§ ?Where a community meeting under the 1972 Act resolves that that community should be transferred from the local government area in which it is situated by virtue of this Act to another such area, being an area contiguous with the community, then, provided that no fewer than one half of the local government electors in the community have voted for that resolution, the Secretary of State shall by order amend Schedule 1 to this Act to give effect to that resolution.'.—[Dr. Marek.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.3.45 pm
§ Madam Speaker
With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following: New clause 11—Referendum on boundaries (No. 2)—?(1) If, by resolution, the council of any district existing at the time this Act receives Royal Assent so requests, the Secretary of State shall, before appointing a day for the coming into force of Section 1 of and Schedule 1 to this Act, prepare a scheme for the conduct of a referendum to be held within the area of any such district council.(2) A referendum under subsection (1) above shall be for the purpose of determining whether the local government electors of the district are satisfied with the provisions of Schedule 1 to this Act so far as they affect the boundaries of any local government area for which they are electors.(3) Where it appears to the Secretary of State from the result of any referendum held under subsection (1) above that a majority of the electors of any district do not approve of any change in boundaries affecting that district which would result from the provisions of Schedule 1 to this Act, he may by order made by statutory instrument make any modification to that Schedule which he considers will reflect the result of the referendum; and any such order shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament and be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House.'.
§ Amendment No. 14, in clause 65, page 51, line 2, leave out?1,?.
§ Amendment No. 15, in page 51, line 3, leave out?1,'.
§ Amendment No. 117, in schedule 1, page 52, line 17, column 2, leave out from 'Cardiff' to end of line 19.
§ Amendment No. 28, in page 53, line 27, column 2? leave out from 'Ogwr? to end of line 29.
§ Amendment No. 35, in page 53, line 34, column 1, leave out 'and Port Talbot'.
§ Amendment No. 36, in page 53, line 34, column 2, leave out 'and Port Talbot'.
§ Amendment No. 37, in page 53, line 35, leave out 'a Phort Talbot'.
|'Port Talbot||The district of Port Talbot|
§ Amendment No. 100, in page 54, line 2, leave out 'Rhondda,' in both places where it occurs.
§ Amendment No. 38, in page 54, line 2, leave out 'Taff?.
§ Amendment No. 101, in page 54, line 3, leave out 'Rhondda,'.
§ Amendment No. 39, in page 54, line 3, leave out from Cynon' to end of line 5.
§ Amendment No. 40, in page 54, line 5, at end insert—
|'Taff Ely||The district of Taff|
§ Amendment No. 102, in page 54, line 6, at end insert—
|'Rhondda||The district of Rhondda|
§ Amendment No. 29, in page 54, line 9, column 2? leave out lines 9 to 11.
§ Dr. Marek
We spent many hours in Committee on the Bill where it was accepted that the issues that caused probably most division, not necessarily across parties, but from one hon. Member to another, were over what to do with communities on the boundaries of the new unitary authorities and whether any particular community or area should be in one of the new unitary authorities or in another. In particular, I remember many hours talking about Llanelly Hill. I am not exactly sure where it is, but it is somewhere on the border of the present borough of Torfaen, the district of Monmouth and the district of Brecon.
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend corrects me. There was a case for including Llanelly Hill in any of those three new districts. Unfortunately, the Government decided that Llanelly Hill was to be in one of the those districts and, in spite of pleas by Labour and Conservative Members, there did not appear to be any movement in the position of the Minister or the Government in considering that, perhaps, Llanelly Hill could be part of another district or another unitary authority than the one to which the Government had allocated it.
Equally, one of the amendments that I tabled in Committee concerned the community of Llangollen. Certainly, a clear majority of people in Llangollen wished to be associated with, and be part of, Wrexham unitary authority. However, the Government decided that Llangollen was to be put in the Denbighshire authority and, in spite of cogent arguments, nothing seems to have changed the Government's mind.
§ Mr. Llew Smith
May I clarify one point? The Minister said that the Government would go away and think about the Llanelly community and consider the possibility of its being put into Monmouth or, indeed, into Blaenau Gwent. We proved that it was nonsense to keep it in Powys because we worked out that to attend two council meetings, it would take councillors approximately six days because it would require an overnight stay. The Ministers said that they would report back on that issue.
§ Dr. Marek
We shall have to wait and see exactly what the Ministers say, but I have not noticed that any appropriate amendment has been tabled to accede to the wishes of the Committee. It is true that the Minister said that representations could be made to a local government 636 boundary commission about Llangollen in due course, but I should have thought that it is incumbent on us to get it right now.
Other communities are affected. Llansantffraid-ym-Mochnant, for example, which is currently part of Clwyd, could be regarded as part of a future Powys, but it is not entirely clear. My point is a precise one. The elected representatives of the community council or the district cannot necessarily speak unequivocally for their electors and for their citizens without taking the voices of those citizens and those electors into account.
I will not dwell on new clause 11 which is grouped with new clause 2. However, new clause 11, which I will support in due course, allows for a referendum to be held in a council area. New clause 2 allows for a community council meeting to be held. If more than half the people covered by the community council agree that that community should not be part of the proposals as set out by the Government and that it should perhaps join a coterminous authority, the Secretary of State should take notice of that and introduce an appropriate statutory instrument. In that respect, new clause 2 would be very useful.
Why have the Government been so intransigent about some of the authorities? There have been arguments about whether Meirionnydd should be separate from Caernarfon, but all the arguments met intransigence from the Government. Even though the Government were outvoted on the question of the break up of Powys, I have heard nothing from the Government Front Bench about letting the people decide on the issue.
It is symptomatic of this Government that we have government by diktat. Huge majorities for 12 or 13 years lead to that. The situation has now changed and the Government have time to make amends. I have received much correspondence about Llangollen, which is not in my constituency, but in the constituency of my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones), who hopes to catch your eye later today or tomorrow, Madam Speaker. However, as I stated in Committee, I have full permission and authorisation to make these comments on behalf of the people of Llangollen.
The important point is that people should be allowed to choose. Llangollen is a long way away and removed from the rest of Denbighshire. It is over two mountain passes and the road is often closed in winter. It is very likely that the headquarters of the Denbighshire authority will be at Rhyl which may be 40 or 50 miles away, while Wrexham is only nine miles away.
When I made those points in Committee, the Minister of State said:It will not have escaped the attention of the Committee that occasionally we come across a town that has some real attachments but is anxious to extend its boundaries further. This is especially so in the case of Wrexham."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 21 April 1994; c. 155.]I do not think that it is. The case stands or falls because of the wishes of the people of Llangollen, not because of the wishes of the people of Wrexham. Equally, the case in Llanelly Hill stands or falls because of the wishes of the people in Llanelly Hill, not because of the wishes of anyone else anywhere, even of people here. We should listen to what the people have to say.
637 Clearly, if more than half a community's citizens attend a community council meeting and they express a wish, that should be listened to, even by this Government.
§ Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth)
While I accept the force of the hon. Gentleman's argument, does he accept that in the case of Llanelly Hill, there has indeed been a referendum which was in favour of Monmouthshire? It would appear from amendment No. 77 that the Government now recognise the full force of that referendum.
§ Mr. Llew Smith
Does my hon. Friend accept that an opinion survey was carried out and the vast majority of people expressed a wish to be part of the Blaenau Gwent community as opposed to Monmouth? Does he also recognise that in the referendum referred to by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) it was no surprise that people voted to be part of Monmouth because there was no suggestion or policy at that particular time for a borough of Blaenau Gwent? We were still talking about the Heads of the Valleys authority.
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend also makes the point that we now have firm proposals in front of us. The wisest course of events, when there was a dispute in those five or six areas in the Principality, would be for the issue to be decided after listening to the people. A referendum or a community meeting would be the most appropriate way of proceeding. On the Llangollen issue, there was also a referendum in which 58 per cent. voted in favour of joining Wrexham and only 42 per cent.—that is according to the Minister; the figures are rounded down—voted to stay with Denbighshire. That is not a good advertisement for good government. A clear majority favour joining Wrexham. However, I want to make progress as we are to have two very short debates.
I have had many telephone calls and letters of support for my stance in Committee on Llangollen being part of the new Wrexham unitary authority. It clearly makes sense because of geography, ties, shopping, the location of the hospital and other services, as well as bus routes. Above all, it makes sense because the people want it. If the Government listened to that they would be able to accept new clause 2.
I must say that I have had two letters of complaint, one from the chief executive of Glyndwr district council, Mr. Julian Parry. Quite honestly, he wrote a rather stupid letter pointing out so-called inaccuracies in what I said in Committee. I was told, for example, that I got the year wrong—it was 1992 instead of 1993—and that it is not yet absolutely clear that the new Denbighshire authority will have Rhyl as its centre. If it is not clear to him, I wonder why he is being paid so much per annum by the council tax payers of Glyndwr. He is the only one who has written to 638 me objecting to Llangollen joining Wrexham. The only other person who complained was the clerk of Llantysilio council.
Such people are not elected. I suspect that most community councillors in Llantysilio have never faced an election in their lives. They are quite happy to make decisions and write letters to the Secretary of State for Wales saying, "We believe this and we believe that," but they do not have the backing of the people; they are unrepresentative. Why do they not join me and organise a referendum now that we know all the facts? They should allow the people to decide the issue.
This matter is not confined to a party political argument. Perhaps the Conservative party is trying to gerrymander boundaries for electoral advantage, but I do not think that it is. In most cases, it has just got it wrong.
I have a letter—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) will comment on this matter—from Mr. David Unwin, the Conservative leader of Ogwr borough council. The Conservatives are up in arms over the fact that the Ewenny and St. Brides Major area is to be taken from Bridgend and given to the Vale of Glamorgan. Councillor David Unwin says:Before it is too late, I urge you all to redouble your efforts on our behalf in an attempt to get a last minute change of heart by the Welsh Office Ministers over this issue.He makes aplea for some common sense and fair play for these communities who have no wish to be torn away from a council"—Bridgend or Ogwr—based centrally in nearby Bridgend.It is not a party political issue; it cuts across parties. We would have worse government if we considered it to be a party political issue.
§ Mr. Evans
I have been listening carefully to the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument and I wonder whether he can help me with one part of the new clause. He will have gathered from the intervention of his hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) that sometimes, even when referendums are held, a decision is not acceptable if it does not happen to be the one with which one agrees. As we found during the debate on the Welsh devolution referendum, some people will never accept the result of a referendum. In the new clause, the hon. Gentleman is permitting every community in Wales to continue to vote on where they should be for local government purposes ad infinitum. There is no cut-off point. It would seem that local communities could therefore face endless referendums on the question of which local government area they should be in. Why has the hon. Gentleman not included a time limit in new clause 2?
§ 4 pm
§ Dr. Marek
First, the hon. Gentleman has introduced a red herring with regard to devolution. We shall discuss that matter in the debate on the next group of amendments.
Secondly, let us talk about coterminous communities. Communities can only be coterminous communities. I freely admit that I did not have the assistance of 639 parliamentary data when I drafted the new clause. I could have included a limit of six months or something like that —it sounds like a sensible idea—but I did not think of it at the time. I believe in the good sense of community councils and the people of Wales and I do not foresee the type of scenario that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) has drawn to the attention of the House.
There are five or six areas where communities feel deeply disgruntled that the Government have got it wrong and they should be in a different authority from the one that they are in but coterminous to it. New clause 2 is an attempt to put the matter right; new clause 11 is a better attempt to put it right. Certainly, as far as communities are concerned, it is sensible. The argument is not that if it goes against the way that I want it to go, I will not agree with it. My argument is that it is up to the people who live in these areas—Llanelly Hill, Llangollen and Llansantffraid -ym-Mochnant—to make the decision; it is not for me to say. In new clause 2, I am seeking to give them the chance, and I hope that the House will be able to agree to it.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
I shall seek to call a Division on new clause 11 at the appropriate time in our proceedings.
I am sure that the House will join me in wishing the Secretary of State for Wales a happy birthday. In the proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee this morning, we discovered that the Secretary of State is enjoying his birthday today. I assure him that he receives the warmest wishes from all of us on this side of the House. When I say, "All of us," I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) would wish to join in our felicitations, given the exchange that took place between the hon. and learned Gentleman and the Secretary of State this morning.
We offer the Secretary of State sincere many happy returns for today. I am sure that our wishes are more sincere than those of the Prime Minister, who probably looks at the record of the Secretary of State and hopes that he can get rid of him fairly quickly. It is fair to say that the Labour party's fondness for the Secretary of State is much greater than that of his colleagues in the Tory party because he has done much more for the Labour party in Wales than he has for the Tory party.
The Tory party now enjoys a record low in the polls in Wales. In the local elections earlier this year, it managed what the Prime Minister would probably call a significant achievement in winning one out of the 54 district council seats that were up for election. Last week in the European elections, the Tory party's share of the popular vote fell to less than 15 per cent. It suffered the indignity of coming third behind the Welsh nationalist party and, of course, it did not win one European seat in Wales.
The people of Wales can thank the Secretary of State for at least doing his part to ensure that Wales is represented by five excellent Members of the European Parliament, all of whom have substantial majorities. One of them enjoys the distinction of being the youngest MEP and another, Glenys Kinnock, enjoys the distinction—
§ Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I fail to see what the hon. Gentleman's contribution has to do with this debate. I appreciate the fact that this will be his last contribution in the House before the new leader of the Labour party 640 removes him and brings in the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), but I do not see what it has to do with new clause 11.
§ Madam Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has a point; I was wondering what it had to do with the new clause. Now that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) has finished his preamble, perhaps he will move on to the new clause.
§ Mr. Davies
As usual, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) pre-empted me. I was about to refer directly to the fact that the Government suffered such a defeat because of the contempt in which they held the democratic process in Wales.
If new clause 11 is accepted, it will put at the heart of the Bill the opportunity for the people of Wales and the elected authorities to take control of their future. New clause 11 allows an existing district council to require a referendum by a simple resolution. A council could require the Secretary of State to convene a referendum on whether people were happy with the proposals in the Bill.
It is worth considering the fact that this reorganisation of local government was supposedly introduced by consent. When the Secretary of State's predecessor introduced his consultative document he talked about the need for consent; when the White Paper was introduced he mentioned the need for consent; and whenever the Secretary of State and his predecessors introduce any measure or statement in the House they talk about the need for consent. We can now see that consent is the very last thing that the Government have for this reorganisation of local government.
The Government also said that they wanted to use district councils as building blocks. Following our deliberations in Committee, it is now clear that that concept was put out of the window at a fairly early stage. New clause 11 would allow district councils to reassert themselves, to give a view and, we hope, require the Secretary of State to take a much more considered and meaningful view of the wishes of local government in Wales.
Any objective reading of our proceedings in Committee would persuade one to recognise that Opposition Members exposed widespread opposition to the proposals by not only local authorities and Members of Parliament but the public and many of our Welsh institutions, both private and public. In addition, we exposed the very deep resentment in some Welsh communities at the Government's deliberate and flagrant attempt at gerrymandering political boundaries for the sole purpose of influencing the results at the next general election to the advantage of the Conservative party.
We are also clear about the fact that communities such as Neath, Port Talbot, Rhondda, Cynon and Taff Ely were dissatisfied with the proposals. Many of my hon. Friends will want to refer to their local authorities. I shall not speak at length on that subject, but I must briefly mention the attempt at gerrymandering.
In Committee, there was much debate about Llanelly Hill. My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) speculated that the Bill was not a local government reorganisation, but a Llanelly Hill reorganisation because we debated it so much. The Government were clearly exposed as using the people of Llanelly Hill as political pawns. New clause 11 would give the district 641 council within which they reside—the borough represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), who is especially anxious to represent the views of those residents—the opportunity to require a proper referendum.
I accept the point raised by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) in an intervention. Of course, the referendum was unsatisfactory, because there was no prior consultation and the Secretary of State did not attempt to tell the people of Llanelly Hill that he had any intention of removing them from Blaenau Gwent and putting them in Powys or Monmouthshire. Now we have a compromise. In the face of the onslaught by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent when he made his case, the Government clearly could not sustain the argument for putting them in Powys, so the Government have conceded and put them in Monmouthshire. The important principle running through all the Opposition speeches is that there ought to be consistency in dealings with communities, which should have the opportunity to decide their future.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) moved the motion, he referred to Ogwr borough council, which was another subject that detained us in Committee. I, too, received a copy of the letter from Councillor David Unwin. I shall read one or two paragraphs from it, as it demonstrates the utter contempt with which the Government's attempt at gerrymandering has been viewed. He writes:
You will already be fully aware of the intense feelings of bitterness and anger that continue to exist within the three communities of St. Bride's Major, Ewenny and Wick in Mid Glamorgan against the current Government proposals to move them away from the new Bridgend Unitary Authority and into the Vale of Glamorgan Unitary Authority.The local people resent this very much indeed!…I am currently Chairman of one of those councils, apart from my other role as Conservative Opposition Leader on Ogwr Borough Council … I have lived in my community for the past 25 years and I know only too well what the local people are thinking on this issue … My colleagues, Councillor Audrey Preston (Conservative) who represents St. Bride's Major and Wick … and also Councillor John Lewis, (Conservative) who represents Ewenny … both join with me in this plea".We have the clearest possible demonstration of the welter of public opinion, expressed by elected representatives, the referendum held in Bridgend, Members of Parliament, letters and public consultation. All those organisations have roundly condemned the Government, yet the Government have a forlorn belief that somehow they will save the political skin of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) by shifting a couple of hundred votes across. It is a most contemptible attempt at a political fix and has been resented even by the people whose political interest is supposed to be represented by the attempt. It is disgraceful, and our attempt to introduce new clause 11 will give the people in that community an opportunity to ensure that they have fair play.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) has fought vigorously not only for the independence of Taff Ely but to ensure that there is no gerrymandering there. We can see what has happened at Pentyrch. I refer the Secretary of State and hon. Members to a report in the Pontypridd and Llantrisant Observer on 2 June. The report said:A leading Taff Ely councillor has resigned from the Conservative party in protest at Government policy. Former mayor Jean Henderson, who has represented Pentyrch since 1979, 642 said her decision was prompted by plans to merge Taff Ely … 'I really think that the Government has behaved very insensitively,' she said … She also attacked plans to place Pentyrch under Cardiff s control. 'I really do think it's because the Government wants to add a few more Conservative voters to Cardiff,' she said.That is the motivation behind the construction of these boundaries. It was exposed in Committee, has been resented by the public and has been attacked by the Government's political allies. New clause 11 would expose that attempt at gerrymandering and give the people of those communities the opportunity to right that wrong.
We had some debate in Committee on Powys and there was a lot of controversy about the wishes of the people of Powys and the three district councils of Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire. The Government were defeated, of course. Much of the consideration in the early part of the debate was about Powys, but the Government were defeated on the proposal to have Powys as a unitary authority.
It is now clear from the amendment paper that the Government are determined to ignore the wishes of the Committee and of the three district councils and to reinsert that proposal for Powys in the Bill. I want to make it clear that I support the proposals that came from the Committee, and if the measure comes to a vote I shall vote in favour of it. My colleagues and I have consistently said that we will support the case of Montgomery. We did that in Committee and we also said that we would consistently support the case for Brecon and Radnor as independent authorities. We also applied that principle to the borough councils of Rhondda, Taff Ely, Llanelli, Port Talbot and Neath.
On every occasion, we challenged the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor to show the same consistency we had shown. If there was a disgraceful event in that Committee, it was when the hon. Gentleman, having seduced—I use the word advisedly—the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) into supporting him, and knowing that he had the support of Labour Members, quite deliberately, at the very next sitting of the Committee, betrayed the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and refused to vote for that authority. That reflects poorly on the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor.
We stated clearly that the Labour party was in favour of the principle of consent. We wanted reorganisation. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) did not take part in our proceedings in Committee. I shall not remind him of what happened to his predecessor, the Whip on that Committee, but I should be happy to discuss with him why that Whip left the Committee. I suggest that he have a word with his Minister, who I am sure will advise him to restrain himself. The Labour party wanted reorganisation to take place with the consent, and according to the wishes, of the people. That is what new clause 11 will achieve.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor failed to persuade the Government of the merits of his own case for an independent Brecon and Radnor. He failed to convince the majority of his colleagues to join him in defeating the Government. He failed to follow the principles that he had argued that we should follow in carving up Powys, because he did not follow those same principles when we voted on Rhondda and Port Talbot. He also failed to reciprocate the 643 vote of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy —not that there was any binding agreement between them. He failed to vote with those of us in the Committee who wanted to defeat the proposals for area committees, although he knew that, if we had defeated that proposal, the Government would have had to accept our proposal to dismember Powys unitary authority.
If the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor finds that he is defeated tonight, as I am sure that he will be, he has no one to blame but himself. He is the architect of his own defeat. Had he shown any consistency or principle, he would have found that he and colleagues could force the Government to accept the logic of the case not only for Brecon and Radnor but for Montgomery and Meirionnydd. I hope that the electors of Brecon and Radnor will repay the hon. Member, come the next general election.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
I am flattered that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to devote so much of his speech to my personal position. He aspires to be Secretary of State for Wales. Earlier today, he had a meeting with the leaders of Montgomeryshire council, Breconshire council and Radnorshire council. He heard their pleas in relation to the position he has taken—a shabby position, if I may say so —in this debate. If he truly aspires to be a proper Secretary of State for Wales, will he say what his response was to those leaders?
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Gentleman asked why I have spent so much time on him. The simple reason is that he has spent most of today briefing the press and has tried to pretend that his failure to defend his own interests in Brecon and Radnor has been caused by the Labour party. Somehow, 265 of us are supposed to gallop to the defence of the single vote from the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor. That is a most odd proposition.
It is true that I met representatives of those three district councils. I explained clearly that if there were any prospect of their securing the objective of separate unitary authorities for their councils, it lay in new clause 11. The Labour party is united on that new clause. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor knows that we have asked all our colleagues to join us in the Lobby to vote in favour of it. The new clause represents a matter of principle for the Labour party, although the hon. Gentleman may not recognise that.
I understand that representatives of the Liberal party and of Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party, will also join us in the Lobby. The Opposition parties will be united tonight. That unity demonstrates the way in which we have all been, if I may speak for all the Opposition parties, absolutely consistent in our treatment of local authorities, be they Labour authorities in south Wales, Liberal or Tory authorities in mid-Wales or Plaid Cymru or independent party authorities in north Wales. We have applied the same principle to all of them.
There is a realistic chance of new clause 11 being carried tonight. It will require the courage of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor in voting with us and his diligence in persuading some of his colleagues to join him. If he does that and new clause 11 is carried, it will be a decisive boost for better local government in Wales. It will give a democratic choice to people who live in Montgomery and Meirionnydd and to communities such as Port Talbot and Caerphilly. It will also be an object lesson 644 to the Government of the dangers that arise from their arrogant abuse of power. I hope that new clause 11 is carried.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
I suspect that a more direct answer to the remarks of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) would have been that it is not for Opposition parties to produce legislation that represents an acceptable consensus for the people of Wales. It is for the Government to produce legislation that is correct and represents a consensus acceptable to the population. The Government have failed to do that because the decision-making process that has led to the Bill in its present form, as it will probably be glossed by the amendments that are carried tonight, has been severely deficient.
Had the referendum proposals been in place, the Government would have known exactly what the public felt in areas where Ministers know that there is passionate feeling about the future of local government and the community of which that local government has been a symbol for many centuries, as in areas such as Montgomeryshire.
An advantage of a statutory referendum procedure as set out in new clause 11 is that it would be not the type of referendum that has been criticised in the "foreplay" to the Bill but a referendum conducted under objective rules made by the Government. The Government would have an opportunity to present their case to the people of the districts concerned and opposition to their proposals could also be voiced. A referendum would provide the Government with an informed decision by the population of districts such as Montgomeryshire and they could then decide, on the basis of that informed decision, whether it was right to proceed with their initial proposals.
It would be a much better form of decision making than we have had. May I compare the influence on decisions which a referendum can have with the decision-making process in relation to the Bill?
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the Bill as it emerged from Committee contains a proposal for a Montgomeryshire authority, which he and I supported. That much is certain. The measure that he now says he intends to support proposes merely a consultative referendum. Is that to be preferred to what is currently in the Bill?
§ Mr. Carlile
Of course not. Had such a referendum been available, we would probably never have reached the proposals in the White Paper because the Government would have understood that they were wholly unacceptable. I do not want to repeat what has been said on many occasions, except for a few sentences. Within my constituency of Montgomeryshire, there is an overwhelming and passionate objection to the way in which the Government have ridden crudely roughshod over the views of my constituents.
The anger felt in Montgomeryshire is reflected not just in the district council. Hundreds of people have written to me and a fair number have written to the Secretary of State. Representations made to Ministers have been courteously received, particularly by the Minister of State. Overwhelming expressions of opinion made through an opinion poll and a petition have shown beyond doubt that the decision-making process adopted by the Government simply did not produce a result that was representative of 645 the public's views. If we had at least consultative referendums under a statutory procedure, how much more reliable the Government's basis for legislation would be.
Let us compare a referendum with what has happened. I should like to run through the chronology for a few moments.
§ Mr. Roger Evans
I am aware of the force of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument and I appreciate that that might apply to Llanelli Hill, Ewenny or Wick. As I understand the force of his argument, he wants a separate Montgomeryshire authority. Does he agree that the wording of new clause 11 is such that there can be a referendum on the provisions onlyso far as they affect the boundaries of any local government area",so there is no consolation or aim for his purpose in new clause 11, whatever other arguments he may have?
§ Mr. Carlile
I did not draft new clause 11, but my understanding of it is that it does cover the point that I seek to make, and it seems to me to have been carefully drafted to answer the hon. Gentleman's argument.
I shall turn to the chronology for a few moments. On 3 March 1992, the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt), the then Secretary of State for Wales, made a statement in the House and issued a consultation paper. There had not been a referendum; had he held a referendum he would have found, unusually for his party, that he had virtually 100 per cent. support in my part of Wales at least. He said:in the rural areas I want to see local government based on the traditional counties, such as Pembrokeshire, Montgomeryshire, Cardiganshire and Anglesey and, of course, we recognise the position of Meirionnyddshire and Carmarthenshire. I shall consult further on whether to extend that approach to separate authorities for Radnorshire and Brecknock."—[Official Report, 3 March 1992; Vol. 205, c. 171.]At that stage, therefore, the then Secretary of State was going to have, among others, a separate Montgomeryshire and a separate Meirionnyddshire. That was clearly stated.
That was confirmed a short time later in a written answer to the then Member for Delyn, Mr. Raffan, who, I believe, has departed these shores to a more prosperous life across the Atlantic. The Secretary of State was asked to estimate how much money would be saved by moving to unitary local government in Wales. He replied:My proposal for a structure of 23 unitary authorities is estimated to be cost neutral; I am placing in the Library of the House and in the Vote Office copies of the report submitted to me by financial consultants."—[Official Report, 16 March 1992; Vol. 205, c. 904.]At that stage therefore, in spite of everything that has been said since about its being more expensive to have smaller unitary authorities, the then Secretary of State was saying that he was going to have 23 unitary authorities, which included Meirionnyddshire and Montgomeryshire. It was even accepted at that time that it was value for money. There was no need for a referendum at that stage because he would have had 100 per cent. support.
Then we reached the 1992 general election. There was a frisson of anxiety among the Liberal Democrats in Montgomeryshire as David Hunt, at that time not a Member of Parliament but merely a candidate although still Secretary of State for Wales, came to Llanfechain and made a promise—a pledge—that Montgomeryshire would be a unitary authority. There was no need for a referendum 646 because we were having a general election. The Secretary of State at the time would not have said it if he did not think that it would win him votes. That was one of the purposes in saying it, although it is my view that the then Secretary of State meant every word he said, and has always meant every word he said on that subject, and I acquit him of any duplicity on the issue.
Let us turn for a moment to the answer that was given in Committee in relation to the Llanfechain promise by the current Under-Secretary of State. He sought to present, on behalf of the—by then—former Secretary of State what appears to have been a plea in mitigation. I suspect that plea was not written by the former Secretary of State. The Under-Secretary said:My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State has confirmed that his statements, which were made in a pre-election meeting, have been taken out of context. He did not pledge the Government to a Montgomeryshire unitary authority.4.30 pm
At least if we had had a referendum, there would have been some record of the pledges and of their context. The context, of course, was a vote-winning meeting in a village called Llanfechain, and there was no possible contextual ambiguity about what the right hon. Member for Wirral, West said. The Under-Secretary continued:
Rather, he was looking forward to considering that on the basis of the proposals which he had already published from the Welsh Office or stated in the House. That was the position in 1992. There has been further consideration of the issues since then, especially those in the context of the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance. The Government have been convinced that Montgomeryshire was too small and that a Powys authority was in the best interests of local government and service delivery.I put it to the Minister that what he said in Standing Committee was simply inaccurate and that the Secretary of State in 1992 meant every word he said. It is time that we heard from a Minister the real reasons why the Government have ratted—why they have gone weasel on their words. It is time that we heard the truth.
In revealing the real truth—I shall reveal it to the House in the next few moments—we shall see the difference between that truth and the way in which this matter would have been decided had there been a local referendum.
On 14 April 1992, a significant event took place which I am sure that the Secretary of State will recall. That was the day the current Secretary of State for Wales was appointed Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities at the Department of the Environment. He became the Minister who most closely influenced discussions and decision making in relation to local government reform in England. Of course, we all know that our elective dictatorship, in the form of the Secretary of State for Wales, is somewhat diluted by the fact that many of the shots are called not in Cardiff or in Gwydyr house but in lead Departments in England. This is where we begin to see the insidious effect of the lead Department in England, which, to the relevant extent, was thenceforth led by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood).
Then, in September 1992, the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance met. It was referred to by the Under-Secretary in Standing Committee on 19 April this year, when he said:There has been further consideration of the issues since then, especially in the context of the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A; 19 April 1994, c.105.]647 In September 1992, the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance met and discussed the structures group work on service delivery. Following that meeting, Meirionnydd and Montgomery remained unitary authorities in the plans of Welsh Office Ministers.
It is worth contrasting this shabby decision-making process with some questions that I tabled which were "answered" by the Secretary of State earlier this year. On 10 May, I asked him:
on what date his predecessor sent the draft White Paper, 'Local Government in Wales—a Charter for the Future', to other members of the Cabinet seeking their agreement to its publication".The right hon. Gentleman answered:
It is not the practice to give details of internal discussions on policy formulation."—[Official Report, 10 May 1994; Vol. 243, c. 107.]On 16 May, I asked on what date the Government decided that the White Paper on local government in Wales should not contain proposals for unitary authorities for Meirionnydd and Montgomeryshire. The right hon. Gentleman answered—on behalf of this open Government:
It is not the practice to give details of internal discussions on policy matters.—[Official Report, 16 May 1994; Vol. 243, c. 351.]One had to ask oneself, why, oh why, did this open Government, who believe in revealing the decision-making processes, decide not to tell when they changed their mind about whether there should be unitary Meirionnyddshire and Montgomeryshire?
I turn now to some interesting information which, hitherto, was not in the public domain. It has been revealed to me by a source who plainly is very strongly against the outrageous decision-making process which we have suffered and which I continue to contrast with a process that would have included a referendum.
My source has revealed matters which I challenge the Secretary of State to confirm or deny. It is true—but it would be nice to hear it confirmed honestly from the Government Front Bench—that, on 18 December 1992, the then Secretary of State sent a minute to the Prime Minister and to other Ministers about his proposals for the White Paper. In effect, it was the draft White Paper. What did it contain? Reference to a unitary Montgomeryshire and Meirionnyddshire. December 1992 was close to the wire so far as the White Paper was concerned.
On 13 January 1993, a private secretary in the Prime Minister's office, Mary Francis, wrote a letter to a private secretary at the Welsh Office, Judith Simpson. Hitherto, that letter has not been in the public domain. I shall quote from it, as a part of its contents has been revealed to me. Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to check the authenticity of the letter. It reads:Dear Judith"—that part being in manuscript—Local Government Re-organisation in WalesThe Prime Minister was grateful for your Secretary of State's minute of 18 December. He welcomes the broad outline of his proposals. He has, however, expressed concern about the following points and I would be grateful if you would clarify the position on them:(i) the new authorities will cover populations ranging from 34,000 to 295,000.Then the perfectly proper question is asked:
Is it feasible to expect such disparate areas to provide the same quality of service?The point about that extract is that the reference to populations ranging from 34,000 to 295,000 makes it absolutely clear that, on that date–13 January 1993–the 648 Welsh Office was proposing, in its draft White Paper, a unitary Meirionnydd, a unitary Montgomery and, I believe, a unitary single Brecon and Radnor. If the Welsh Office had proposed a single Radnor, the range would have been smaller than 34,000 to 295,000. I am extremely grateful to whoever provided me with that information—I have no idea who it was—and for revealing to me what a dingy and vilely deceitful decision-making process, and I choose my words carefully, has been followed. I, and most of the people of Montgomeryshire, do not intend to pull any punches about what is happening to our county. We wish to contrast that process with what might have happened if we had had new clause 11 and a referendum procedure.
The White Paper was issued on 1 March 1993. At some point between 13 January—when the letter from which I quoted was written—and 1 March, Montgomeryshire and Meironnyddshire were chopped. What happened and who made it happen? It is plain that Welsh Office Ministers were not responsible, because they were in favour of a unitary Montgomeryshire and a unitary Meirionnyddshire. It is also plain that the proposals went to the Department of the Environment—and equally plain that they would have been considered by the right hon. Member for Wokingham, then Minister for Local Government and Planning.
What was the Minister worried about? It follows as night follows day: if the matter were being considered by a jury, that jury would scream "Guilty" at the right hon. Gentleman. I can see it all. The message sent back to the then Secretary of State for Wales was, 'We cannot have little authorities like this, or we shall end up with Rutlandshire, Huntingdonshire and such places as Clackmannanshire in Scotland." What have we now? We have Rutlandshire in England—the Government had to give way on that; we have Huntingdonshire in England, which was recommended because the Prime Minister represents the area; we have Clackmannanshire in Scotland. For some reason, however, the Welsh Office remains intransigent. One wonders why—for, by the time that the White Paper was produced, Montgomeryshire and Meirionnyddshire had gone.
Analysis of the statement made in the House by the then Secretary of State on 1 March 1993—the day of the White Paper's publication—makes it clear that the right hon. Gentleman was pretty embarrassed by what he had to present in the way of proposals for mid-Wales.
What happened next? On 27 May 1993, the right hon. Member for Wokingham was promoted to the post of Secretary of State for Wales. I have chosen my words carefully, and I am sorry if the Secretary of State took offence when I spoilt a moment of his birthday, as he seemed to suggest this morning. It is clear that by the time that the Secretary of State arrived at the Welsh Office, Montgomeryshire's and Meirionnyddshire's prospects of becoming unitary authorities were nil, because the right hon. Gentleman was actuated by bias against small unitary authorities.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood)
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will withdraw all those scandalous allegations, for which he has not a shred of evidence. If he wants to know what my views were when I was Minister for Local Government and Planning, he need only turn up my speech to the Conservative party conference in the autumn of 1992, 649 which is a matter of public record. It made my position very clear—and it was very different from that which he described.
§ Mr. Carlile
Then why did the Secretary of State not answer my questions on 10 May and 16 May, reported in Hansard at columns 107 and 351 respectively? What does he say about the letter from which I quoted, which has been leaked from some Department or other? What does he say about when the decision was changed? Will he tell us who changed it? If he is not the guilty party, he should let the people of mid-Wales—the people of Montgomeryshire and Meirionnyddshire—know who the guilty party is. It is disgraceful that the Government should hide behind such shabby subterfuges, especially as we now have Rutlandshire, Huntingdonshire and, I believe, six other English authorities that are smaller than Montgomeryshire, as well as Clackmannanshire.
It is noteworthy that, in his speech about the Bill in another place on 17 January—reported in column 364—Lord Rodger carefully avoided giving the Government's opinion. Every time he referred to Meirionnydd, in particular, he used the words "the Secretary of State" rather than "the Government"—"the Secretary of State" had justified the change in the decision. That was a very interesting and careful use of words by a distinguished and cautious lawyer, and I think that those words bear close examination.
I shall withdraw my earlier words, with one proviso: the Secretary of State must recognise that the decision-making process has been severely defective and that he has gone against the will of the people of central Wales and Meirionnyddshire, and must agree to unitary authorities for Montgomeryshire and Meirionnyddshire. I shall withdraw my words then, and not until then.
Until we have a better decision-making process, including statutory referendums, we shall be faced time and time again with similar disgraceful decisions by the elected dictatorship in the Welsh Office. Such decisions cause grave offence not only to Members of Parliament but to the very many members of the public whom we represent.
§ Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) again made the accusation that gerrymandering was behind the Government's policy in the Bill. The matter was addressed at length in Committee and I was sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman raise it yet again—particularly as the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) acknowledged that gerrymandering had probably not been the Government's objective.
I am obliged to bring a number of factors to the hon. Gentleman's attention once more. First, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) acknowledged in Committee, there is no obvious likelihood that the three villages of Wick, Ewenny and St Bride's Major will be added to the Vale of Glamorgan parliamentary constituency. The Vale of Glamorgan already has some 67,000 electors and is the largest constituency in Wales. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the average electorate of the 40 proposed new constituencies in Wales is about 55,500; adding a further 3,000–plus electors to the Vale of 650 Glamorgan would make it wildly oversized. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West clearly understood that in Committee and it is a shame that such a simple message has not got through to the hon. Member for Caerphilly.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West realised the logical effect of the requirements under which the boundary commission works. If those villages had come into the Vale of Glamorgan unitary authority—in other words, if the Bill had been enacted by 1 June this year and the boundary commission had therefore based its recommendations on the revised county boundaries rather than the old ones—it is likely that, rather than those three communities being added to the Vale of Glamorgan constituency, the boundaries to both the west and the east of the Vale of Glamorgan unitary authority would have been taken into account. That would have resulted in an electorate of 88,000. Surely the hon. Member for Caerphilly did not seriously think that there would be the remotest possibility of a constituency of that size being established.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West was probably right to observe, although I cannot see into the minds of the politically independent members of the boundary commission, that one way to deal with the matter would be to create two new parliamentary seats in the Vale of Glamorgan. Whether the Bill had been passed before 1 June or, as now seems likely, some time next month, the hon. Member for Caerphilly was wrong in his suggestion and I hope that he will have the generosity to withdraw his comments.
Today, I received a letter from Mr. Jones, a constituent of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), containing a copy of a letter that he sent to Birds Garden Centre, a well-known firm in the Vale of Glamorgan. He stated that, because he was so annoyed about the prospect of becoming an elector in the new unitary authority of the Vale of Glamorgan, he would withdraw his custom from Birds. That is the level at which the debate has been conducted in those three communities, which fear that somehow they could be prevented from continuing their normal association with Bridgend. Those three villages will remain just as proximate to Bridgend and, with or without the Bill, their residents will be just as capable of going shopping in Bridgend. The very fact that Mr. Jones was able to threaten to withdraw his trade from Birds shows the connection between those three villages and the rural vale.
People in those three villages live adjacent to villages in the existing Vale of Glamorgan and share common interests with them. The likelihood is that they will benefit from being in the Vale of Glamorgan because of the community of interest with the neighbouring rural communities.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
When the hon. Gentleman put those arguments to a public meeting at Brynteg comprehensive school in Bridgend, how many of the audience of between 175 and 200 voted with him?
§ Mr. Sweeney
I can answer that only by placing my answer in the context of the meeting, which was chaired by Mr. David Unwin, a member of the public who has already been referred to in the debate and who is vehemently opposed to the Bill. He is a leading member of the Conservative organisation in the Bridgend constituency. I expected him to chair the meeting in an unbiased manner. 651 The hon. Gentleman and I were officially invited to the meeting to present our views. Mr. Unwin opened it by making a half-hour speech opposing the three villages coming into the Vale of Glamorgan. The hon. Member for Bridgend then spoke for a similar time before I could get a word in edgeways.
That is the background to the vote, which was taken at the end of the meeting. The chairman first asked who was from the Vale of Glamorgan and they were not allowed to cast any vote. The fact that people voted against coming into the Vale of Glamorgan should be seen in that context.
§ Mr. Sweeney
I do not know how many people voted, but I accept that the people at the meeting were opposed to coming into the Vale. That is hardly surprising, given the context in which the discussion took place and the dismissiveness of one member of the audience when I said that people were likely to experience lower levels of council tax in the Vale of Glamorgan than if they remained in Bridgend and that they would have a shared community of interest with the neighbouring villages. Those arguments were ignored.
I strongly object to the allegations made by the hon. Member for Caerphilly and I hope that I have nailed his points once and for all.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
I shall make some general remarks and then I shall be specific as I know that many of my hon. Friends want to speak.
We regretted the decision of the Secretary of State for Wales to break with tradition by insisting that the Committee did not consist solely of Welsh Members. For various reasons, many of us were unable to serve on the Committee that discussed the Bill and put our communities' case. On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) and others who could not sit on the Committee, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) for the able way in which he put our case.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly that it was appalling that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) advanced principled arguments in support of the position in Powys but voted against that proposition and the logical argument on the south Wales valleys. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly was right to expose him today for his unprincipled stand.
We may talk about principles, but there is one thing that I fail to understand about the Bill. It is patchwork quilt and it is inconsistent. During discussions, the previous Secretary of State asked us to present our opinions and then said that the Glamorgan valleys would be divided on a reasonable basis. Within a year, that was completely overturned. Even at this late stage, no good reasons have been presented for the structure that the Secretary of State proposes in the Bill. It is an inconsistent sham and a patchwork without any underlying principle.
The one principle that the Minister put forward was that the Bill would set up unitary authorities. I have served on district and county councils. Having seen how they operate and the way in which they provide services, I believe that there should be two-tier local government.
Since the publication of the Bill, my views have been justified. Its basic proposition relates to unitary authorities, but the Secretary of State says that unitary authorities are too small to carry out certain functions and that they have 652 to form joint boards. Perhaps the only consistent argument that the Secretary of State advanced was that the Glamorgan valleys have a mini county council with a population of about 250,000 people. It will probably be the only authority in south Wales that will be able to deliver all services itself. Every other unitary authority will have a second, unelected tier. It would have been far better if the Secretary of State had retuned local government in Wales instead of setting up a false structure that has no relationship to an overall authority in Wales.
One problem for the Glamorgan valleys is that the Secretary of State has a "flat earth" mentality. He looks at the map and decides that Aberdare is only a couple of miles away from Maerdy, but fails to realise that there is a mountainous area between them. It is unbelievable that what we are debating will affect the delivery of intimate services. We shall be landed not with two-tier local government but with three-tier local government, and the area committees will mean even further divisions.
When I made my case to the Secretary of State, he said that Rhondda could be an area committee within the Glamorgan valleys system. That is completely inconsistent, especially from a person renowned for his logic and clear thinking. If that is an example of clear thinking in relation to the business of Wales, we are being very badly served. Rhondda communities are aggrieved, and rightly so. For almost as long as local government has existed in its present form, Rhondda has been a single authority. Even under the previous reorganisation, it was not linked with another authority. Its boundaries remained inviolate because it is a particular and peculiar unit in itself.
I am not arguing against my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith)—I congratulate them on having succeeded in making their case. However, if the arguments are good enough for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and for Blaenau Gwent, they are good enough for Taff-Ely, Rhondda and Cynon Valley. The illogicality of the proposals has been exposed for all to see.
We are not engaged in a semantic or statistical game; we are setting a pattern for local government for the next century. Those of us who have served at all levels of local government know that we are discussing the delivery of vital services on which people depend in order to live a decent life. Local government looks after people and has always done so, almost from their birth until the day that they die. That is what we are discussing; the Bill is not a statistical exercise and it is certainly not a semantic one. The Secretary of State has let down the people of Wales and he has especially let down the people of Rhondda and of the valley communities.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
The amendments standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) aim to delete Port Talbot from the proposed Neath/Port Talbot part of Lliw unitary area. I also support new clause 11, which would provide self-determination for the many communities in Wales that are incensed by the present proposals. If that principle were accepted, it would go a long way to meet our needs.
I am grateful that our amendments have been selected because, despite the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Neath, he failed to persuade a majority of the Committee to support other amendments to the same effect 653 —we lost by 14 votes to 11. The reason was that the Government not only moved the goalposts but changed the venue. Although the Bill deals solely with Welsh matters, the Government packed the Committee with English Conservative Members who had no interest in the issues but merely carried out their obligation to support the Government, come what may. Like Pavlov's dogs, when the bell rang they voted no. Welsh Labour Members, who comprise the overwhelming majority of Welsh representatives, were denied places on that Committee, and that is the democratic deficit in decision-making on the structure of local government in Wales.
The result is clearly linked to the absence of a Welsh assembly, which is to be the subject of our next debate. Local government would have been the responsibility of that assembly, and those who would have known about such things—because they would have been democratically elected—would have been able properly to determine the needs of local government in Wales. Alas, there is no Welsh assembly, and decisions are therefore taken by a succession of English Secretaries of State. I sometimes wonder how much better the decision-making process is since the coming of the Welsh Office.
Given that we have had a series of English Secretaries of State, I should like to know who is really behind the proposals. It cannot be the Secretary of State because he would not know anything about the issues and had not heard of our problems before he got his little Cabinet place to represent Wales. Are junior Ministers responsible? I suspect that they would not have the interest, energy or zeal to cut across clearly defined local views, as has happened to my constituents. Is the political adviser to the Secretary of State responsible? He was my Conservative opponent at the previous election. He should certainly know better, although, when a delegation came to see him and the Secretary of State's predecessor, he excelled himself by sitting on the fence. If it is not the democratically elected people who are responsible, who is the grey figure in the Welsh Office who has made this determination?
I compare what is happening in Wales with what is happening in England. It is fascinating to learn that each household is to be consulted. There is certainly a divergence in the recommendations of the commission under Sir John Banham. We never had a commission, but I was one of those who advocated it. I was especially interested to read Sir John Banham's letter to The Times on 22 March. He wrote:It will be most unwise to press ahead with changes to create unitary authorities unless there is clear local support for change and there are local champions for particular local situations.The reasons adduced for the resurrection of Rutland are fascinating—it is argued that there is a strong sense of community felt by local residents. We want to know how Port Talbot and Neath differ; so far, the Secretary of State has failed the test.
I have not time today to tell the House, as I did on Second Reading, about the results of polls, inquiries and tests that were conducted locally in Port Talbot and Neath in order to ascertain local opinion. Sir John Banham makes it clear that it would be "most unwise" to proceed unless there were clear local champions for change. If the Secretary of State could tell me who the local champions for change in Port Talbot and Neath are, I should be delighted to hear him—in the face of the unanimity of 654 views of members of the public, the leaders of local government and the councils, of whatever hue or political persuasion. Do not we, like Rutland, have the strong sense of community that lies behind the Banham commission's determination?
The Secretary of State put the cat among the pigeons with his death-bed—or pre-shuffle—repentance to allow Merthyr to survive. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) on their efforts, but I suppose that the Secretary of State wanted to show that he was a responsive and sensitive man and decided to give something away, just like old-fashioned colonial Governments did to pacify the natives.
How do we differ? In his letter to me on 28 April, the Secretary of State, with reference to our population, economic regeneration and efforts to attract new industry, could say only:I am not convinced by the claim, in the document you sent me, that there is any justification for a population growth prediction for Port Talbot. Although the population figures for Merthyr and Port Talbot tell a fairly similar story during the 1980s, Merthyr's population had by the beginning of the 1990s recovered to the level of the early 1980s. This cannot be said of Port Talbot.What is the position? The drop in population has been arrested and is now being reversed, but the House should know what caused the drop in population in the 1980s. It was a Tory Government, under such luminaries as Keith Joseph—now Lord Joseph—Lord Walker, and Lord Howe, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, who decimated our steel industry and we lost 7,500 jobs in a matter of years. In response, they provided only a totally inadequate amount of alternative jobs. That is where the responsibility lies. The young people walked with their feet or, as Lord Tebbit would have it, they got on their bikes to find work.
Today, there is a change. With first-class communications and despite the fact that the Government have taken away our development status, there is an increase in population and 655 more dwellings have been constructed in Port Talbot in the past six years, compared with 22 in the previous six years. The Registrar-General has been proved wrong in his forecast, because he estimated that the population in 1990 would be 48,800 whereas, in fact, at the last census in 1991, it was 51,000. The Secretary of State has failed to take into account what is happening. With all due regard to Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent—I have done a little in my time to help and support regeneration in those areas—I do not think that it is understood that, given our situation and our communications, the potential is much greater in any area contiguous to the sea than in an area which does not have those communications and advantages.
In the years ahead, when the economy recovers—it has not recovered yet for us—we shall see a dramatic upturn in the population. The period of severe difficulties in the early 1980s is history. The availability of good industrial sites, the improved attractiveness of the borough as a place in which to live and, especially, the provision of quality housing, is changing the whole situation. It is for the Secretary of State to justify the case for change. The onus is on him. Sir John Banham makes it clear in that letter from The Times, from which I quoted, that the responsibility is on those who propose a change. I fear that the blinkered response of the Government, their failure to take account of strongly held local views and the way in 655 which they have ignored completely the change that is taking place in our population and our hopes and prospects for the future will result in grave disappointment tonight in Neath and in Port Talbot over what the Government are doing to those two great boroughs.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
I rise to support the two new clauses as one who served for a couple of years on what was one of the old county boroughs in Wales—Merthyr. I am delighted to see that back as a unit in its own right. The lessons that are relevant to Merthyr are relevant elsewhere as well. Community matters very much in Wales and we want to see units of government that respond as closely as possible to natural communities.
As the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) mentioned, had we had an elected Welsh parliament or an assembly which drew up a scheme for local government, I have no doubt that there would have been a much greater sensitivity towards the need to identify with communities, because the people in such an assembly would have grown from those communities themselves.
That brings us to the basic question—new clause 11, in referring to a referendum, touches on it—of the legitimacy of the proposals before us. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) referred to the elected dictatorship in the Welsh Office. Of course, the Secretary of State is not even elected from within the community of Wales, the future of which we are discussing.
If hon. Members agree that, as I would certainly claim, our authority to speak in this place or, indeed, to speak in any forum, be it a local authority or a Parliament, comes from the people, the legitimacy of these changes and the rights of the people who are so much affected by the changes to the local government structure of a community within which those services will be delivered must grow from the people whom the changes serve.
The new structures of local government must identify with the communities that they serve and must have the support of the people who live in them. That is the basic difference between Conservative Members and some Opposition Members. Across the Opposition parties, we believe that our sovereignty and legitimacy grow from the people upwards and not from institutions down. Therefore, especially in drawing up structures of government, there must be an identification with the wishes of people.
Clearly, on that basis, and especially if the attempt to do away with the change agreed in Committee, which rescued Montgomeryshire, is successful and the unit of Powys comes back into existence, the proposals before us are a model of local government which falls between two stools. We shall have unitary local government authorities that are too large to be truly local and too small, in some ways, to be strategic authorities.
The whole point of the exercise was to try to get a more efficient system of government. I listened to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) saying that he believed in a two-tier system of local government. I understand his reasons and I understand the lack of the legitimacy of joint authorities taking decisions, which is one stage removed from democracy, but there is a strong argument for having unitary authorities, provided that they are the right size and are drawn up with the right borders. As I saw when I served in Merthyr, there was an ability to bring together housing 656 and social services, for example, where so many of the problems have a commonality. However, for that system to work, the units must be regarded as local by the population.
Clearly, in the case of Montgomeryshire and Meirionnydd, there is a great groundswell of feeling that the proposed unit is not a unit of local government in the sense in which the people of those two areas regard local government. I suspect that the same thing may well be true in Brecon and Radnor and I recognise that it is true in historic communities such as the Rhondda and, indeed, in areas such as Taff Ely. If people in those areas of Montgomery, Meirionnydd and the Rhondda feel so strongly about their identity and if the proposed unit is the unit of government, the provisions of the new clause should be made available so that those people may have the final word on the structure of local government, or at least on the boundaries of the local government authorities within which they will operate.
Indeed, if the people of Dwyfor or Arfon or any other part of Wales feel that way, such mechanisms should be made available. To achieve any authenticity to the changes that the Secretary of State is putting forward, given the widespread and deeply held feelings that have been expressed, he would be well advised to take up the new clause. If he is not happy with the wording, there is an opportunity to change it in another place, but if we do not put the new clause into the Bill at this stage, that opportunity will be lost.
May I move from the generality of the size of units to the implications of new clause 2, which raises the question of the identification of communities in the new unitary authorities in which they have been placed? There is no doubt that, in many parts of Gwynedd, people in the communities there feel that they should be in an adjacent area.
I have received representations from people in places such as Llanfairfechan and Penmaenmawr who identify with the old Caernarfonshire and the Arfon area. I know that parts of the Conwy valley have expressed similar sentiments. At different times, people in parts of Edeyrnion have expressed similar feelings. Those feelings may or may not be reflected by the relevant community councils. That point was made by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). He said that the matter should be one for a community meeting rather than simply for a community council so that the grassroots feeling about the proposal could be ascertained.
I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that there are communities, particularly at the southern end of the Aberconwy and Colwyn area, which are very rural. They are Welsh-speaking communities and they identify more closely with the old Caernarfonshire and the type of authority that is likely to come about there than with the seaside towns of Colwyn Bay and Llandudno. I am not making a value judgment about the two areas, but the people I am talking about identify with a different community. They would like to find a mechanism whereby that identity could be recognised.
The Government's response will be that those points may be considered afterwards by boundary commissioners. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, the proposals will become tablets of stone. Only in very remote circumstances would drastic changes be made. Flexibility should be built into the Bill now.
New clauses 2 and 11 provide the Government with the opportunity to be flexible. If the Government refuse to 657 accept the new clauses, it will be impossible to have a structure that is more finely tuned in terms of the new units of unitary government and the borders that allow communities to identify with a particular unitary authority.
For those reasons, my colleagues and I will support the new clauses. Even at this late stage, I urge the Government to find the sensitivity to the wishes of the people of Wales, locally in their communities, that the people certainly deserve.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
Just a week ago, I undertook a successful foray into north Wales on a beautiful summer's day. I felt certain that we were going to win that particular seat. At the time, I was travelling through the Mid and West Wales constituency which, I knew from earlier election activity, we were going to win.
As I travelled along, my mood changed from delight to elation as I heard the Secretary of State for Wales speaking on the radio. With regard to the European elections, he said:I am happy to accept the verdict of the electorate. I take them seriously.I was so amazed by that that I stopped the car to take his words down before I forgot them. I wanted to ensure that I could quote them to him exactly this afternoon.
On that basis, I speak with some confidence today that the Secretary of State, even at this 1 1 th hour and 59th minute, will be prepared to change his mind about the communities of Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick in respect of which I have tabled amendments.
What is the will of those three communities? They have expressed their will in five ways. Ogwr borough council conducted a postal ballot in which 80 per cent. of the people said that they wanted to stay with Bridgend in a turnout of nearly 60 per cent. Some 84 per cent. of the businesses that responded stated that they wanted to stay with Bridgend.
Ogwr and Vale of Glamorgan borough councils or-ganised meetings in each of the communities as a result of which, 93.3 per cent. of those who attended wanted to stay in Bridgend, with only 2.5 per cent. opting for the Vale. The Electoral Reform Society organised a ballot. In Ewenny, 89.7 per cent. voted to stay with Bridgend on a turnout of almost 80 per cent. In St. Bride's Major, 87.8 per cent. voted to stay with Bridgend on a 75 per cent. turnout and in Wick, 81.2 per cent. voted to stay with Bridgend on a 75 per cent. turnout.
Between 175 and 200 people attended the famous—or infamous—public meeting at which the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) put the case for moving into the Vale of Glamorgan. Although the hon. Gentleman spoke at length in reply to my intervention, he failed to mention the fact that only one person from those three communities at that meeting supported the hon. Gentleman's view. The rest clearly wanted to stay with Bridgend.
§ Mr. Sweeney
As I made clear in my speech to the House, some members of the public at the meeting were not allowed to vote because they came from the Vale of Glamorgan and not from the constituency of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths).
§ Mr. Griffiths
The three communities should decide their own fate. Even if the people from the Vale of 658 Glamorgan had voted, I hazard a guess that the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan would have had difficulty achieving double figures in support of his case.
In the wake of public opinion, it is also interesting to contrast two elections that took place in those communities. The first took place in 1991 before the proposals came to light and the other took place in 1993 after they came to light.
In the borough council elections in 1991, the Labour candidate managed to poll 187 votes while the top Tory received 502 votes. That was before the proposals saw the light of day. In the county council elections in the same area, the Labour candidate received 1,082 votes while the Conservative candidate received 935 votes. That Conservative candidate also supported the case that those three communities should be part of the Bridgend unitary authority.
§ Mr. Sweeney
Is not it fair to say that there are many different reasons why people vote in elections? If the hon. Gentleman wants to be strictly logical, based on the information that he has provided, it would appear that the Conservative candidate was defeated in the county council elections because that person supported Labour policy on the matter rather than the Government's policy.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The Labour candidate wanted the communities to remain part of Bridgend. For the first time ever, the seat was won by the Labour party despite the spirited efforts of the Conservative candidate to make it clear that she was totally opposed to her Government's policy and that she would like the areas to remain with Bridgend. In that context, one could argue that 100 per cent. of the voters were opposed to the Government's policy in that area.
The two borough councillors representing the area and living in it are totally opposed to the Government's proposals. My hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) and for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) mentioned the letter from Councillor David Unwin, the leader of the Conservative group on Ogwr borough council and chairman of one of the community councils involved in the fight. He made clear his total opposition to what the Government are trying to do.
Other people have been involved. Reference has been made to Mr. Trevor Jones, who, as part of his campaign, is not even prepared to spend money in the Vale of Glamorgan any more because he is so disgusted with what the Government are doing. In a letter to the Western Mail of 13 June, he says:As a result, my wife and I, and our five children of voting age, will not consider voting Conservative again until the policy is reversed and the people of Wick, St Brides Major and Ewenny are told they are to remain with Bridgend.The persons who have influenced our decisions are … Secretary of State for Walestogether with the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan
and other Conservative members of the Standing Committee of the Local Government (Wales) Bill now before Parliament.5.30 pm
In addition, the three communities publicly made clear their opposition in the Western Mail. Very interestingly, a most distinguished former president and chairman of the Bridgend Conservative Association, Mr. Forbes Hayes, also wrote to the Western Mail, saying:I write as a life-time resident of the Bridgend area, where I and my family have developed many interests, including substantial industries, and as a strong Conservative, having been 659 constituency chairman.He went on to say that he totally opposes the proposals. On top of that, he rang me in the House of Commons yesterday and said, "Make sure that you tell the House that I will not maintain my membership of the Conservative party, that I will give no more money to the Conservative party, and that I will encourage as many people as I can to do exactly the same unless the proposals are reversed."
It is quite clear that the Government are virtually friendless in those three communities. Of course, the Government have tried to argue why that should be. In the House of Lords, Lord Prys-Davies, speaking for the Opposition, clearly showed how the Government were disingenuous and even deceitful in the notes on clauses. In respect of the communities of Cynwyd and Llandrillo, the Government said:These amendments reflect the weight of representations from the areas concerned".On Delyn, the notes stated:The decision to amend the White Paper proposals to include in Flintshire the whole of Delyn reflects the overwhelming weight of local opinion".On Ystradgynlais and Tawe Uchaf, the notes stated:
The communities of Ystradgynlais and Tawe Uchaf have been added to Mid-Wales since the White Paper was published in accordance with the strongly expressed wishes of local residents".In some of those changes, the Government did not even have the evidence of a referendum; they had only letters from community councils. In the case of my three communities, they had other forms of evidence, yet in their notes on clauses they chose only to say:largely rural and agricultural, have more in common with the Vale of Glamorgan authority than with the town of Bridgend and with the industrialised valleys to its north".The Government should have added, "Even though the overwhelming weight of opinion is to remain with Bridgend, we nevertheless ignore it." That is what the Government are doing.
The Government have argued in letters to me and to my constituents and in the House of Lords that the Vale of Glamorgan is more used to dealing with small rural communities. The truth is that in Ogwr there are six community council areas with smaller populations than that of St. Bride's Major, the biggest of the three communities. In the Vale of Glamorgan, there is only one community with a smaller population than that of St. Bride's Major. The Government also told me in a written answer that they did not know the size of those communities, even though they were writing to tell people that it was because of the preponderance of small communities in the Vale of Glamorgan that they were making the change. The reverse was true.
On the issue of rurality, according to designations for planning, more of the Vale of Glamorgan–20 per cent. —is regarded as a built-up area, whereas the built-up area in Ogwr is just 15.4 per cent. People working in agriculture account for 1 per cent. in Ogwr and just over 1 per cent. in the Vale of Glamorgan. About 20 councillors in Ogwr represent rural areas as opposed to industrial areas, and about 20 councillors represent rural areas in the Vale of Glamorgan. On rurality, there is very little to choose between the two areas.
The Government were forced into arguing about the snow plough from the Vale of Glamorgan going half a mile along the road to clear snow in the community of Wick in Mid Glamorgan. The truth is that that has never happened. Mid Glamorgan always clears snow from roads in Mid 660 Glamorgan in the borough of Ogwr. The only reason that the snow plough from the Vale of Glamorgan goes into Ogwr is in order to find a place to turn around to go back into the Vale of Glamorgan.
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry also said in the other place that some people in those three communitiessometimes advertise their houses as being in the Vale"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 February 1994; Vol. 551, c. 1737.]—not all, not many but just some—and that that was another good reason to make the change. He also said, rather amazingly, that the communities of St. Bride's Major and Wick were nearer to the community of Colwinston than they were to the community of Bridgend. He could just as easily have said that the community of Colwinston was nearer to Wick and St. Bride's Major than it was to Barry. We are seeing a mirror image of that debate, with the Government totally ignoring the will of the people.
Historically—since 1093—those three communities have been a part of the Bridgend area, and the Government are trying to wrest it from its historical place. As for the geography, those three communities are far closer to Bridgend than to Barry. For some people, it is only a 10–minute walk to the centre of Bridgend. If they tried to walk to Barry, it would take them a day and a half. There are many reasons why the change should be made.
On top of that, there are fears about schools and about the health service. Although to some extent the market could mitigate against some effects, there are problems in both areas.
I hope that the Secretary of State will be true to his words and will be happy to accept the verdict of the electorate and take it seriously by saying today that the three communities will remain with the Bridgend unitary authority.
§ Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)
Like my constituents and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), I, too, can see no logic in the Secretary of State's unwillingness to grant unitary status to Taff Ely. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), I would point out that when we see a snow plough it is usually because it is lost.
The Secretary of State's decision smacks of inconsistency in terms of the comparison of the size of the districts that are proposed, their populations, the nature and quality of the services offered by district authorities and the history of existing local government structures. I have been among the least enthusiastic of right hon. and hon. Members to see the demise of our county authorities. I do not relish seeing the wider duties which their excellent staff and work forces now fulfil in many areas of public life, from the provision of special needs education to strategic communications, farmed out to much smaller, less powerful authorities and all kinds of dubious proposed joint committees and assorted quangos.
Last Saturday, I attended a fete at the estimable Pentyrch primary and junior school. I spoke to parents of disabled children who have been integrated at no little cost into the mainstream of pupils at that school. Those parents are extremely worried about the implications for their children's education of the proposals for local government reorganisation. Indeed, many people in that village and its neighbour, Gwaelod y Garth, are worried about being delivered lock, stock and barrel from Taff Ely and from Mid Glamorgan into Cardiff. Taff Ely is worried about 661 losing Pentyrch and Gwaelod y Garth. We need high-quality, high-value housing located in those communities if we are to attract the managers and executives who are now required by an advanced economy. We need the beautiful rural countryside and the drama of the limestone gorge of the lower Taff valley. They are key assets to our borough. The people of those communities have always been part of the valleys, industrially and culturally; they have never been part of the flat lands of Greater Cardiff.
At least the name Taff has been retained in the proposed title of the new authority, Rhondda, Cynon, Taff. RCT —it sounds like a breakaway from the railwaymen's union. But the Ely component of Taff Ely has disappeared completely—as though the communities of Tonyrefail, Coedely, Llantrisant and Pontyclun have been beamed up at the request of some Vulcan warlord. It has taken 20 years to integrate the old districts of the Taff valley, such as the town of Pontypridd, with those of the Ely valley. Now that Taff Ely thinks of itself as a viable administrative entity, it is about to be subsumed into this proposed triple alliance.
The citizens in my constituency view the Secretary of State's proposals with mistrust. They want much greater assurances about the future integrity and security of their health, education and welfare services before they accept the proposals as a blueprint for the sort of future to which they aspire.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
I shall be brief. I merely endorse what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said when he argued the case for Port Talbot and what my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) will say when he argues the case for Neath. I was able to put the case for Llanelli. As Lord Howe pointed out in another place, Llanelli, Port Talbot and Neath are the same kind of communities. All of them still have an industrial base. About 30 per cent. of the people of Llanelli work in what is described as productive industry; I imagine that the figures for Port Talbot and Neath are about the same.
My right hon. and learned Friend argued the case for Port Talbot in the House; he was not able to argue the case in Committee because he was not a member. When I argued the case for Llanelli, I believe that, together with those on the Labour Front Bench, I won the argument, but we lost the vote by one. The arguments that have been made in the House today are the same as those that were made in Committee.
Neath and Port Talbot are put together as two industrialised communities. The concern in Llanelli is that, because it is an industrialised community, it will be subsumed in a greater Carmarthenshire, which is a large agricultural and rural area. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with rural areas, but their problems are quite different, as we discussed in Committee.
As the Minister knows well, there is real concern that projects such as the regeneration of south Llanelli and the redevelopment of the Llanelli town centre will be hindered and put back as a result of the reorganisation. I ask the Secretary of State again at this late stage to reconsider the case for Llanelli—just as my hon. Friend the Member for Neath will argue for Neath and just as my right hon. and 662 learned Friend the Member for Aberavon argued for his constituency—because of the industrial character of the Llanelli constituency.
§ Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) put with great eloquence the case for keeping Port Talbot as a separate institution. The amendments that he has tabled, and which I support, would achieve that objective and leave Neath standing free, together with upper Lliw. That is a much more logical alternative to the spatchcock proposal put forward by the Secretary of State.
I shall make several brief points. First, there is real anger in Neath at the Government's failure to listen to local wishes—they have been expressed unanimously, even by local Conservatives—as regards the retention of Neath as a separate borough. That unanimous opinion, which has been measured in opinion polls and surveys—and, indeed, in the submissions made to the Secretary of State on this matter—has been completely ignored and trampled on.
There is real anger, too, about the hypocrisy of English Tories who will vote tonight completely to ignore the wishes of communities in Wales while they are objecting to the Government's proposals for similar local government reform in England. Four members of the Committee—the hon. Members for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick), for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) and for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley)—are on record as criticising or flatly opposing the Government's proposals for their own communities in England, but they are completely ignoring the wishes of local people in Wales.
Another individual whose action has been greeted with anger in Neath is the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), who asked for and received the support of the Labour Members on the Committee. He supports the retention of autonomy in the communities within Powys in a separately identifiable sense but refuses to support that, same principle with regard to Neath, Port Talbot, Rhondda, Taff and the other communities that have been identified. The logic of the principle applies equally to those communities.
The Secretary of State completely failed to mention the fact that Neath is second only to Cardiff as the longest-standing and most historic borough in Wales. That has been ignored. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) for the way in which he, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), achieved separate authorities for those areas. There is no logical reason why, if those areas have been granted separate status as unitary authorities, Neath could not have been as well.
There is a serious point underlying all these boundary questions. Local authorities are vital mechanisms for acquiring and reproducing democratic legitimacy for local people in their structures of government. Last week, the miserable turnout in the European Union elections showed how little legitimacy those institutions have among the people of this country and, indeed, the whole of western Europe. If we have artificial communities which have no serious common interests—in the case of Neath and Port Talbot, there is a lot of traditional and historic rivalry—and which are forced together, we cease to have the legitimacy 663 on which democracy is built. These communities are proud; that is why their democracies thrive locally. The Secretary of State has completely failed to recognise that in his proposals.
§ Mr. Llew Smith
I shall be brief because the question of Llanelli dominated the debate in Committee. Indeed, some hon. Members have suggested that the title of the Bill should be changed from the Local Government (Wales) Bill to the Local Government (Llanelli Community) Bill.
The original proposal was that the Llanelli community should be part of Powys. That was crazy because, as I emphasised in Committee, that would mean that local councillors attending meetings during the week would be away from home for six days. Even the Government recognised that that was not on. As a result of the campaign conducted by the borough council, the community council and the local people, the Government backed down.
The local people are now asking for a say in determining their destiny in response to the Government's decision that Llanelli community should be part of the borough of Monmouth. What I am doing is expressing the feelings of the local community. If I were speaking in terms of party political advantage, I would be supporting the Government's proposals, because, if the Llanelli community went into the borough of Monmouth, both the borough of Monmouth and the Monmouth constituency would be Labour controlled after the next local and general elections. While we obviously welcome that, we are still willing to put aside party advantage and express the wishes of the people.
The people of Llanelli wish to be part of Blaenau Gwent because of the history and traditions of the community. They are mainly employed in the coal and steel industries, as are the people in the borough of Blaenau Gwent. The people of Llanelli wish to be part of the borough of Blaenau Gwent because housing, environmental health and financial services are only three miles away from their little community. They wish to be part of the borough of Blaenau Gwent because Blaenau Gwent has objective 2 status and previously had development area status. Obviously, they want to be part of that. Indeed, not long ago the Government recognised that they should have been part of it.
We are saying that we have to create local government boundaries in such a way that local people can relate to the decision makers and feel they have some control over them. If the Llanelli community becomes part of Blaenau Gwent, people will feel that they have some say in their destiny. If the Government insist that it should go to Monmouth, they will no longer get that feeling: they will become divorced from local government decision making and will be dejected as a result.
§ Mr. Roger Evans
I am driven to rise to my feel as a result of the speech made by the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith). It may have escaped the notice of some hon. Members that I represent Llanelly Hill in Parliament. I presented a petition signed by 1,900 out of nearly 3,000 electors expressing a preference for being in Monmouthshire. The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten the fact that Blaenau Gwent lost the referendum in Llanelly Hill and that Monmouthshire won it. I know that there can be all sorts of explanations when opinion polls or referendums do not meet the purposes for which they were devised—
§ Mr. Redwood
After three years of consulting, weeks in Committee and full debates in the House and the other place, Labour has come back with a half-baked proposal that would throw Welsh local government back into chaos and uncertainty. The House would not know how things might end up. Staff of local authorities would have to suffer further delays before knowing the final shape of Welsh local government. They would be far from happy should Labour succeed in winning the vote on the new clause and we oppose it strongly on that and other grounds.
The hon. Members for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and for Neath (Mr. Hain), the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) and those representing Taff Ely and Port Talbot talked of their wishes for their communities to have separate councils. I understand their passion and their advocacy, but they must understand that a balance has to be struck between community identity, which is very strong in many of the communities of Wales—communities far smaller than those represented tonight in this debate—and cost and service delivery issues, which are also important.
Had we come before the House with proposals for many more councils, Opposition Members would, I am sure, have made great play of the extra costs and staff involved and the problems of delivering certain services. As it was, they made enough play of some of those.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
Before the Secretary of State goes further, can he explain the logic of dividing Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent and putting together Rhondda, Cynon and Taff Ely?
§ Mr. Redwood
In each case, where one should draw the line is a difficult judgment. I decided that the separate history and former status of Merthyr, which is different from that of the other boroughs that the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) mentioned, were sufficient reason, given its size and the other considerations brought to my attention. That was the judgment that I put before the House and that Ministers put in Committee.
A judgment has to be made in each case. Wherever we draw the line, people will say that we have drawn it in the wrong place. They will say, "Why can't I have my local community, with a separate unitary council?" or "Why have you so many local councils? Won't it be too expensive? Wouldn't it be better to have bigger ones to deliver the services?" We have to find that balance, which is what we are recommending to the House.
Clause 6 of the Bill and section 55 of the Local Government Act 1972 contain provisions for the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales to undertake an initial review of the electoral arrangements of all the new unitary authorities as soon as possible after the first elections and of those boundaries where anomalies are thought to remain.
I hope that Opposition Members will recognise that the boundary commission is an objective body, which can take a dispassionate view of any outstanding issues. We believe that we have the structure right and we are recommending it to the House.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
Is the Secretary of State saying that the boundary commission could consider the three communities that he seems determined to take out of Bridgend and decide to put them back?
§ Mr. Redwood
The boundary commission can come to its own conclusions within its terms of reference. Those terms enable it to review boundaries where it thinks that it needs to suggest an alternative proposal.
I want to clear up some of the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). He was right to say that there had been representations to the Welsh Office for an independent Montgomery. He omitted to mention the fact that similar representations had been made in favour of a maintained Powys. He made no mention of the shire committee proposals which I introduced to balance community identity with service delivery.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery is wrong in his general allegations. He knows that they are wrong and he should withdraw them. If he is interested in my views at the time that I was Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities, he should look at the public record. I have managed to procure a copy of my main speech on the subject in October 1992—just before the time when he purports to represent my views—at a party conference. It was a clear statement of my views. I said that the purpose of the review in England was not to carve the country up into a certain number of administrative units of a given size, whatever peoples' feelings and wishes. I went on to say:In 1973 they decided the county of Rutland should be abolished because it was too small, but then they invented the county of the Isle of Wight, which was smaller than their model.I specifically said:Somerset, Herefordshire, Rutland, Huntingdonshire, the Ridings of Yorkshire, if you want your past to become your future say so and your wish can be granted.I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) would confirm that I was always very sympathetic to the case that he was making.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
First, does the Secretary of State recognise that his shire committee proposals, as they appear in the amendments tonight, contain no financial guarantees for shire committees? Why is that so?
On his second point, if the right hon. Gentleman claims that he was, and remains, in favour of small unitary authorities such as Rutland and Huntingdonshire, why is he not in favour of small unitary authorities such as Montgomeryshire or Meirionnyddshire? Where is the logic in what he is saying? Let him tell the House how the Government changed their mind between early January 1993 and 1 March 1993. What were the reasons for that change of mind and who influenced it?
§ Mr. Redwood
The reasons for the new approach were set out by the former Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt). The hon. and learned Gentleman has been here long enough to know that no Government—Labour, Liberal or Conservative—ever make available internal minutes or correspondence between colleagues when they are reaching judgments that they then come to the House to defend.
I am not going to tell the hon. and learned Gentleman who intervened on what occasion in the debate. I can give him a strong promise and guarantee that I had my views, 666 which I expressed at the time in public, on English local government reform. His allegations are untrue and he should withdraw them. I hope that, on reflection, he will do so. He did not produce a shred of evidence to support the contention that I intervened and caused a change of heart. Will he think again about the allegation? Does he seriously suggest that a Minister of State in an English Department can instruct a Secretary of State for Wales without recourse to the Cabinet and collective discussion? He is living in cloud cuckoo land in suggesting that.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
I told the Secretary of State that I would be perfectly prepared to withdraw my allegation if we were told who was responsible for the change of mind. Does he deny that pressure was put on the Welsh Office by Ministers who were not Welsh Office Ministers to change its mind?
§ Mr. Redwood
I do not intend to reproduce debates in the Government at that time. The decision was made by the Government. The then Secretary of State for Wales was happy with it. The proposals were his, he presented and defended them, and I have carried them on, with some modifications of which the hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware. He knows that those modifications included certain boundary changes, to reflect the wishes of communities and the consultation evidence that we received and the introduction of more local identity through shire committees and—the biggest change of all —of an independent Merthyr.
§ Mr. Redwood
I do not have time to give way. We must wrap up this debate so that we can get on to the other important business, which I know that Opposition Members want to discuss.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) in his place because he talked a great deal about the importance of democracy, and I entirely agree. I was interested, therefore, to receive a letter from Russell Goodway, the leader of South Glamorgan county council, urging me to support the hon. Gentleman's proposal. I find Mr. Goodway's view of democracy, as reported in the South Wales Echo, quite astonishing. The South Glamorgan leader is reported to have said:The Tories promised cuts in public spending, so it seems to me that people who voted for those cuts should get them. That's democratic in my view.I phoned Mr. Goodway to tell him that I was going to mention this, and he claimed that he was misreported. I hope that the hon. Member for Caerphilly will make it clear in the next debate that when he stands for democracy, he stands strongly behind the idea that anyone who is elected has to be fair in the interests of all constituents, and that includes being fair to Conservative wards in Labour-controlled councils. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will dissociate himself from Mr. Goodway's view.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Ron Davies
I assure the Secretary of State that I would deplore any proposition that any local authority, or Government for that matter, seeks to use the financial resources at its disposal to reward people of its own persuasion.
I shall put the record straight, however. The precise words used by Russell Goodway were: 667It is very difficult to understand those people who vote for a Government that is committed to reducing the resources necessary to deliver services then expecting councils to have money, in other words when they vote they have been expecting cuts in services.The quotes attributed to him were quite inaccurate.
§ Mr. Redwood
I am glad to hear that particular interpretation of Mr. Goodway's remarks. None the less, the remarks are a little less than edifying from one who tries to represent a large and important area of Wales. It is small step from what the hon. Gentleman reports to the remarks which the newspaper claims were made. [Interruption.] I accept the point made by the hon. Gentleman. I told the House that Mr. Goodway claimed that he was misreported, and there I shall leave the matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I am sure that my hon. Friends will be interested in that statement, and in the reformulation of it which has clarified the record.
§ Mr. Rogers
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Secretary of State to criticise a person in such an appalling way and, when corrected, not even to have the grace to withdraw?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
The Secretary of State is responsible for his own speech.
§ Mr. Redwood
I contacted Mr. Goodway, who knew I was making the remarks. I did say that he thought that he had been misreported.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) dealt effectively with the points of the hon. Member for Bridgend on the communities. He made out a very good case for the three communities being part of the Vale, and he clearly disproved the idea that he was motivated by parliamentary electoral considerations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) also made a good point about the community of Llanelly Hill. Some Opposition Members have not quite grasped the importance of the measure which we have tabled tonight.
The proposal shows that we have listened in a large number of places to community representations. We have come to a good judgment on how Wales can go forward to a strong system of unitary authorities. I hope that, once the debates are over, Opposition Members will encourage their party colleagues to make a great success of this new system of local government for Wales. It is full of opportunity, and I want it to succeed.
§ Dr. Marek
We have had a thorough, and thoroughly unsatisfactory, debate. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say that, once all the arguments are behind us, we should try to make a success of it. He is right in that. We must try to make a success of whatever system of local government we have.
It is right to remind the House that the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Montgomery and Meirionnydd have been disregarded and thrown away. The balance is right according to the Secretary of State, but it is completely wrong according to the people of Montgomery and Meirionnydd.
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend is right. For the people of Llangollen, the result was clear in the referendum.
The balance is wrong. It might be right for the Conservative party, but it is not right for the people of Wales. We must wait for the Local Government Boundary 668 Commission to deal with the communities. No doubt it will put the matters right, because it is not motivated by political survival.
We must also wait for another Government, and a change of Government, before the serious matters are put right. It is my hope and conviction that we will not have to wait long. The Conservative party is now in third place in Wales and it is likely to stay there. [HON. MEMBERS: "Fourth place."] My hon. Friends say that it is in fourth place and, after what we have had to put up with and listen to this afternoon, it will stay there.
At the next election, we will have a Labour Government and all the Opposition parties will be united on the matter. We shall put the map of Wales right and listen to the people, whereas the Tory Government are concerned only with colonial administration from London.
§ Question put and negatived.