointed by, and be responsible to, me. It is my intention that the land, buildings and plant currently used by the colleges should be vested in them on incorporation. The arrangements which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has said will be included in the legislation requiring local authorities to obtain specific consent for the disposal of assets currently used by the colleges will apply to local authorities in Wales; so too will the measure he referred to preventing local authorities from entering into contracts which bind the colleges beyond 1 April 1993. As in England, these measures will be effective in Wales from midnight tonight, subject to Parliament's approval of the legislation.
Further details of these measures are in the statement which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science placed in the Official Report today. My Department will write to all local education authorities in Wales to explain how those measures will be applied.
It is now in the interests of the whole of Wales that we create a lasting framework for local government to provide high-quality services effectively and efficiently. That is a goal to which we can all aspire.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
The Prime Minister said on Tuesday that we would get the details today, but the outcome of the Government's four-month review is a statement of dithering, delay and indecision. We still have no details or answers. Today's statement simply leaves Wales with many questions. How will the new system work? Will it be fair? How much will it cost? Will it improve local accountability? Will it improve local democracy? Will it improve the standard of local services? People in Wales do not just want a reduction in their bills; they want the poll tax to end. The statement will not give them that. In effect, the poll tax lives on.
Does the Secretary of State remember criticising the Labour party at the Conservative party's annual conference when, referring to the Labour party, he said:The party that loves tax wants two taxes to replace one, a twin tax torture for local people and a double disaster for responsible spending"?451 Does not the statement in some respects show that the right hon. Gentleman has gone for a triple tax torture—a property tax, a 2.5 per cent. VAT increase and a poll tax? Again, the poll tax remains for the people of Wales.
The right hon. Gentleman boasts of the huge sums of money which he is throwing at the problem of the poll tax, but are not the Government bribing the people of Wales with their own VAT money? Is it not incredible to hear the right hon. Gentleman seeking plaudits for lessening the poll tax pain when he himself approved that hated tax? Did he not gain promotion to Cabinet by his devoted service to the poll tax? Never before in the history of local government in Wales has a Minister presided over such chaos.
Swansea city council has sent out 145,000 poll tax demands; Ceredigion council has filled its vaults with tens of thousands of printed, and now useless, demands; and our capital city of Cardiff has sent out its poll tax demands. This shambles invites nothing but contempt from the dedicated professionals in the Welsh local authorities, and the Secretary of State must carry responsibility for this chaos. I know of no Welsh Office Minister who has presided over such a humiliation. Is not an apology owed to the people and councils of Wales? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give that apology here and now.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned structure and functions. He proposed consultation with local authority associations. That will create bitterness. I issue the right hon. Gentleman a warning: do not tamper carelessly with our education service. Does the right hon. Gentleman know that parents and teachers are weary of the upheavals and constant ideological changes? His proposal to make sixth form colleges independent of their LEAs is lamentable.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Opposition parties and consultation. The Labour party is interested in co-operation, but on the basis of ruling out the poll tax now and ruling in an efficient system of property tax, charged according to the ability to pay. The right hon. Gentleman's statement does not change the position one jot. Does he truly believe in consultation? For example, did he consult with the LEAs on sixth form colleges, or is it a diktat?
The statement represents the final act of a Government gripped by poll tax panic, ready to throw local government into chaos in one last desperate bid to save their political skin. It will not work and it will not wash. To use the Prime Minister's phrase, it is a "bogus sham".
§ Mr. Hunt
I wish to move swiftly to answer seven points. First, there is a paradox in what the hon. Gentleman said. On the one hand, he accused me of delay and, on the other, he said that I acted too speedily and was arrogant. If he will reflect, he will see that the people guilty of delay are on the Labour Benches—they are still failing to publish details of their proposals.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman said that we now have two taxes to replace one. He quoted what I said. I was referring to the marvellous document "Local Services, Local Choices, Local Tax: Labour's approach to the Poll Tax". That document states:A combination of a reformed property tax and a local income tax would bring equity, flexibility, accountability and stability to local government finance.The document is dated September 1988. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wrote that, but he is just the sort of person to whom I am referring.
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Gentleman now refers to the Labour party's fair rates document. That document, entitled "Fair Rates: Labour's Alternative to the Poll Tax", is one of 67 different documents and statements from the Labour party that I have had the privilege of seeing in the past few years. It says:The existing rates registers will provide a quick and convenient means of getting rid of the poll tax.Fine. So what does the Labour party think about rates? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I will answer all the questions, but I want the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) to reflect on this. A news release issued by the Labour party's press and publicity department has fallen into my hands. On Saturday 20 September 1980, Neil Kinnock spoke at Pontllanfraith, Gwent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] The news release says—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will answer the points but Opposition Members should not try to drown my remarks. They should listen to the words of their leader.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier this afternoon you intervened when a Scottish National Member used the word "Thatcher", and insisted that the proper nomenclature be used. But you have now ignored a similar instance. I ask you to rule on it.
§ Mr. Speaker
If I did that, I was in error. I must have been thinking of something else. The Secretary of State must refer to the right hon. Gentleman by constituency.
§ Mr. Hunt
Despite his delaying tactics, I ask the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) to listen to what was said by his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who criticised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for increases inthe most unjust of all taxes".What tax does the right hon. Gentleman describe as the most unjust of all—"Local rates", the very system that the Labour party proposes to use,which take most from those who can afford least.Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition will eat his words. [Interruption.] Opposition Members ought to listen. The Leader of the Opposition will either have to eat his words or come up with yet another policy.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, describing my proposals, which are one tax, accused me of bribery. I apologise here and now for the record amount of extra money that I have won for Wales in the resources that I am able to announce to the House.
The hon. Gentleman's fourth point was that I had created chaos because of the present billing procedures. After ringing round all the authorities, we have discovered that only 13 of the 37 charging authorities in Wales have started billing. I make it absolutely clear here and now that the Government will provide any additional costs that our announcement has necessitated, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join forces with the Government in pushing through legislation as quickly as possible to bring about a reduction of £140.
The hon. Gentleman then said that independence for further education colleges was a lamentable proposition.
§ Mr. Hunt
I shall come to consultation in a moment, but I want to answer one question at a time. Sixth form colleges and further education establishments will welcome what I have said.
We have not consulted on the proposals yet because it was right that I should come to the House to announce them first. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside has been in Neath this week—I am not sure why. He will hear rejoicing in Neath that Neath college now has independence. If he looks at the proposals in the round, I am sure that he will realise that there is general acceptance. I only wish that he had not missed the opportunity to consult me.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)
I never thought that I would live to see the day when the Labour party would complain about the sums of money being made available to ease the plight of the people of Wales. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour party is now totally alone, sulking in the corner? My right hon. Friend will understand if I express a certain quiet satisfaction at today's events. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people of Wales know that they have a Secretary of State who has fought valiantly to obtain for them—against all expectations—as large a reduction in poll tax as the poll tax payers in England have had, even though they started from a much higher base? They are extremely impressed with the flexibility and sensitivity to Welsh susceptibilities that my right hon. Friend has displayed in his consultation process and in his approach to the problem generally.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
I thank the Secretary of State for meeting my hon. Friends and me in consultation some days ago. I warmly welcome the commitment to unitary authorities, which will benefit Wales, and also the decision to consult on how that should be achieved. I also urge the Secretary of State to give community councils in Wales more responsibility. They should be obliged to take those responsibilities and should not be allowed to opt out of doing so, because they have a considerable contribution to make.
Will the Secretary of State explain to a puzzled Welsh population why he—the person who, just over a year ago, described the poll tax as being central to the vision behind which all Conservatives could unite—has now changed his mind? Could it be that he stopped at Ribble Valley for a cup of tea on his way to Damascus? In particular, will he explain why he rejected the notion of a local income tax, which all those Welsh Members who took the trouble to meet him were united in recommending?
Will the Secretary of State join me in praising Powys county council for its considerable success in creating 454 Coleg Powys, which is an excellent college of further education, and will he assure us that that institution will continue—albeit perhaps under other governance?
Finally, will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will do his best to preserve the good sixth forms and comprehensive schools that exist in rural Wales?
§ Mr. Hunt
I appreciate the comments of the hon. and learned Member about consultation. The Labour party ought to reconsider its inflexible stance and stop hurling party political invective and insults. The people of Wales do not understand why the Labour party is the only political party in Wales that refuses to discuss its proposals with me. I believe that that is because those proposals will not stand the test of cross-examination. I promise the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside that, if he wants to avoid cross-examination, I am quite prepared to listen to him, without interrupting or asking fundamental questions. I am prepared to meet the hon. Gentleman anywhere in Wales. I would merely ask him not to continue to impose new preconditions on consultation, but to get round the table with the rest of us to work out a solution that will endure for generations to come.
I confirm that Coleg Powys will be given independence under my announcement, and the move will be widely welcomed among the other 30 further education establishments.
I recognise the importance of the community councils, and find myself in agreement with all but three of the propositions voiced by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)
I join in the congratulations that have been offered to my right hon. Friend on achieving the same reduction in the community charge for Wales as for England. Will he take this a step further and adopt England's community charge reduction scheme, which is much fairer and will remove such absurd anomalies as have occurred as betwen Rhyl and Prestatyn? Is he aware that the only time the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs—with Members of all four political parties—ever broke into unanimous applause was when a witness passionately put forward the case for unitary authorities? Is he aware that there will be wide support for the policy of moving towards unitary local government in Wales? Thank God the word "devolved" was used by a Government Front-Bench Member today. Will he consider the need for a tier of government covering the whole of Wales? In my view, that should be a Welsh assembly or senate.
§ Mr. Hunt
I appreciate my hon. Friend's comments, I realise that he has very strong views about transitional relief and about the community charge reduction scheme. He has made those views very clear to me in private and in this Chamber. The reduction of £140 applies to every community charge payer in Wales. That will mean a drop of 55 per cent. in community charge bills, whereas in England the figure is 35 per cent.
My hon. Friend raised the question of a Welsh assembly. The local authorities association and others have pressed upon me the case for such an assembly to perform executive functions in the Principality. I have not reached a final decision on this question, but I have to say that the suggestions that have been put to me pose very considerable problems, not least because of the uncertainties and ambiguities about the respective responsibilities of the Secretary of State and of the 455 assembly and about the powers of the assembly. I am not at present persuaded that the creation of an assembly along these lines would be in the best interests of the people of Wales.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
Does the Secretary of State appreciate that it was a Conservative Government who reorganised local government in 1972, causing administrative chaos? In financial terms, it just about broke the Bank of England. What the right hon. Gentleman has said today suggests that the Government intend to try to repeat that exercise. Why does not he realise that the Conservative party is unrepresentative of the people of Wales? To realise how unrepresentative, he has only to look behind him. Does not he think that it would be better to leave it to a future Labour Government to make these difficult decisions? The Labour party truly represents the people of Wales, as is shown time after time in general elections.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. As the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) was called on the last two statements, I shall give him a chance to recharge his batteries. He need not rise until towards the end.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
The Secretary of State referred to remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). I should like to refer to a remark of the Secretary of State. Replying for the Government on a debate on local government finance on 25 July 1989, he referred to the Opposition's amendment to the motion:It says that the community charge is unfair, bureaucratic and difficult to collect."—[Official Report, 25 July 1989; Vol. 157, c. 901.]We all know that the right hon. Gentleman is a "Heseltini". In his statement this afternoon, the Secretary of State for the Environment said that we must alter the system so that it will be possible to collect the tax without difficulty. The Secretary of State would be wise to reread what he said and, perhaps, make a further statement. The poll tax payers in the Garw valley are jubilant because they will not have to pay anything if they get a rebate of £140. The poll tax figure there is £137, so they wonder whether they will get a refund of £3. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Powell
This is a very complex problem, and some hon. Members have sat here for three hours.
Yesterday, as a resident of Westminster, I received a poll tax bill for £350. I pay double poll tax—twice £175. When I phoned the council to find out whether I would get a double rebate, I was told, "I very much doubt it, but, if so, you will owe us only £70. In view of the fact that collection costs £68, it might be better if you didn't pay any poll tax at all."
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman's comments would have been more appropriate following a 456 statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment. The statement with which we are now dealing relates to Wales.
§ Mr. Powell
You did not call me, Mr. Speaker, to put a question on the statement of the Secretary of State for the Environment. I understand that to be because a statement on the situation in Wales was to follow almost immediately.
§ Mr. Powell
As I live in both places, I ought to have been called on both occasions.
Despite all the support that the Secretary of State for Wales has given to the Secretary of State for the Environment, the poll tax is in a mess. He is doing all he can to get Tarzan out of the jungle, but can he get the jungle out of Tarzan? That is what we want to know.
§ Mr. Hunt
Now we know why the Labour party is in such chaos over these proposals. The comment that I repeated was made not only by the leader of the party. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), who is the party's spokesman on local government, said of a local income tax:I have been an advocate of this as an addition to—not a replacement for—the rating system for a long time.Those words are from the 16th of the 66 statements. No wonder we do not know what the Labour party stands for. The hon. Gentleman is fortunate not only to have more than one home but also to be able to expect a double dose of £140 in Westminster. The £140 comes off the community charge headline figure, not only in Wales but also in England.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Garw valley. Let me tell him that a lady from that area contacted my office and said, "Mr. Hunt, we all want you to come to the Garw valley and increase your popularity by distributing the money yourself." Sadly, there will be no refund, but people in the Garw valley will pay no community charge.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Is the Secretary of State aware of the very great welcome that we give to the ending of the poll tax? It is an iniquitous tax, and the people of Wales have wanted to see the end of it. However, we should have much preferred to see it replaced by a local income tax, and we have some doubts about the practicality of a head count in each household.
Will the Secretary of State, in the light of what has been said by the Secretary of State for the Environment, confirm that the local government commission for England that has been announced will have nothing to do with the situation in Wales? We in Wales have a tradition of doing these things ourselves. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to set up a local government commission for Wales? He is considering the establishment of unitary authorities. This is something that appears to unite all four parties in Wales. Comments made by the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) a few moments ago suggest that there may be room for consensus also on the creation of an elected upon tier of democracy in Wales. If the Secretary of State were able to get representatives of the four parties together at this level, he would be doing a tremendous service for the people of Wales.
§ Mr. Hunt
Those who argue for a local income tax have not thought through the implications of what they 457 propose. I am not persuaded that it is administratively feasible. It does not accord with the fundamental principle that almost everyone should pay towards the cost of local services, and it is contrary to the Government's commitment to keep taxes on income to the lowest possible level. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I carefully thought through all the arguments that he put to me.
As for the commission, I agree with him that it is important for us to do these things ourselves in Wales. I was not proposing to set up a commission. But, of course, I am happy to listen to representations from those who think that we should. I adhere to the view that we do these things much better ourselves in Wales.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the inclusion of the poll tax in the 1987 Tory party manifesto was a mistake? Does he further agree that, when Ministers and hon. Members go abroad, they should preach the gospel wherever they go to the effect that any Government who introduce a poll tax do so at their peril?
§ Mr. Hunt
I believe that it was right to get rid of domestic rates, and I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that it was the most unjust of taxes. I also believe today that it would be wrong to continue with the community charge, and I have made that clear from the Dispatch Box. I intend to abolish it at the earliest opportunity. I understand that Gorseinon college is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I hope that he will rejoicce with all at that college being independent, and that is a result of my decision today.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
If the Secretary of State had a little more integrity, he would have said, in making his statement, that he had made a modest contribution to the turmoil in which Welsh finance has found itself in the past two years as the result of imposing a totally unpopular and unfair tax. If, according to the right hon. Gentleman, he has an open mind on the major issues with which we are now concerned, will he now state that if it emerges from the consultations that there is a justifiable demand for a Welsh assembly, above the unitary authorities, neither he nor the minority group in the Tory party who represent Wales will stand in the way of that demand?
§ Mr. Hunt
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to rewrite history. It is within my recollection—I was in the House at the time—that in 1979 there was a referendum on the question of an assembly in Wales. By a four to one majority, the people of Wales voted against it. We must be careful before we ignore that decision.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
When replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), the Secretary of State said he thought that the community charge had been a mistake. Will the right hon. Gentleman now apologise to the people of Wales for the leading part that he played in formulating that piece of legislation? Will he in particular apologise to the many hundreds of thousands of people in Wales who suffered severe hardship as a result of the introduction of the poll tax?
§ Mr. Hunt
The operation of the community charge has been remarkably successful in Wales compared with the 458 situation in England. Just before coming into the Chamber I was given figures showing that local authorities in Wales have now collected more than 95 per cent. of the money due under the community charge. I readily admit, and said so to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), that just as I believe it was right to abolish the rates, so I believe it is now right to abolish the community charge.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
It was apparent from the Secretary of State's announcement that, beyond saying that there would be a property tax with a poll tax element of some sort, he had little idea of precisely what we would end up with. In that connection, several questions must be answered. For example, will all houses in Wales be revalued? If they are revalued for the purpose of the new tax, will all house owners and tenants have the right to appeal against the new valuations?
Problems are likely to arise over the definition of "adult" in a household. The allowance for the number of people in a household may be as little as 1 per cent. Whatever the percentage, will any weighting be allowed for each adult, depending on whether they are or are not earning money? In other words, will there be a zero rating in that situation? Many other questions will have to be answered, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will answer those at this stage.
Finally—[Interruption.] We also had a statement on further education. Bearing in mind the ballot decision for schools, will there be a ballot in sixth form colleges, and will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the situation in Coleg Powys——
§ Mr. Griffiths
I do not know whether the Secretary of State realises that Coleg Powys is on the same site as Brecon high school. How will the boundaries be defined for the purpose of this public limited company?
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Gentleman is a walking example of the fact that the Labour party should now rethink its whole approach to local government and come in and engage in the consultation process. Some of the questions that he asks are precisely those on which I shall now be consulting.
From the Labour party document on rates, it is clear that Labour Members have already decided that they will use the existing rates registers and will rely on themfor as long as is needed to undertake a complete revaluation.In other words, Opposition Members are committed. I want them to back away from that commitment and to come in and discuss matters on the basis that I have announced this afternoon.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
It is astonishing that the Secretary of State has not thought fit to apologise. He is claiming an alibi, though his fingerprints have been all over the poll tax from the start. Will someone in central Government, notably in the Cabinet, be surcharged for the cost to Swansea city council this week of sending out 140,000 poll tax bills? Someone is responsible for that and someone will have to pay. Will it be the taxpayer?
The new two-tier tax will require a head count. Will it involve a register analogous to that of the poll tax? Will that not involve the same sort of administrative costs and burdens as the poll tax? In Landore ward in my constituency, £7.40 will be the total charge for those with 459 full exemption under the poll tax system. It costs Swansea city council £11 to collect that sum. What is the Secretary of State's advice to that city council—to collect or not to collect that £7.40?
§ Mr. Hunt
Against a background where Wales—I pay tribute to the local authority officials involved—has achieved more or less the same collection rate as was achieved under the old rating system, I see no need to apologise. Indeed, there is need to praise local authorities in Wales for having achieved such a commendable result.
The question of collection is for the local council, and the hon. Member for Ogwr—[Interruption.] The hon. Member who represents Ogwr, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), will know the situation in Westminster, where apparently it is not thought to be worth collecting. The question of collection is for each individual council.
On the totality of what has been said, I wonder what the Labour party is so scared of. What is it so worried about that it will not follow the example of the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats? Are the Labour Members scared because they have not thought through their proposals and do not know the figures, and are not prepared, therefore, to put them on the table? They ought to be ashamed of themselves.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
If the Secretary of State accepts my charitable assumption that the education changes that he has announced have more to do with education than with the survival of the Conservative party at the next general election, can he spell out what is wrong in his eyes with the present governance of the north-east Wales institute and its links with Clwyd county council? He must know that the county council was to spend £11 million on tertiary reorganisation. Who will provide that money now?
§ Mr. Hunt
I made it absolutely clear that approximately £100 million is being spent in Wales on tertiary education. It is my intention to have the same amount of resources available for further education colleges and sixth form colleges. There are no problems on resources. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), who talks to me positively and constructively about problems in his area, should say to his hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), "Go arid see the Welsh Secretary, just as all the others have done. Sit down and talk through the problem with him." The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside cannot duck the issue of consultation any longer.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)
I listened carefully to the statement and to the questions. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling a Welsh-born Member who represents the English taxpayer. I cannot understand why my right hon. Friend, on the one hand, is saying that he is pleased to get rid of the community charge and, on the other, is making an enormous reduction in the bills. Will he be able to justify to the people of Wales doing away with a taxation system that would charge only £95 to someone in full work who could probably pay a great deal more? What will he put in its place? Because it is fair that 460 people in England should pay a particular percentage, should not exactly the same conditions apply in Wales in regard to the money given from central taxation?
§ Mr. Hunt
I did make an apology before; the apology was for securing what has been described to me by some local authority leaders as an astonishingly excessive amount of Government support for local authority services in Wales. I plead guilty, but I will never stop fighting for the best possible deal for Wales. If it means that community charges in Wales come down by 55 per cent. whereas in England they come down by 35 per cent., I plead guilty, and I apologise to the House for winning too much money for Wales.
I see no reason why the introduction of a new system should lead to a reduction in resources for Wales. It did not do so when we introduced the community charge, and it should not if we decide to introduce a new system. The real question is, would the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside win as much for Wales in a Labour Cabinet as I have done in a Conservative Cabinet?
§ Mr. Barry Jones
May I again invite the right hon. Gentleman to apologise to the people of Wales for his role in imposing the poll tax upon them? Does he agree that he was guilty of a monumental error of judgment for which he must apologise to the people of Wales?